FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- This is home now for Gerald Green. There's a room at the Hilton Garden Inn, a rental car (no small feat for someone who is still 19), and so many, many new things.
There's a new team, the Fayetteville Patriots, with a new coach, Mike Brown, and 11 new teammates, many of them unknown and all of them aspiring to be what Green is: an NBA player. Most will never know what it's like.
There's this whole new environment, not like anything he experienced the past few months in Boston. There's a new hairdo (cornrows) and there's the nice weather, for sure, but the D-League is still the D-League, which means games in arenas with more empty seats than fannies, long bus trips, lots of practice time, and even more downtime.
So far, Green, sent here by the Celtics to get the playing time he couldn't get in Boston, has played in two games, both losses for the last-place Patriots (4-13). If nothing else, he has made a convincing case that he may have no peers in the National Basketball Development League for outright athleticism and dunking ability. He played 24 minutes Sunday and scored 10 points. He had 15 points (and 15 shots) Monday in 20 minutes while also committing five turnovers, two of them for palming.
''I haven't played too good," he said after Monday night's 119-108 loss to Roanoke. ''But it's still only two games. I'm still trying to get adjusted and I'm just starting to feel comfortable. Hopefully, it'll start getting easier."
The Celtics helped smooth the transition by having Danny Ainge, their executive director of basketball operations, fly down with Green and stick around for the first 10 days. Mike Crotty, Boston's player development director and a Green roommate last fall, arrived Saturday. Ainge helped Green get a room (and had one in the same hotel) and worked some backdoor moves to get Green a car.
''We had to have proof of insurance and signed a lot of papers," Ainge said. ''It wasn't easy."
The two also have been dining companions at night and watched the Celtics-Hawks game eight days ago. Well, one of them did, anyway.
''He fell asleep on my couch in my room in the middle of the second quarter and didn't wake up until the game was over," Ainge said. ''We were watching it on my laptop one minute and, next thing I knew, he was gone."
Ainge will soon head back to Boston and plans to send one of the team's strength-and-conditioning coaches down to work with Green on keeping his new body (20 extra pounds) intact. He doesn't want Green to lose all the strength he has gained since coming to the team. You can also be sure that there will be plenty of talk about nutrition, especially in a place where Waffle Houses and
Ainge was the one who drafted Green No. 18 overall last year, then made the decision less than two weeks ago to send Green here for playing time. After a week of practices, Fayetteville played its first games with Green over Martin Luther King Day weekend. The next game is tomorrow night on the road against the Arkansas Rim Rockers. While living here, Green collects his NBA salary as well as per diem ($101) when Fayetteville travels. On the road, he flies first class and gets his own hotel room.
On the floor, however, he's just another D-Leaguer, needing seasoning and instruction. Brown, a 12-year NBA veteran who once played for Ainge in Phoenix, has been entrusted with that chore. So far, he likes what he sees in the 6-foot-7-inch Green, but he hastens to add that the kid will be given no special treatment. Indeed, the Celtics were hoping Green would play 30 minutes a night. Brown kept him out of the first quarter in each of the first two games.
''This is an opportunity to play," Brown said. ''And you play your best ball where you are, and, right now, you are in Fayetteville. That's how you have to look at it. He's a young man, eager to learn, and has a lot to learn, especially on defense. I'm looking forward to helping him as long as I can, whether he is here for two weeks or five months."
The engagement is open-ended and Ainge said he is comfortable leaving Green in Brown's hands.
''I don't see anything bad, it's all positive," he said. ''It's what he needs, instead of being with the team and having limited practice time. Unless things change on our roster, or there are injuries, I'm very comfortable with where he is."
Green dressed for one Celtics game. He was on the inactive list for all the others. He did play during the exhibition season. But this is a different animal, a league of players with largely unrecognizable names (unless you're Leo Papile or Chris Wallace) who are here for a reason. They vary in age from Green to a player like Vonteego Cummings, once a first-round pick (No. 26 in 1999) and now about to turn 30.
Ainge said he thought Green needed about three days to overcome the understandable anxiety of the relocation process. The first six days were all practices, with extra time for individual instruction from Ainge. The workout sessions sometimes extended beyond three hours, which might explain why Green couldn't make it through the Celtics-Hawks game.
''The guys here give me a challenge every day in practice," Green said. ''They're good. It's no cakewalk. But they're cool and I'm going to stay positive. I have to look at this as a great opportunity for me to get minutes."
The D-League also had some teams out to the nearby military base, Fort Bragg, and Green and others did some simulated weapons firing. According to the Fayetteville Observer, which had a reporter on the scene, Green practiced with an M4 carbine rifle and, well, if there was a D-League for that, he'd be there as well. He missed his first three shots, which prompted his new teammate, Mike King, to quip, ''Gerald, you just need to lay down some cover fire for me, because you ain't going to hit nothing."
During games, Ainge and Green's agent, former NBA player Byron Irvin, shouted encouragement, urging him to rebound or elevate on his jump shot. Ainge seemed particularly heartened that Green needed only 15 seconds to take (and make) his first shot in the loss to Roanoke (which got excellent play from Will Bynum, who was in the Celtics' training camp).
Green said he is content to be alone now, but may have his family come for a visit soon. One tends to forget he's still less than one year out of high school and has as much knowledge of Fayetteville as he has of Helsinki. As Ainge said, ''He wasn't too proud to come down and play here. But he was uncertain of what life was going to be like."
He's learning by the day. The D-League is one big revolving door -- Brown had four new players for the games on Sunday and Monday -- and Green knows, eventually, it will swing back to Boston. While much is uncertain about this enterprise, the final destination is not.
''Hopefully," Green said, ''it's not going to be a long time. And hopefully when I get back, I'll be a better player."