Celtics May Have to Take Wait-and-See Approach With Jeff Green to Determine His Future in Boston

Celtics May Have to Take Wait-and-See Approach With Jeff Green to Determine His Future in Boston The jury is still out on Celtics forward Jeff Green.

Superb athleticism, nice stroke. But the 24-year-old, who is inconsistent, even indifferent at times, struggled to pick up Boston's complex defensive system and hasn't learned to take initiative on offense.

Given what the C's expended to land him (Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson — and what many feel was a legitimate shot at the 2011 title), Danny Ainge and Co. are staying on this message: Give him a full training camp and more minutes, and this kid will become a franchise player.

Yet, with the NBA lockout looming, the Boston brass aren't rushing to work out a long-term deal. Ainge has said he'll extend a qualifying offer — one year at $5.9 million — to maintain Green's status as a restricted free agent. Once the NBA offseason officially begins (which is whenever the lockout ends), the C's will be able to match any offer from another team.

If no other clubs enter the Green sweepstakes, the C's can either proactively sign the Georgetown alum to a multi-year contract or have him for the qualifying offer, with this caveat: The combo-forward would become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

What should Boston do? Wait another year to see if Green is worth big money, or take him off the table long term before someone else does a year from now?

Green, to be sure, was unimpressive in the postseason, averaging just seven points in 19 minutes over Boston's two series. More broadly, he was the featured package of a bench unit that woefully under-performed against the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals. He didn't rebound much. Didn't pass much. And turned the ball over too often (1.3 times a game).

It seemed, in short, like Green was walking on broken glass, unsure of both his role on offense and assignments on defense. His face was both perplexed and almost apologetic: Sorry, Boston. You traded away Kendrick Perkins for me, and maybe I'm not worth it.

But in the regular season, there were flashes of brilliance. Twenty-one points against Golden State on March 4, 19 on Indiana a couple of weeks later. Indeed, statistically speaking, the much talked about "drop-off" in Green's play when he came to Boston is simply a matter of playing time. Per 48 minutes, the Maryland native actually averaged more points (20 to 19.7), more steals, more blocks and a similar number of rebounds as a Celtic. His field-goal percentage? Improved from 43.7 percent with the Oklahoma City Thunder to 48.5 percent with the Celtics.

It lends credence to Boston's assertion that the kid just needs more time — both with his new teammates and on the floor.

Still, there are legitimate concerns that Green might not be the top prospect Ainge believed him to be. Head coach Doc Rivers, who's hitched his star to defense, signed a five-year contract extension — and despite a couple of gutsy performances against LeBron James, Green hasn't yet proven he's the kind of night in-night out defender that Doc demands.

Boston, moreover, is currently on the hook for just two contracts next offseason: Paul Pierce at $16.8 million, and Rajon Rondo at $11 million. Depending on salary cap rules within the new collective bargaining agreement, that should leave the C's with somewhere between $20 million and $30 million to land two superstars (Dwight Howard, anybody?) for the 2012-13 campaign.

Sign Green to a multi-year deal, and that salary cap space will shrink considerably — enough so that the Celtics would likely have enough room to pursue just one big name.

Which means, in essence, that Boston must decide if Green is a superstar-in-the-making. Given his career to this point (impressive but not yet top-tier), it makes more sense to play the game of wait and see: Wait another year, and see then if Green is worthy of breaking the bank.

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