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Danny Ainge had no real choice but to give Jeff Green his money

John - Red's Army (@RedsArmy_John) September 5, 2012 Celtics News, Free Agency, Jeff Green 20 Comments

We’ve argued about Jeff Green’s contract for about two full months now.  We’ve debated his ability, his mental state, and his potential.  Numbers have been tossed around to defend our positions.  But none of that really matters, because the Celtics had virtually no choice but to give Green his four-year, $36+ million contract.

The whole things starts with Kevin Garnett and the decision to bring him back.  The Celtics made a conscious decision at that point to go for it once again and try to find complimentary pieces that fit this team while trying to get younger at the same time.  With Garnett in the fold, the Celtics had to try to determine what needs they had.

Their problems with bench scoring were addressed with the additions of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry.  Drafting Jared Sullinger gave them a young, solid player who may be ready to contribute this season.  Re-signing Brandon Bass preserved a really good starting five.  Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins give the Celtics a little depth down low.  But there was still a huge, glaring hole:  Paul Pierce’s back up.

With the Celtics over the cap and their mid-level gone to Jason Terry, the Celtics had four options to address the issue of backing up Pierce:

  1. Sign a veteran free agent at the minimum wage
  2. Sign someone via the bi-annual exception
  3. Sign-and-trade Ray Allen to a team willing to part with a worthy back up small forward
  4. Sign Jeff Green

Options 1 and 2 seemed to point the Celtics to Mickael Pietrus, or someone like him.  Pierce is going to be 35 years-old this season and heading into his 15th season.  As we saw this spring, the Celtics really need Pierce to be 100%.  Keeping him healthy is a priority, and chopping his minutes is part of the way to you do that.  Are you comfortable with Pietrus as the primary back-up three after what we saw this past season?  He’s had knee surgery in each of the past two seasons and he’s shown an over-reliance on bombing away from 3 when he doesn’t feel comfortable driving.  Other bi-annual exception options might have been someone like Grant Hill… and that doesn’t help much.

Option 3 went out the window when… oh, we don’t need to go over that again.

Which brings us to option 4.

Jeff Green is 26 years-old and he’s shown some flashes of being good.  He’s also shown some flashes of being not-so-good.  To put it nicely… he’s a bit of a wild card.  But nothing can change the fact that he’s a 26 year-old, 6 foot 9 inch, athletic forward who is good in the open court.  After his heart scare, there is trepidation about what his physical condition may be, but I’m going to trust the best doctors in the world who are clearing him to play.

If you look at Green objectively, you can safely project him getting realistic offers in the $6 million per year range.  And if it came to it, I’m sure Green’s agent could have shopped him around and started a little bit of a bidding war around that mark.  The Celtics, meanwhile, are sitting there with a glaring hole on their bench behind Paul Pierce.  With only the bi-annual at their disposal, there is virtually no chance of getting someone who at least has Green’s potential.

So the Celtics were stuck.  Could they have offered less?  Maybe.   Could they have made the same offer they made to Green last year, where they gave him one year at $9 million?  Sure.  But last year’s offer was supposed to be the “ok, go ahead and prove yourself” offer that the C’s could walk away from if he didn’t pan out.   And if they’d offered less, Green could have walked to some other team willing to pay him the same amount.

26 year-old swing men with potential, regardless of past performance, don’t sit on the open market for long.  It’s why Gerald Green is still getting chances.

Last year’s offer became the starting point.  Ainge’s market for Green was already determined to be $9 million a year.  There really was no backing off that at this point, even after the heart issue.  Now, with the heart issue resolved and, eventually, insurance issues worked out, the Celtics had to pony up multiple years to get the deal done.

When you look at the big picture, Danny didn’t really have much choice.  The Celtics had already committed their MLE to Jason Terry (remember, Doc called him first at midnight when free agency opened).  They traded away any assets they had in the Courtney Lee deal and, once Ray Allen left via free agency, their only “sign-and-trade” piece went with him.  League rules don’t allow for Green to be dealt in a sign-and-trade because he was out of the league last year, and the only other tradeable assets the Celtics have are Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce (and those guys are going nowhere right now).

Does that mean this will ultimately be a good contract?  Only time will tell (despite some people’s demands to make a judgement now).  On the surface, it appears Danny overpaid for Green by about a couple of million a year.  But that’s the premium he was backed into.  I look at it like a guy going all-in in Texas Hold ‘Em with a short stack and a decent hand at best.  He was out of options and this move is either going to pay off for him, or it will blow up in his face.  But it’s really the only move he had available because you could go broke waiting around for something better to come along.

The payoff will be a Jeff Green who, with a year to observe and understand his role, along with a new perspective given to him by staring down his mortality, steps up and out-performs his own history.  That kind of Green will be the flush on river Danny the Gambler was looking for.  If Danny doesn’t get that Green, then he’ll have to go back to square one, and hope a veteran minimum or bi-annual-worthy free agent shows up in March or April, while being one of the early executors of the new “stretch exception.”

It’s a risk… one that Danny had no choice but to take.

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  • Matt in Maine

    Great post. I agree totally. Pierce clearly needs a young backup and Green fits the bill nicely. Sure he isn’t an all star at this point but he is far more than serviceable.

  • PakkAttackk

    Maybe I’m unorthodox but I’ll wait a year to see if this contract was worth it. I think Green will reach his potential & will be a very valuable piece after KG & Pierce retire. But of course the John Hollinger diehards & stat nerds will say there’s no reason for me to believe that, but I do.

  • hebertofnh

    Fantastic analysis of the scenario, John. I’m a “Pro-Green” fan, as he’s always been asked to play roles that don’t fit his skillset. Think of this as well when we bring him back in- aside from Kevin and Avery, Green is Rondo’s best friend on the team. Having guys who keep Rajon feeling comfortable, both on and off the court, is something worth thinking about. Rondo also promised to lead an exciting team, and Green was a massive dunker and alley-oop finisher in OKC, and did so without a passer even close to the caliber of Rajon. Too early to pass judgement, but you nailed this one on the head, John.

  • cam

    Big thing is that doc trusts green. He played him a bunch when he first got traded and seems to like him on and off the court.

    That’s one of the problems with vet min guys Sasha, Pietrus, daniels etc. They can’t really be trusted. They are either wildly inconsistent, injured or just don’t bring a lot to the table. Even tho doc had praise with delfino I could have easily seen him plastered on the bench.

    Minus the heart condition Jeff Green has been healthy and is young and an impressive athlete. I think worse case scenario he is a very good back up offering a little bit of everything in his game to the Celts. I think he has a ton of upside tho.

    People act like he was terrible when we traded for him but he really didn’t do to bad considering it was 20a games, his minutes were cut in half, first time been traded etc.

    I also trust danny and doc where if they think he is worth the money, or worth thatbkind of value than they would pick him up. Like its been said their were other options out there and ones that aren’t that bad. Why would they sign green otherwise? At the very least they must think he is worth more than the mid level exception

  • Jester00

    Hey it’s puff, puff give don’t bogart that stuff!!!!!!! Worth 4-5 mill tops

  • Chulinho

    My biggest questions for the fans that don’t like the signing has been:

    Who else would you have found and signed that is as young and talented as Jeff Green?

    Would he prefer to play in Boston?

    And, would he mind coming off the bench to play as Pierce’s backup, as we assume Green is going to do?

    So far, I haven’t heard any great responses other than trading him, which the Celts can’t do until January.

    • Cal

      We won’t be able to trade that contract even if we got nothing in return

      • Chulinho

        That is what many people said about Joe Johnson’s contract. If that ridiculous contract can be moved, Jeff Green’s can be moved.

  • Larry Legend

    Yeah I don’t get the fans’ problem with the Green deal. Yeah maybe we payed 2 million dollar premium but who cares?! Easy to say ainge overpaid. But who do you want? And for what? Listen Green needs to be good, and yes he’s under the microscope but let’s be honest here, he definitely should make the Celtics better. Is worth that $$$ I dunno. I hope so and then some, but Ainge deserves a little more trust. He’s earned that.

  • Chris

    I get the feeling that many of those who hate the Jeff Green deal are the same people who thought we could trade for Howard or think we’ll get Josh Smith for nothing. I’ve no doubt Smith would like to play with Rondo in Boston. It just seems more likely that Atlanta would wait for a disgruntled star wanting a change of scenery (i.e. Monta Ellis) than take our role players.

  • RedsLoveChild

    Well reasoned argument.

    I still would`ve preferred seeing that same $36M going to Perkins instead.

    Perk is no HOF`er but, at least you know exactly what you`re getting for the $$$.

    I`ll take a tough, defense-minded, physical presence in the all-important paint…over a guy who will basically be Paul Pierce`s caddie!

  • Larry Legend

    The more pressing question for me is the rebounding issue. Rebounding is what is holding the Celts back. It has to improve. I get building a small ball lineup but you still have to get boards… Does everyone think Sullinger can help? Not sure how much a rookie can help but it would be huge if his wide butt could take up some space on the glass…

    • Chulinho

      I know it’s a small sample, but, in the Summer League I actually saw Sullinger do something consistently I swear have not seen a Celtic do in the last few seasons: BOX OUT. He actually fought for rebounds! The best thing is that he wants to do it because he knows the C’s need it. I don’t know if he will earn a lot of minutes, but if he can I think he’ll focus on rebounding, specifically on the offensive side of the court.

    • Chris

      Sullinger has a real nose for the boards. He pays attention to where the ball is going to come off and positions himself accordingly. That’s a skill that translates to any level of basketball. Sully will improve our rebounding, but the issue is whether anyone else can improve.

      Keeping in mind that preservation of KG and Pierce is essential to any chance of success, that puts the rest of the responsibility squarely on Bass, Wilcox and Green to crash the boards and box out.

      • felix

        Sully knows and will be reminded of it a thousand times in the future that PT comes with rebounds. Thus he will battle. We’ll see how his back holds up with that. 82 games + ain’t no summerleague.
        As for Green, i am so excited. Do people even realize how deep our bench has become? Maybe i am daydreaming but Green reminds me of Reggie, he just isn’t there yet.

  • jbsuarez

    Nice column. Cutting the Green deal by a few million would have saved the Celtics money, but it wouldn’t have been money they could use elsewhere. Plus, as an expiring contract, those couple extra million could help make the money work in a deal for a max salary player in a trade three years from now.

  • Chuck – Red’s Army

    I’ll never understand why Ainge had to commit 4 years to Green.

    There was no market for him!!!!

    • Larry Legend

      Yeah we get you don’t like the move chuck. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Ainge knew a little more than you about Green’s market.

  • Cal

    Bass and Lee could’ve been PP’s backup

  • mrcuret

    I like this signing by the Celtics. People seem to forget that Green averaged 15 ppg when he was in OKC. 1) playing out of position & 2) being the third option behind Durant & Westbrook (a score first PG). I think he’s going to shine in Boston running with Rondo. I like his athleticism & his ability to finish at the rim. I believe that him playing under Doc’s system along with KG & Pierce it’s only gonna make him better. Besides, the Celtics are one of the best teams at player development, look what they did with Rondo, Bradley & Bass for example.