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Farewell, Jeff Green - you did what you could

Jeff Green is gone, and many are left disappointed by his four years in Boston. But by my standards, Jeff Green was all right.

So long, Jeff.
So long, Jeff.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

I remember the first time I saw Jeff Green in the flesh. It was March 31, 2010, and I'd been assigned to cover an exciting Wednesday night tilt between two playoff-bound teams, the Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The C's kept it close against the Thunder and their young legs, even leading for a decent chunk of the fourth quarter, but they couldn't hold on. OKC was on fire in the final minutes.

With under two minutes to go, the Celtics were within one, but that was when Green took over. The Thunder were going small in crunch time, with Green playing the four and Nenad Krstic at the five, and they had Green stationed around the perimeter instead of going into the post against the bigger Kevin Garnett. With 1:56 left, Thabo Sefolosha fired a pass into the right corner for Green, and he caught, shot and drilled it. Three. The Thunder were up four. Seconds later, the Thunder had the ball back, Green set up in the exact same spot in the right corner, and this time Russell Westbrook found him. Bang. Another corner 3. A dagger through the Celtics' hearts. The Thunder won by a 109-104 final, and the Celtics were seething mad about the loss. KG memorably vented about the officials out of frustration after the game, telling assembled media that "We must have been playing Michael [expletive] Jordan out there" - a remark that, if I remember correctly, got Kev fined handsomely by David Stern the following day.

Green's performance in that game, with 17 points including those crucial six in the final minutes, stuck with me for a while. Obviously, the real star of that young OKC team was Kevin Durant (who had 37 in that game and was the real target of KG's "MFJ" epithet), but there was something really intriguing about this 23-year-old kid out of Georgetown playing in KD's shadow. Green was a flashy player with the potential to be something really special. It was unclear at the time whether he'd ever fully pan out, but the intrigue was there.

I'm guessing I wasn't the only Bostonian who saw that game and instantly conjured up the memory of it when, 11 months later, Green was traded to Boston for Kendrick Perkins. I probably wasn't the only guy who got a little excited when Green arrived here - wondering if maybe, just maybe, that cold-blooded crunch time killer would be showing up for the Celtics every night from Feb. 24, 2011 on. But I do sometimes feel like the only realist who understood it was OK when that didn't happen.

Green is gone now. Traded to Memphis in a three-team deal that appears to be bringing back Tayshaun Prince, Austin Rivers and a first-round pick in the distant future. He leaves behind an odd legacy that's surprisingly emotionally charged for a player of his caliber - he'll be thought of by many in Boston as a maddening, "inconsistent" player, a guy who was capable of showing those flashes of scoring brilliance all the time but stubbornly refused to do so.

To be blunt: I think this is kind of dumb. I always have, really. The truth is that "consistency" is a mythical concept, a lazy idea that people fall back on when they have nothing more interesting to say. If you've ever browsed Fire Joe Morgan and read the criticism there of the namesake former ESPN baseball commentator, you know what I mean. When you acquire a guy who averages 20 points a game, you're not supposed to expect 20 every single night - a 20 here and a 35 followed by a 5 there are par for the course. Human beings are not robots. Variance happens. Kevin Durant can put up dozens of 20-point games in a row and make headlines for it, but only one person in the entire universe is Kevin Durant. It's not fair to expect Jeff Green to be that guy, and it never was.

What people really mean when they say "Jeff Green isn't consistent" is that "Jeff Green isn't very good." Let me clarify that - it's not that Green is a useless player, it's just that he's not an All-Star caliber guy. You can't build a playoff team with him as your centerpiece. He doesn't have the natural-born talent to be that kind of marquee player - he's not quite big enough to post up opposing small forwards with ease, and he's not quite fast enough to dart around opposing power forwards and help himself to driving layups every time. He's adequate at both of the above skills, but he's not elite - and here's the thing. That's all right.

Jeff Green wasn't a failure in Boston. He was simply a player who wasn't able to live up to fans' expectations - expectations which, for the most part, were totally unreasonable. To put this in perspective: Green was traded for the expiring contract of Kendrick Perkins, who was coming off of major knee surgery and had posted a PER the previous season of 9.5. Why in the world did anyone expect a superstar out of that? Hot-taker columnists and radio guys who watch the Celtics twice a year loved to refer to "the Perkins trade" as the Celtics' downfall, but we know the truth. Perkins for Green wasn't that. It was a middling team trading for a middling player, in a deal of middling significance.

Green had the physical gifts to be a decent player in Boston. And indeed, he was just that - decent. He played parts of four seasons with the Celtics and accumulated statistical totals of 3,252 points, 924 rebounds and 835 assists. Those numbers are not too shabby. They're what you'd expect from a guy who made moderate-to-good money playing a prominent-ish role on teams that ranged from above-average to quite awful. Jeff Green was, in a nutshell, all right.

Was Green the second coming of John Havlicek, or Larry Bird, or even Paul Pierce? No. Of course not. But he wasn't brought here to be that, and anyone who expected that kind of player was only kidding themselves. Green was just a solid professional who did his job, was a nice presence in the locker room and remained a good sport despite suffering through one and a half painful seasons of losing basketball.

Jeff Green's heading to Memphis now, and his role will surely change. Rather than being "the guy" on the stacked and postseason-bound Grizzlies, he'll merely fade into a bit part in a rotation that already features solid wing play from guys like Courtney Lee, Tony Allen and Vince Carter. Green will take some minutes from those players, and he'll get his share of shots too, but he'll never be expected in Memphis to do more than he should.

That's Jeff Green's destiny in the NBA. He was meant to be a solid player on a solid team - not a one-man wrecking crew like many in Boston expected, but rather one modest piece of something bigger than himself. Starting now, he's got his chance. I wish him well.

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