Jeff Green: High Risk, High Reward for Boston Celtics

Chris LawrenceFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2012

MIAMI, FL - MAY 11: Jeff Green #8 of the Boston Celtics warms up before Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on May 11, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Though Jeff Green is not yet an official member of the Boston Celtics, his return is imminent. After agreeing to a four-year, $36-million deal, Green is expected to be a key part of the Celtics' long-term future.

But one has to wonder what caused Celtics GM Danny Ainge to offer Green such a hefty contract, especially since the 26-year-old forward missed all of the 2011-2012 season because of an aortic aneurysm detected during training camp.

Last season, as a gesture of good faith, the Celtics renounced their rights to Green and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent after voiding his one year, $9 million contract.

However, Green and the organization maintained interest in his potential return to Boston, something that was well documented throughout the season and reaffirmed at the beginning of the offseason.

After undergoing heart surgery at the renowned Cleveland Clinic and being cleared by doctors for full-contact basketball, the Celtics extended to Green another gesture of good faith—in the form of a lucrative long-term contract.

David Falk, Green's agent, claimed that his client was drawing interest from 12-14 different teams, according to Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick. Whether this is the truth or if Falk was embellishing things to create some buzz for Green doesn't matter—Jeff Green is going to be paid handsomely.

A one-year deal for the same annual amount would have been reasonable for a player in Green's situation. Even a partially guaranteed two-year deal for a bit less than that annual amount would have been fair, as well.

But four years for $36 million is a lofty statement by Ainge.

It's evident that Ainge sees potential worth overpaying for. It won't be the first time this has happened in professional sports, and it certainly won't be the last.

He may also be hesitant to let the centerpiece of the Kendrick Perkins deal walk away.

Clearly, this contract is a vote of confidence on Ainge's part. But if Green somehow experiences a career resurgence and ends up being even better than before, his contract could have some real value. It's unlikely, but it's possible.

And it's what Ainge is hoping for.

Green is definitely worth having on the team—there's no doubt about that. He's an athletic natural three who can also play the four, and his gazelle-like ability to run the floor makes him a prime candidate for razor-sharp Rajon Rondo outlet passes.

Though his jumper is inconsistent, his skills in the post are much better than advertised. He has always found ways to score, even if he hasn't always been efficient and consistent in doing so.

Green, who averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game over 26 games with Boston in 2011, struggled to find his place in the Celtics system. For his career, Green has averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 33.6 minutes per game.

This discrepancy can be chalked up to him adjusting to playing the 3, as he was playing out of position with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the 4. Green also played 10 less minutes per game than his career average, so to expect a performance on par with his production in Oklahoma City was unrealistic.

However, aside from Green's struggle to be consistent and efficient during his fleeting first stint with the Celtics, his heart issue could potentially render him incapable of ever playing  again.

Though he's been cleared to play, anything having to do with the heart is of dire concern. Just because the problem has been fixed doesn't mean it can't happen again.

Also, remember that the NBA's amnesty clause cannot be used on players whose contracts were signed after the new collective bargaining agreement, so the Celtics will be stuck with Green's contract if his previous condition crops back up and forces him into an early retirement.

This won't bode well for the team's financial flexibility going forward, prohibiting them from pursuing a moderately-priced player to replace Green.

But clearly this is a risk Ainge deemed worth taking, and though many may disagree with the terms of the deal, the crafty GM likely will not guarantee the entirety of Green's contract as a precautionary measure.

Green is a talented young player, and as long as he's healthy and is utilized in the right way within Boston's system, he has the potential be a great asset to the Celtics bench.

While Danny Ainge is gearing up the Celtics for yet another run at an NBA title, Jeff Green could be the ace in his pocket. He could also be a gamble gone bad.

Only time will tell.