Trading Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder sent shockwaves through the Boston Celtics’ locker room. Just months after many believed a healthy Perkins would have been the difference in Boston’s Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 Finals, Danny Ainge shipped Kevin Garnett’s ‘little brother’ and the Rajon Rondo’s best friend to the Thunder.
The move made perfect sense for OKC: The Thunder were gearing up for a run to the Finals and adding a premiere one-on-one defensive center would certainly help in future playoff series against those Lakers—then featuring Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum—the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Celtics had just traded an integral piece from a recent championship team for a future first-round pick and Jeff Green. Oklahoma City knew exactly what it was getting in Perkins. Boston was rolling the dice on a 24-year-old tweener morphing into a championship X-factor.
When the Celtics inevitably faced LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2011 Playoffs, Green was really a non-factor. He played less than 20 minutes per game. That James fellow scored 28.0 points per game on the series as Miami rolled to a 4-1 second-round win.
The Celtics era has left a sour taste in many Boston fans’ mouths. What if Garnett wasn’t hurt in 2009? What if Perkins wasn’t hurt in 2010? What if Boston never traded Perkins?
It shouldn’t and won’t be remembered as a personal failure for Green, but he was never able to fill the role Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers had hoped he would. The Celtics showed just how much faith they had in Green when they inked him to a four-year, $36 million contract in August 2012 after Green missed the entire 2011-12 season due to a heart condition.
“I matured. My growth as a person, a player, all happened here,” Green said of his time in Boston. “Playing under Doc, he instilled so much in me as far as being aggressive, especially playing alongside KG, Paul, Rondo. I learned so much. What happened here, Boston will always hold a special place in my heart as far as going through heart surgery, my growth. The years I had here were special.”
Still, his tenure in Boston never manifested into a Championship. And in January, he left the Celtics just as he joined them: in a trade.
Green returned to Boston for the first time as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. He’s started 23 of the 27 games he’s played with Memphis this season. His numbers won’t jump off his Basketball-Reference page, but he’s admirably filled his role, especially with Vince Carter battling a bunch of nagging injuries.
“He’s a versatile player. He can play the 3, he can play the 4. I can play him with the first group, I can play him the second group,” Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger said. “You can post him, you can use him in pick and rolls. I think the biggest thing for him is finding out we have two bigs and any time you play with bigs, you want to make sure they get the ball and you also want to know where you can drive. We’re encouraging him to drive a lot.”
Courtney Lee, a teammate of Green’s in Boston who the Celtics traded to the Grizzlies a year prior, has added a spacing to Memphis’ offense with his outside shooting. Lee’s seen Green as a welcomed addition to the Grizz.
“He brings a different dynamic at the 3-spot,” Lee said. “He’s athletic, he can finish with the best of ‘em through traffic, he can get out in transition and run and he can guard multiple positions, so he definitely helps our team.”
Green’s biggest asset to Memphis however, might be his experience rather than his talents. The Grizzlies are gearing up for a slow, methodical, slugfest to the title. Memphis needs soldiers ready for post-season battle.
But acquiring Green came at a price, according to Joerger. And Green has big shoes to fill.
“One of my favorite players to coach all time was Tayshaun Prince,” Joerger said. “You know: Ultimate professional, high IQ, great character guy with a lot of experience. Jeff doesn’t have as many years in as Tayshaun does, but he brings the same character qualities. He’s a good guy, he’s a fit-in guy, he’s professional, he’s on time and he does his work when he gets in the gym. And I think he plays the right way, which was a good fit for us.”
Brad Stevens isn’t surprised Green has fit in well in Memphis.
“My thing about Jeff was he’s a really good basketball player, he’s an easy guy to coach, but just as impressive—and maybe even more so—was just who he was off the floor in his community events and when he’d visit kids in the hospital and those type of things,” Stevens said. “He’s a genuine good person. So, I’m happy for his success.”
Now the question is whether that success will finally come in the form of a ring.