The Lakers bench was nearly outscored single-handedly, 13-14, on Tuesday by a player that could have been a part of it.
Gerald Green, a training camp invitee of the Lakers and big-time contributor to the Los Angeles D-Fenders this season, the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, was called up by the New Jersey Nets in February and has shined in a backup role.
Green came into Tuesday’s game averaging 11.5 points on 49.7 percent shooting from the floor and 37.3 percent from downtown for New Jersey. He scored 20 points or more in four of his first 19 games with the Nets.
The Lakers have lacked a consistent bench scorer this season, as they relied at times on unproven rookie Andrew Goudelock to fill that role and attempted, and failed, to secure a solid sixth man in Minnesota’s Michael Beasley at the trade deadline.
Green, a former first round pick of the Boston Celtics who has played for five NBA teams including the Nets and Celtics, played exceptionally well in his time with the D-Fenders, averaging 19.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 22 games while shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 45.8 percent on 3-pointers.
Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who considered signing free agent Gilbert Arenas at one point to satisfy the bench scoring need, said the team tracked Green closely but considered him more of a small forward than a shooting guard.
“If you look at him as a small forward, he would have been our fifth small forward behind Metta [World Peace], at the time Luke [Walton], Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks,” Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “So, as painful as it was to watch a kid really grow and you get to know a kid, there was just no way to bring him on the team and have him sit and justify it.”
Kupchak did not rule out the Lakers revisiting Green when he becomes a free agent this offseason.
“I’m happy for the kid,” Kupchak said. “I hope he plays well for the rest of the year and based on how things play out, we’ll take it from there.”
Lakers coach Mike Brown said it was tough to get a gauge on Green during training camp because he was ineligible to participate from the start because of complications involving his contract with the Foshan Dralions in China.
“He couldn’t participate until the last couple days so we never had a chance to really see him,” Brown said.
“That was tough to sit and watch knowing that there was an opportunity there,” Green told ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Still, Green was grateful for his time with the D-Fenders and especially thankful for the influence head coach Eric Musselman who had prior experience coaching in the NBA.
“He always rode me,” Green said. “He always told me if I was going to get back I needed to always stay focused, be consistent, be ready, play at both ends of the floor. He always kept teaching me and kept motivating me.”
Green was the fifth D-Fenders player to be called up this season along with Courtney Fortson (L.A. Clippers, Houston), Ishmael Smith (Orlando), Malcolm Thomas (San Antonio, Houston) and Jamaal Tinsley (Utah).
The D-Fenders’ seven total call-ups ties them with the Austin Toros for the second most call-ups in the D-League this season, trailing only the Erie BayHawks’ eight.
“We just get talented guys on our D-League team and try to develop all those players and if they succeed and end up being in the NBA for other teams, then that’s good for them,” D-Fenders general manager Glenn Carraro told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “If we can benefit by it and score a player for our Laker team, that’s great also.”
Kupchak said the Lakers didn’t have a need for those players because their roster was able to stay healthy.
“Knock on wood, we really haven’t had any injury problems this year and most of the teams that you see the call-ups to are teams that have injury problems,” Kupchak said. “They bring up a guy for 10 days or two weeks or three weeks. That’s just the way it played out this year.”
Despite the rash of call-ups depleting the talent on the D-Fenders roster, they have excelled on the court with the players that remain. The D-Fenders currently hold the best record in the D-League at 35-12 and have won 18 of their last 20 games. They have three game remaining in the regular season. If they win all three, they will finish with the best regular season record in D-League history at 38-12. They need to go at least 2-1 to tie the current all-time best record of 37-13 set by the Iowa Energy in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Kupchak said he shares an office suite with Musselman, Carraro and D-Fenders president Joey Buss, but is not “part of their process” when it comes to day-to-day decisions.
“If there’s any credit to be given out, it’s really to be given out to those three people,” Kupchak said. “They’ve done a great job.”
As has Green, thanks in large part to his time with the D-Fenders.
“Won’t nothing prepare you like the D-League,” Green said. “Even overseas, that won’t prepare you like the D-League. The D-League is more of an NBA style play.”
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.