October 12, 2015
The hypothesis behind the Heat's experiment with Gerald Green is simple: The same skill set that makes him a live wire offensively could make him a really good defender.
The variable with players like this is dedication, and Green is eager to prove his commitment. As he nears 30, being a mere showman is no longer enough for him. The opportunity to expand his game and play a substantive role on a contender was so enticing that he came to Miami on a minimum contract.
"It's a new challenge, new team, new look for me," said Green, a 6-foot-8 veteran, who can play shooting guard or small forward. "I know I can do it. I'm confident that I can be a better defender and I like what I'm seeing so far in myself.
"I feel like I'm learning a lot from watching the great defenders on this team. I'm coming in early and trying to fast track and get the rotations down. I'm doing all the things I can. Now I've gotta go out in the games and play some defense."
Doing it when it matters is the key, of course, and the reality for Green is that he will be stapled to the bench if his defense is lacking. Miami, which hosts the Spurs in a preseason game tonight, already has defensive concerns in its second unit and cannot afford to have Green be a liability.
He is still an exhilarating scorer, evidenced by the windmill dunk he unleashed in the preseason opener, but this team has plenty of weapons offensively. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are all threats to go for 20 or more points any given night.
The Heat are prioritizing defense with Green, and coach Erik Spoelstra has been upfront about that since they met prior to the signing. Green embraced that concept, and the results are promising after two weeks of preseason practice.
"He's guarded me for years, but I've never seen him really get after it like he has since training camp started," Wade said. "He's really trying to make that change in himself. He's very tough on himself, too, and that's a great thing. I like it."
Green came into the league straight from high school in 2005 and quickly commanded attention with his athleticism. He won the 2007 Slam Dunk Contest at 21 -- he performed his most famous dunk, one in which he blew out the candle of a cupcake sitting on the back of the rim, the following year -- and averaged 16.9 points per 36 minutes during his first two seasons in Boston.
Lapses at the other end of the court always held him back, though. Once, in his rookie year, he was exhausted, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers told him he could only come out if he stopped the man he was trying to cover. Green never earned that break.
Boston shipped him to the Timberwolves as part of the Kevin Garnett deal, and Green has bounced around ever since. The Heat are his eighth NBA team, plus he had a three-year detour into Russia, China and the D-League.
He spent the last two seasons with the Suns, playing extensively with Dragic, and averaged 14 points in 24.2 minutes per game while shooting 43.3 percent, including 38 percent on 3-pointers.
Green's defense appears to have been a big factor in his transience, and it became clear he would not stick in Phoenix once coach Jeff Hornacek publicly criticized him for it. Green acknowledges he struggled early in his career, though he says that reputation stuck with him unfairly .
"I'm a lot better than other people think," he said. "That's how I feel. Since I've gotten back into the league (in 2012), my defense has been totally better than my first time in the league.
"There have been a lot of times I put all my effort into scoring. This season, I'm not going to do that. I'm just gonna worry about locking my defender down."