Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, let’s discuss Danny Green.
How did he play?
Danny Green came to the Lakers with a great deal of hype during the offseason. It would be unfair to call him the consolation prize for losing out on Kawhi Leonard in free agency, but he was the crown jewel of Rob Pelinka’s pivot plan once Leonard went to the Clippers.
Green almost immediately ingratiated himself into the hearts of Lakers fans by setting a franchise record for points in a Laker debut on opening night, even if that game resulted in a loss, and then hitting a game-tying three against Dallas in L.A.’s fifth contest of the season, leading to an eventual overtime win. But the overall Danny Green experience had some lows to go along with those highs.
After having the most efficient shooting season of his career in 2018-19 with Toronto when he shot 45.5% on 3-pointers, Green came down to earth in a Laker uniform, settling in at a perfectly reasonable 36.7% from distance. His gravity was still meaningful for the starting lineup even if he wasn’t setting the nets on fire, as Green had the best offensive rating of any rotation player during the regular season. Opposing teams didn’t want to leave Green open on the perimeter, and that created for space for LeBron James and the Laker bigs to go to work in the paint.
Green could be a bit streaky. He had 13 games when he didn’t make any threes but another 15 games when he made at least three triples. Fortunately, his defense was consistently good no matter what, though he has dropped off a bit from his all-defense peak in 2017. As James ramped up to start the season, Green was the only credible wing-sized defender on the roster, and the Lakers used him on everyone from CJ McCollum to Luka Doncic to Kawhi Leonard. Green remains an outstanding help and transition defender, even if he was a step slow in isolation.
It’s still an adventure watching Green dribble, and it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between his floaters and his lob passes. But he improved his drive and kick game, and he flashed some surprisingly impressive skip passes during the postseason. He’s never going to be an initiator in the halfcourt or someone to bring the ball up against pressure, but it was cool to see his game expand in some small way.
During the regular season, there was a thought that Green was on a stealth load management plan, as he averaged 24.8 minutes per game, and the Lakers played a deep rotation. But Green’s minutes barely increased during the playoffs to 25.0 per game, even though he retained starting spot throughout. Much like the regular season, his shooting waxed and waned but he was always a part of high-performing lineups. Even in the Finals when a hip injury appeared to sap his lateral mobility and he shot 11-of-38 from beyond the arc, Green still had the best net rating on the Lakers. Watching him play, it seemed like he was laboring, but he always gave the Lakers what they needed.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Green signed a two-year, $30 million deal last offseason with no options. He will make $15.4 million in the second year of that contract before becoming a free agent in the 2021 offseason.
Will he be back?
Green is under contract to be a Laker next season, and yet, his future with the Lakers seems more tenuous than some of the team’s free agents. That’s because if the Lakers want to make a trade to acquire a third star, say Victor Oladipo or Jrue Holiday, Green would have to be sent out to make the salaries match.
It’s also because Green is on the wrong side of 30, which means that he is past his prime, and he showed signs of slippage last season relative to the year before with the Raptors. As important as Green was to winning a title, there is a reasonable line of thought that the Lakers could approximate his production going forward through a combination of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s shooting, Alex Caruso’s defense, and maybe even Talen Horton-Tucker’s size on the wing.
Although moving on from Green would be understandable if the Lakers could make a deal for a legitimate star, Green should be a foundational piece of the 2020-21 team. He is the consummate 3-and-D wing and the perfect archetype of a player who should be playing next to James and Anthony Davis. He is a veteran who knows his role and makes no fuss in the locker room. Most importantly, Green gets the job done.
The most common question around the Lakers this year was the identity of the team’s third-best player; over the full year from October 2019 to October 2020, it was Green. It’s unclear how long he can keep up this performance, since he will turn 34 next season. For now, Green is a player the Lakers cannot do without.