The curious case of Gerald Green has taken a new turn in the past week, back toward making some of those hero shots we loved to see a year ago when Green and the Suns were happy as clams.
Green scored a season-high 30 points last night in the close (is there any other kind?) loss to the Dallas Mavericks where he made 5-of-10 three pointers, 5-of-9 two pointers and 5-of-5 free throws. He also had 2 rebounds, 2 assists and committed only one turnover in 30 minutes of play.
The 30-point game was a season high, marking the 5th time in 6 games he has scored 10+ points off the bench after scoring 10+ only 4 times in his previous 20 outings.
The season has been a roller coaster for Green, who started off the year on fire, helping form the affectionately labeled "Chuck Wagon" second unit with Isaiah Thomas that was so effective in the scoring department from November to January.
He was right on track with last season through December, but then fell off hard in January and, in Hornacek's eyes, never recovered until this past week or so.
Green has always been a one-trick guy. He shoots all the time. In fact, his 'usage rate' is a career high this year - % of touches that finish in a shot or assist. He has never been a good passer, or rebounder, or defender. Often, he gives up as many points as he scores.
One of the biggest problems is that he breaks off plays constantly, preferring to take the first shot he can find rather than run the play that's been designed. Green is a maverick in every way. Sometimes it's beautiful. Often, its maddening. And that's just on offense. Green often loses his man on defense, turning his head to watch the ball only to get back-cut for a score.
In December, even when he was shooting well, his plus/minus shows that the other team outscored the Suns when he was on the court.
And then in January when his shooting touch faded, Hornacek decided that he'd rather see more of Archie Goodwin. Goodwin has seen a huge uptick in playing time since Green started losing minutes. Goodwin, 20, is potentially part of the Suns future, while Green, 29, was really the odd man out in the coming years. There's only so many minutes to go around.
If last year's Gerald Green had been present from January on, he almost certainly would have kept his rotation spot. Heck, especially when Brandon Knight went down after the trades, Green could have started and spread the floor next to Bledsoe like he did with Goran Dragic last year.
Green almost always refused interviews this season, so we had no idea how he was doing or feeling all season. Once, early in the season, he said he was trying to improve his all-around game in advance of being a free agent this summer and that he avoided the reporters because he thought they (we) were the cause of him being so up and down a year ago.
He started hitting a lull in January, and then one night, against Chicago, coach Hornacek never called him off the bench - his first benching in 129 games as a Sun.
"In the beginning, I thought I was playing better than last year but I guess other people thought otherwise," said Green, who started 48 games, averaged 15.8 points and made 40 percent of 3-pointers last season. "It hasn't been the same (since the Chicago game). I ain't gonna lie. It's been frustrating because I know I can help win."
Green went in the tank, continuing to take shots every chance he got but missing them often (23% three point shooting for two full months). When Green isn't making shots, he's not a lot of help out there. Of course, Green disagrees.
"I feel like I could've helped a lot more than I did this season," Green said. "Those decisions weren't up to me. If I play, I'll go out and give it my best. I don't really get excited about games any more because I don't know if I'm going to play. These type of games don't excite me any more. They don't give me confidence.
"I don't want to get too excited because I know the next game I might not play."
What really bothers me about this quote is how personal Green took the loss of minutes. He's admitting that he checked out, which of course the coaches are going to see.
He says it was someone else's decision to not let him contribute. So clearly, Gerald doesn't take ownership for how he played in the minutes he got. He's only worried about how many of those minutes he was on the court.
Hornacek talked about players in general on ArizonaSports.com this week. Some of those words may have been directed toward Gerald.
"Some nights, you're playing well and you're going to play 15 to 20 minutes. Other nights, you're hurting us and you're going to play five minutes."
Coach has said this about Green and other players this year often - that he just wants them to perform when they're out there rather than get gifted minutes without proving it.
As a manager in real life, few attitudes irk me more than an employee who feels entitled, who feels he/she should get the recognition or credit before doing any extra work. They say "why should I excel at my job when I'm making the same money as those who don't? Pay me more than them, and I'll work harder". I come back with "Work harder first, then I'll reward you for it because you deserve it." How bad would it look if I gave perks and such to an underperformer? What message would that send to my team?
In Gerald's case, that's "Give me the minutes first, then I'll play well" while Hornacek is likely saying "play well in the minutes you get, THEN I'll give you more."
Gerald wasn't the only one wanting more minutes this year. That was a theme of the season: "Give me more minutes, more touches, THEN I'll think about the team first, me second."
Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic were shipped out. Gerald Green was benched. The guys who never complained about their minutes or touches - Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Tucker, Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Brandan Wright - are the only who got the lion's share of minutes in the second half of the season.
Gerald loves it here in Phoenix and would like to stay.
"I want to be here but I just don't know if they want me here," Green said. "Because if you want somebody, you show them. I didn't think I was playing that bad and now we're here."
It's not about "not playing that bad", Gerald. It's about a lot more than that.
Sure, it would be fun to have the happy Gerald back. It'd be even more fun to have that guy happy and producing, and being predictable, on whatever minutes he gets a night and not just when he gets all the minutes he wants.
But even then, the Suns have a lot of other guys who can play Gerald's role.
The Suns have Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin, Reggie Bullock and (in the wings) Bogdan Bogdanovic all much younger than Gerald, and P.J. Tucker who can play shooting guard and plays hard-nosed defense.
Gerald doesn't bring the leadership the Suns need. He doesn't bring the playmaker skills. He doesn't bring the defense.
But man, can he shoot (and make them, 40% of the time).