By Rich Levine
When Jeff Green joined the Celtics in February, Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers gave off the impression that theyd found the next James Posey. Of course, it turns out they were setting the bar way too high.
In the two and a half months Green was in Boston, he never came close to filling Poseys long-departed role. Green was never comfortable coming off the bench, he was never a great, or even good, defender and most of all, he never embraced the big moments. Posey may have been the toughest, grittiest, and one of the most confident guys the Celtics had back in 2008. The brighter the lights, the better the Posey. Thats what endeared him so well to fans, teammates and coaches alike. Posey was a gamer, regardless of the situation.
Jeff Green is not. Or, at least, he isn't yet.
Sure, he had his moments over the course of the playoffs. There were flashes, as always, when you thought to yourself, Hey, this kid might not be that bad. According to Ainge, Green was Bostons most efficient player in the postseason, which may be true, but is just as meaningless. Efficiency aside, Green was not a guy the Celtics could count on. He was completely overwhelmed by the atmosphere, and if the Celtics had advanced, that only would have gotten worse.
His fumbled pass at the end of Game 5 was the perfect example. And Im not saying that thats the reason why the Celtics lost the game. But that turnover was a product of nothing other than a guy who was terrified to be out there; who wasnt ready for that kind of pressure. A guy who sure as hell doesnt have it in him to be the next James Posey.
But to Ainges credit, he realized that. Speaking on WEEI yesterday, he admitted that Green didnt adjust to that role as well as they would have liked. And looking back (this is me speaking, not Danny), it was probably unfair of Ainge and Rivers to ever even mention Poseys name along with Green. Like I said, it set the bar too high. And lets be honest, this kid already had big enough shoes to fill.
Greens performance in Boston will always be tied to Kendrick Perkins absence. For as long as Green wears the Green, hell be held to a higher standard than most players in his position. It doesnt matter if Perks knees give way next season or he continues to play out a mediocre existence in OKC, Green will always be the guy who was worth breaking up the Celtics for. The fans wont forget that. His teammates (the four that matter most, at least) wont forget that. For all that Perk wasnt, he was a guy that the Big Four felt comfortable and confident taking into battle. Green isnt there. In fact, hes not even close.
And believe me, this had an effect on team down the stretch.
When people talk about the trade, its still mostly about Xs and Os. They talk about things like offensive efficiency or the fact that Perk hasnt played that well in OKC. Its about what each respective guy is doing in a vacuum on the court, and obviously I get that. But these Celtics were never just about Xs and Os. The Celtics were a team, and that bond went far beyond numbers. It was about respect, trust and friendship. It transcended age, speed, athleticism and sometimes even talent. And regardless of where you stand on the Perk trade, you have to admit that that was gone as soon as Perk boarded that plane to OKC. The trade killed the Celtics' chemistry, and they never found it again.
You can talk about efficiency all you want, but that doesnt change the fact the Celtics never completely accepted Jeff Green in that locker room. They never accepted most of the new guys. In a way, you wish they could have just let bygones be bygones and everyone could have been best friends, but you know its not that easy. Were talking about three of the greatest player in NBA history, plus one of the most talented, enigmatic point guards in the league. That respect isnt given; it has to be earned. And Green didn't do much to earn it. Hell, it took the Big 3 nearly three years to even accept Rondo and that was after they won a title together. They had to go through a lot to get to the point where they are now, and with Green theyve barely scratched the surface.
Which makes what happened with Ainge on the radio yesterday so perplexing. Two and a half months, after setting the bar too high on Green, and ultimately realizing that he wouldnt and couldnt be the next James Posey, Ainge essentially suggested that Green can now become the next Paul Pierce. Whether or not what Ainge suggested that Pierce might come off the bench, so that Green can excel as a starter will actually ever happen, the seed has been planted, and Im not optimistic about how it will grow.
Ainge has created a situation where, as long as Green is coming off the bench, that will be the reason that hes not contributing. Its now: This trade that we shook the team up for will not be worth as much as we thought it would be until Jeff Green is starting" which is essentially means until Paul Pierce isnt. Just a reminder: Pierce signed an extension last summer through 2014.
Do you think Pierce enjoyed hearing that? Do you think Pierce would ever even consider coming off the bench? Thats crazy. Thats an insult. And its just going to make this whole thing more complicated. It goes against the very tenants that made this team so great, and just piggy backs on everything that was ruined when Perk was sent away. It created more inner turmoil, more drama, more reasons to second guess everything.
It made it less likely for these two to ever accept each other, or for the Celtics to ever find the same unity they once did. Now, not only is Jeff Green the guy who was worth giving up Perk for, but now hes also the guy moving Pierce to the bench? Whats that even mean? How can, or will, that ever happen? Why even plant that seed?
Maybe its Ainge just trying to do anything he can to salvage a trade that merely hasnt worked out, and one that may come to be the second most memorable (after KG) of his tenure in Boston. Im not one of those people who think that the Celtics would have beat the Heat if Kendrick Perkins was still there, but Ill certainly argue that the trade did not make them better. I dont know how anyone can argue that. Ainge said that the trade would give the Celtics a greater chance to win this year, and that certainly didnt happen. And dont give me the deal on how they were counting on Shaq to be healthy because that just makes it worse. Why would you ever count on Shaq being healthy?
I dont know, maybe hes just grasping at straws. Maybe hes just in a little bit of a panic. And moving forward, no ones exactly sure what road the Celtics will take with Green, Pierce and the rest of the team. But heres one thing Im pretty confident in.
This is going to get worse before it gets better.