Or, How Donte Greene Lost Your Imagination, And His Mind.
Monday afternoon was but a brief glimpse of sunshine in the otherwise dank reality for Donte Greene fans like myself. With Francisco Garcia mending and Omri Casspi slotted into a steady bench role, Greene has been relegated to specialist duty. From Christmas til MLK Day, he never played more than five minutes in a game. This after 17 straight starts, all but one of which came with at least 20 minutes of burn.
A starter (albeit on a bad team), then a nothing (even worse: on a bad team). This is the NBA, and no one -- not a coach with four titles, a coach in danger of losing his job, the Larry O'Brien trophy ... no one -- stops to smell the lilacs and consider worldviews. You can't fault Paul Westphal for worrying more about his own career than the career of a 22-year-old phantom. You can't fault Westphal for making decisions on the fly, without the gift of a patient public, without the gift of runes to tell what the future holds. You don't know what Donte Greene or Omri Casspi wil be. I don't know, either. Paul Westphal might think he knows, just like I sometimes might think I know and you sometimes might think you know. But he don't know. Donte don't know. Omri don't know.
And that's one of the things about the NBA that will never change: every team, every coach, every front office and just about every fan at some point gives up on a player without complete information. It's impossible not to! Teams have only so many roster spots and so much salary space. Fans have only so much heart and patience. It's human to give up on others not meeting expectations; it's systemic that the NBA and its teams discard talent.
But this thing with Donte, man ...
You all know I'm an unabashed Donte Greene fan, and that I have been since his days at Syracuse. But I think I can remain objective about this as a fan of the Kings, because foremost, I am a fan of the Kings. If Donte were still a Rocket, I'd like him, but I wouldn't be so interested in his fate. The connection to the Kings is key here. I won't lose sight of that, and I hope the StR masses who rolled their eyes when they figured out I was writing another damn Donte Greene post don't lose sight of that.
Donte's first real burn in almost a month sparked something inside of me dissimilar than any Kings-related emotion I can feel. It isn't as if players haven't disappointed me as a Kings fan before. Quincy Douby, Spencer Hawes -- we're talking just these days. Walt Williams is perhaps the marquee name for this show. To be a fan of any team is to face disappointment. Hell, to be human is to face disappointment. This is different. This is disappointment, followed by frustration, followed by hope, followed by anxiety of defeat.
Donte Greene, right now, isn't in a good place, career-wise. Westphal is not a fan, or at least not enough of a fan to give him the season to work it out. Again, that's fair -- Westphal's job above all else is to do what it takes to keep his job. He needs wins, and fast, and he wasn't getting them with Greene as a starter. Donte shot 20-62 from three-point range during his string of starts. That's not getting it done.
In the meantime, Omri is shooting 40 percent on three-pointers this season, which is in fact "getting it done." No Donte Greene homer -- not even me -- can argue Donte has earned the privilege of more playing time than Omri. Francisco Garcia fits the bill, too; El Flaco is shooting 38 percent on threes, and his entrance to the starting lineup directly coincided with better, more spirited team basketball. You can't make a solid case, on a game-by-game basis, for Greene to take minutes from either. And this is a 9-30 team, mind you.
But that means that mirages like Greene's 35 minutes on Monday will remain just that: mirages. Donte can't be a good player without buckets of playing time; Donte can't get buckets of playing time until he is a good player. The path is set, and barring a comet strike or some mutant ooze, it's not going to change here. The circumstances have in large part forced this reality, that if Greene becomes something it probably won't be here. And the answer to the riddle may very well be "nowhere, ever." It's a real shame, unavoidable as it may be. Our young basketball stars deserve a better chance, and I hope the NBA D-League really does become a true minor league, so that all these potentially brilliant basketball careers aren't decided at age 22.
Because Donte Greene deserves patience, patience he can't earn in the NBA. How much potential greatness can the league afford to throw away every year?