How Kevin Garnett, Zach Randolph, NBA veteran voices echo in Nuggets’ locker room: “They showed you how to move” – The Denver Post

Jeff Green knows his list is longer than most.

At 35 years old — the last 15 of them spent in the NBA — Green’s staying power is a testament to the veterans who showed him the way.

“I’m still here,” said Green, a slight edge of defiance in his voice. “… (Freaking) 15 years. That’s a lot of years in the NBA given how players come and go.”

Like every other NBA stalwart, Green is a product of his history, influenced by the 11 franchises he’s been with, and the roughly 200 teammates he’s had.

As the Nuggets’ elder statesman, it’s now his job to share knowledge gleaned from Hall of Famers to rookies and everyone in between. He, Austin Rivers (10 NBA seasons), JaMychal Green (eight) and coach Michael Malone have amassed hard-earned wisdom that serves as an invaluable resource for this iteration of the Nuggets.

While there are other veterans who’ve left a lasting imprint on the Nuggets’ locker room, particularly from Nikola Jokic’s first few seasons in Denver, these lessons, from both Greens, Rivers and Malone, endure.

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Sue Ogrocki, The Associated Press

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4) dunks in front of Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett (5) and forward Jeff Green (8) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 10, 2013. Oklahoma City won 91-79. 

When the Celtics traded for Jeff Green in February of 2011, they were only three seasons removed from their last NBA championship. The fingerprints of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett on the franchise were still fresh.

Even then, in his 16th season, Garnett was still productive and playing with an unparalleled brand of passion.

“(He taught me) everything,” Green said. “Be a professional. The little nuances of basketball, coming in to work every day, doing what you’re supposed to do to prepare yourself to be ready to play. He showed me routine, as far as trying to develop a routine to get better and sticking with it. I mean, everything. He showed me how to be there for your teammates in every single way possible. The unselfishness of basketball.”

Unsurprisingly, Green said Garnett practiced the way he played: hard.

“He’s not for the weak-hearted,” said Green, who soaked up lessons Garnett was willing to teach. Some, he said, were overt. Others were more subtle, there only for those who knew to look.

Even as the All-Star power forward, Garnett groomed Green to be ready.

Fast-forward a decade. Green was in his first preseason with the Nuggets this fall when he conveyed the same message to a rookie guard stuck behind veterans on the depth chart.

“I talk to Bones (Hyland) a lot about preparation, staying ready,” Green said. “When you’re a rookie, you don’t really know what you’re getting into. You don’t know how things are going to pan out, if you’re going to play tonight, if you’re not going to play tonight. The first couple games he got DNPs. … He always stayed in the gym, prepared himself. We had those talks in preseason. It’s just knowledge that I was given when I was younger that you gotta pass along.”

The veterans Green learned from – Garnett, Vince Carter, Nick Collison, Etan Thomas and Earl Watson — have stories that would outlast any campfire. For now, Green’s advice is helping steer the Nuggets through the fits of their early-season turbulence.

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Marcio Jose Sanchez, The Associated Press

Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph, Beno Udrih, Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green, from left, watch from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors on Monday, April 13, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. 

If Jeff’s history is scattered throughout the league, highlighted by stops in Cleveland and most recently, Brooklyn, then JaMychal’s identity was forged in one place: Memphis.

Long before JaMychal had established himself as a trustworthy big man in Los Angeles, he had to cut his teeth with the Grizzlies. The Grindhouse, as Memphis’ arena came to be known, was his classroom, and Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and Carter were his professors.

“I came in through the back door with my 10-day contract,” JaMychal said of his unheralded start during the 2014-’15 season. “They kept me in the gym, kept me working.”

Randolph, whom Green still affectionately refers to as “Big bro,” took him under his wing. A below-the-rim bruiser who had to scrap his way to NBA success, Randolph might’ve been the perfect role model for Green. He, Gasol, Conley, Allen and Carter were the embodiment of unselfish, team-first basketball on the court and professionals off of it.

“They were stand-up guys, for real,” Green said. “They showed you how to move.”

Naturally, Green is a product of where he came from.

“What I took from them – and what I take, it goes everywhere with me – is just that grit and that grind,” Green said. “Grit and grind, that era started here with Tony Allen saying that. I feel like I live it. I just take it everywhere with me. That grit-and-grind will never die in me.”

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Mark J. Terrill, The Associated Press

Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, left, talks with guard Austin Rivers during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles.

Austin Rivers has never had a typical father-son relationship with his dad, Doc. When he got traded to the Clippers in 2015, making NBA history as the first son to play for his father, Doc was always more coach than dad.

Forced to grow up quickly and prove there wasn’t nepotism at play, Austin turned to long-time NBA veteran Jamal Crawford when he needed advice. At that point, Crawford was in his 15th season in the NBA.

The guidance he gave Rivers stuck with him, and eventually trickled into the ears of one of Denver’s cornerstones.

“Just to play with pace but changing speeds, letting the game come to you,” Rivers said. “Patience, trusting yourself, things I try to tell the young guys. Michael (Porter Jr.), right now, is obviously trying to figure it out.”

Rivers, who admits he’s still searching for how to approach his own ever-evolving role, said Porter is his project.

“That’s who I mainly work on,” he said.

Even as the two have become close, Rivers is smart enough not to guess what Porter is thinking. Is Porter’s new contract getting to him? Is the pressure to perform weighing him down? Rivers isn’t going to say, but he is going to reinforce Crawford’s mantra: patience.

Sitting along the baseline at a recent shootaround, Rivers couldn’t help but laugh at the current state of sports media, which is the same reason he’s taking the long-view on Porter’s struggles.

“It’s the funniest thing to me,” he said. “I see ESPN power rankings. After six games?”

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Carlos Osorio, The Associated Press

Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, right, talks with assistant coach Brendan Malone during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

After every Nuggets game, Malone has at least one, if not several, text messages waiting to be read. They’re inevitably from his father, long-time NBA coach Brendan Malone, whose path cut through the Bad Boy Pistons and then the ‘90s Knicks, among others.

To the younger Malone, the messages are invaluable not only because of who they’re from but because they represent honest criticism. It’s an accountability that’s sometimes hard to come by in the NBA.

“My father, by far, had the biggest impact and the guy that is constantly in my ear, challenging me,” Malone said.

But having been around the NBA for decades, Malone has a catalogue of influences that molded his philosophies and shaped his messages. Among them: former head coaches Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Brown, Lenny Wilkens and Monty Williams.

Malone said Van Gundy had a “profound” influence on him, while Brown instilled in him a defensive ethos. It was in Cleveland, Malone said, where he saw how Brown handled LeBron James and noted the value of coaching with no ego. The instances and experiences stuck with him.

You don’t have to squint too hard to see traces of Van Gundy in Malone’s humor or bits of Brown in Malone’s dedication to defense.

And if he ever gets too emotional, he’s got one more influence that’s just a YouTube search away. An avid Steelers fan, Malone has long held an affinity for Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, even though they’ve never met.

“I love watching his press conferences,” Malone said.

For years, Tomlin’s been a beacon of poise and, most importantly, success. As a blueprint, Malone could do far worse.

“They started off this season 1-3 and the earth was falling for all Steeler fans across the world,” Malone said. “But Mike Tomlin is the picture of consistency, no matter what’s going on around. It’s the same thing every day, the same message every day.”

The influences and examples that make their way into an NBA locker room can come from anywhere. And the veterans who remember those lessons feel an obligation to pass them along.

“I try to preach and teach the same things that were taught to me once upon a time,” Rivers said.