By now you all have heard the rumor from the Bill Simmons B.S. Report Podcast (h/t: ESPN Boston) that the Celtics were initially after James Harden before settling on Jeff Green in the trade with OKC. This news is disappointing for a few reasons, but not for the ones that are immediately evident. While his offensive production with the Celtics would have been undoubtedly more substantial than Green’s this season, it’s highly unlikely the swap would have made a ton of difference in how the season ended. Perhaps Harden’s addition would have prolonged the season by a game or two, but adding some offensive firepower off the bench wasn’t going to help the Celtics defend LeBron James.
We know now that the addition of Green didn’t really help the Celtics defend James like they had hoped (save for maybe Game 4 and a bit of Game 5) but this reality couldn’t not have been entirely predicted. What could have been predicted is the sour taste in Celtics’ fans mouths when they hear that Harden was potentially a trade possibility in place of Green . I’ll be honest: the thought did cross my mind when the trade was made official. After all, Green was a starter on a good playoff team and Harden was the sixth man. Couple that with the idea that the Celtics weren’t about to give up their starting center for nothing in return. The story of Green and Harden respective usefulness changes, however, when you start throwing out words like “potential” and “future impact”.
The truth of the matter is that Harden has unquestionably more potential than Jeff Green. Hell, he may have more in the way of present-day ability than Green despite their stations on the Thunder. The Celtics completed the trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for a few reasons, and ones that we’ll discuss ad nauseum over the offseason (hey, it’s not ideal but since this story will never die, we might as well weigh-in and weigh-in heavily). For right now, I’m interested in viewing the trade from the viewpoint of the Celtics interest in bolstering the offensive firepower of their bench. Not only does Harden do that better than Green statistically, he does that in more obvious ways. Harden is a guy that can create his own shot. When the Celtics moved Nate Robinson, they ONLY guy on their bench that could create his own shot was Delonte West— and his creation was limited to dribble-step-back two point jumpers; not exactly inspiring fear in the hearts of the Celtics’ opponents.
Again, Harden’s ability to play the role of combo guard- make quick moves to get all the way to the rim, shoot well from deep, and be consistent from midrange– wasn’t going to substantially help the Celtics this year. It would have, however, given me a lot of more confidence moving forward than having Danny Ainge all but commit to over-paying Jeff Green this offseason.
Bottom line: Paul Pierce is not getting any younger and the Celtics are quickly losing their go-to wing player without having anyone waiting in the wings. The front office tried by drafting J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker. They allowed them them fight for the role of Pierce’s heir-apparent. They both lost.
Now with Green all but in the future fold, the Celtics are staring boldly into the abyss with a guy who’s PER mirrors that of Marvin Williams instead of a shade under Andre Iguodala (Green: 12.91, Williams: 13.45, Harden: 16.48, Iguodala: 17.27). Isn’t HoopData great (and revealing?)? Even if the Celtics were to somehow snag a guy like Dwight Howard via free agency or trade, a core of Rajon Rondo, Green and Howard when compared to Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett? It’s just depressing. Swapping Green for Harden could have made it a little easier to stomach.