HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Green never makes it into the frame for the photo-op with the Celtics’ revamped Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
Spending a season in street clothes away from the court and the public consciousness has a way of forcing a player, even one as talented and accomplished as Green, into the background.
Green spent all of last season recovering from heart surgery, missing out on the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference finals and the Celtics’ missed out on all that the dynamic hybrid forward brings to the party.
He’s back now, in a major way. Anyone who has seen the Celtics during the preseason has seen it. He’s flying around on both ends of the floor and making plays at the rim (check out that block above) and in transition in ways that no other player on the Celtics’ current roster can.
A 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward with the length and athleticism to match up against power forwards and the range and ballhandling skills to work on the perimeter as well, Green brings another dose of firepower to the Celtics’ attack (along with newcomers Courtney Lee and Jason Terry) that was lacking last season.
We’re not saying that a healthy Green pushes the Celtics past the Heat in that conference finals clash last season, but you never know …
Green’s teammates, particularly Garnett, might feel otherwise.
The 6-foot-9 multipurpose weapon, nine months removed from heart surgery, was a wonder in the preseason as he went for 13.9 points on 49.4 percent shooting. But there’s more to it than merely numbers, even the eight blocked shots. Green took hold of the different tasks he was given and showed himself to be a large and athletic force.
In sum, he has been what the Celtics hoped they were getting when Kendrick Perkins was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the controversial February 2011 trade. (The C’s also got a draft pick that turned into Fab Melo.)
So when Kevin Garnett compares Green to Hall of Famer James Worthy and gushes, “Jeff’s a lot more aggressive than I can remember, man,” well, there are circumstances in play.
“Look, when he came from Oklahoma City he was 24 and a three-year starter who was playing 35 minutes a game,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “That’s really valuable experience that’s hard to get in our league. And we thought that Jeff was continuing to improve and was on a good track getting better and better. And I don’t think that this procedure that he went through, the surgery, was going to prohibit that at all and limit him in any way, other than just the time off the court and needing to get back in shape and all that. But Jeff is a player that’s still improving. I don’t think he’s reached his full potential yet.”
He showed an occasional sign of things to come during the last few months of the 2010-11 season, but this is clearly a better Jeff Green.
“I think that’s a function of his team and his role,” Ainge said. “You know, when Jeff was playing with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (with the Thunder), I mean, they’re obviously the focal point. Then when he came to Boston, he was a guy that was trying to fit into a team that had four All-Stars on it.
“So I don’t see what’s happening now as just a function of, ‘Oh, I’m going to be more aggressive.’ I mean, when you’re in a certain role, it’s tough to just take that initiative on yourself. That has to be a function of the team and your role within that team, how your coach sees that role. So I just don’t think that it’s that simple.”
What’s simple is the fact that the Celtics, despite not having the overflowing resources to do so, have once again found a way to reshape their roster in pursuit of the top spot in the Eastern Conference (and by that standard, the Heat).
How much the Celtics, and specifically coach Doc Rivers, relies on Green this season remains to be seen. As TNT’s David Aldridge pointed out in this week’s Morning Tip, that seemingly odd mix of players Rivers was forced to use last season because of injuries and other issues, will probably change this season now that the ranks have been replenished.
Green gives Rivers options he simply did not have last season, an X-factor, so to speak, that his coaching counterparts around the league would love to have. And in turn, Green gets to play the role he was destined for all along, before the heart surgery and before he faded from the minds of so many in Boston.
He’s going to be a problem for the opposition this season, though. You can count on it!