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When the Celtics acquired Jeff Green at the 2011 deadline in the controversial trade that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, the reaction from the Boston faithful (and some players) was generally negative. Some, however, saw Green as a potential replacement for Paul Pierce once the captain decides to retire. Green, after all, posted solid numbers in his three and a half seasons with the Sonics/Thunder: 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds while starting nearly every game and with virtually no history of injuries.
While his numbers took a hit in the 26 games he played for the Celtics that season, this can easily be ascribed to the fact that he played nearly 14 fewer minutes per game than he had in OKC. In fact, his shooting percentage went up significantly, to 48.5%. Green’s career was put on hold in the 2011 offseason when he was found to have an aortic aneurysm which forced him to undergo surgery and miss the entire 2011-12 season.
This year, the joy over his successful recovery and return to basketball soon wore off when the Celtics struggled out of the gate and Green’s effort was perceived by some as lackluster. Over the past month Green has stepped up his game in a huge way and has been a key component of Boston’s recent run, as the Celtics are 16-8 since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season on January 27.
Green’s recent success can be traced back to exactly a month ago, when he scored a season-high 31 points to go with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a career-high 5 blocks in a 113-88 victory in Phoenix on February 22. Since then, he’s averaged 16.4 points and the Celtics have gone 8-5. Green made national headlines on Monday when he posted a career-high 43 points to go with 7 boards and 4 blocked shots in a 105-103 loss to Miami. His energy also seems to be up and his highlight-reel dunks have become increasingly common.
While Green was an understudy to Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, he seems to thrive when he gets significant time in the spotlight – it’s no coincidence that his two aforementioned big performances came in games in which he started in place of Kevin Garnett. While Garnett is having a great season and isn’t going anywhere, it’s worth wondering whether the Celtics would be better off with Green in the starting lineup instead of Brandon Bass, who is having a subpar season. At 6’9″, Green has the size to play big minutes at power forward, and his ability to block shots (nearly one per game this year) suggests that he could hold his own defensively.
It isn’t likely that this will happen, as Doc Rivers is known to favor continuity, and the Celtics are well-stocked at the four position with the signings of Shavlik Randolph and D. J. White until the end of the season. In any case, Green has been getting upwards of 30 minutes per game consistently in recent weeks even when he’s come off the bench. Rivers would probably like to keep Green as his sixth man going forward.
Pierce is a future Hall of Famer and close to irreplaceable, but if the question is whether Green can become an everyday starter and produce consistently in that role once the Truth is gone, then based on his recent performance, the answer has to be yes. Green is just 26 years old, and if Pierce retires after the 2013-14 season, he will be both experienced enough to lead the team and young enough that the front office won’t have to worry about finding him a replacement anytime soon.
As bleak as the Celtics’ future seemed early in the season, it now looks like we may very well be able to avoid the painful rebuilding years that preceded the arrival of the new Big Three in 2007. After all, who wouldn’t feel comortable with a lineup of, say, Rondo, Avery Bradley, Green, Jared Sullinger and free-agent or draft pick center a couple of years down the road?