Jeff Green’s Absence a Huge Blow to Celtics, As Sixth-Man Role Will Be Crucial in Condensed NBA Season

Jeff Green's Absence a Huge Blow to Celtics, As Sixth-Man Role Will Be Crucial in Condensed NBA SeasonWith the unfortunate news that Jeff Green will miss the entire 2011-12 season because of a serious heart condition, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the injury is a major blow to the Celtics.

Obviously, Green’s health is far and away the most important aspect of the latest development. Any injury is serious, but a heart condition is particularly alarming, and it’s extremely fortunate that it was detected when it was. But now that the C’s know they’ll be forced to tackle the upcoming shortened season sans the 25-year-old, it’s important that they make adjustments to withstand his absence.

The problem is that doing so is much easier said than done.

Green never really caught on with the Celtics last season, struggling to adapt after coming over in a deadline deal. And looking back, it probably shouldn’t have been all that surprising, as the young swingman has faced one hurdle after another.

While playing at Georgetown under John Thompson III, Green was a key component of the Hoyas’ slow-paced Princeton offense. It’s a system that’s obviously far from the Thunder’s up-tempo, run-the-floor style of play. Yet Green adapted well in Oklahoma City and became a solid scoring option alongside Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

When arriving in Boston, the thought was that Green would provide youth, bring some energy to the offense and serve as the stable wing presence the C’s desperately sought. But following the move, Green was forced to revert back to a more slow-paced style of offense, which was difficult for the young forward to grasp in just the 26 games he donned green and white.

And Green was also relegated to a bench role, something that seems minute on the surface but proved to be perhaps the biggest hurdle for him, especially considering how relatively unfamiliar such a role was.

Green started all 49 games he appeared in with Oklahoma City last season, and he started 85.7 percent of the games he played in his career before being shipped up to Boston. Once Green joined the Celtics, he started only two of those 26 games he played in.

In addition to the role change, Green also saw his minutes drop significantly. He played in just 23.5 minutes per game with the C’s last season, as opposed to 37 minutes per game with the Thunder — a 36.5 percent decrease. In the playoffs, his minutes again dropped, with Green registering just 19.2 minutes per contest.

Factor in the intangible pressure of replacing a recent NBA champion and well-respected big man in Kendrick Perkins, and it’s easy to see the odds were heavily stacked against Green — and that’s well before the heart condition came to light.

This season was supposed to be different, though. While the NBA lockout and the resulting limited preparation time served as yet another hurdle for the still relatively new Celtic, Green was still in a much better position to showcase his talent with the C’s than he was down the stretch last season. In fact, it could be argued that Green was the Celtics’ single most important player not named Rajon Rondo heading into the the upcoming season.

Not only was Green slated to be the Celtics’ sixth man, a role that proved to be so crucial for the C’s during their 2008 championship run, but he was in many ways looked at as another starter. Green may not have been on the floor for the opening tip on a nightly basis, but there’s reason to believe Doc Rivers would have used the Georgetown product for ample minutes every night. Much of that would be due to Green’s talent level — he is hands-down the Celtics’ most dangerous bench player. But it would also be out of necessity.

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are another year older, meaning the wear and tear of an NBA season will likely prove to be even more difficult now than in years past. Taking into account the treacherous schedule the Celtics — along with the rest of the NBA — face, a stable force off the bench is needed now more than ever.

Teams will be forced to play 66 games in just over four months because of the lockout. The C’s will have 18 back-to-backs, a back-to-back-to-back on the road in April and an eight-game road trip in 13 days in March that starts out on the West Coast. The Celtics have become notorious for sputtering a bit down the stretch following their hot starts in recent years, leading to questions about what the Big Three will have left in the tank come playoff time this season.

Green was slated to be someone who could be relied upon to carry a heavy burden through that difficult second-half schedule, when the team’s veteran players may slow down a bit.

Now, with Green shelved for the season, the Celtics are back to where they were prior to last season’s trade — in need of a swingman to come off the bench to take some of the offensive burden off Pierce and Allen. Only this time, the need is greater, the options are even more limited and Perkins isn’t walking back through that door to reassemble the Celtics’ daunting frontcourt.

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