Danny Green had a golden opportunity on Friday night.
With nine seconds left in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James found Green, a career 40% 3-point shooter, at the top of the 3-point arc for a wide-open shot. If Green made it, the Los Angeles Lakers likely would have been crowned champions, and all of his basketball sins that preceded that shot would have been forgiven.
But Green didn’t make it — he shit the bed, something he’s done on several occasions this season, including in the Lakers’ only other loss to the Miami Heat in the Finals. In Game 3, Green scored 2 points on 0-6 shooting from the field, including 0-4 shooting from behind the arc, in the 16:40 he played. In Game 2, Green scored 3 points 1-8 shooting from 3-point range.
Green’s suboptimal shooting displays have made him whatever the opposite of a fan favorite is in Los Angeles. In fact, after Game 3, a fan started a petition on change.org to ban Green from getting a championship ring if the Lakers win it all. The petition currently has close to 12,000 signatures. We are not going to link to it here.
Obviously that document isn’t going to have any bearing on whether or not Green gets a championship ring — only the Heat can stop that. However, the petition speaks to a larger problem among Lakers fans in the midst of an emotionally taxing playoff run: The idea that certain players don’t deserve a championship ring if the team wins it all.
Green might be the latest Laker to inspire an angry fan to start a petition, but he’s not the first, or even the most popular — that “honor” belongs to Kyle Kuzma.
Going into the season, Lakers fans had high hopes for Kuzma, who looked like a natural fit alongside LeBron James in their first season together. Last season, Kuzma averaged 18.7 points per game — a 2.6 point improvement from his breakout rookie season — on 45.6% shooting from the field, in addition to 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Kuzma’s sophomore season earned him a sense of security with the Lakers, who kept him out of trade talks for Anthony Davis. He also go an invite to compete for Team USA at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, and likely would have made the roster if he didn’t get hurt, too.
All of those things culminated in Kuzma being pegged as the Lakers’ “third star,” and Kuzma fed into that hype a bit — even if he had to come off the bench, he was going to be one of the team’s go-to options on offense. Kuzma hasn’t been that player for the Lakers most of this season, but he’s had his moments, and Tuesday was his most significant to date.
In Game 4 of the Finals, Kuzma scored a postseason career-high 19 points on 6-13 shooting from the field, including 4-8 shooting from behind the arc. His 19 points were only second to James, who scored a game-high 25 points. The game everyone had waited for Kuzma to have finally came, but the Lakers lost — Kuzma was a +6 in a game the Lakers lost by 11.
Does that game excuse the mistakes Kuzma made on the defensive end in Game 6? No, but a player’s biggest mistakes shouldn’t determine their value to the team as a whole — even in extreme cases like Green, who missed a crucial shot on Friday but still leads the Lakers in net rating (+16.1) by a whopping 5.1 points.
Green needs to better. Kuzma needs to be better. Markieff Morris needs to better. But to say they’re any less deserving of a championship ring than their teammates are is wrong, because the Lakers wouldn’t even be here without the contributions of everyone on this roster.
There is being upset, and then there’s being disrespectful. Suggesting someone on this team shouldn’t get a championship ring if the Lakers win is the latter. Sending Green’s fiancee death threats until she goes private on Instagram is similarly over the line, as is harassing Green to the point where he has to limit his own comments. This also applies to big name celebrities. It’s not productive or funny. Bullying doesn’t “work.” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is not playing better because people were mean to him online. If Green and Kuzma turn it around, it won’t be because you tweeted things at them.
So to anyone who is doing any of this, from signing and starting petitions, to attempts at cyberbullying, let me paraphrase LeBron James and offer you some advice: Be better tomorrow. Let’s send the Lakers some good karma heading into Game 6, and show this team that has fought through injury and adversity for us all year some support.