Photo by Jose Luis Villegas - see entire slideshow here
Donté Greene wants a time machine.
He said as much last week in Las Vegas, where the process of improving his game for the future continued at summer league but the Kings second-year small forward couldn't help but look back. During a long and candid interview inside his Palms hotel that resulted in Sunday's piece on his life and still-stalling career, Greene talked about a number of things that didn't make the story.
But the part about wanting to turn back time stuck with me the most, as even the most candid of athletes typically steer clear of admitting regret. Yet Greene didn't hesitate at all, discussing his decision to leave Syracuse after just one season and wondering what might have been if he had stayed. To review, he was drafted by Memphis with the 28th pick and traded to Houston that night before coming to the Kings in the August trade that netted the Rockets Ron Artest.
"It's been a long road, a lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas," Greene said. "I wish I would've done this, wish I would've done that, wish I had me a time traveling machine. All kinds of crazy stuff. My family has definitely been there, told me to hang in there. It's just been a lot of tough things going on and off the court with me.
"It's a little difficult, because you don't know what to expect. Last year coming in, I knew I had to come in and show the Rockets that I could be that guy to come off the bench, that I could be the guy to back up T-Mac (Tracy McGrady) and Shane Battier. At the time, I didn't know Shane Battier would be hurt in the first half of the season, so looking back and seeing Von Wafer, I feel like that was me. He came in and just killed, had a great year with the Rockets. I felt like I could've came in and done the same thing he did.
"But being with the Kings was difficult, because I'm thinking I'm getting traded from a playoff contention team where you're being told there will be some minutes there for you, to going to a team who really was in the rebuilding stage...Being on the bench, you sit there and you're not playing. You see what your college teammates are doing. And it's like, 'Dang man.
"I'm thinking, maybe I could've won a national championship this year. Then you look at the draft. And no disrespect to players who came out this year, but I feel like I could've been right there. As they say, it was a weak draft, and I could've been right there with (Clippers' No. 1 pick) Blake (Griffin), and (Kings' No. 4 pick) Tyreke (Evans) and (Memphis' No. 2 pick Hasheem) Thabeet and all those guys. It was just tough...But I'm working, still here trying to make something out of it, and still having fun at the same time."
There wasn't much fun in his rookie season, though, as Greene held a minimal role and produced only minimally in it. There was the five-game stint with the Kings' D-League team in Reno as well, and no shortage of therapy sessions between he and his father, Donald Jr., to help deal with the frustration.
"He calls me," his father said when we visited in his Woodlawn, Md. home in mid-March of last season. "He called me last week, and we were on the phone about 3 o'clock California time but 6 o' clock here in the morning. We talked for like three hours. He was mad, because he's not getting playing time.
"I was like, 'Who can you go talk to?' He said, 'I can't go talk to nobody.' I told him, 'Look, don't give up.' He said, 'I'm not giving up. I made my dream, and my dream came true. He's where he's at right now, and he's going to keep doing what he's got to do. It's not going to come all at once...He's wanting everything all at once, and it's not going to happen that way. That's not how the NBA works."
Greene knows that now. He spent most of his time in Sacramento this summer, working to improve his game and earning praise from Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie for the dedication he showed. He focused on his post game, his rebounding, on getting to the rim more often to draw fouls and/or finish and - of course - on his defensive abilities and awareness.
He has struggled in summer league, though, shooting just 29.6 percent overall (8 of 27) and playing just 15 minutes in the Kings' loss to Milwaukee on Monday in which he took (and missed) just one shot. There have been some inspired moments defensively and a willingness to do the little things (charges, screens) that I didn't see enough last season. And while I'm starting to wonder if Jason Thompson's added weight (about 15 pounds of muscle) is a good thing, Greene's 15 pounds of added bulk looks to be helping him on the floor and he appears to have retained the spring in his step.
He simply must produce better, though, as he could have even more competition for minutes this season than the last. The Kings drafted small forward Omri Casspi and will surely play him above Greene if he gives them reason to do so. Starter Andres Nocioni will obviously take the bulk of the playing time, with Francisco Garcia the first off the bench from there. Greene could get some time at the power forward spot if coach Paul Westphal wants to get creative, and Greene's decent rebounding numbers in summer league will need to continue as a necessity for that plan.
Whatever his role, Greene said he's ready to put the regrets behind him and get back to enjoying the game he loves.
"(I want to) come off the bench and be the spark," Greene said about his desired role this season. "I want to get out there and just play, just have fun. We didn't have fun last year. Guys went through the motions, some guys were doing their own thing. We've just got to go out there and have fun and play hard.
"There were some nights that you could just see it that guys just didn't want to be out there. We've just got to come out and play hard every night and compete and I think we'll be fine." - Sam Amick