An entire generation of Boston sports fans knows nothing more than herky-jerky drives and signature step-back jumpers from a guy called the Truth.
However, the day is fast approaching that that will no longer be the case. Paul Pierce is aging rapidly and won't be around forever, and that is the obvious weight on Jeff Green's future.
For the Celtics, Pierce has been the small forward for a decade-and-a-half. In two seasons, his contract expires and he will be rapidly approaching his 37th birthday. There is a very good chance Pierce calls it a career at that point, which would open up a void that hasn't been seen in Boston in 16 years.
When Boston first saw Jeff Green, he was wearing a Celtics cap and shaking David Stern's hand in 2007. Five minutes later, the surname Green was the last thing on the minds of the green faithful. The No. 5 overall pick was sent to Seattle in return for star shooting guard, Ray Allen. For the next two seasons, Jeff Green hardly entered the Boston conscious. The Supersonics and, subsequently, Oklahoma City Thunder were toiling away in western obscurity while the Celtics were winning and defending an NBA title.
It appears, however, that Green was always attached to the Celtics. On February 24, 2011, the first-place Celtics pulled the trigger on a trade that brought the forward back to the team that originally drafted him. Danny Ainge always had his eye on Green, from his days at Georgetown on through his NBA career. He may have even pegged him for Pierce's replacement long before the latter needed one.
The comparisons are there to be made. Like Pierce, Green was a high profile college player who went early in the draft after playing for a top-tier NCAA program. While Green has an inch or two on Pierce, they are listed at identical playing weights.
Both also have the type of game that can fill stat sheets. Green's abilities as a rebounder disappeared after the uncomfortable transition, dropping from around six rebounds per game to under four, but with extra time in Boston, those may return. Green is also a talented passing forward, something that was underutilized in Oklahoma City (1.6 assists per game), but may be more prevalent in Boston's offense.
While Green will never be the dominant offensive force Pierce truly was in his prime, that isn't what the Celtics need now. When Pierce arrived on the scene, Boston was wracking up season after season of misery. He needed to be that elite player in order for the Celtics to have any chance whatsoever.
The beauty of Jeff Green's situation is its relative ease. Coming off the missed season, Green will still largely be playing a reserve role and feeling out his place in the scheme. In the long-term picture, things are still very bright. The Celtics have that elite player in Rajon Rondo, freeing Green up to do what he does best.
Of course, Green has shown an ability to score consistently while a featured player. He averaged more than 15 points per game for most of his Thunder tenure. It will be most interesting to see if, with an increased role and comfort level in Boston, he can regain some of that production.
Clearly Ainge saw something in Green that led him to believe he could one day succeed Pierce. A general manager doesn't throw away a starting player on a first place team (Perkins) for a backup, unless there are future benefits. Follow that up with Ainge's willingness to hand Green a big contract coming off of surgery for an aortic aneurysm, and the faith is obvious.
The question is: Why was Green only offered a one-year deal coming off his disappointing 26-game stretch as a Celtic, but then after a year off, granted a four-year deal? Was there added pressure on Ainge with Pierce talking about the end of his career?
The bare-bones of the situation are that Pierce's current contract will run out following the 2013-14 season. Jeff Green right now is signed through the 2015-16 season, or two seasons after Pierce. Green will make an average of $9 million a season. For Ainge this should line up perfectly. Green will have two seasons under Pierce, and should the longtime Celtic step down at the close of his contract, the then 28-year-old Green will step in. This is even something that could happen in phases, should Pierce agree to a diminished role.
More than all of this, Green seems like a quality guy. Like Pierce, he would be a solid player and figure to be in Boston long-term. He is clearly loyal, judging by his holding to a Georgetown commitment after the firing of his recruiting coach. Green also spent his recovery period in 2011-12 finishing out his English degree at Georgetown.
He also wants to be a Celtic. That much was right in front of your eyes last season. Despite being an unrestricted free agent, he repeatedly showed up in Boston’s locker room and on their bench.
Ainge’s intentions here are fairly easy to see. Whether his plan works out is an entirely different matter. Jeff Green has all the tools to become a long-term Celtic, and continue on with this developing young core. But the Truth’s shoes are big ones to fill, and Green has yet to show Boston his signature.
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