Jeff Green Embraces Intense Pressure of Being ‘That Guy’ for Celtics in Post-Paul Pierce Era

Jeff GreenWALTHAM, Mass. — Jeff Green knows there is skepticism. It doesn’t really bother him, he says, and he doesn’t really care, but he knows it’s out there.

The Celtics’ new season unofficially dawned Monday when the team opened training camp with media day at its practice facility. Throughout the assembled media, the predominant feeling was doubt. Among the players, it was defiance.

Rajon Rondo led the way in that regard, as he often will now that Kevin Garnett has gone, but Green provided his share of testiness in his brief question-and-answer session with reporters. He and the rest of the Celtics know that most observers do not expect them to be very good. He bluntly stated that he felt no particular emotion when he heard that Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Garnett had been traded, and he responded to the idea that opponents and critics will be narrowing their focus on him with two words: “Bring it.”

“I just think it’s a little bit more of a microscope,” Green said. “My last couple years, whether it was here or Oklahoma, I’ve always had a dominant role and known what to expect from a team. I think this year, with the subtraction of Kev and Paul and even with Doc [Rivers] gone and Rondo being out, I expect to have more of a focus from you guys on everything I do.”

Green did everything he could to make clear that he’s not losing too much sleep over it. However, perhaps he protested too much.

“I could care less,” he said. “I know what I’ve got to do. I’ve just got to go out there and play basketball and play my game. Things are going to come my way, negative and positive. You can never be right.”

If that sounds like a defeatist attitude, keep in mind that Green has been doubted before — and that he refused to be defeated that time, as well. This summer was the first time in years Green hasn’t had some non-basketball commitment, such as college classes or a minor procedure like heart surgery, to demand his time. He spent the offseason solely working on his game.

It’s a good thing, too. For the first time as a pro, Green will be the focal point of his team’s offense. By extension, that means he will be the focal point of the other team’s defense. He embraces that role, even if there is a balance he must strike. Unwritten rules dictate that a star has to accept the challenge of being the No. 1 option, but not accept it so much that it slights his teammates. Green made sure he did that on Monday, mentioning Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and newcomer MarShon Brooks — each of whom has something to prove in his own right — when asked how he is approaching his expanded responsibilities.

“It’s a challenge I’m willing to take on, but at the end of the day, I can’t score 100 — I mean, I can if I were to really shoot the ball a ton — but I can’t score however amount of points it’s going to take to win a game,” Green said. “It’s a team effort. I’m not going to be the only one out there on the court. We have great talent: MarShon, Avery, Courtney. We have a lot of guys who can play basketball, so the focus will be on me, per se, but at the end of the day, teams will realize they can’t put all their focus into me.”

For the last  2 1/2 seasons, save that one-season absence after his aortic aneurysm was discovered prior to the 2011-12 campaign, Green has been one of those “other” guys. He was one of the players who had to make a defense pay when it paid too much attention to Pierce or Garnett. The results were mixed.

Now, Green has gotten what amounts to a promotion. While new head coach Brad Stevens implies that isolation plays will be rare in his offense, there is little doubt the ball will be in Green’s hands much more than in years past. That was why the news of the Celtics’ blockbuster trade with the Nets did not spark much emotion in the 27-year-old.

Yes, the trade that sent Pierce and Garnett out of town marked the end of an era in Boston. It also marked a new beginning and a renewed opportunity for Green.

“They’re gone, and it’s time for us to move on,” Green said. “It’s a business. You guys have been here for numerous years. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen people come and go. It’s all about the next step. Now they’re gone, if you haven’t realized, so now we have to focus on what we have to do. They’re not here anymore, so I can’t dwell on them being gone.

“Now I have the opportunity that every player wants, to be ‘that guy,’ I’m looking forward to this journey that I’m about to endure. It should be fun.”

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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