There are two different Jeff Greens.
For simplicity's sake, let's call them "Bad Jeff" and "Good Jeff." They have two very distinct personas, as perceived by two very distinct groups of people around the NBA.
Bad Jeff is the guy who didn't pan out. He was the Big East Player of the Year at Georgetown, a No. 5 overall pick in a decent draft class headlined by two supposed franchise players, and a prospect so hyped that he was traded, albeit along with a few other small pieces, for Ray Allen. Bad Jeff was supposed to be a star, but instead he's spent five years hiding behind more heralded players, underperforming off the bench, and finally missing an entire season when he should have been entering his prime. Bad Jeff is getting $36 million to be a Celtic for the next four years, and the vast majority of the NBA is scratching their heads, wondering what on earth he's done to earn it.
Then there's Good Jeff.
While there are players, coaches, front-office types and fans of 29 other teams who have never laid eyes on the guy, Good Jeff is a trending topic in Boston. He's back, he's healthy, he's comfortable in the Celtics' locker room, and he's ready to make an impact this season. He's got Doc Rivers lauding him as the star of the postseason, he's got Brian Scalabrine comparing him to James friggin' Worthy, and he's got legions of Celtics fans thinking maybe, just maybe, he's worth that massive pile of cash after all.
Bad Jeff and Good Jeff, Good Jeff and Bad. Somehow, they're coexisting in the kooky jungle of media mixed messages that is the NBA preseason. On the same day that Doc praised Green and said he "stood out, probably more than everybody" on the team this month, the NBA general managers' survey listed his contract as one of the most surprising developments of the offseason. On a list of questions that are almost uniformly positive -- who's the best "this," who's the best "that" -- the GMs singled out Green for his contract, implying they were shocked by the kid's big payday.
Is that kinda mean? You bet.
Is it wrong? I'm really not sure.
Nine million bucks annually is a lot of money. For comparison's sake, here's a partial list of guys getting paychecks somewhere in that ballpark: Steve Nash, Gerald Wallace, Devin Harris, Shawn Marion, Danilo Gallinari, Caron Butler and Tim Duncan. Yes, that Tim Duncan. We're talking about established players, guys who have been starters for deep playoff runs at the very least.
Jeff Green isn't that. Not yet, anyway. He very well might get there -- he's young, he's talented, and he's fond of pointing out, he was taught well at Georgetown, where quality players are made. But Green hasn't proven a thing yet. Green turned 26 this summer, and where has he been? He's been in Kevin Durant's shadow, he's been miscast as a traditional forward, he's been misunderstood in Boston, and he's been reminded that his health is far more important than basketball. So far, he hasn't been a real player.
He appears to be beginning his first full season as a Celtic right, though. He had a monster final weekend of the preseason, first dropping 25 on the Knicks on Saturday night before dropping a double-double (12 points, 10 boards, not to mention four blocks and two steals) Sunday against the Nets. Solid numbers, but we don't want to get carried away. This is October. Overreact in October, and you wind up looking foolish.
Green was the story of the weekend, thanks to his stellar play, and that only proved more true when Doc gushed about his performance in the postgame media scrum. And he rose to the occasion, basking in the media glory and boldly proclaiming his willingness to guard Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard or LeBron James. "I consider myself a top player in this league," he quipped. "And to be a top player, you’ve got to defend the top players."
Is Green a top player? I dunno. ESPN thinks he's one of the league's top 172 players... so he's got that going for him, which is nice. But if he wants to crack the top 171 anytime soon, he'd better keep his head on straight.
If Green comes out swinging in November, trying to prove that he's the "top player" he claims to be, trying to earn his $36 million rather than help his team win, the Celtics could be in trouble. Green is what he is -- he's Paul Pierce's backup for the time being, a versatile bench guy who can create problems for certain teams in certain matchups. He's yet to prove that he's more than that, and on this team, he doesn't have to.
Danny Ainge reflected on Green's arrival in Boston this week with the Herald's Steve Bulpett, noting that Green got here as "a guy that was trying to fit into a team that had four All-Stars on it." In that situation, noted the guy who controversially dealt Kendrick Perkins for the unproven Green, it was "tough to just take that initiative."
Isn't it still? What's changed?
Green can't become a megastar overnight. It doesn't work that way. That may be the narrative now, but this is the preseason, a time when Smush Parker's latest media feud is what passes for news. But here are some cold, hard facts for you: Green's overall averages this preseason were 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 29.3 minutes and 49.4 percent shooting. For his career, he's at 13.9, 5.5, 33.6 minutes, and 44.5 percent. Does that show improvement? Maybe a smidgen. Certainly nothing worth writing home about.
Look, I'm not knocking Jeff Green. I say this for two reasons: one, the guy's nine months removed from heart surgery, so the fact that he's alive and healthy and able to play basketball at all is a wonderful thing. And two, he really could become a legit player down the road. But he's not there yet, and we're kidding ourselves to conclude that he is based on stats from October 21.
Which Jeff Green is the real one -- Good Jeff or Bad Jeff? We just don't know yet. But we'll spend four years and $36 million finding out.