Once, Jeff Green was to have been one of the anchors of a fast-rising Thunder team full of youthful talent. The then-SuperSonics acquired Green the same night that the Celtics took him fifth overall in the 2007 draft, and Seattle paired the 6’9″ combo forward with No. 2 overall pick Kevin Durant. Soon, Russell Westbrook and James Harden followed, but the Thunder traded Green back to the Celtics in 2011. The deal doesn’t receive the caustic criticism that Oklahoma City’s subsequent Harden trade does, but Green has proven an eminently more valuable commodity than Kendrick Perkins, the principal figure headed the other way in that swap.
Green has never blossomed into the sort of star that Durant, Westbrook and Harden are, as maddening inconsistency has plagued much of his time in Boston. That issue cropped up again this week, as he scored a season-low four points against the Magic on Tuesday before notching 22 points on Friday. Still, Tuesday marked the first time all season that Green had scored in single digits, compared to 14 such occasions last season. His 18.8 points per game are a career high, and they make him far and away Boston’s leading scorer, as he outpaces Jared Sullinger, the team’s No. 2 scorer, by 5.5 PPG. Green is putting up that number on almost precisely as many shot attempts per night as he saw last season, when he scored 16.9 PPG. It’s an improvement that seems chiefly the result of career bests in free throws attempted per game (4.7) and 83.5% free-throw shooting percentage, plus, as Basketball-Reference shooting data shows, similar gains in his mid-range shooting. He’s shooting more three-pointers than ever while making only 32.6%, so correction in that area would only enhance his best season to date.
The Celtics are looking for him to create offense now more than ever, and his productive response to that responsibility adds up to fortunate timing for the David Falk client, who can hit free agency at season’s end if he turns down a $9.2MM player option. That decision isn’t necessarily a slam dunk even if Green keeps playing as well as he is, since executives with rosters that aren’t quite as barren as the one the Celtics have will no doubt have reservations about whether Green can produce at the same efficiency without the ball in his hands as much. This season’s 15.8 PER is his best figure to date, and it’s the only time his PER has been better than 15.0, the mark of an average player. Those same executives who’ll have those questions if he hits free agency this summer are surely asking them now as Green appears the next most likely pillar to go via trade in Boston’s reconstruction.
The Lakers reportedly made an offer to the Celtics that would have sent Green as well as Rajon Rondo to L.A., and the Clippers, Pelicans and Grizzlies have apparently asked the C’s about their willingness to trade Green. The report about that trio of teams, which said Boston wasn’t interested in moving Green, conflicts with an earlier dispatch indicating that the Celtics were shopping him in hopes of landing a first-round pick. It’s reminiscent of the mixed messages that emanated from Boston for more than a year leading up to the Rondo trade, as president of basketball operations Danny Ainge batted down persistent Rondo rumors until one of them finally came true. Green seems an odd fit for the Celtics in the long term, since he’s 28 and he’ll have the chance to leave as a free agent years before the team figures to have a reasonable shot at contending again. There’s reason for loyalty to come into play, as the Celtics lavished him with a four-year, $36.24MM deal the summer after he missed the entire 2011/12 with a heart ailment, and Green has spoken of his affection for the team in refuting rumors that he wanted out. Still, Falk is not known to advise his clients to make concessions to any team.
The Celtics can capitalize on Green’s sterling performance this season with a trade that adds to their stockpile of draft picks or with a swap that packages Green and some of those picks for a star. It seems as though the route of acquiring additional picks would be easier for Boston to pursue, given Ainge’s inability to find a star to pair with Rondo, but the Celtics, in line to make as many as 11 extra picks between now and 2018, aren’t hurting for draft assets.
An alternative path, which would involve the Celtics receiving recent draft picks on team-friendly contracts rather than future picks, would be tough to swing with the Clippers, Grizzlies or Pelicans. There’s little budding talent on any of those rosters, save for Anthony Davis, whom New Orleans won’t be giving up. The Lakers have Julius Randle, this year’s No. 7 overall pick, and perhaps it would be somewhat fitting if Ainge gave up Green in a deal that brought back another player with a medical question mark, as Randle is expected to miss the season with a broken leg. Yet the Lakers apparently refused to part with Randle in a Rondo trade, so it would be tough to see the Lakers giving him up for Green.
Green is chiefly playing small forward these days, and there’s no shortage of teams that need a starting-caliber solution at that position, just as there’s no shortage of small forwards in Boston, where James Young, this year’s 17th overall pick, is buried on the bench. The Suns, Hawks, Nets, Hornets, Bulls, Pistons and Sixers, as well as the teams mentioned above, would all probably count Green as an upgrade over the players they have at the position now. Ultimately, there’s a strong chance that where he ends up this season will come down to the willingness of one of those teams to part with a first-round pick, and a reasonably attractive one at that. Teams have shown a reluctance to part with first-rounders at the trade deadline the past couple of years, but given the seller’s market at Green’s position and his performance this season, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see one change hands in exchange for him soon.
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