Every once in a while last season, some guy would wander into the Celtics locker room, exchange pleasantries with the players and hang out for a while. Sometimes he would speak with reporters. Other times he would duck out and say he was only passing through.
Jeff Green, all 6 feet, 9 inches and 235 pounds of him, looked like he could have been a player, but he was not. For seven torturous months, Green was a man without a team, receiving the same salary from the Boston Celtics as you and your cat. He wanted to change that, according to his agent. He wanted to prove that the trade that brought him to Boston in 2011 was not a waste, according to the team's top executive.
Now he wants another shot with the Celtics.
Green, who missed the entire 2011-12 season after having surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm, and the Celtics are very close to a deal, both team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and representative David Falk said Monday. The Celtics are "going to enter into a contract with [Green], hopefully by the end of the moratorium" period on July 11, Ainge said. Ainge and Falk spoke after a news conference to introduce the Celtics' 2012 draft picks and to unveil a renovated library and multipurpose room at the Jackson/Mann School that was donated by the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation.
"I feel good about Jeff and where he's at," Ainge said. "He wants to be back and we want him back, and we're working to make that happen."
Green's return to the Celtics has been indicated for some time through the words and actions of the team and Green's camp. Early in the season, the Celtics withdrew their qualifying offer to Green, which meant that any team could offer Green a contract this summer free of the concern that the Celtics would match it. That ratcheted up the interest in Green on the open market, but Green's regular visits to Boston during the season suggested the fifth-year forward out of Georgetown had no intentions of going elsewhere.
Falk was so moved by Ainge's gesture that he sent a letter to Celtics co-owner and managing partner Wyc Grousbeck complimenting Ainge's handling of Green's situation. Falk said he had only done something similar once in his 38-year career, when he wrote a letter to the late Larry Miller lauding Utah Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor's professionalism in handling a delicate situation with a different player.
"Danny went above and beyond the call of duty, and [team physician Brian] McKeon did the same thing," Falk said. "I think those guys were absolutely first-class. They came with us to Cleveland to get advice from the doctors. They stood with us through thick and thin. It was important to me to let Wyc know how appreciative I was as Jeff's manager about the way they handled it. Of course he wants to come back here. It's not done. I am optimistic it will get done because this is where Jeff wants to be."
Falk called Green "almost bionic" as a result of the treatment on his heart, and Ainge said he does not believe the procedure will have any negative impacts on Green's career. Green is playing five-on-five basketball and is working himself back into playing shape, according to Falk. Ainge contemplated sending Green to the Las Vegas or Orlando summer league, a rarity for a veteran, to help Green play himself back into shape, but as of Monday Ainge did not feel that was necessary.
"When Jeff got traded to the Celtics, he loved the experience," Ainge said. "He wanted to prove he was a better player than he was when he got here. He really wants to make it work. Through the whole discovery and the surgery and his rehab, it was something that was motivating him. He wanted to come back to Boston and he wanted to show his worth. Through the playoffs, he loved the atmosphere that was created by our fans. He loves his teammates and he just really wanted to make it work."
One mistaken assumption when the Celtics made the infamous trade that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City was that the Celtics were getting a scorer in return. Green has never been a pure scorer but more of an all-around contributor who defends, passes and rebounds reasonably well.
Many observers believed Green could score. He simply did not. Falk expects that to change.
"If I had one criticism of Jeff Green in his first four years in the NBA, it would be that he wasn't assertive enough," Falk said. "He was too much of a purist. He was too unselfish. Having had something he loves almost taken away from him, he's going to come back next year with a sense of urgency that people haven't seen in him. I think he's really going to blossom."
All indications are Green will blossom in Boston.