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The Extra Pass: Gerald Green doesn’t regret moment of his winding journey to NBA stardom

Mar 11, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Indiana Pacers v Phoenix Suns Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Gerald Green won the 2007 NBA Dunk Contest.

Doc Rivers, then Green’s coach in Boston, regrets letting him even enter.

“He’s just young and winning a dunk contest at 18 in the NBA, I don’t know how healthy that is,” Rivers said (Green was actually 21 at the time). “You get all this stuff. He had a lot on his plate. I always say the biggest mistake I made with him was letting him do the dunk contest. I know that sounds crazy but it’s tough when you get all this stuff and you’re trying to get him in footwork drills and he’s like ‘Wait a minute I’ve got a commercial tomorrow.’ Now he’s fought his way back and is terrorizing the league with his skills and it’s great.”

Drafted straight out of high school the last year any player could be, then bouncing around the NBA — and Russia and China — Green is back in the Association and has truly arrived at age 28, starring with the Phoenix Suns. He and his game have matured. He is averaging 15.7 points per game — having scored 33 recently against Atlanta and 41 against Oklahoma City — and is a leader on team that is the biggest surprise in the league.

Green also is pointed to by some as the poster boy for raising the age limit to 20 — he wasn’t ready for the NBA on or off the court when he entered the league straight out of high school, at least so goes the argument. He’s always had the athleticism, the question was him knowing how to use it, how to be a professional.

“It was more maturity with Gerald, he just needed time to grow up,” Rivers said Monday night before his Clippers took the court against Green and his Suns. “That doesn’t mean he was a bad guy, he was just young. So young that he was eventually out of the league young. The fact that he fought his was back was great. There are cases where you would love guys to go to college, but I still side on the other side, I still think you have a right. You have a right to make a mistake.”

Green doesn’t think he made a mistake — he doesn’t think he’d be the player he is now without the experiences he had, good and bad.

“If I had the choice I would do the same thing over again, come out of high school” Green said. “There’s no better preparation than going straight to the NBA… I think the NBA is the best teacher.”

Green spent a couple of years under Rivers’ tutelage, then was traded to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Garnett trade.He ended up in Houston and Dallas, never really finding his game and confidence, never fitting in at an NBA level. He then went to Russia and after that played in China — in those stops where he was the best player on the team and was relied upon to put up a lot of points he really grew up. He matured into the guy helping spark the Suns.

If you think time in college — Green was likely to go to Oklahoma State University — would have helped Green grow up faster, well, Green thinks you are wrong.

“A lot of guys that go to college then go to the NBA and aren’t successful,” Green said. “College doesn’t make you become a better pro. You being a pro makes you become a better pro. You got to put in the work, you got to be professional when you get to the professional level, you got to do all the little things, you got to watch film, you got to lift weights, you got to do all the little things that make you a better player.”

That is the argument Mark Cuban made recently saying guys should consider the D-League over college. However, Green said if he could not have gone straight to the NBA he likely would have gone to college, saying to him it was the same thing as the D-League.

At the root of the argument about raising the age limit is maturity — on and off the court. The NBA wants its players to develop more before they land in the league and would prefer they did it on somebody else’s dime.

“We see it, a lot of guys who play one year in college and then they come out, it’s tough. You have to teach these guys a lot of things,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We look at the game and things we think are common sense as coaches, as guys who played in the league before, we saw that as rookies… but back then only a handful of guys came out early, guys played college three, four years. They got a pretty good idea of how to play the game before they came in the pros. Now we have to do a little more teaching, be a little more patient with mistakes they make. So raising the age might not be a bad deal.”

A lot of coaches, pretty much every owner and general manager feels the same way.

New commissioner Adam Silver has made raising the age limit a priority, although he has to negotiate that with the players union and that body still lacks an executive director. When the time comes, Silver and the owners are going to have to give up a little something to the players to get them to sign off on the new restriction.

Green is a poor poster child for the argument. First off, he was 21 when he won the dunk contest — maturity is not simply a matter of chronological age, it is a lot of factors that come together at different times in different ways for people. Certainly college can help that maturation process, but it can also happen outside that environment — on the court players would mature faster in the NBA with no restrictions on practice hours and a higher level of competition to challenge them. It just takes NBA coaches being more into player development (and look at the best teams in the league, ones like San Antonio and Indiana, and you see great player development focus).

It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. For some, college is perfect. For others the D-League makes the most sense. For a handful of others playing in Europe might be the call.

There is not one path to maturity. And there is not one path to NBA stardom.

Certainly not for Gerald Green.

  1. unxpexted1 - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    Well done article Kurt

    • unxpexted1 - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:35 AM

      Dude really has come a long way. I remember him in the high school all american game was thinking to myself “this kid is a star” but not everybody can handle the lights that young. People always look at Kobe, Bron, and KG as examples why kids should come out early but forget about the Eddy Curry, Darius Myles, and all the other countless careers that ended early. Just like anything there are very few stars. Making these few exceptions a reason to let high schoolers enter the draft is a mistake.

      • borderline1988 - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:52 AM

        But your entire argument is based on a massive assumption. How do you know that Eddy Curry’s career wouldn’t have flamed out even if he went to college for 3 or 4 years?

        The other thing is that college isn’t what it used to be…college players in today’s world are media stars in their own right, the only difference is that they’re not paid (officialy). And they barely learn fundamentals anyways, college basketball is mostly about running plays within a team setting..I’d argue that fundamentals and underlying skills are better learned with professional NBA trainers

      • unxpexted1 - Mar 11, 2014 at 2:34 PM

        I get your point, but history has not shown that is the case. If majority of the kids drafted out of high school did develop then yes I would concede that point. But the track record has simply shown that kids really do not develop coming straight into the league.

        NBA has less practices, they dont really “develop” players in the NBA, you do that on your own in the offseason and all that. They expect your skills to already be there. Lebron (who is obviously an exception) didn’t learn his skills in develop from Mike Brown, we see that he has no developmental skills when it comes to its players.

        The point is many spend there time in the NBA trying to gain skills that they should mostly have coming into the league. The skill level in the NBA is down, and athleticism is up. And it seems that most kids that do stay 3 or 4 years come into the NBA with the requisite skill set’s even if they aren’t stars.

      • unxpexted1 - Mar 11, 2014 at 2:37 PM

        Also, a lot of this is on the NBA for even drafting these kids. It’s almost like the NBA has to do this rule to protect them from themselves. Drafting the JR Smith’s of the world and others straight out of high school shouldn’t have happened to begin with. Only the absolute stars like Lebron, Garnett and Kobe. Or they should limit the amount of high schoolers drafted. There is rarely more than 1 even if 1 NBA ready high school player. I remember one year they drafted 8 or 9 guys out of high school. Makes no sense.

  2. timberwolvesbrisin - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    NCAA basketball is much more disciplined than the D-league and I would argue a better form of basketball at the highest level of D1.. The D-league, from when ive watched it, is extrememly high scoring, in large part due to lack of defense.

  3. csbanter - Mar 11, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    Green received a chance, unfortunately other high school phenoms and college stars are not so lucky. It’s time for the NBA to raise the age limit. Andrew Wiggins is not ready to be an impact player. The best thing for him so he doesn’t become a Gerald Green is to get drafted by the lakers, so Kobe can mentor him. Otherwise we may not ever see the player so many has talked about.

  4. velocirep - Mar 11, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    The maturity issue is across the board a generational thing. More broken homes, looser morals, etc. make for a more difficult group of NBA rooks (in general).
    The poster boy for raising the limit being raised has spoken. Let men make decisions as men, be it young or old, and stop coddling them.
    Otherwise raise the age of entering the military or drinking, etc.
    Allow them to to take risks and even make mistakes and it will be better for them as men.
    Any organization that invests in a young players through the draft has a humanity responsibility to help raise them, regardless of how much they’re paid and what expectations they have. Hold organizations accountable for doing what is necessary to develop young players. That’s what’s needed. Not more rules that guys are going to find ways around by going to the d-league or overseas.

  5. TheMorningStar - Mar 11, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    Ainge still made to correct call drafting G Green. He had all the sklls to be an all star very early in his career.

    Unfortunately, all the coaching in the world can’t help someone who is still immature.

    Glad to see he’s starting to realize the potential Ainge and Doc saw in him back in 2007.

  6. evenbetterthancorinne - Mar 11, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    Why raise the age limit AND the number of years in college? If some NBA player is motivated enough to graduate high school a year early (or just happens to be young like born in November) and spends their two years in college, so be it. Chronological age is even poorer a predictor of maturity than time spent in college.

  7. velocirep - Mar 11, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    The NBA is the highest level, of one of the most famous entertainment sports in the world. The NBA is for the exceptional players of the world. Garnett, Kobe, Lebron, Howard, etc are exceptions. You should not restrict the exceptions on this stage for the sake of the average. The accepted age of adulthood is 18. Let the young fellas play, fly or fall.

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