Gerald Green Embracing Team-First Mentality

Barry Gossage/NBAE

Seemingly at least once per game, Gerald Green makes the play fans expect him to make. Sometimes with the ball in his hands, other times with it sailing toward an area above him, the seven-year veteran exhibits the hops that shame teenage rookies and produces the highlight dunk of the night — if not the week.

There is a difference in the reaction, however. Green no longer basks in the glow of his own ridiculous athleticism. In fact, if you ask the former Slam Dunk champion about an in-game aerial assault, he turns sheepish, downplays it, nearly dismisses it.

He will humbly acknowledge how his skills can help the team, a segue to an all-about-the-team attitude. If his on-court forays are individual highlights, his post-game quotes are anything but.

“You’ve just got to go out there and compete hard every day,” Green said. “I’m all about winning. It doesn’t matter if I start, or if I don’t start, if I play or if I don’t play. As long as we’re winning, that’s all I care about.”

It sounds nice, refreshing even. But is it real?

Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek told a recent story that answers that question in resounding fashion.

“The first game against Maccabi [Haifa], we were playing all 18 guys,” Hornacek explained. “I went with him earlier in the first half, and in the second half I put somebody else in. I looked down and I said ‘Gerald, sorry I didn’t get you in on that regular rotation again since you came in earlier.’ He says, ‘I don’t care, Coach. I just enjoy watching us win the game.’ That’s the type of guys you want on the team, guys that aren’t worried about any statistics or where they’re playing or whatever they’re doing, but that want to win games.”

With 18 players vying for roster spots and roles throughout training camp and the entire preseason, Hornacek and his staff have reinforced a team-first attitude time and again.

“Some nights,” they say, “you will play. Others, you may not. That isn’t what’s important.”

It’s a harsh rearrangement of priorities, but it’s one Green had already made. Early in his NBA career, dunks earned him notoriety, but not consistent playing time. That came later, when he refined his game enough to latch on with the Nets toward the end of the 2011-12 season.

He played well and earned a contract with the Pacers the following season. Green, however, saw his jump shot regress and his playing time dwindle. In turn, the Suns saw a chance to capitalize on an underestimated x-factor during the offseason. They traded for him and emerging center Miles Plumlee. Since then, both players have presented noteworthy options for the Suns’ rotation moving forward.

Green showed well as a starter in the Suns’ 88-76 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, scoring 15 points on just nine shots in 18 minutes of playing time. His production was encouragingly well-rounded: two dunks, a trio of three-pointers and a midrange turnaround.

“He’s a little bit wild out there, but sometimes his wild is really good. He lends us something with his athletic ability that we need. Plus he makes three-point shots...Nobody’s going to block his shot. The guy jumps too high.”

— Jeff Hornacek

Over the past five preseason games, Green has shot an efficient 51.3 percent from the field, including 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. The youthful exuberance is still there, but the returns have more than outweighed the risks.

“He’s a little bit wild out there, but sometimes his wild is really good,” Hornacek said. “He lends us something with his athletic ability that we need. Plus he makes three-point shots. A couple of them, I wish he would have shot them instead of pump-fake, one dribble and shoot. Nobody’s going to block his shot. The guy jumps too high.”

Green appreciates the instruction, but he’s doubly grateful that it comes with the in-game opportunities to apply it. Phoenix is his seventh NBA stop, an opportunity he compared to a “new book,” one he is starting just as the Suns are launching into a new era.

In the end, he hopes both end with the same team-first achievement.

“My main goal is I want to win a ring,” Green said. “I got drafted in 2005. I don’t know how many years I have to play. Hopefully I’ve got another 10 years left. But my main goal is to win an NBA championship. Even if I’m the 15th man on the bench, the first man off the bench, or I’m starting, I’m still part of that team. I want to be a part of winning a championship. I feel like this team is going in those right steps, and I’m happy to be part of this team.”