After finally wiping their hands of Rajon Rondo and his lonesome star power just a few weeks ago, it only makes sense for the Boston Celtics to continue to tear down the walls and build for the future.
The next man to go? Jeff Green. He leads the Celtics in scoring (by a wide margin), is an athletic monster and, at 28 years old with a $9.2 million player option for the 2015-16 season, doesn’t quite fit in with the team’s long-term plan.
Boston isn’t going anywhere this season. They want young players, expiring contracts, cap space and, most importantly, draft picks. Lots and lots of draft picks. Green’s skill set is truly tantalizing, but due to Boston's direction, it only makes sense for him to contribute on a team that’s interested in winning sooner rather than later.
Boston’s general manager Danny Ainge won’t deal Green for the hell of it, though, and there’s a very real possibility no takers meet his initial asking price (presumably a first-round draft pick). But the Western Conference has turned into an arms race, with teams beefing their rosters up all over the place, desperately trying to cover every base in time for the playoffs.
Courtesy of CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely, here’s what Boston’s GM recently had to say about the team’s forthcoming trade activity:
Well let’s take a deep breath and let’s enjoy the holidays and let’s let these guys play, see how everybody fits in. Of course we’re not actively pursuing anything at this minute. I anticipate that there will be a lot of calls coming in in the next little bit and I think that there will be some activity at trade deadline, whether we do a trade or not I have no idea, but we’ll continue to try to improve our team.
Who might want Green? The Portland Trail Blazers could bite. They’re 26-7, with more wins than anyone in the league. But are they deep enough to survive a four-round stroll through the West’s minefield? Better question: Would they part with their 2015 first-round pick (bound to be in the mid-high 20s) to improve their chances?
Portland's starting five has played more minutes together than all but one other unit in the league, and they're outscoring opponents by just over 11 points per 100 possessions. So that area of the team is set. But Green makes Portland more dangerous. He could either be an attack dog on bench units that feature Steve Blake and Chris Kaman or thrive as a power forward in small-ball lineups when LaMarcus Aldridge needs a breather.
Brad Stevens almost never uses Green as a small-ball 4, but he’s spent most of his career off and on at that spot. Instead, with the Celtics this season, Green’s been able to take advantage of his size in the post, bullying smaller defenders with his back to the basket and either drawing a foul or knocking in a delicate but forceful jump hook with either hand on a regular basis.
Other teams would happily take Green on, with the strong hope he’s willing to opt out of his contract this summer. The New Orleans Pelicans could seriously use Green’s athleticism on the wing but don’t have much to trade, thanks to their inability to offer the first-rounder that’s already on its way to the Houston Rockets. Same goes for the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies—the latter of which would welcome an upgrade over Tayshaun Prince.
The Houston Rockets just landed Josh Smith, and it'd be fun to time how short Daryl Morey's phone call would be if Ainge inquired about New Orleans' draft pick. But who knows? Green is a better outside shooter than Smith and a better fit in Houston's pick-and-roll/hand-off heavy system. Crazier things have happened.
The Sacramento Kings are nearly as unhinged as NBA teams get right now, and if they think Green and Rudy Gay can co-exist for a few months, it’d be interesting to see how quick they’d jump into bed here, even with their top-10 protected 2015 first-round pick already headed to the Chicago Bulls. Would Sacramento give up Nik Stauskas if Boston agrees to unclog their frontcourt by taking back Jason Thompson or Carl Landry? Probably not, but that’s the type of deal Ainge and the Celtics will be hunting for.
Hypothetically, losing Green could also help Boston’s chances in the lottery. He’s having a career year. If dealt, his 19 points, 15 shots and five free throws would need to be replaced every night. But this theory may not hold. The Celtics are 8.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent when Green is on the bench and get outscored by 4.0 points with him on the floor. A lot of this has to do with Green mostly competing against the other team’s starters instead of bench units, but, still, that margin is hard to dismiss.
Even if the team actually plays better with him gone, moving Green allows minutes to be soaked up by greenhorn players like James Young. (A swap in playing time between Green and Young would definitely make Boston worse, for the record.) Here's ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg with some interesting quotes from Celtics head coach Brad Stevens on Young's ongoing development.
We’ll see how that plays itself out for playing time in the near future, but again, we have a lot of roster depth as it is right now, but we’ll see. He does add something that we could very well need in the near future and that is the ability to play off some screens, and score and make passes off screens. He’s a very fluid offensive player.
This is just one of several reasons why Green's future as a Celtic is murky. He's a fine, defensively versatile basketball player who performs well in an ensemble and understands he can't be the alpha dog on a good team. It seems then to be in everybody's best interest for a trade to go down before the deadline passes. Offers will come. It's just a matter of Ainge finding one that most benefits Boston in the long-term.
The time to cash out on Green's talent has never been more obvious.
Michael Pina is an NBA writer who's been published at Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, FOX Sports, Grantland and a few other special places. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.