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Piece sure to fit

Green just what the Celtics needed

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 26, 2011

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LOS ANGELES — The Celtics were 33-10 before Kendrick Perkins stepped on the court this season, Jan. 25 against the Cavaliers, boosting an already deep roster with his tough-minded style and defensive prowess.

And in the 12 games Perkins played since returning from right anterior cruciate ligament surgery, the Celtics were 8-4. That is not an indictment on Perkins, .667 ball is pretty good and Perkins had been working himself back into form. But the Celtics played 43 games without Perkins and were able to survive.

Thursday’s trade with the Thunder, however, means the Celtics will now play without one of their most impassioned leaders.

Almost ignored has been what the Celtics are getting in return, and Jeff Green is no unproven commodity or aging veteran. He will be the second-youngest Celtic when he makes his debut, perhaps tonight against the Clippers at Staples Center.

And he is a hulking 6 feet 9 inches, 235 pounds, a legitimate small/power forward who can defend both positions, with the ability to shoot the 3-pointer and enough size to get the gritty points inside.

He was the reason Thunder general manager Sam Presti, then GM of the SuperSonics, moved Ray Allen to Boston in 2007. He repeatedly said he admired Green’s ability to blend with teammates and take on different roles without a peep about shots or stardom.

So, he will fit in perfectly on the Celtics’ bench. He entered the draft having played in John Thompson III’s Princeton offense at Georgetown and has played three-plus seasons alongside Kevin Durant and two-plus with Russell Westbrook, willing to accept a secondary role.

But it was Green who drained two clutch 3-pointers when the Thunder won last season at TD Garden, and if you knew Green as a rookie with the Sonics, that was a shocking development.

Rewind to Nov. 30, 2007, when the Sonics were hosting the Pacers. The 2-14 Sonics were pushing the Pacers deep into the fourth quarter, and on two occasions the Pacers covered Green on the perimeter, and he attempted long 2-point shots.

On the third occasion, Jim O’Brien, the former Celtics coach, watched as his players again converged on Green as he held the ball on a fast break from 19 feet.

“Don’t cover him!’’ O’Brien commanded. “He can’t shoot!’’

It was a sobering indictment on Green’s offensive game. At Georgetown, he had been mostly a post player, but his midrange game was lacking.

His shooting percentage soared over his first three NBA seasons, and two seasons ago he hit nearly 39 percent of his 3-pointers. This season has been somewhat disappointing for Green, who had been squeezed out of Oklahoma City’s long-term financial picture because of the emergence of Westbrook.

Durant, an All-Star and scoring champion, agreed to a five-year, $85 million extension, and the Thunder sought to put away some cash for Westbrook, who made his first All-Star team this season, leaving Green left to play out his contract.

Because he is still under his rookie deal, Green is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Celtics have the right to match any offer, an option they did not possess with Perkins. And despite it being a down year, Green is averaging 15.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and nearly two assists.

Green became expendable not because he couldn’t play, but because the Thunder needed the defensive impact of second-year forward Serge Ibaka, who will team with Perkins to give Oklahoma City two physical stoppers.

Presti’s ability to draft well has resulted in one of those prospects having to go. It was Green.

Still six months from his 25th birthday, Green should give the Celtics a legitimate defender against LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Do Celtics fans want an exhausted Paul Pierce during the postseason as he was in 2010, when series against James and Bryant zapped his offensive effectiveness?

“He has a really good understanding of the game of basketball, his IQ is very good,’’ one Eastern Conference scout said of Green. “And when Jeff is on, he and his team can beat anybody, anywhere, on any given night. Jeff can switch and guard 3’s with no problem. The negative with him is he is not really consistent and it drives you crazy. I see his upside, my deal is his consistency. But he’s talented. He’s really talented.’’

With Marquis Daniels out, the Celtics lacked a defensive-minded forward. Anthony Parker or Dahntay Jones or any of those spare parts the Celtics could have acquired on draft day would not have filled that role. The biggest gripe about Green is that he is skilled at everything but not exceptional at anything.

That should fit perfectly into Doc Rivers’s philosophy. The Celtics desperately need versatility off the bench, a player who can drop 20 points, as Green has done nine times this season. Too much pressure was being placed on Glen Davis, and the Celtics didn’t like what they saw when Big Baby focused too much on scoring.

It’s OK to mourn the departure of Perkins because the big man will be revered in Boston for the rest of his days, and his return next season will be an emotional night. But embrace the potential of what Danny Ainge acquired.

Green is no slouch, and Nenad Krstic is a solid addition. The Celtics will take the next 26 games to form chemistry and versatility, and by April they should be ready for a deep playoff run.

Green may play a key role in that effort.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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