Forward progress expected
Green joins up with Celtics, sees only good things ahead
LOS ANGELES — That imposing figure looking nearly eye-to-eye with Kevin Garnett was Jeff Green. He is a legitimate 6 feet 9 inches, and yesterday he looked as if he had some unfinished business at the Student Activities Center at UCLA.
He was uprooted from Oklahoma City and sent to Boston Thursday in the controversial four-player trade that cost the Celtics popular center Kendrick Perkins. The trade is the talk of the NBA.
How it turns out for the Celtics depends largely on the production of Green, who listened attentively to the orders of coach Doc Rivers and assistant coach Lawrence Frank. He has something to prove. The Thunder felt they were a better team without him, even though he was part of their winning culture.
So he is back with the team that originally drafted him (fifth overall in 2007, traded to Seattle). If you think about it, Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti’s fascination with Green led to the Celtics’ 2008 title. If Green had not been available, Presti, then the Sonics’ general manager, likely would have kept the fifth overall pick and built his team around Kevin Durant and Ray Allen.
But Green was available, so Presti sent Allen to Boston, and both teams flourished. But Green left Oklahoma City with just one playoff appearance, a first-round elimination last season against the Lakers, and with high expectations this season, the Thunder were solid but not spectacular, seeded fourth at the All-Star break.
That encouraged Presti to make the move for Perkins, and the Celtics are moving forward with Green and Nenad Krstic. The mood was lighter yesterday than it was Thursday, when depression and shock filled the visiting locker room at Denver’s
The Celtics were a damaged team, one of their most popular members gone, and tears were shed. Those tears turned into smiles once Green stepped onto the court at UCLA, a breath of fresh, youthful air, as the Celtics prepared to face the Clippers last night.
“We’re going to throw him into the fire,’’ Rivers said. “I think [his presence] will have an impact on the team. He’s a talented player. He’s extremely talented. He can play the [small forward]. He can play the [power forward] or he can handle the ball more than you’ve seen our [power forwards] before. He’s going to help us a lot.’’
Green tried his best to blend in with his new teammates and inhale the new culture. He is with a team that expects to win, that is vying for a title this season, not down the road. The Celtics, unlike the Thunder, aren’t waiting for other teams to get old because they are old themselves, and the sense of urgency was not lost on the 24-year-old Green.
“It’s an honor, a lot of history behind the name that’s on this jersey,’’ said Green, who will wear No. 8. “I’m going to do the best I can to help this team out and win a championship. It’s the same goal [as Oklahoma City], you’ve got to win. Same intensity. This is a different ball club, a different logo, same intensity.’’
Green will learn that Eastern Conference basketball and playing for the Celtics is a different intensity. Garnett will relay that message many times in practice. Garnett or Paul Pierce may be tutoring an heir apparent, and it is critical they instill the Celtics way.
The consensus among NBA scouts and officials is that Green has All-Star talent but needs more consistency. But the fact that he is coming off the bench will allow him to gain confidence and play well in stretches. There likely won’t be many 40-minute stints until he is comfortable.
“The same as Oklahoma, just give it my all, no matter how many minutes you play,’’ he said. “Whether it’s 35 or whether it’s 26, I’m going to play every minute, every second.’’
The most important transition for Green is to understand the importance of his role and show no apprehension in displaying his skills. Last February, it took Nate Robinson the entire regular season and the first two playoff series to blend into the system and produce as expected.
Green brings more maturity and stability than Robinson, but being the newcomer on a team that has been harmonious for years can be difficult. Green has the disposition to handle his surroundings. Rivers and Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks conversed over the past few days, with Rivers lauding Perkins and Brooks doing the same with Green, especially his work ethic.
“They have accepted me well; I can already tell it’s a tight bond,’’ Green said. “These are the guys I’m going to battle with. It’s important to have that relationship with each other, and they have welcomed Nenad and me with open arms and I’m glad to be here.
“It’s going to take some time but I will show what I can do.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.