November 29, 2015
For a while, it was as if the preseason was a tease, that the bargain hunting during 2015 free agency would provide as minimal a payoff as what was mined at that level a year before.
Gerald Green seemingly was lost. There was 1-of-5 shooting against Minnesota, followed by 2-of-6 against Sacramento, 0-for-5 against Philadelphia.
And then the Miami Heat's injury misfortune turned into Green's fortune. And now the Heat seemingly are richer for it going forward.
With Luol Deng dealing with a sore hamstring, Green saw four of his shots fall last Monday against the Knicks. A start in place of Deng on Wednesday night in Detroit led to 16 points. And then, with another start in place of Deng Friday in New York, there were a season-high 25 points.
Gerald Green was looking like Gerald Green again, actually looking like more than could have been expected, considering his lockdown defense against Carmelo Anthony.
The back story, of course, remains the untold story, the precise reasoning why Green missed four games at the start of November due to illness and then another two due to a suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team."
A profound apology followed, but time away from the game, for any reason, leads to rust, loss of timing, atrophy.
"Obviously, when you sit for a little while, it's going to take a little time to get back in that rhythm," Green said as the Heat turned their attention to Monday's game against the Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena, the start of a four-game homestand.
"I knew my offense would come at some point. I just wanted to kind of get my wind back under me, get my legs up under me, and just keep focusing on the defensive end."
The payoff has eased the time lost with Deng, who is hopeful for a Monday return. The greater payoff is a sense of gain with the Heat's offseason moves, with the team's other prime free-agent addition, Amar'e Stoudemire, barely finding playing time. A year ago, the Heat's free-agency equivalent of Green and Stoudemire were Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts, veritable 2014-15 no-shows.
"He's been so pure about his commitment," coach Erik Spoelstra said, "every single day just trying to get better. He's made mistakes. He's learned new things with the system. But he's committed to the work every single day. We've embraced him with open arms."
It has been a while since the Heat have had a player like Green, a supporting piece capable of scoring bursts.
"As a player you do kind of see you might need to get something going," Green said. "Maybe it's diving on the ball, diving on the floor for a loose ball. Or maybe it's something that'll just energize the team, a lob dunk or a great pass or a great defensive play or an open shot, anything."
And when that energy carries over to the defensive end, you have nights like Friday at Madison Square Garden, when Anthony scored 11 points in the first quarter and did not score again.
"We feel he has potential on both sides of the floor, to learn how to be a winning player, an impactful player," Spoelstra said. "He's taking those steps right now."
So has he become the defender Spoelstra wants him to be?
"Nobody is the defender I want them to be right now," Spoelstra said with a coach's smile.
Challenge accepted, Green said.
"Offense for me is going to come easy," he said. "Some days, I'm going to miss shots; some days, I'm not. But what I do have to do, which is a requirement to wear this jersey, is go out there and keep playing defense and that's what I'm going to do.
"That's my goal. I want to be, when this year's up, I want everybody to be like, 'Man, I don't know what Gerald Green did, but this year he was great defensively.' And that's what I want to do. I want to show people that I'm not what everybody thought I was."