Missing in action
Slam Dunk champ Green grounded with Timberwolves
Posted: Thursday December 13, 2007 11:07AM; Updated: Thursday December 13, 2007 1:00PM
WASHINGTON -- At the time of the Kevin Garnett trade, Gerald Green was regarded as a significant part of the deal for the Timberwolves. In Boston, Green had been considered a rising star, a developing shooter who only needed his head to catch up to his freakish athletic ability. Last season, in his second year out of Gulf Shores Academy in Houston, the 6-foot-8 swingman averaged 10.2 points in 22 minutes.
But in Minnesota, the 2007 Slam Dunk champion has been an afterthought. The stat sheet has read DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coach's Decision) next to Green's name 10 times this season. Part of the problem is the Timberwolves' logjam at Green's position; Marko Jaric, Corey Brewer, Greg Buckner and Rashad McCants have gobbled up the minutes at the small forward and shooting guard spots, with guard Randy Foye likely to regain a prominent role when he returns from a knee injury in a few weeks. But even when he's played, Green hasn't wowed anyone, shooting 11-for-33 from the field while averaging 8.7 minutes in nine games.
"I don't know what's going on," Green said before Tuesday's loss to the Wizards. "It's a little hard to believe. I'm a good player. It's one of the toughest situations I have been in in my life."
The knock on Green is a familiar one: exceptionally talented but gets into trouble because of poor decisions. With Boston, Green would suffer mental lapses that resulted in a turnover or an open jump shot for the opponent.
Frustrated, Green has approached Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman on several occasions to discuss his role. "Coach told me my time would come," Green said. "I just have to stay positive, stay ready."
Said Wittman: "He's got to be patient. We have a lot of guys we're looking at [at his position] and I can't play them all. His opportunity will come."
When that will be is uncertain.
"If coach doesn't know," Green said with a smile, "then I sure don't know."
Teammates say Green has been a workhorse at practices, arriving early and staying late to work on his game.
"I think things are going to turn around for him," forward Al Jefferson said. "I know he's wondering why he's not playing. I talk to him all the time. Just because he's not getting a lot of playing time now doesn't mean he's not going to play later. It's a long season."
Said forward Ryan Gomes: "He has to be patient. We're trying to figure out who the top eight or nine guys are every night. We're both kind of battling the same thing. We have to stay positive, [and] when you get your chance, you have to be ready."
Strange as it may sound, Green may be fighting for his basketball life at the age of 21. The Timberwolves chose not to exercise the fourth-year option on his contract in training camp, meaning Green, the 18th pick of the 2005 draft, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. And teams aren't exactly clamoring for a swingman who can't crack the rotation on the NBA's worst team.
"I definitely think about that," Green said. "I just feel like my back is to the wall. But if I'm going to go down, I'm going down fighting. I think I'm having great practices. I just can't see playing time. I guess I have to be better. Maybe they are looking at other guys. Maybe they are seeing things in me that I don't see. Whatever it is, I have to keep working on getting better."
That may not include working on a fresh repertoire of dunks for the 2008 contest. Green said that at the moment he is considering not going to New Orleans in February to defend his crown during All-Star Weekend.
"I don't know about that," he said. "I thought I would but now ... I just don't know."
For Green, uncertainty seems to be a recurring feeling.