I think we can all agree the Celtics won’t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’s pieces in a series we’ll call Asset Management. First up: Jeff Green.
Technically, this is a contract year for Green, who owns a $9.2 million player option for 2015-16. Considering the amount of money thrown around by NBA general managers each summer, he may opt out and bank another big paycheck before his 30th birthday, although picking up the option would put him in line to hit free agency just as the league’s rumored new $2 billion TV deal bolsters the salary cap in 2016, and his agent David Falk is as shrewd as they come.
Regardless, Green should be motivated this winter, although we’ve heard that before — in the final 26 games of his rookie contract in 2011, upon returning to the league after heart surgery in 2012 and when Pierce’s departure freed the starting small forward spot for him in 2013. Yet, inconsistency continues to plague the versatile forward, and neither of his Celtics coaches — Doc Rivers nor Brad Stevens — have been shy about acknowledging Green’s erratic effort.
Last summer, Green seemed ready to seize the reins from Pierce, submitting the best performance of his career in the second half of the 2012-13 season and leading the Celtics in playoff scoring that spring, albeit in a first-round exit opposite the Knicks. His declaration last training camp — “The [expletive] mentality is coming” — seemed to support that theory. Instead, his numbers regressed as his playing time increased.
Despite starting all 82 games and playing almost seven more minutes per contest last season, Green’s rebound, assist, steal and block averages all slipped. Likewise, his shooting percentages suffered as his attempts escalated.
While it’s time to let the notion of Green emerging as a first or second option pass, there is still value in a 6-foot-9 athlete who once dropped 43 points on LeBron James. Given Green’s success as a third or even fourth option in both Oklahoma City and Boston, teams in need of offense for a playoff run may come calling again as February’s trade deadline approaches. Rumors involving Green included the Cavaliers, Hawks, Knicks and Rockets this past winter, and one less season on his four-year, $36 million deal should only serve to attract more suitors.
Obviously, the more consistently Green plays, the more options the Celtics will have. These are the two most likely results: 1) With Green’s current contract taking him through his 30th birthday and the outlook for the C’s rebuilding project rivaling the Big Dig, they shop Green for further picks and/or youth; or 2) Green opts out, leaving the Celtics with as little as $30 million committed to seven players in 2015, and his money is spent elsewhere.
The only scenario in which Ainge should keep him beyond this year is if he discovers consistency, the Celtics add a second star to pair with Rondo and they can shift Green back into a third or fourth option. But given the lack of available stars and Green’s failure to meet expectations since his arrival in Boston, that seems like a prayer.
Asset Rating: B+/C-