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Peter May | Basketball Notes

Green talent hasn't matured

Latest move shows ability isn't enough

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / March 16, 2008

It kind of got lost in the Saturday night news cycles. But eight days ago, the Houston Rockets waived Gerald Green. No one has stepped up since to sign the former first-round pick to so much as a 10-day contract.

Green had called his move from Minnesota to Houston at the trade deadline "a dream come true" because he was back in his hometown, hopefully to showcase his considerable athletic prowess before the home folks. But Green was able to make only one four-minute cameo for the Rockets before he got his walking papers.

Basically, the Rockets needed a bigger body until impressive rookie Carl Landry was able to return from injury (which he may do today), so they signed Mike Harris.

"Needed extra big," general manager Daryl Morey succinctly stated via e-mail.

Asked if there were any exchanges regarding possible future employment of Green, Morey said, "Just an agreement that we will look at him very closely for our roster next year."

No one in the NBA has a better read on Green than Doc Rivers, who coached him for his first two seasons. Rivers said he felt a little bit sad to hear of Green's release, but it also didn't surprise him. Houston had come to the same conclusion that both Minnesota and Boston had: Just because the kid can jump out of the gym and blow out a cupcake candle before dunking does not mean he can play in the NBA.

"I think he has a chance to be a very good player in our league, but he has to mature," Rivers said. "Before you can take the next step, you have to understand you need the work and you need to do the work. Gerald does it, just not as consistently as coaches would like him to do.

"And as mean as this [release] is, it may end up being the best thing for him. It may let him know that no matter how much raw ability you have, if you don't polish it, it's never going to shine. In his case, that is where he's at."

The off-the-charts athleticism defined Green to the point where fans would rise in their seats if he drove to the basket. Some of the dunks were also off the charts, but as the crowd went wild, it would rarely notice that Green was messing up at the other end. Or that on the next possession, he'd have no clue what the Celtics were running.

And he's known now as an entertaining dunker, little more than a human pogo stick who, it's safe to say, probably would have benefited from a year or two in college. In retrospect, Rivers said he wished Green had not participated in the Slam Dunk championship in Las Vegas last year because he felt it sent the wrong message.

"I was not a big fan of him going, one of the few," Rivers said. "But I was outvoted. We did need something good about the Celtics at that point. But overall, I don't know if it was that good for the kid.

"What Gerald did was phenomenal and, at the end of the day, I know that stuff is important to him. But it should be about the game and the winning. It's like we're telling him that the show is important, not the competition. And at the end of the day, it's a competition.

"He is talented. He has potential. But he's not ready to play in the NBA. And it's not just him. There are a lot of guys like him. In my first year, I was killed for not playing Marcus Banks and, now, four years later, he's still not playing. But I also believe Marcus can play. But, like Gerald, he has to understand there's work to do and he has to commit to it."

So what becomes of Green? His agent, former NBA player Byron Irvin, did not return a message left on his cellphone. Morey seemed to indicate the Rockets might take another look, but who really knows? Wouldn't you think some team would take a flyer on the kid before the end of the season?

Clearly, the Timberwolves were disenchanted with Green because they needed one month to decide not to extend him for a fourth year, making him an unrestricted free agent. Wolves coach Randy Wittman and Rivers, backcourt mates with the Hawks in the 1980s, talked about Green more than once.

All Rivers would say was, "He frustrated Randy quite a bit. The difference between Randy and me was that Randy didn't feel the need to play him. We played him anyway."

Danny Ainge, the man who drafted Green in 2005, said he hopes Green learns from this latest move and commits himself to being a serious player.

"Maybe this is something that could catapult Gerald into a better frame of mind and make him more desperate to recognize how fragile his career can be," Ainge said. "I'm hoping that this kind of adversity will push him to be the player he's capable of being.

"I think it's there. But is he willing? Is he capable of going to the next level? Over the next year, I guess we'll find out."

Testing, testing...

We've been waiting all season for this week's stretch of macho games for the Celtics and, well, all it's going to be is a good test for the fellows. The Celtics could go 0-for-the-week and still be in excellent shape - such is the lead they have over the No. 2 Pistons. And the Pistons appear to be in no hurry to go anywhere, avoiding what could be a second-round matchup with the Cavaliers.

But the upcoming trip, which features games against the Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks, and Hornets, means a lot to the teams the Celtics are playing. Four losses separated No. 1 through No. 8 in the Western Conference as of yesterday.

"It's tremendous competition," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "That's the way basketball should be."

And the fact that the Western behemoths already are jockeying for playoff position - or playoff survival - suits Doc Rivers just fine.

"It'll be great because they're in desperation mode," said the Boston coach. "We're going to catch that. We're going to get thrown into the middle of the fire of that, and that's going to be a great test for us.

"I'm really looking forward to it, because it's tough out on the road. They're desperate for wins. They're going to play their best, and if we don't play absolutely great basketball, we're not going to win games. So I think it's going to be great for us."

The 24-win Celtics went 2-1 through the dreaded Texas Triangle last year (and came close to 3-0) but that's when the other guys were barely paying attention. You can be sure that won't be the case this year.

The Spurs haven't been swept by the Celtics since 1988-89, when Tim Duncan was swimming laps in St. Croix. If Houston beats the Lakers today, it will be looking for its 23d straight win. And the Celtics have not won in Dallas since March 2000, when the Mavericks still played at Reunion Arena and Rick Pitino was calling the shots here.

Las Vegas league is not in Celtics' summer plans

The Celtics have been regular participants in the Las Vegas Summer League these past few years, but that is going to come to an end this July. With a veteran-laden roster, many of them free agents-to-be, it might be hard to get a team of Definite Celtics together for 2008-09.

"Baby [Glen Davis] would have to play point guard," Doc Rivers cracked.

But, seriously, Davis, Gabe Pruitt, and Mr. First-Round Draft Pick would be the only real Celtics on the roster, so, for that reason, the team will instead hold a minicamp in Waltham for undrafted players and assorted other mid- to lower-level free agents. (In other words, don't expect to see Antawn Jamison show up.)

"I think we're going to put as much time in this summer as we always have, but not in the form of participating in a summer league," Danny Ainge said. "We're going to try something different.

"We've had free agent minicamps before, but usually they were just for a couple days. We'd like to do this for a week, probably before the Vegas Summer League. We want it to be more Celtic-like, do some of our things and not just have it like a game of pickup basketball. There'll be more in-depth stuff with our own coaching staff."

Ainge said he still plans to attend the Vegas Summer League, but only for scouting purposes.

"I go to all the summer leagues," he said, "and try to look at the players and see which rookies we might have missed or passed on. So I'll probably be there for a few days."

In other words, the golf courses won't go unused.

Etc.

It's not a case of win and you're in.

The Nuggets may be on the verge of a dubious distinction - sporting the best record for a nonplayoff team since the NBA went to a 16-team format in the 1983-84 season. Frankly, it's astonishing that a team with two of the top five scorers in the NBA (both All-Star starters) along with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year would not be a postseason lock. But the Nuggets have been in ninth place in the brutal Western Conference for a while and can't seem to break into the top eight, despite being on a pace for 48 wins. The 2002-03 Rockets hold the distinction of being the best nonplayoff team since 1984, at 45-37. They are one of eight teams in that span to have had a winning record and not made the playoffs. Right behind them are the 2004-05 Timberwolves and the 2000-01 Sonics, both of whom went 44-38. The five other nonqualifiers went 42-40.

Looking out below
Former Celtic Brandon Wallace has surfaced in the Development League, this time with the Laker-owned LA D-Fenders. Wallace played for the Celtics' affiliate in Utah earlier in the season but was waived by Boston in December. He also played three games for the Iowa Energy, so he has a pretty good working knowledge of the D-League. In his first 10 games for the D-Fenders, Wallace averaged 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in 23.4 minutes. "I think that's a good place for him," Doc Rivers said. "The way he plays, and with his length, he's a good fit for the triangle [offense]." Gabe Pruitt, meanwhile, is tearing it up for the Utah Flash. He averaged 21.3 points in his first four games since being sent down for the third (and last) time March 4. The league's regular season ends April 12.

Stuck in idle
The news was not good last week for the Clippers' Shaun Livingston, who had hoped to return to action this season following extensive rehab from his devastating left knee injury more than a year ago (Feb. 26, 2007). An examination March 6, however, revealed that while Livingston's knee looks fine, he has developed tendinitis in the area that will need four weeks to calm down. That puts things into early April and, well, why bother? Livingston has said he hopes to test things in summer league play. Elton Brand, meanwhile, who has been out all year with an Achilles' tendon injury, is closer and hopes to be back soon. "It's driving me nuts," Brand said of the idleness. "The season before this [when the Clippers went to the second round of the playoffs] was, personally, my greatest season in the NBA. It's so hard to see the team languish like this."

Wait your turn
If Utah second-year guard Ron Brewer reveals a shade of discontent over the way he's used, well, his coach, the imperturbable Jerry Sloan, isn't the slightest bit sympathetic. That comes as a shocker, huh? "Second-year players shouldn't get discouraged," Sloan said. "They're still getting a paycheck. Sometimes, you have to work through a lot of stuff to find out who you are. I just hope he's interested in winning, because that's what it's all about." Brewer and Kyle Korver have been alternating at shooting guard, with Korver sometimes getting the minutes in the second and fourth quarters. However, Sloan has apparently recognized what we all knew about Korver - he can't guard anyone - and that has led to a little more time in the fourth for Brewer. He had been getting a lot more fourth-quarter time before Korver arrived. But the Jazz were only 16-16 when Korver arrived and have been on a tear ever since.

The iron
How's this for a starting five: Dwight Howard, Tayshaun Prince, Bruce Bowen, Andre Miller, and DeShawn Stevenson? Until Friday afternoon, that represented the All-Durable Team, as those lads held the five longest consecutive-game streaks in the league, with Bowen at No. 1 at an even 500. But the league ended Bowen's streak by suspending him for kicking at Chris Paul; he sat out Friday's game against the Pistons. That moved Miller to the top of the list, with 431 straight. The two surprising names on that list? Stevenson, for sure. He's had trouble getting on a team, let alone getting playing time. But he last missed a game in the 2004-05 season. And then there's Howard, who has yet to miss a game in his NBA career. He's following in the footsteps of Kevin McHale, who didn't miss a game until his fifth NBA season.

Peter May can be reached at pmay@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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