Syntactical silliness aside, I think the headline identifies the most telling question about new Celtics forward Jeff Green. But before we get to answering it, let’s look at a couple of the more obvious ones.
WHO IS JEFF GREEN?
It depends on who you talk to.
Sam Presti and Scott Brooks have both praised Green for his high character, basketball IQ and team focus. He has young legs and good athleticism. But even with that context, the numbers suggest he’s a bench player, miscast in Oklahoma City as a starter. Nothing more.
Some key numbers for his four NBA seasons, courtesy hoopdata:
That’s a whole lot of mediocrity right there. There’s almost no doubt the Celtics traded a finals-tested starter for a bench player, one without any realistic promise of getting within sight of even moderate stardom, much less reaching out and grabbing it.
I checked in with Royce Young of the True Hoop Network’s Daily Thunder to vet that conclusion. Royce had these thoughts on Green:
Let me be forthright: Jeff Green will frustrate you. He will annoy you. He will make you say, “What is this guy doing?!?”
But he’s also a very good basketball player that does very good basketballing things. He makes big plays. He’s a good passer and ball-handler. And at times, a very good outside shooter.
But where he lacks is staying consistent. He tends to float, sometimes completely forgets he’s 6-9 and can rebound and often settles for outside jumpers far too much. He’s not a great defender and really doesn’t fit well into a position. However for what he’ll be called to do in Boston, he might be a perfect fit. He can settle into a scoring role off the bench and not have to worry about battling premier power forwards every night.
Plus, he’s just 24 and still hasn’t entirely hit his ceiling. The Celtics will have to figure out what they can pay him (or if they even want to) this offseason as he’s a restricted free agent. But he’s valuable because of his versatility, character and athleticism.
But you’ve been warned. He’ll make you throw something at some point. But you won’t be able to stop yourself from liking him anyway.
With that middling review, we move onto our next question...
WHY IS JEFF GREEN?
The answer, I suspect, is multifold:
1) The Celtics performed at a championship level on defense even with Shaquille O’Neal replacing Kendrick Perkins in the lineup. As well, in Perk’s absence, the Celtics gained obvious benefits on offense. But here’s the killer: according to 82games.com the Celtics played better with a Shaq-KG-Pierce-Allen-Rondo lineup than any single starting lineup that included Perkins over the last four years.
2) Green’s defensive and offensive versatility (which don’t necessarily equate to proficiency, as the numbers show) will maximize the efficiency of the other Celtics, the same way Rajon Rondo maximizes the offensive capabilities of the aging big three. Doc Rivers is practically drooling at all the big and small lineups he can trot out given Green’s ability to play the three, do spot duty at the four and guard everything from 1-3 on the perimeter (that’s especially useful against teams with off-the-dribble threats like the Knicks, the Bulls, the Spurs, and the Heat). Green may not dominate any of his one-on-one matchups, but my guess is that the Celtics are betting he’s going to enable those around him to do just that.
3) Even before the Marquis Daniels injury, the Celtics had a pressing need for a backup small forward to share defensive duties with Paul Pierce in the playoffs. Because, as we saw against Cleveland last spring, Pierce can’t produce on offense when he’s forced to defend elite scorers for heavy minutes. To preserve Pierce’s offensive output, the Celtics needed someone to not only replace the departed Tony Allen, but ideally, to improve upon him. Green is 6’9″ and quick enough to keep up with elite small forwards. And he’s better than Tony Allen on offense. That’s an upgrade across the board. Pierce should reap the benefits.
Which leads us back to the beginning…
WHEN IS JEFF GREEN?
I think the answer is: now.
And not later.
Because I don’t think Jeff Green figures in the Celtics’ future plans anymore than Kendrick Perkins does.
Ultimately, Perkins was shipped out in large part because his reputation exceeded his ability, and he was about to be paid on the basis of the former.
Green’s career looks to be headed in the same direction. His upside seems to be as a great role player, if everything breaks right for him. But you don’t win titles building around role players.
So, maybe Danny Ainge will re-sign Green after the season, and maybe he won’t. But if he does, I doubt Green will end up as anything more than a trading chip used to acquire a superstar in a 2012 rebuild, the same way Ryan Gomes and Gerald Green got flipped for Kevin Garnett in 2007. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Green re-signed at favorable terms this summer (that wasn’t going to happen with Perk) and then flipped as part of a package soon after.
Fast forward to next year’s trading deadline:
Would Orlando take a first round pick, Green and Rondo for Dwight Howard if they knew the big fellow was going to leave in free agency?
Would New Orleans take a similar package for Chris Paul if he was on his way out the door?
I’m just speculating on the specifics but I think we’re rapidly approaching a time when every Celtics player is going to be in play on the trade market as Ainge tries to put a couple of top-10 players together to bridge his way to the next contending Celtics team.
If so, this could be a very brief dalliance between Mr. Green and the city of Boston.
Let’s hope it’s a fruitful one.