Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
CHICAGO — You laugh, but when Gerald Green says it with a straight face, you realize he's not joking, that in fact the newest member of the Houston Rockets didn't have a trainer working with him as he waited for an NBA team to call.
He didn't even have a human being with him as he put up shots this fall. "I just played one-on-one outside in my driveway with my Rottweiler," Green said during an idle moment before a recent Rockets practice in Chicago.
As a member of the prep-to-pro cluster before the NBA instituted its "one-and-done" rule, Green didn't have access to college facilities after the Milwaukee Bucks cut him days before the regular season began.
What he did have was his dog.
"Yeah, I had my Rottweiler. What's wrong with that?" Green asked. "Dogs don't get tired."
In his mind, those workouts prepared him for the surprise he's unleashed on the NBA since being signed by the Rockets three days after Christmas. He's averaging 16.6 points on 49.5 percent shooting (49.2 percent from three) on a whopping 8.1 three-point attempts per game.
The thought of being out of the NBA was jarring to Green, even after he'd been on the business end of basketball decisions many times since 2005.
"I think if it was the first time that it ever happened to me, I wouldn't have known how to handle it," Green said. "But I just kept working out, kept believing in myself."
Consider that seven months prior, Green had been a big piece in the Boston Celtics' rebounding from a 2-0 deficit in the first round of the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls.
He remembers being surprised when Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty told him he was going to start before Game 3 of that playoff series. At first, he thought McCarty was playing a practical joke on him.
"I said, Coach, I don't have time for no games. I'm not playing right now. Stop playing with me. Let me get my work in. … He laughed and said, 'I'm dead serious.'"
Green's athleticism and shooting caught the Bulls off-guard in the final four games. He scored in double figures in two of them, shooting 41 percent from three-point range.
Despite the Celtics not bringing him back, someone in the other conference was paying attention to Green's ability to change games: Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
But with no cap space and eyes on bigger deals, the Rockets couldn't connect with Green. That left him with his family in Houston, with his children and, of course, with Zeus in his driveway for some one-sided basketball games.
"My Rottweiler really don't talk much. He just bites," Green said with a hint of a smile.
Before he could make an impact on the Rockets, Green proved to be instrumental to Houston, the city.
As Hurricane Harvey devastated the area in late August, Green himself was stranded in his car by the floodwaters on a local highway. After asking for help on Instagram, someone arrived with a boat to rescue him. Using that boat, he then was able to help rescue others.
Green considers his acts more a duty than heroism. "I was just trying to do what I thought was right," he said.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Gerald Green wants the world to know that people are still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, and he vows to help them out 🙏 https://t.co/OkMvXfWwtL2018-1-9 23:40:40
But despite his deep connections to Houston, it was not until James Harden and others such as Luc Mbah a Moute were sidelined with injuries that the Rockets finally reached out to Green in late December.
"We were interested in bringing him in before the season, but Milwaukee brought him in," Morey said. "But then after multiple injuries, Gerald was at the top of the list."
Morey reached out to Green's agent, James Dunleavy, before the Rockets played the Celtics on Dec. 28.
"We said this will be an easy guy to have, because he's in Houston," Morey said.
As luck would have it, Green was already in Boston, his former home. He signed and was in uniform that night.
"He's a great fit for our system," Morey said. "If we knew he would play this well, we would've done it earlier. I was in Boston when he was drafted. And we traded for him once in Houston. He was a guy who's always been a friend of the organization."
After going scoreless in 11 minutes in his first game as a Rocket, he scored 18 against the Washington Wizards the next night and has followed it up with three 20-plus-point showings in the last five games.
As Rockets assistant coach John Lucas II, a mentor to Green, said, his arrival was a case of right place, right time, but nobody saw this coming.
"I mean. I'm a total idiot if I knew he would be this good," Morey said. "We've seen it. Obviously, he's not gonna shoot 70 percent all year from three. It's fine if he does, but it looks like he'll settle right in as a really solid contributor for us. We're very excited."
"You have a lot of guys who've been given opportunities in the league. I'm not one of those guys," Green said. Despite being road-weary, Green isn't surprised by his own success. He never lost sight of a bigger plan. Even after Boston and Milwaukee released him, quitting wasn't an option.
Little did he know his best option was right around the corner.
"Once you give up, you know you're done," Green said. "I just kept working. I told myself, 'When it's over, it's over, and I'm gonna know when it's over.' But I never gave up, and God blessed me with an opportunity I never thought I would have."