Jeff Green never found an NBA home. He’s seeked one at every turn, only to be packaged for assets, or scurried along to his next zip code. He survived major heart surgery, and at 31, he’s still an elite athlete. But bring up his name around any of the fans of teams whose jerseys he’s adorned and admonishment likely follows.
The tornado of trades that blew through Cleveland’s roster struck him as business per usual. Except this time, he remained at the end of it all.
It’s easy to forget about Green given the circumstances of his Boston tenure. He arrived in exchange for Kendrick Perkins in one of Danny Ainge’s most controversial trades ever. Those Celts capsized from the league’s top record to an early-playoff exit. His arrival, marking what we didn’t know then as the end of the Big Three’s run at title contention, left a sour taste in the mouth of many, but shouldn’t we feel good as he arrives to the NBA Finals even if it’s alongside LeBron James after the Cavs dispatched of the Celtics?
Comparisons to Green of Jaylen Brown’s inconsistent portions of the regular season weren’t made with positive connotations. In Boston, Green represented missed opportunities and a new chapter through the Brad Stevens rebuild. He’s never had a homecoming, but it’s always come full circle in TD Garden.
The Celtics drafted Green in 2007 before getting packaged for Ray Allen, hosted his most successful season and fell victim to a sneaky one-two punch between him and LeBron James that eliminated them in devastating fashion. The key to rejuvenating his basketball career, three years after Ainge dumped him to Memphis for draft picks, shockingly involved latching on to James’ coattails through his favorite road venue.
That place, the Garden, that witnessed Green hit his peak in the most forgettable C’s season of the last decade largely forgot about the comeback storyline playing out right in front of them. Since the trade, he floated between the Grizzlies, Clippers and Magic running into the usual bouts of inconsistency that infuriated Celtics fans.
A level head should remember that Green, playing off of Paul Pierce and Garnett, provided an immense level of depth to the 2013 squad that just didn’t have the legs to gut out another long playoff run. He even took over at the forefront of that year’s duel with James. Their demise wasn’t Green’s fault. Having a third option capable of 40-point nights, even if they happened sparingly was a blessing.
It wasn’t on Green in 2012. He missed out on Boston’s last rush to the Eastern Conference because of heart surgery that could have threatened his life, never mind his career. The miracle that he returned to the court for the final rodeo in 2013 counteracted the terrible misfortune of Rajon Rondo’s career-altering ACL tear that year.
Green didn’t get shipped with Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn and was immediately surround by the likes of Phil Pressey, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller. Playing off Kevin Durant, as one of the final two Supersonics who will face in the NBA Finals this year, did not prepare him for a new head coach and over 14 shots per game after taking what Pierce gave him the year before.
His streakiness, a 43 percent shooter between 2011-2015 didn’t buy himself any good graces from Boston media, myself included. Long struggles that separated his epic scoring spectacles stood for larger frustrations beyond his control.
Boston shouldn’t be mad, they should be glad he swallowed the 25-win season, the massive second-half losing streak and constant roster overhaul that hung over his head until the ‘15 trade deadline. It yielded a new era, via Marcus Smart, that we enjoyed through the Eastern Conference Finals. Over one of the next few seasons, the Celts will use the Memphis pick they received for him to improve their future contention for a championship.
For Green, his bouts of success continued to present him with new opportunities. Even after a horrific 39 percent campaign in Orlando, the Cavaliers called hungry for depth on the wing behind James following the Richard Jefferson departure.
For the first time since early in the decade he returned to his element. Eight shots per game, minutes at power forward next to excellent distributors and a deep playoff run.
Shielded from critique behind the massive shadow of James, he could just produce.
“I learned, possibly everything,” he said of joining James. He boxed out the noise and “each day I came in the gym ... I’m seeing first hand what it takes to be great.”
Boston’s scurrying defense mostly left Green alone playing off James. That meant the world as he slid into the starting lineup for concussed Kevin Love. He could spot up for open threes, rush away in transition for a team-leading 1.3 points per possession and follow James’ drives to the rims with his own. Only Stevens likely remembered his days as a focal point.
Gasping for support, Green mustered double figure scoring alongside James for Games 6 and 7. He in no way defeated Boston, but much like his playing days with the Celtics did his job with massive expectations floating around him. He would not be consequential to victory or defeat, but his presence tilted the ship in the right direction ever so slightly.
“Coming in I just told myself, ‘play hard, stay in the zone, have fun with it and enjoy the moment,’” Green said before an emotional sigh. “You work hard to get to this point and it’s right there for us ... it’s hard to put into words because you always dreamed of going to The Finals.”
He never thought about a Finals trip as he sat and watched James take down Boston in 2012, the same way he’d help facilitate James three years later. He almost lost it all, basketball wasn’t a priority, and through an extension of good karma he’ll play for a championship. In spite of a loss, that has to be silver lining for any Boston fan with good grace in their heart.