Green played in only 20 games his rookie season and was cut by the team at the beginning of the next season. In 2010, the San Antonio Spurs picked him up and kept him for a mere six days before cutting him. Green had a brief stint in the NBDL (Now the G-League) before being added to the Spurs’ roster again and then cut once more.
After he was released the second time, Green’s agent advised that he go overseas to resurrect his career.
“The second time I was cut by the Spurs was the low-point,” said Green in an interview with the New York Daily News.
Green spurned the advice from his agent and tried to find another way into the league. He signed a 10-day contract with the Spurs in a last-ditch effort to impress head coach Gregg Popovich. Little did he know, his college coach, Roy Williams, would help him get back into the league.
“He was with San Antonio on a 10-day, and so I called Pop at the end of the 10-day and said, ‘What do you think?'” said Williams in an interview with Inside the Green Room with Danny Green. “[Popovich] said, ‘Danny acted like he was doing us a favor and I didn’t like that, and so we’re going to let him go.'”
Early in his NBA career and even at UNC, Green was known for having an attitude while often losing focus during games. However, Williams knew he could continue to change.
“Pop and I took turns calling Danny and blessing him out, Pop may have used a little stronger language than I did, but I’m not so sure because I blasted him pretty doggone hard,” said Williams. “I asked Pop, ‘How about giving him one more chance?’ and he did, and Danny took advantage of it.”
Green knew he could be a contributor for one of the NBA’s best coaches in Popovich — he would just have to tone down his ego and start hustling.
“They wanted more of a sense of urgency and more professionalism, and I was still learning the system, not understanding where I was going or what I was doing — I was thinking too much,” said Green. “R.C [Buford] (Spurs CEO) came to me and was like, ‘We need you to not be too cool.’ It was the way I wore my hat; I was from New York. I was trying to be the cool guy walking around the organization.”
Surely enough, after nearly losing his job once again — Green decided to change for the better. Popovich also changed, on the phone call, Williams had shared the tactics he used to instill a drive in Green at Carolina.
“I think [Pop] knew from that phone call how to get the best out of me, how to push my buttons,” said Green. “He figured out that I probably play better when I’m mad.”
Green was back with the team after the 2011 NBA lockout ended. His newfound dedication to playing lockdown defense and chasing down loose rebounds paired well with his lights-out shooting from deep. Before the season was over, Green found himself entrenched as the starting shooting guard.
In 2012, he signed a three-year contract worth $12 million. It was the deal that finally gave him the job security that had evaded him ever since he left UNC.
During the 2013 Finals, Green would show Popovich that he was well worth the second chance by hitting a then NBA record 27 three-pointers in the series. Though the Spurs ended up losing to the Heat, Green would join Michael Jordan and James Worthy as the third Tar Heel to win an NCAA and NBA championship just a year later when San Antonio got revenge against Miami in the Finals.
Since then, Green signed a 4-year $45 million contract with the Spurs in 2015 before being traded to the Toronto Raptors, where he won his second title in 2019. The next offseason, he signed a 2-year $30 million deal with the Lakers.
A phone call from Roy Williams helped Green go from an NBA burnout to one of the most respected 3-and-D wings in the game and a sidekick to NBA superstars. However, the Hall-of-Fame coach doesn’t pat himself on the back.
Green maintains a great relationship with Williams and Popovich to this day.”You gotta give Danny credit for changing and Pop credit not only for giving him a second chance but seeing the way Danny changed as well,” said Williams. “I don’t get any credit cause those two guys are the ones who made it happen.”