Jeff Green's career has seen it all.
From his moving back and forth between the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, to open-heart surgery, the fifth-year (essentially sixth-year) forward has navigated a minefield of adversity and uncertainty.
At long last, however, Green has finally reached a point of stability. Clad with a new contract, he's back on the hardwood working under the knowledge that he's a part of Boston's future moving forward.
Watching him torch the Miami Heat for 43 points and nearly lead a batted Celtics team to an improbable victory, it dawned on us how far he's come.
And how hard he's worked to recover and subsequently recapture his initial promise.
June 28, 2007: Drafted by Boston, Traded to Seattle
The Celtics selected Green with the fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft and then promptly sent him, along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West, to the Seattle Supersonics in exchange for Ray Allen and Glen "Big Baby" Davis.
Green was essentially collateral damage for Boston's bigger picture. After going 24-58 during the 2006-07 campaign, the Celtics overhauled their roster, bringing in both Allen and Kevin Garnett.
It was a move that made Boston an instant contender, and one that paid enormous dividends in the form of an NBA title in 2008.
It was also a move that bonded Green to the Celtics. Said bond was thought to be immediately and permanently severed, but Green and Boston would eventually be reunited once more.
February 24, 2011: Reunited and It Feels So Good...Sort of
After spending three seasons with the Supersonics/Thunder, Green was sent back to the team that drafted him.
Just before the 2011 trade deadline, the Celtics sent Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Thunder in exchange for Green, Nenad Krstic, cash and a 2012 first-round pick (Fab Melo).
At the time, Green was averaging 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in 37 minutes a game. Knowing that the Celtics were 41-14 and ranked 19th (at the time) in points per game (98.2), his offensive prowess was a welcomed commodity for a defensive-oriented team preparing for a deep postseason push.
In 26 regular-season games with Boston, though, Green failed to turn the number of heads he was supposed to.
Moving from a young and spry Thunder faction to a veteran Celtics convocation saw his role diminish, and he finished out the year posting 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds on 48.5 percent shooting for Boston.
Come playoff time, Green struggled to establish himself even more. He put up just 7.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19.2 minutes a night, and Boston was swept in the semifinals at the hands of Miami Heat.
Despite his bouts with inconsistency, he was then only 25 and an athletically gifted player the Celtics held in high regard. Next season was destined to be better.
Or so we thought.
December 17, 2011: Tragedy Strikes
On Saturday, December 17, 2011, the Celtics announced that Green would have to undergo heart surgery in January and would miss the 2011-12 campaign entirely.
The news came but a week after Green inked a one-year, $9 million contract. His contract was subsequently voided by the Celtics.
Though Green himself remained optimistic about his situation, there was no denying that the surgery was a big deal (via Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com):
"Thank u everyone for ur thoughts and prayers," a post on Green's Twitter account read. "...much appreciated love u all..and I'll be back soon stronger and better than ever I promise."
Green will undergo surgery Jan. 9 at the Cleveland Clinic. At the request of Green, the team declined all further comments on the situation.
Kaplan said there are two types of surgery Green could undergo -- a full open-chest procedure, or a less-invasive synthetic graft replacement of the dilated segment. Either way, he cautions, it's a big deal.
"Regardless of technique, surgery is a major undertaking with long recovery and significant potential complications," he said.
Vowing to return was an inspiration to players, fans and pundits alike, but was it possible?
January 9, 2012: Surgery is a Success
Green tweeted a picture of himself just before heading into surgery, and he was smiling.
Jeff Green @unclejeffgreen
Thanks for all y'all prayers and thoughts...bout to head in, everyone say CHEESE!!! http://t.co/ty9XkSCE1/9/2012, 10:01:43 AM
His continued optimism was enlightening, even before going under the knife. When news hit that the surgery had been a success, a sense of relief spread throughout the Celtics and NBA in general (via Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com):
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the team was informed Monday afternoon that Jeff Green's surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm "went great" and hopes the process will one day allow Green to return to an NBA court.
"Surgery went well, he had surgery today -- they’re saying it went great," said Rivers. "Obviously, our thoughts, our prayers, and every part of being is with Jeff right now."
The road to recovery and his eventual return was still a long and winding one, but a successful procedure was the half the battle.
August 22, 2012: Green's Return to Boston Becomes Official
And Green was back...yet again.
Much was made of the Celtics' decision to void the forward's contract. It was the financially prudent thing for Boston to do, but it left so many questions unanswered.
Would Green ever return? If he did, how much attention and cash would he garner? Would the Celtics still be interested?
To be clear, Green's return was welcomed by everyone in the NBA sphere. Watching him overcome the obstacles and physical impediments that were put in his way was awe-inspiring.
That said, his contract was considered rather massive. Paying $9 million annually for a player who not only struggled with Boston during his 2010-11 stint but was also coming off heart surgery seemed a bit steep.
But the Celtics continued to see something (Paul Pierce's replacement, perhaps?). They still saw the player they drafted, traded away and then dealt for.
October 30, 2012: The Return Becomes Even More Official
For the first time since 2011, Green saw the light of regular-season action.
Boston opened up the 2012-13 crusade in Miami, and Green, to the delight of just about everyone, was fit for active duty.
Captivating as his official return to the hardwood was, the forward visibly struggled to grasp the pace of the game. He scored just three points and grabbed three rebounds in 23 minutes of burn, missing all four of his field-goal attempts.
The Celtics went on to lose the season opener to the reigning champion Heat 120-107, which is not how Green or the rest of the team envisioned his return.
Still, he was back, and that counted for something.
January 9, 2013: The Anniversary
Exactly one year removed from heart surgery, Green was to be found on the court, helping the Celtics to an 87-79 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Earlier in the day, before the game, he tweeted a picture of himself in the hospitable bed.
Jeff Green @unclejeffgreen
A year ago my life changed...#1-9-12 #blessed to see another day and thankful for my family and friends. LOVE Y'ALL!!! http://t.co/33Y9yRu01/9/2013, 4:45:42 PM
Even now, looking at the picture, we're still mesmerized. We can't imagine how he was feeling, but it looks exhaustingly painful.
And yet, there he was, dropping 14 points, bringing down three rebounds, blocking a shot, forcing a steal and posting a plus-16 on the floor one year later.
Deeming this year-long journey "incredible" doesn't even begin to describe it.
The significance of his quest wasn't lost on Green himself either. Following the victory over the Suns, he remained as humble and grateful as ever (via Adi Joseph of USA Today):
On Jan. 9, 2012, Jeff Green was lying on a surgical table.
On Jan. 9, 2013, Jeff Green was flying on a basketball court.
The Boston Celtics reserve scored a team-high 14 points Wednesday night in an 87-79 victory against the Phoenix Suns. The win was punctuated by an anniversary for Green, who had an aortic aneurysm repaired one year earlier.
"I can't put it into words. I mean, it's a wonderful day," said Green, who missed all of last season with the heart condition. "I reflect a lot on what I've been through and it's just a blessing and I'm glad I'm here."
Early-season inconsistencies be damned. Green was back. Nothing was more important (at this point) than that.
To be honest though, those vicious throwdowns of his in the same game did make this unconventional anniversary all the more sweeter.
February 17, 2013: All-Star Break Blues
No longer lost in the haze of Green's return was his underwhelming performance.
Judging by the contract he was issued, Boston expected more from Green. Knowing how battered the Celtics were, we can hazard much more.
In the 52 games leading into the break, the forward averaged 10.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on 44.3 percent shooting. That he was able to appear in all 52 games was encouraging, but logging nearly 25 minutes of burn a night, the Celtics needed (here's that word again) more.
Few expected Green to return and put up gaudy numbers, but even fewer could have predicted how inconsistent he would be. He put up at least 15 points in 16 different contests, but he dropped fewer than 10 in 25. He also failed to hit the 20-point plateau even once.
His turbulence was maddening, and not at all what the lambasted Celtics needed.
Was this a surefire sign that Boston had jumped the gun and paid Green too much? That he wasn't going to develop into the player the Celtics thought he was?
More than halfway through the season, the numerical evidence wasn't on his side...
March 18, 2013: A Turning Point
...but now it is.
Watching Green post All-Star break has been night and day. He's been more aggressive on offense, his defense remains impeccable and he's emerged as a premier weapon on a resilient Boston outfit.
Since the break, Green is averaging 16.8 points and 4.4 rebounds on 49.4 percent shooting. His minutes have also climbed by more than seven a night, to 32.1. He's dropped at least 20 points in four of the 14 games as well.
Like I said, night and day.
Just ask the Heat.
Facing a number of doubters who have seen Green's Jekyll and Hyde act dominate his season, prematurely deeming him "here to stay" didn't seem like an option. But then came his outburst against Miami.
Green dropped a career-high 43 points on an astounding 14-of-21 shooting from the floor. He also pitched in seven rebounds and four blocks, nearly leading the Celtics to a victory over the Heat—one that would have ended Miami's 22-game win streak.
A loss is a loss, but for Green and the Celtics, there is a victory to be found here.
We can't go declaring that Green will be an All-Star next season or that he's now comparable to a LeBron James, but we can speak the truth.
And the truth is, something has resonated with Green. He's hit his stride, isn't slowing down and has appeared in every game the Celtics have played this season.
In other words, Green is back, and a heartbeat away from being better than ever.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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