When Jeff Green signed a four-year deal this offseason worth $36 million, many fans expected him to come in and immediately produce at a near All-Star caliber level. That is what his pay indicated at least.
Lost in the expectations was that just several months before inking his signature to that lucrative contract, he was laying on an operating table with a foot-long incision down his chest.
Green had to have open heart surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 2011-2012 season. Now he was going to be relied upon as one of the main contributors for a team with championship aspirations.
Early season struggles by Boston had many across the fan base questioning several players on the roster. Green bore the brunt of the criticism as a result of his consistent inconsistency. Green averaged 8.4 points per game during the first month of the season, well below his career average of 13.3 ppg.
The Celtics needed more from the do-it-all forward, who was the fifth pick in the 2007 NBA draft. He may now finally be turning the corner though, just when Boston needs him the most.
In the past week, the Celtics have lost both Rajon Rondo (ACL), and Jared Sullinger (Back) for the season. For a team already struggling to stay around .500, losing 40 percent of the starting lineup won’t help. The door has now opened for others to step in though, and no one will be more important than Green.
In the three games since Rondo’s season ended, Green has averaged 13.3 ppg, including a 17-point outburst last night. All three of those games have resulted in wins for Boston.
The most noticeable difference in Green’s play has been his aggressiveness. During last night’s game against the Magic, Green had several highlight reel dunks from attacking the basket.
Kevin Garnett has noticed Green’s change in assertiveness after Rondo went down.
“I think, more important throughout all of this, it’s kind of given him some opening to where he can be free,” Garnett said. “We’re encouraging him to be aggressive. Doc’s on his [butt] about being more aggressive. Early on, I didn’t know if he could handle it, but I think he’s falling right into that.”
The Celtics currently cling to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, but injuries have now left the Celtics’ playoff chances far from a certainty. Paul Pierce and Garnett remain the team’s stars, but they can only carry the team so far in their elder age.
Despite coming off the bench, Green will be every bit as important as a starter. His talent alone allows him to dominate games for stretches. It is a matter of turning those stretches into entire games.
Dreams of raising banner 18 have likely come to a halt without Rondo, but if the Celtics do find a way to get a consistent Green, they should still find their way into the playoffs.
At the very least, Green is finally starting to earn some of that green given to him this offseason.