A.C. Green returned to Los Angeles a former Laker Tuesday afternoon, fresh from signing a five-year contract with the Phoenix Suns worth $15.085 million, fresh from giving the defending Western Conference champions another artillery piece.
Fresh from a big mistake? Green apparently was considering that.
There he was in the hotel room of his agent, Marc Fleisher, down the street from America West Arena, not long before signing as a free agent with the Suns.
“ ‘I hope I know what I’m doing,’ ” Fleisher recalled Green saying more than once.
“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ ” Fleisher said. “He said, ‘I just want to get through the next 48 hours.’ ”
And then he signed, ending a negotiating process with the Lakers that had gone on for nearly three months. The player as recently as last season described as the heart and soul of the team by Coach Randy Pfund, the dependable hard hat who had appeared in all 82 games for six consecutive seasons, joined the Suns.
“There’s something about the Suns and that organization that really appealed to me,” Green said after returning to Los Angeles. “I like the competitiveness of their players. I talked to the players and they are very hungry for a championship. They want to get back to the finals. I like that.
“It was . . . I can’t explain it. I had never experienced anything like it before. I said to myself a couple days ago, ‘I’m going to play for the Phoenix Suns.’ I said it, but it took days for it to settle in.”
The chance to win another championship, after getting two in eight years with the Lakers, was an obvious draw when he picked the Suns over staying in Los Angeles. When it came down to it, Green said, the one-year termination clause that will allow him to become a free agent again after this season was not the deciding factor. It probably didn’t hurt, though, and neither did the salary: $1.885 million this season, increasing to $2.451 million to $3.017 million to $3.583 million and finally $4.149 million.
“We obviously wish him well,” Laker General Manager Jerry West said. “We valued him as a player and value him as a person. We hope things work out well for him in Phoenix. It’s a little bit hard to understand, but those are the pitfalls of the NBA today.”
Because of salary-cap regulations, the Suns were locked in on the amount and length of a contract--they could go no longer than five seasons starting at $1.885 million and concluding in 1997-98 at $4.149 million. The only option Phoenix had was the one-year termination clause.
Jerry Colangelo, team president, said he would have preferred not playing that card but, in the same spirit of giving three years to Danny Ainge last off-season when he might only be a factor for two, relented in hopes it will be the final piece in the title puzzle.
“We want a championship,” Colangelo said at the news conference. “We want it now.”
The one-year clause is something of a gamble for both sides. The Suns, who reached the finals in 1993 before falling to Chicago, could lose Green after one season. Or, Green could suffer a career-ending injury and then not get a new contract to make up the difference between his current deal of $15.085 million and the Lakers’ $17.5-million offer for the same five years.
What makes it so attractive for Green is Phoenix’s standing among the NBA’s elite and that he has the security of the guaranteed five years plus the option of ripping that up after 1993-94, when the Suns could re-sign him for four years at any amount as their own free agent. He would need to average $3.9 million on any new contract to recoup the loss from not signing with the Lakers, though any predetermined side deals or understandings are prohibited by the league.
Any such decision in a little less than a year will be Green’s. The Lakers, meanwhile, have several of their own in trying to replace him.
Elden Campbell, who replaced James Worthy as the starting small forward toward the end of last season, might now move to Green’s spot at power forward. George Lynch, the first-round draft choice from North Carolina projected as another Green, might get a chance to prove it immediately. Those two could be paired, or Doug Christie, a point guard as a rookie, might get considerable playing time at small forward. Or, at least for stretches, Vlade Divac or Sam Bowie could move from center.
“You can find other cases in sport and basketball where a guy looks irreplaceable, yet when that spot opens up, another guy steps in,” Pfund said. “Sometimes it’s surprising when someone does so well when an opportunity is afforded him. That’s how we have to look at this. We have three guys (Campbell, Lynch and Christie) who will get a lot of those opportunities. That’s going to have to work itself out in camp. I will say this: Doug Christie will have a great chance to get time at that spot.”
In Phoenix, Green will probably play behind Charles Barkley and Cedric Ceballos and maybe occasionally with them in a three-forward alignment. Shooting guard Dan Majerle has spent considerable time in the front line, too. So even with the Suns expecting Richard Dumas to sit out the entire season after checking himself into a substance-abuse program, they still have depth and versatility.
The Lakers, on the other hand, were deficient in that department even with Green--20th overall and 23rd at the defensive end. With their second-leading rebounder gone, only one returning player, Divac at 8.9, averaged more than five rebounds.
A.C. Green’s Statistics
Career statistics of A.C. Green, who agreed to terms on a five-year contract with the Phoenix Suns Tuesday after eight seasons with the Lakers:
Season G FG% FT% Reb Ast Pts 1985-86 82 .539 .611 381 54 6.4 1986-87 79 .538 .780 615 84 10.8 1987-88 82 .503 .773 710 93 11.4 1988-89 82 .529 .786 739 103 13.3 1989-90 82 .478 .751 712 90 12.9 1990-91 82 .476 .738 516 71 9.1 1991-92 82 .476 .744 762 117 13.6 1992-93 82 .537 .739 711 116 12.8 Totals 653 .507 .749 5146 728 11.3 Playoffs 103 .488 .736 689 74 9.2