There was a point in Danny Green’s young career when his NBA dreams appeared to be fading.
He couldn’t crack the rotation as LeBron James’ rookie teammate in Cleveland in 2009-10, and both the Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs waived him in his first two seasons.
The 6-foot-6 shooter from Long Island has come a long way since. Green’s 27 points in Tuesday’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals easily out-shined James, his old friend and mentor, to help San Antonio rout Miami 113-77.
Green was 7-of-9 from 3-point range, and set his career playoff high in points.
“He’s a pretty confident young man right now,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
He wasn’t always like that.
Green scored 40 total points in his first NBA season, his post-practice, one-on-one games against James hardly translating into real-game improvement. Green wound up with San Antonio a month after Cleveland released him in 2010, but the Spurs cut him twice over the next year. Popovich said Green wasn’t confident in himself.
So Green, now 10 days away from turning 26, kept shooting and shooting. He talked with his old college coach, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, and did some soul searching.
He did enough to start 38 games in the 2011-12 season. He did enough to become one of the NBA’s top perimeter shooters, finishing in the top 10 in 3-point shooting percentage the past two seasons.
“He has developed into a great one for us,” the Spurs’ Tim Duncan said.
Green’s path in the NBA should look familiar to North Carolina fans. He played serious minutes his freshman year but fell out of favor for much of his sophomore season.
Then, as a junior, he doubled his points, rebounds and assists, and as a senior he started on the Tar Heels’ 2009 national championship team. He did all that while his father, Danny, battled major legal problems.
Green’s father was arrested in 2006 on drug trafficking charges. The New York Daily News in 2009 reported that the elder Green had $40 million worth of cocaine in his possession when he was arrested. He served 22 months in custody and is back to his favorite job: coaching his son.
“He’s always going to have his criticism,” the younger Green said with a smile. “Parents get on your nerves sometimes, but I know it’s all in good faith.
“I’ve always had great teammates, great friends, good family to get me through things.”
Teammates like James, who pushed Green to keep hustling and working in Cleveland. Before the NBA Finals began, both players perked up when asked about each other. They were excited to play against an old teammate.
“I liked the way he carried himself on and off the court,” Green said. “I tried to pick and choose some of the moves he likes to do and add them to my game. I learned a lot. It was fun.”
Green sure looked like he was having fun Tuesday night, flipping the script on one of his first NBA mentors.
“Never thought in a million years that would happen,” Green said.