“You hate someone whom you really wish to love, but whom you cannot love. Perhaps he himself prevents you.” – Sri Chinmoy
In the same way you really wish to love your crazy mother-in-law, I wish to love Jeff Green. I desperately want to embrace him as a Celtic. I want to think back on Green’s tenure in Boston one day and smile in remembrance of happy times. I want to tell my grandson stories of Green helping the Celtics win a championship, stories of the game Green came off the bench to deliver a remarkable performance that will echo in Celtics lore for decades to come. With all my heart, I want to love Green. I do. But he himself prevents me.
Actually, Green’s inability to earn his place in my heart isn’t solely his fault. I don’t really hate him—all that cliche` jazz about hate being a strong word and all—but I definitely don’t love him. I’ll do my best to explain in more detail, using a few related short stories.
The email chain
Six knowledgeable Celtics fans begin an email chain to discuss all matters pertaining to the Celtics. Mostly, these email buddies don’t know each other personally. But because of their affinity for the Celtics and for writing about the Celtics, they use the email chain to become friends. Chalk another one up to “sports bonds people together,” or, if you look at things a different way, “having Celtics pen pals is pretty damn strange.”
At first, the emails are only about the Celtics. Pointing out things like, “Semih Erden will never be a good starter; he looks too much like Shaggy from Scooby Doo”, or, “Man, Paul Pierce looks like he’s in great shape,” or, “Another 20+ assist night for Rajon Rondo!” becomes the norm. But, really, the discussions are far deeper than that. The emailers begin back-and-forth conversations about all things Celtics, sharing and advancing knowledge between themselves. They start game threads off with one point; within hours, that point has been expanded upon and often spider-webbed into another point, or many more points. Before long, the emails become as much about the Celtics’ opponent as they are about the Celtics.
After an early-season game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the spotlight turns toward Jeff Green and Sam Presti. At the time, Green is still a power forward for the Thunder. He’s posting great box score statistics, but the emailers, all basketball geeks, understand there’s more to the story.
“I think we’re closing in on what I consider Presti’s first real land-mine,” one of the emailers writes, “his first tempting chance to make what could be a real big mistake: Jeff Green.
“I like Jeff Green. Everybody likes Jeff Green. He’s a nice player. He plays hard, seems to be a good guy and does a few different things reasonably well on the court.
“But he also doesn’t do any one thing at a level that could even be qualified as much better than ‘reasonably well.’ ”
“There’s so much to like about Green,” another emailer responds. “He’s 24 years old, already averages 19.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg and can do a little bit of everything. But he’s not the type of player you win championships with. Presti has a big decision with him, and I trust he’ll see that Green’s value isn’t as high as a lot of non-hoops nerds believe it is.”
Man makes trade
The second emailer referred to above, Jay King, edits a brutal, boring basketball blog called Celtics Town. On the day of the NBA trade deadline, Jay, who would like to consider himself hard-working and gorgeous even though he’s lazy and fat, awaits news about who the Celtics will trade. Halfway through the season, the Celtics are frontrunners to win the NBA title. But Marquis Daniels recently injured his spinal cord, so the Celtics need a backup small forward. Mostly everyone expects Danny Ainge to make a minor deal.
Some Shane Battier rumors float around, but Anthony Parker seems like the most likely target. Jay’s mostly indifferent to Parker. He’s not bad. He can shoot from outside. He’ll play hard. He’ll be an adequate backup. He won’t help too much, but he won’t hurt either.
Thirty minutes before the deadline, the Celtics still haven’t made a deal. Jay starts to worry.
“Maybe the Celtics aren’t making a deal after all?” he asks himself. “But that means Von Wafer’s their backup small forward the rest of the season. Not exactly ideal.”
Then he gets a text from Twitter. Yes, a text from Twitter. There are two reasons Jay gets texts from Twitter: 1) his phone is old and can’t download any Twitter applications, and 2) he’s a blogger, so he needs his news quickly. I guess there’s also a third thing to note about these Twitter texts: Jay swears he’s not as weird as you think. He knows pen palling with random Celtics writers and getting texts from Twitter doesn’t exactly spell “cool,” but really, he’s not that odd.
The tweet comes from Adrian Wojnarowski. The Celtics have traded Kendrick Perkins. Woj does not say for who.
“What the f–k? Since Game 7 against the Lakers, this has always been about size. Now we’re trading our most reliable size away? What about Ubuntu? What about ‘the starting five has never lost a playoff series?’ ”
Jay’s still screaming, but realizes he’s missing something.
“Who did the Celtics get?”
The next text comes quickly. Perkins and Nate Robinson were traded for Nenad Krstic and … Jeff Green.
Jay thinks about the email thread from earlier in the season. His screams become louder and his complaints become more expletive-laced, until finally they fade to mute. In their place, only a groan beginning deep in Jay’s heart remains.
A fresh beginning
The Celtics win the first five games of the Green-Krstic era. For the time-being, Jay eats crow. But Krstic’s play, tough-minded and hard-nosed, is sort of like a Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting streak—sure, it’s fun while it lasts. But do you really expect it to last long?
And Green? He’s playing more efficiently than he ever did in Oklahoma City. Maybe this bench role fits him well. Maybe playing small forward suits him more than playing power forward. Maybe his defense can be overshadowed by Boston’s schemes.
Or maybe, the thought lurks in the back of Jay’s mind, he is exactly what we thought he was.
A child’s jump
A small child, only two years old, stands thirteen stories in the air on the balcony of a hotel. Jeff Green stands below the girl, looking up at the small dot in the sky, wondering where the child’s parents are. As a number of onlookers watch with shock, the child, still just a toddler, jumps. As the child’s body approaches the ground, everybody expects blood and the splat of death. People scream. Grown men cry. Jeff Green has no reaction.
Okay, you got me. I made it up. The child didn’t really jump. There actually was no child at all. But if there had been, one assumes Green would have watched with all the excitement of a toll booth worker handing out tickets for the 13th straight hour. Green never shows any more excitement than that. He could miss fourteen straight shots and not display anger. He could make an NBA Finals-clinching, and-one three-pointer and not display joy. Doc Rivers says Green still cares, that he cares a lot, that he cares more than we know. But, Jay thinks to himself, it’s not good when a coach needs to explain how much his player cares.
The Celtics fade down the stretch of the regular season. Green regresses to the mean. A hopeful Celtics fan base comes to know Green for who he is, rather than who Ainge and Rivers built him up to be. On defense, Green gets as lost as a blind man whose seeing eye dog has run away. On offense, Green doesn’t get lost so much as he disappears. On rebounding, well, Jay’s not sure Green knows what that means.
The bench loses leads, lots of them. Green’s a big part of that. Anthony Parker could have done this much, thinks Jay, maybe even more. And if the Celtics had acquired Parker instead they could have kept Perkins, who, in a surprise to none, has quickly become one of Oklahoma City’s spiritual leaders.
It’s impossible to describe Jay’s feelings toward Green without also discussing Perkins. If Green had been a waiver-wire pickup, his play would be fine. If he had been a minimum-contract player, this lack of production would be explainable. But the Celtics traded away quality size while also risking their theretofore impenetrable team chemistry, all for a backup small forward who has made little contributions to winning games. To make things sound even better, the Celtics play significantly worse with Green on the floor, just like the Thunder had. Doh. At least the Celtics have the opportunity to sign him for the future! But Jay dreads that thought. Unless Green comes cheap. Really cheap. A thirty rack of Keystone Light cheap.
Okay, maybe slightly more expensive than that. But just slightly.
Finally! …. err, I mean kind of
During Boston’s sixth playoff game, Green finally reaches double figures for the first time in the postseason. Awesome! He even carries Boston’s offense for a little while, at a time when they really need it. Marvelous!
In the process, he allows Lebron James to shoot 8-12 while he’s on the court. Rats. Only two of those shots, according to one writer’s unofficial count, are contested. Bleh. As some people point out, if Chris Bosh hadn’t goaltended an errant Green three for no apparent reason whatsoever, Green would still have exactly zero games of double figure scoring this entire postseason. Yikes.
Keep in mind: with Shaq injured, Doc Rivers unwilling to play Jermaine O’Neal big minutes and Glen Davis entering a whole new world of suck, the Celtics could use another reliable big man like Tom Brady could use a haircut.
They lose the first two games against the Heat. After the second game, a Boston Globe columnist writes that Green is “one of exactly two Celtics who can keep pace with the Heat’s electric perimeter players athletically.” Jay wonders if this columnist even watched Green get torched by Lebron. Then he wishes, for the 9,483,378th time, that Ainge could time travel back to the trade deadline and make amends. Alas, time travel is not yet possible. Perhaps one day.
One last email
The email thread continues throughout the whole season. One emailer begins adding the signature “F–k Jeff Green” to all his emails. Another adds that it should also say, “F–k Danny Ainge.” A third discusses his confusion with how to react to Osama bin Laden’s death. For those wondering, it’s the first time the email chain has ever exited the realm of basketball. After several paragraphs of startling openness, the email ends thusly:
“The most important thing out of all of this is that we all agree on this bedrock principle of American exceptionalism: Jeff Green sucks.”
Jay reads the email. He laughs. He nods his head. Then he thinks to himself, “Green doesn’t actually suck. But he doesn’t help much, either. And for all the Celtics risked to acquire him, he should probably offer a whole lot more.”
And now, Jay hopes for a J.D. Drew moment he figures will never come.