Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: Miami Heat’s Gerald Green thriving as he earns trust of new team

Miami Heat guard Gerald Green goes to the basket against the Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre in the first quarter during a preseason game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015.
Miami Heat guard Gerald Green goes to the basket against the Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre in the first quarter during a preseason game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. pportal@elnuevoherald.com

There hasn’t always been trust. Certainly not early. Not in Boston, nor Minnesota, nor Houston or Dallas, which is why he spent two seasons in Russia, China and the D-League. It wasn’t until Gerald Green landed in Newark, New Jersey, on a 10-day contract in 2011, for the going-nowhere Nets, that he found a coach with some faith, from his first shootaround forward.

“It was kind of weird,” Green recalled during an interview Tuesday, prior to leading the Heat in scoring for the third time this preseason with 28 points in Wednesday’s 110-105 win against the Wizards. “We’re going through the offense. I make an extra pass. Avery Johnson stops the drill, what we’re doing. He says, ‘Hey, now, Gerald you can try to fit with these guys if you want to. But you need to try to have these guys fit in with you.’ So ever since he told me that, I've never looked back.”

After a season in Indiana, and a rotation role for two seasons in Phoenix, look where he is: Miami, on a possible contender, as necessity more than novelty, since the Heat is short on long-range shooting from the wings.

Look what he’s getting from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Trust.

The question is how long he can keep it.

Spoelstra, like Pat Riley prior to him, has rather rigid standards when it comes to reserve regulars. Play within the system on offense. Play with passion and concentration on defense. These have been two knocks on Green, even as he’s electrified with athleticism. These were the knocks on Michael Beasley, too, and you know how often he fell out of favor.

This is what was so encouraging about Green’s performance Wednesday, and why it might silence some skeptics — raising a hand — who wonder whether he will stay in Spoelstra’s good graces. It wasn’t just that he energized the arena after the Heat’s starting squad frequently appeared listless and clueless. It was the varied way in which he did so — pump-faking Garrett Temple to set up a better look, attacking above the clouds to draw a foul, schooling rookie Kelly Oubre in the post, driving to feed Chris Andersen for a slam.

And, better yet, he was engaged on the other end, whether soaring for a block, ripping down a rebound, or scrambling to stay in tune with teammates. This is what he keeps promising. This is where he keeps redirecting the discourse when asked about scoring.

“I’m just trying to be the best defender I can be,” Green said Tuesday. “Because I know offense comes easy for me. If I ‘D’ up, [Spoelstra] ain’t gonna take me off the floor, and then my offense is gonna show. As long as I ‘D’ up, I’m good.”

Why hasn’t he been deemed a plus defender elsewhere?

“Help defense,” Green said. “Where I played high school ball, it was a lot of one-on-one defense. I think my one-on-one defense is solid. Hands down! It’s the help defense, the help-the-helper, it’s the defensive terminology, the stuff I didn’t know. I didn’t go to college. I had to learn that stuff slowly once I got into the league. But ain’t nobody scoring on me one-on-one. I’m too athletic — that’s how I feel. You’re not gonna get around me, you’re not gonna outjump me. It’s pick-and-rolls, fighting over screens, that’s what kind of gets me, or used to get me. I’ve gotten a lot better at that. If somebody just clears me out, I’m gonna lock ’em up.”

There have been times that coaches have wanted to tie his arms behind his back, though even that might not have stopped him from shooting. Green averaged 9.6 three-point attempts per 36 minutes last season for Phoenix; noted gunner J.R. Smith has exceeded that just once in his career. This situation, however, could call for leniency, and Green said neither Spoelstra nor assistant David Fizdale has questioned a single shot, even as he’s taken some “bad” ones.

So what is a bad shot to him?

Off balance?

“Nah, because I can hit that,” Green said. “I jump high, so when I get in the air, I kind of balance myself up. A bad shot to me is if a guy’s open and I miss him by accident, because I’m so locked in on the goal. That’s a bad shot to me. You accidentally miss somebody. Or you might take a quick shot on the shot clock because you hit three or four in a row, trying to get a heat check. Every heat check is a bad shot unless they go in. That’s a bad shot to me.”

He took 14 shots Wednesday, some off balance, some in rhythm. He made eight. He made an impression. Again.

Should the Heat trust Gerald Green?

That, too, seems worth a shot.

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