It was not all that long ago when Danny Green was a street performer who had been afforded the privilege of wearing warm-ups clad with NBA team colors. Selected with the 46th-overall selection in 2009, Green, a four-year player at the University of North Carolina, was to provide depth for the Cleveland Cavaliers as a jack-of-all-trades type player; a kid who didn’t necessarily require the ball in his hands to make an impact, but could play defense, be coached up and make a shot when called upon.
Green was subsequently buried on the Cavaliers bench behind starting shooting guard Delonte West, Anthony Parker and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. By no means a mis-management of talent, Green was to spend his rookie season absorbing, soaking in what the veterans had to offer. Where things seemed to tilt toward toxic, at least with regard to the early goings of Green’s career arc, was when the Cavaliers merely manhandled their opponents—life was good, the game was easy, the Cavaliers danced and danced. Instead of learning the ropes of what it took to be a professional within the NBA, Green was front and center for every pre-game photo opportunity. While Joakim Noah was sulking on the bench after being the victim of a blowout loss, it was Green, a rookie with next to zero accomplishments at the NBA level, doing the two-step with league MVP LeBron James.
Roughly six months later, Green was left on the dance floor without a partner.
James had vanished to the sun and sand. West had rode off on his Spyder Can-Am. Shaquille O’Neal was a free agent, as was fellow veteran center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The leadership, gone; the infrastructure, dismantled. A new general manager, a new head coach and a giant state of flux. Meanwhile, Green was a 23-year-old kid who spent the last six months spinning records and was abruptly handed a drum while being told to play Mozart.
The result was not pretty—a cacophony was expected and delivered. Green, playing an an unguaranteed deal due to being a second round selection, looked as if he had to re-learn the game. In the Las Vegas Summer League, Green was a trigger-happy gunner who couldn’t sniff 40 percent from the floor. His first pre-season contest with a job on the line, the second-year swingman provided an 0-for-5 shooting night with two turnovers and two fouls in 22 minutes of play. Following another sub-par contest and what was quite the wake-up call in Camp Scott, then head coach Byron Scott’s notoriously difficult training camp, Green received two-straight DNP-CDs—in the preseason. Rumblings had begun to work their way up: Manny Harris, an upstart, attack-the-rim shooting guard was making moves and turning heads. Harris worked hard and played harder. Poetically, Green’s final bout of playing time in a Cavaliers uniform would come against the San Antonio Spurs. He played six minutes. Harris was given 24. Green’s confidence had evaporated; his locker, emptied.
Three years later, Green finds himself as the leading scorer in the NBA Finals, one of the heroes of a Game 3 dismantling of the reigning champions. The road that paved the way to Tuesday night’s ear-to-ear smiles and a seemingly endless line of high-fives, however, was not a smooth one. Green was picked up by the Spurs after sitting unemployed for roughly one month. He was waived, again, six days later—once again, any team could have given him a shot at retribution. Though added again in the month of March, Green would finish out his second year in the league as a member of the Austin Toros, playing in empty gyms everywhere from Sioux Falls to Rio Grande. Two months after the conclusion of the NBA season, Green found himself playing in the Slovenian Leaugue as a card-carrying member of KK Union Olimpija.
Green was teetering, essentially a few inches away from falling off of a cliff that would leave an NBA career long in the rear view mirror. This was, at least, until Green’s former coach Roy Williams reached out and firmly grabbed his jersey, pulling him back in, giving him a talk that would instill confidence and preach desire. If Green wanted a future in the NBA, he had to work for it. The days of the two-step were over, the music had stopped.
Afforded the opportunity to play for one of the league’s best head coaches within a system that came with increasingly less pressure than his other stops, Green was provided a starting spot with the Spurs, the de facto opening act for one of the best sixth men in the NBA in Manu Ginobili. Green reincarnated himself as a player who could provide a relief valve for San Antonio’s Big Three. As the post would close in on future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, Green was there in the corner for a spot-up three. As teams would attempt to trap Tony Parker’s attempt at a pick-and-roll, it was Green who would find the vacant spot just above the elbow to drain a picture-perfect jumper. The confidence quickly returned and Green was awarded a three-year deal for his what had vacated him in Cleveland.
The Danny Green story is one about the player. It was a moment of poetry on Tuesday night when Green was splashing three-pointers with ease. He hit one from just off of the top of the key, right in the eye of Ray Allen, one of the best three-point shooters in recent history. Seconds later, Green provided relief from a double-team, draining a three-ball over the outstretched arm of Heat guard Norris Cole. Then as his team sat at the 99-point mark, up 18 over the Goliath Heat, Green was fed a pass from veteran Tracy McGrady where he would hit his final three-pointer of the night, his seventh overall, in front of none other than LeBron James. Green danced away while James merely deflated right there on the court.
It is easy to say that the Cavaliers mis-managed Green. Truth of the matter is, Green’s growth and maturity was never going to happen if he stuck with the Cavaliers, a team that was in the midst of turmoil previously unseen. The Spurs, meanwhile, have employed Duncan, Parker and Ginobili for seven-consecutive seasons. Gregg Popovich runs one of the tightest ships in the league and Green needed a trip to his boot camp. Not staying in Cleveland is one of the best things that could have ever happened to Green, whose skill set is undoubtedly more suited to provide a role within an already established system. In Cleveland, Green would have been asked to carry the load. In San Antonio, his role allows for considerable asymmetry—if the Spurs lose, the lights shine on the Big Three; Green, however, can still play the role of the hero.
Anyone who saw Green dancing on the sidelines that celebrated day against the Bulls undoubtedly smiled. They should, however, be even more proud for the former 46th-overall pick for finally finding a place where he could succeed after putting in the time, doing the work, and exerting the effort needed to get back to a place where he had the opportunity to do so.
Cleveland’s place in Green’s story is nothing but a starting point. His Wikipedia page will always link him to the Wine and Gold. Unforunately for Green, he was a member of the Cavaliers when winning was a priority—development of young talent was several places down on the list. Credit to Danny Ferry for believing in Green, giving him a shot once the Cavaliers cut him loose. Credit to the Spurs for having an infrastructure that allows players to appear to be “diamonds in the rough” when in fact they’re strong role players who are given a place on an already-established team. Credit to Gregg Popovich for seeing something in Green that could fit his offense, and instilling the work ethic needed to get to a point where he could be utilized. Credit to Roy Williams for being in the right place at the right time, pulling Green off of the ledge and guiding him back to a level of prominence. But mostly, credit to Danny Green for realizing that things, despite how they look early on when the bass is pumping and the crowd is roaring, may not be as easy as perceived. There are only a finite number of roster spots in the NBA and 60 new ones are given out almost every season. Green could have been another casualty, another name in the books of those who could have been. Instead, he saw the door of opportunity was slightly ajar, kicking it open in front of millions on the biggest stage of them all.
If the Spurs can finish out the series, giving Tim Duncan his fifth title in his illustrious career, one can bet that Green’s dancing shoes will be broken out once again. This time, it will be, as they say, earned and not given.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)