It’s no secret that things haven’t exactly worked out the way everyone hoped they would for Jeff Green in Boston.
In a city with an unrelenting passion for sports and an unforgiving attitude toward underperformance, perceived or otherwise, Green’s uncertain, tentative and ultimately disappointing play during 35 regular season and playoff games was on display for all to see. When reports came out saying that he would miss the 2011-12 season with a heart condition, there were no shortage of sympathetic ears, but it just reaffirmed what Green had been ever since he arrived in town: an afterthought.
But that could and should all change this season.
Stuffy, self-important writers have already discussed ad nauseam why Green needs to start in order to best take advantage of his many talents, so we won’t belabor the point again now. Suffice it to say, before the February 2011 trade that brought him to Boston from Oklahoma City, Green had started all but a handful of games and he averaged 37 minutes a game after his rookie campaign. Coming into the games at different times and playing inconsistent minutes in Boston did nothing to make the forward feel like he belonged on what had been a close-knit team before his arrival.
That sense of belonging might just be what Green needs as a player. He’s had that feeling before, but not in Boston.
Back in Oklahoma City Green appeared to be a vital part of the nucleus that was built around Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Along with Serge Ibaka and James Harden, he was a valued role player—not quite a star like Westbrook or Durant, but clearly talented with breakout potential.
Then, in a flash, he was traded. Far from arriving as a savior or the sexy young piece to a championship puzzle, he showed up in Boston as an object of derision, the sledgehammer to the Celtics’ core that had one title in the books and another taken away following a catastrophic injury to their beloved big man. Or so was the perception, at least.
But that was two seasons ago. Now Green is really a Celtic and this time he chose to be.
Danny Ainge and the Celtics medical staff shepherded him through his heart troubles, even though Green, at the time, was no longer a member of the team. In March during a win against Washington, he showed up on the Celtics’ bench wearing a dapper gray suit and laughing it up with his former teammates. When superagent David Falk announced in July that Green would be re-upping with the C’s, it was obvious that Green had made his peace with the trade, wanted to be a valued member of the team and a key to its future.
In case there was any doubt, before the ink was even dry on his new contract last week, Green sent out this jubilant tweet proving that this guy is finally happy with his surroundings.
Been waiting to say this for a while... #iamaceltic— jeff (@unclejeffgreen) August 23, 2012
In the short run his missed season might delay his effectiveness, but it will actually help him become the player he was expected to be.
For one, he now knows his teammates want him around. They’re over the hurt that comes with an in-season trade and they realize that their lack of depth was a detriment in the playoffs last season against Miami when they had nowhere to go against LeBron James. The 6’6” frames of Paul Pierce and Mickael Pietrus were simply too small to defend all of James' talents and a suddenly consistent jumper. No one could have stopped LeBron, but it sure wouldn’t have hurt to have the bigger, more athletic Green to tire him out on defense or to make him work in the post.
For another, Green has security, something he did not have when he got to Boston or for his final 49 games in Oklahoma City, when his numbers were down across the board from his previous two seasons. Green was playing for his next contract and it showed. Had he played last season, it would have been on another one-year contract, and that could have been a disaster. Instead, he’s back on a four-year deal that will pay him $36 million. That’s certain to ease his mind.
Let’s not forget that the Celtics teams of the Big Three era were possessors of the most precise, almost machine-like execution on both ends of the court. Unless there were injuries or reasons to rest players, the same five players started every game from Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen’s arrival in 2007 until Kendrick Perkins was traded for Green. They knew their plays, their spots and their tendencies.
Green came to Boston and was thrust into the action and expected to pick it all up right away. Now, having had a season to watch and a full training camp season ahead of him, Green will have time to know where he’s supposed to go, and when.
What’s more, All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo will have time to learn Green’s game, and that will lead to several more scoring options. Pierce will turn 35 during camp and the Coach Doc Rivers will sit the captain regularly so that he can be ready for the playoffs. As talented a scorer as Pierce is, he’s not much of an athlete, and Green is better suited to run with Rondo.
For all his talents, Westbrook isn’t nearly the playmaker Rondo is, and Green will be well-served by playing a full season with someone who’s just as, if not more, happy to get his teammates involved than to score himself. If he shares the court with Rondo often, Green could well eclipse his career-high 16.5 points per game.
It’s never been about Green’s talent. There’s little question about that. His combination of speed, shooting, agility and hops is rare for someone his size and is difficult to match up with, at least for teams north of Miami.
It’s his head (and, forgive me, his heart) that’s been the problem. But it wasn’t his fault. He came into an impossible situation and the results were predictable.
This is a new season, a new and, it would seem, better team and a new Jeff Green, filled with a fresh perspective after he almost had everything taken away from him.
Pressure? This isn’t pressure. Not to this guy.