PORTLAND, Ore. — Danny Green spent part of Saturday’s 76ers loss to the Trail Blazers chatting with Georges Niang from the bench. And studying a paper box score. And making his case with an official on the opposite side of the court. And in the ear of a nodding rookie Charles Bassey during a timeout.
Perhaps that helps explain why Doc Rivers needed to catch himself when he was about to say Green was on his coaching staff, instead of on his roster. The veteran wing is still nursing what he describes as a slightly strained hamstring that has kept him out of parts of eight of the past 11 games. But even when Green cannot play, he can always talk, offering wisdom and guidance to teammates still trying to find their way without superstar center Joel Embiid on this season-long six-game road trip that continues Monday at Sacramento.
“All he’s done is won wherever he goes in college and in the pros,” Rivers said of Green. “He has witnessed winning a lot. He has witnessed great players and he’s seen a lot of stuff. So having a guy like that … I always say ‘on my staff,’ because that’s how I feel. We call him Coach Green. It’s invaluable.”
As the most senior player on the Sixers roster, the 34-year-old Green takes plenty of playful verbal jabs. Rivers said that Green “looks old and slow … he walks worse than me.” Second-year starting point guard Tyrese Maxey enthusiastically concurred that Green is “definitely old,” while Niang on Saturday said Green has been in the NBA for 20 seasons (it’s only been 13). Green perhaps leaned into this characterization during Media Day in September, when he carried an old-school boom box around the Sixers’ practice facility.
But making fun of Green is just a cover for the deep-rooted respect he commands after winning three championships with three different teams during his career. He also brings a calm, thoughtful, everyday presence to a 9-8 Sixers team navigating a yo-yo season that has already included a six-game winning streak and their current stretch of six losses in their past seven games with Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe all missing multiple games while in health and safety protocols.
“Things will turn for us eventually, once we get healthy,” Green said while sitting courtside ahead of Saturday’s shootaround at the Moda Center. “We’ll be a stronger, better team for it. [I’m] just trying to see the coach and player perspective, let them know what’s going on outside of what the coaches are [saying].
“Present a positive attitude and vibes to keep them uplifted, regardless of what’s going on.”
Green emphasizes that if this were a playoff series instead of the pre-Thanksgiving regular season, he would be playing. His caution is because hamstring troubles can be tricky, often lingering or igniting a “domino effect” that causes injuries to more concerning parts of the body such as the knee or lower back.
Green self-exited the Sixers’ Nov. 1 victory against Portland after grabbing the back of his leg multiple times, which concerned Rivers because “Danny never, never wants to come out.” After missing one week and then playing in three games, Green felt his hamstring tighten again on two specific plays during Philly’s Nov. 13 loss at Indiana and has not played in the three games since then.
Green said Saturday morning that the hamstring felt “good,” but that it was best to wait a couple more days before returning.
“It’s frustrating that it came back, but the good thing is that it’s not major,” Green said. “The body’s letting me know that I need more time. It needs to heal better. … [I’m] trying to figure out how that’s gonna feel with workouts, trying to [take precautions], trying to be safe. It’s something that’s hard to gauge without practice, hard to gauge without playing in five-on-five.”
It has been an unfortunate health stretch for Green that has overlapped the end of last season and beginning of this one. His 2021 playoff run was cut short by calf injury suffered during the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.
But it is important to remember that few in the NBA have played as much basketball during the past 17 months as Green.
He was a key role player on the Los Angeles Lakers team that capped the NBA bubble run with a title in October of 2020. About six weeks later, he began training camp and then played in 69 of 72 games of the condensed 2020-21 Sixers season that concluded in the playoffs’ second round. This past summer break was also shorter than normal, resulting in parts of three separate seasons being crammed into one whirlwind calendar year.
When asked during the preseason if it feels like he has played a lot of basketball during that span, Green candidly acknowledged, “Yes, at times it does.” He was also borderline prophetic when he said this during the same mid-October conversation:
“The hardest part is trying to sit when I’m supposed to sit,” Green said. “Because I’m just a guy that always wants to play, regardless. If we’re down numbers, even if it’s small injuries, I usually just try to play through them. To me, the adjustment is taking the time and focusing on April, May, and June.”
That’s why Green takes care of his body in a far more detailed manner than when he was a decade younger. He credits some of that approach to observing the routines of LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, and Dwight Howard during the Lakers’ bubble run, along with how the Toronto Raptors managed Kawhi Leonard’s health by inventing and practicing the term “load management.”
During the offseason, Green no longer plays much pick-up basketball until he is back with teammates to run through specific offensive and defensive schemes. He focuses on stabilization instead of lifting heavy weights. He pays better attention to hydration and nutrition. He may spend an hour before or after a workout or game preparing or recovering.
The part of the process he detests the most: the cold tub.
“I do all the things that I hate to do,” Green said. “I hated them when I was 22. I still hate them now, but I force myself to do them.”
The eye test might indicate that Green is no longer at the level that made him a quintessential modern three-and-D wing for the better part of a decade. But entering Monday, he was still making 41.8% of his five three-point attempts per game. His long, 6-foot-6 frame makes him a capable, versatile defender for a Sixers team that has struggled mightily on that end of the floor without him, Embiid, Thybulle, and Ben Simmons. Green is averaging 7.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in the 11 games he has played.
“Danny’s so solid,” Rivers said. “Danny does what Danny does. He could miss 10 games; he walks on the floor, he looks like Danny.”
Following a practice in Salt Lake City last week, Rivers called Green “Coach” with the player within earshot. Rivers joked that Green would probably want to run his alma mater, North Carolina, but that he would illegally recruit. When asked to seriously share why he believes Green would make a great coach, Rivers pointed to Green’s basketball IQ and experience with coaches such as San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Toronto’s Nick Nurse, and the Tar Heels’ Roy Williams from whom he could draw.
Green, however, is not sure he wants to go down that post-playing path. Right now, he would prefer a more stable career, such as a television analyst.
“I feel like coaching might be more stressful than playing,” Green said. “I’d like to keep my hair. I want to keep it dark. I don’t want it to go gray or lose it, so coaching would be a bad route if I want to stay stress-free. … I don’t know how they manage those egos and deal with guys like me every day.”
Yet Green is still a natural at passing along guidance to teammates. For instance, when Maxey came into the practice facility for a workout after playing heavy minutes during a stretch of six games in nine nights earlier this month, he lasted about 15 minutes on the court before Green physically took the ball away and told Maxey to go home to rest.
Maxey listened to “Coach” Green.
“He has three rings at the end of the day,” Maxey said. “ ... So when he says something, he means it. He really means it, and you can tell that it came from a championship pedigree.”