This was supposedly another chance for Rickey Green. No more of life on the Jazz bench, watching John Stockton and stewing about his NBA career ticking away. So here he is in Charlotte, and the same thing's happening - he's playing behind Michael Holton and Muggsy Bogues, barely surviving roster moves and wondering what's next at age 34.
"It's still kind of a gloomy situation for him," says former teammate Darrell Griffith.Still having played in more Jazz games than anybody - 606, though Griffith could catch him in April - Green and the Hornets meet the Jazz tonight in the Charlotte Coliseum. While life with the Hornets is just about perfect for Kelly Tripucka, the other Jazz transplant, Green's outlook is cloudy.
A hamstring injury on Opening Night kept Green out of seven games, while Holton found favor with Coach Dick Harter. Green plays about 13 minutes a game, the least of the three point guards, and insiders were surprised when the Hornets recently waived rookie forward Tom Tolbert instead of Green.
He went through all this last season when Stockton suddenly claimed most of the Jazz's point-guard minutes. Green always talked about how he'd willingly step aside when Stockton was ready, but when the time actually came . . .
"To go out that way . . . wasn't really the way I wanted to," Green says now.
By the end of last season, he was hardly playing - less than 10 minutes in 13 of the final 15 games, and a total of 38 minutes in the playoffs, appearing in just seven of 11 games. Tripucka, Green and Mel Turpin lockered in a dismal corner of the Forum dressing room during the Jazz-Lakers series; Frank Layden had even invited them to go home before the playoffs, saying the Jazz would cover for them by making up injuries. "It was real sticky at the end of the year, real sticky," muses Green.
Which came first: Green's attitude, or his disfavor with management?
"There was a division on the team, which he fueled and fueled and fueled," says general manager David Checketts.
"Rickey didn't show any animosity or anything to disrupt the squad," noted Griffith, Green's teammate for all eight seasons. "The situation itself kind of reflected on the team automatically, because everbody saw what was happening."
Was Green a negative influence? "I really don't believe that," says another friend, Thurl Bailey.
In any case, Green was ready to move on, and joined Tripucka and Turpin on Checketts' list of players he had to move last summer. Green's exit was the easiest, as the Hornets took him - and Holton from Portland and Bogues from Washington - in the expansion draft.
These days, they're three of seven Charlotte guards and Green once again finds himself trying to extend his career. If Green had accepted his role behind Stockton, he could have gone out gracefully in Utah. Green says the Jazz could have handled him better: "Management never came to me to tell me anything; they just stopped playing me totally."
Couldn't Green see that Stockton was becoming an All-Star?
Griffith figures the gloom of Green's last Jazz days was unfortunate, "because of what he helped start," he said. "Rickey did a lot of good things for the Jazz - he was part of the foundation. People should never forget that."
Of his Jazz departure, Green says, "There's no bitterness. It's just that they didn't have me in their plans."
Tonight, and Jan. 26 in the Salt Palace, he and Stockton will battle, just as they did in practice for four seasons. "It's going to be really different," said Stockton.