Green gets his shot with Wolves
By Jerry Zgoda
OAKLAND, Calif. — They say the great athletes play their sport in elongated time, a sort of slow-motion unattainable by mere mortals.
If you believe his words, Timberwolves guard Gerald Green has flipped that premise upside down on his serpentine path to the court’s bright lights this season.
A third-year player who averaged 22 minutes in 81 games and started 26 of them while averaging 10.4 points for the Boston Celtics last season, Green was the invisible Timberwolf until injuries and illness left the team with eight healthy players and thrust Green onto the floor in the last week.
"It’s always good to get playing time when you sit down for a minute," he said.
That "minute" actually was the season’s opening six weeks, when Wolves coach Randy Wittman found playing time in his rotation for nearly every young player except Green but promised that the gifted athlete, who perhaps lacked attention to detail and defense, inevitably will "get his chance."
That opportunity arrived when Marko Jaric and then Rashad McCants fell ill and Green emerged from a succession of games not played into a prominent reserve’s role, in the game’s first quarter no less. From a permanent seat on the bench to season highs across the board, he has scored in double figures in each of the past three games and played 30 or more minutes in two of those three games.
That opportunity has left him believing his faith has at last been rewarded for being the last player to leave the gym many days after morning shootarounds and practices.
"It’s hard, very hard," Green said of going from a regular role with the Celtics to idle on a Wolves team that has won four of its first 26 games. "One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with."
He has dealt with it by staying late, working on his shot.
"I can sit and pout about it all day long and not get better as a player," said Green, 21, who came directly into the NBA from a Houston-area high school. "I sit there and try to better myself, use it as a time to work on my game, get smarter on the court and off the court. You can’t think about the negative, you have to think about the positive. You do that, you can turn a negative into the positive."
The Wolves’ record and their obvious focus on the future has left more than one Timberwolves fan wondering why the Wolves haven’t given Green more time to show whether he’s a part of their future. The reasons are varied: Wittman wants him to be more discreet with his shot selection and to improve both his defense and his body language when things are not going well.
"Gerald has to worry about Gerald and not about anybody else," Wittman said.
His season-high six turnovers in Saturday’s blowout loss at New Orleans notwithstanding, Green mostly has proven himself ready when given the chance to play, and the promise of his athleticism and his pure shooting motion can tantalize.
"He brings energy," teammate Al Jefferson said of the reigning NBA Slam Dunk champion. "He has to bring a lot of energy. That’s the one thing that will keep him on the court. Everybody knows Gerald can score."
Asked about Green, his recent past and his future, Wolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale mentions that it’s an 82-game season.
"He deserves a chance," McHale said. "He has to be patient and do it in practice. Gerald’s got a beautiful stroke; he can help our team. When he’s comfortable and relaxed and confident, he can make open shots. It’s all about being relaxed and finding a rhythm."
He has searched for that often by himself, after everyone else has gone.
"Part of being a professional is dealing with the ups and downs, and I’m proud of myself with the way I’ve come in after sitting those amount of games and doing what I’ve done. I want to be consistent. I don’t want (not playing) to steal all my confidence. That’s why I stay in the gym, so I know in my mind that my shot is still there, that it’s not going anywhere. I just try to do what I need to do to feel I’m getting better."