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