This is where it gets quiet, too quiet. As Kevin O’Connor alluded to, the lack of fanfare during the latter portion of July after most of the chips have fallen can play host to the most underlying, legitimate action beyond the rumor mongering online that feeds the hunger for activity. That certainly leaves reason to be optimistic but the Celtics have filled two spots that seem to close the books on the roster heading into next season if nothing ensues.
Whether you were out on a boat, on the beach, or vacationing far away, (without a phone that is) the Cs could’ve slipped this right by you like they did with the Evan Turner move in a similar timeframe after the brunt of signings occurring in July, 2014. Boston officially announced the deals on July 27 after Sporting News reported the Celtics agreed to a one-year contract with Gerald Green for a measly $1.4 million, and the Boston Herald followed that up stating that the Tyler Zeller restricted free agency has come to a close with a two-year, $16 million deal that gives Danny Ainge his vaunted financial flexibility by including a second year team option.
As Zeller enters his third season on the parquet, there’s little speculation about how he’ll impact the game—with his usual running past tall people and finishing around the rim. But while many eyes aren’t fixated on Green, the addition is intriguing for numerous reasons beyond the fact that Boston drafted him way back in 2005. First, any excuse to look back at the Kevin Garnett trade he was involved in during that faithful summer of 2007 is worth taking. Even before that, there’s always been great intrigue about Green’s untapped potential.
It shined brightest with the Phoenix Suns between 2013 and 2015, the years the C’s were probably thinking about when they decided to bring him in. Rather than his unproductive first stint in Boston and years that followed, he became a prosperous role player on the Suns in a system that seemed to suit his overall game perfectly. Their coach Jeff Hornacek alluded to it as often as he criticized his defense.
Those Goran Dragic-led squads were fantastic offensively and played at a ruthless pace (eighth at 98.2 pace in 2014, third at 98.7 pace in 2015) that allowed them to become one of the best offenses in basketball. It was a run-and-gun, fast break game; centered around quickness, athleticism, and shooting that Green thrived in. He recorded 14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists on 52.8% effective shooting in 156 games and 52 starts. The most astounding part of it all was that on 897 three-pointers—a hefty volume for 156 games (5.8 per game)—he managed to bury just under 40% of them. There’s sensational value in that shooting, even considering his weaknesses elsewhere.
To call them weaknesses may not even be fair. Utilization and fit are vital for long-term NBA success, and so few players find them for significant amounts of time. For Green, Phoenix appeared to be that spot after appearing on nine teams in six years, but circumstances beyond a player’s control can come into play when it comes to fit. On the tail end of his Suns tenure, turmoil above him saw Dragic force his way out leading to a trade to the Heat. In the process, Isaiah Thomas was dumped off to the Celtics due to Phoenix’s heavy belief in incoming Brandon Knight and then-hopeful cornerstone Eric Bledsoe.
I don’t want to be remembered for dunks, even though that will probably happen. Hopefully I can win a ring before it’s all said and done. Hopefully they’ll remember me as being a champion.
Despite that, Green would go on to get lost in the shuffle as much as Thomas seemed to be. Both led an effective bench unit, had their share of monster performances, and seemed to fit in the fabric of what the team was. But as a whole, the cohesion that needed to be there was not and Green even felt he could do more.
The Suns went 11-21 to close 2014-15 without their heart and soul in Dragic, missing the playoffs for a second straight season, and headed for a rebuild. With that, Green took his talents to South Beach to join his old friend Dragic. Once again in a situation beyond his immediate sway, the Heat utilized him heavily off the bench early in the season, and his usage faded drastically towards and into the postseason. From a roaring pace to one of the slowest offenses in the league (25th at 95.7 pace), like Dragic, Green seemed to hit a wall on the new team. Miami could have used him back but they opted to go younger this summer as Ira Winderman said:
Gerald worked as hard as any player, with effort never an issue. But he also is what he is, with the Heat moving on to more of a developmental phase. Had Gerald made 3-pointers at the percentage the Heat anticipated/hoped, I think he still would be around...Heat had the resources to offer Gerald the same contract that Boston offered. But with 17 players under contract...it likely became apparent to Gerald that it was time to move on. I wouldn't label Gerald's tenure a failed experiment, but rather a marriage that did not endure.
It’s difficult to call Green a true reclamation project since his return from Russia was his official comeback, though it does feel like he needs another career spark as he brings this journey full circle. In five straight seasons since that exodus and for so much of his career, he’s walked the thin line between being a flashy, jump-out-of-his-shoes showman dunker—who Tommy Heinsohn said could “grab a dollar off the top of the backboard and leave change”—and being a definitive impact player on a good team.
With little market value off of a year in Miami where he posted his lowest averages since his disappointing 2012-13 stint in Indiana, the Celtics may not be giving Green an opportunity to be at home, but they will give him the tools to find one later. That is because as much as he needs Brad Stevens and this steady situation in Boston, the team needs him to be the spark plug off their bench that he was for two years in Phoenix.
The Celtics (third in 2015-16 at 101.1 pace) play at a similarly vicious pace to the Suns under Jeff Hornacek during those years, with certain elements of the run-and-gun game in Stevens’s offense. Oftentimes Thomas and company are more effective sprinting than in half-court sets, and as Marcus Smart and others begin to fill in ball time where Evan Turner left off, those fast-break touches may become all the more important to the team’s scoring proficiency. That’s where Green comes into play.
For so long now the missing ingredient in Stevens’s positionless basketball strategy has been steadiness beyond the arc. Green doesn’t exactly come to mind when thinking of pure shooters, but the fact that he’s been as consistent throwing up shots outside the arc than anywhere else over the length of his career leaves some optimism for how he’ll fare. He adheres to volume perimeter shooting of the sort that Stevens stresses so heavily, as evidenced by a career field goal percentage around 42% yet an effective shot percentage just under 50%.
In the manner of a J.R. Smith, who some rumbled about the Cs possibly taking a look at as he holds out for more money from the Cavaliers despite Boston’s lack of ability to make a competitive offer, Green represents a poor man’s Smith. He brings much of the same flash and frustration.
How much Green plays or if he makes the rotation at all will pan out in what looks to be a bruising training camp. In positionless ball there looks to be locks among ball-handlers (Thomas, Smart, Rozier), wings (Bradley), swings (Crowder, Brown), and bigs (Horford, Olynyk, Johnson, Jerebko). There’s certainly room for a swingman like Green in that mix, but he’ll be battling head to head with R.J. Hunter and, hold your laughter, James Young.
Over the last two seasons the Celtics have relied heavily on young players to fill out the spacing portion of their ever-growing “pace and space” attack, but it hasn’t panned out. Boston has settled as one of the least efficient outside-scoring teams in basketball over that period and that may be a significant reason for the low risk addition in Green. If all goes well, Stevens may have found his next secret offensive weapon right as Turner walks out the door.
For now, Green’s success will finally be in his hands. Turner leaves with a fat paycheck and basically fist bumps him as he walks into a situation similar to the one E.T. entered two years prior. While these two players differ in skill sets, Boston has proven to be an oasis where everyone has a chance to impact the floor and show himself off as valuable league-wide. Time will tell if Green is Stevens’s next great reclamation, but I would not put a big future payday past the former, he’ll see minutes with how shooting-hungry their system is. While it may not be a full reclamation project, it will certainly be a joyous homecoming.