What it Means to be Green
Jeff Green adapts to life as a Celtic.
by Tracy Weissenberg
Last season, the young core of the upstart Thunder received their first taste of the postseason and postseason heartbreak. In six games against the Lakers, the Thunder simultaneously proved they came a long way and still had a long way to go.
The Celtics’ season was also halted by the Lakers, coming up short in game seven of the NBA Finals. It was the Celtics’ second Finals appearance in three years, and the Lakers third in three, winning back-to-back titles after a 2008 loss to Boston.
Both the Thunder and Celtics entered this season on different ends of the spectrum. The Thunder’s 2010 postseason provided a glimpse of possibility while the Celtics faced a timeframe and the inflexibility of a window to win.
The two teams crossed paths at the February deadline, with the Celtics trading Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. In a sense, each team traded a bit of its identity as well. The Thunder received a battle-tested, big game experienced interior defender but gave up one third of their young trio.
Green, who molded his role to fit between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, provided adaptability beyond his experience and a willingness to perform with less fanfare, stats and recognition than his counterparts. Perhaps that is what made him simultaneously valuable and expendable.
While he saw Durant, drafted three spots before him in 2007, inked to a max extension, Green was not given the same security at the beginning of the season.
For a Celtics team that is not getting any younger, Green’s athleticism and versatility can provide both long- and short-term benefits. In moving from a team with a youthful identity to the veteran laden Celtics, Green says, “It’s a totally different atmosphere, have to change my way of going about things. Things are a little bit different here. You know, it’s been wonderful…The way they handle things. This is a team that been to the championship [series] multiple times so they know what it takes. That’s probably the biggest difference.”
He calls last season’s first round series against the Lakers a “great experience.” On what he took from the loss, Green says, “Just need to be a little bit tougher. This team knows what it takes and they’re trying to teach me to know what it takes and do whatever I can to help this team win.”
Asked the main difference he’s noticed in his time with the Celtics, Green says, “Everything is a little bit harder…Everything is a little bit more intense. That’s probably the biggest thing. You’re trying to be precise, even in shootaround.”
The Celtics have made it clear they have their own system and their way of doing things. It is evident in the way the team talks, handles media obligations, responds to wins and responds to losses. It is also apparent in the way each young player on the team quickly learns to carry himself as if he has additional experience in the League, almost by osmosis.
Part of the Celtics’ mentality is from the collective experiences of the players in the locker room. The other part is from the experiences of the franchise, and the expectations inherent in the legacy.
During the beginning of his career, Green experienced the learning curve of the League with the Thunder. After this season’s trade, he realized the urgency of acclimating without a curve, since time is a luxury Boston does not have. While Green tries to find a balance between when to be aggressive and when to defer to his new teammates, he remains comfortable in his game and committed to playing whatever role best helps the team.
On going from helping to create a legacy in Oklahoma City to helping fulfill one in Boston, Green says, “It’s a great thing, look up at the banners and all the championships they won and me coming to this team, I want one for myself. I got to do whatever it takes to help this team and this franchise to get another championship.”
Hopefully, if Green helps Boston get where it needs to be, he can get where he needs to be as well. So far, his path has included a lot of sacrifice.