Three months after the end of his season, Jeff Green(notes) can admit what had become obvious to him and anyone else watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs: He never truly found his comfort level after a midseason trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Green wouldn’t mind a chance to redeem himself with the Celtics next season after the lockout ends. But as a restricted free agent, it’s uncertain whether he will get that chance in Boston or have to adjust to his third team in two seasons.
"They’ve been together for a number of years," Green said of the Celtics. "They’ve already won a championship, they’ve already have a system, they already have their chemistry and that bond on that team.
"It was tough to go into that situation."
Green proved to be a steady scorer and rebounder from the time the Thunder – then the Seattle SuperSonics – acquired him in a 2007 draft-night trade that sent Ray Allen(notes) to the Celtics. But despite averaging 15.1 points last season with the Thunder, Green had become the team's third option behind All-Stars Kevin Durant(notes) and Russell Westbrook(notes). With the Thunder needing an interior presence and Green's free agency approaching, it wasn't a surprise to hear Green's name in trade talks.
What was a surprise: The Celtics became the team to trade for Green.
Boston broke up a starting lineup that had delivered two trips to the NBA Finals – and the 2008 championship – by sending center Kendrick Perkins(notes) (and guard Nate Robinson(notes)) to the Thunder in a deal for Green and center Nenad Krstic(notes). The Celtics wanted Green for his versatility and defensive potential. They hoped that Krstic and Shaquille O’Neal(notes) and Jermaine O’Neal(notes) could offset the loss of Perkins.
With the Celtics hoping to return to the Finals, Green faced pressure to fit in quickly and make a scoring impact. But just like other recent midseason Celtics acquisitions (Sam Cassell(notes), Stephon Marbury(notes) and Michael Finley(notes)), Green was tentative and uncomfortable. It also didn't help that Perkins had been popular in the locker room and with fans.
"The one thing about me is that I’m not trying to fill anybody’s shoes," Green said. "Kendrick is a totally different player than myself. People looked at me being the type of player I am and with the name I have going into this situation, they expected me to fill his shoes."
Green averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 23.5 minutes in 26 regular-season games for Boston. His statistics dipped even more in the postseason when he averaged 7.3 points and 2.7 rebounds. He had just one double-digit scoring performance in the playoffs: 11 points against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of their second-round series.
So what went wrong?
"It was tough to gather all that information so fast and try to gather the concepts of what they are trying to do," Green said.
The Celtics expect to have interest in re-signing Green. They have only Allen, Paul Pierce(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes), Rajon Rondo(notes), Jermaine O’Neal and Avery Bradley(notes) under contract and Glen Davis(notes) is a key free agent. Green called his time in Boston "amazing," and said he's enjoyed playing with Pierce, Garnett and Allen.
The big question for Green, however, is the contract he will command. He made $4.4 million last season, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has a reputation for not spending huge on role players. James Posey(notes) and Tony Allen(notes) both left in recent years. A new collective bargaining agreement – whenever the league and union negotiate one – also could change the salary structure.
"I’ve been in the gym working, but things have been hairy," Green said. "You never know what’s going to happen. I’m always going to be prepared. I’m just taking it day by day. There is nothing much I can do right now.
"When things get done, they get done."