The trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (why mention Terry) to the Brooklyn Nets for a handful of valuable 1st round picks and Gerald Wallace continues to linger over the Boston Celtics fifteen months later. The nature of the trade (future help for present misery) makes it impossible to measure until 2020 or so.
But let’s stay in the present, with an eye on the nearer future, for a few minutes. The Celtics have several versatile forwards on the roster this year. Each of them have an uncertain future in Boston. Of the four players we’ll look at below, only Gerald Wallace is close to certain to stay with Boston until the end of his contract, June 2016. Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Evan Turner are all intriguing players with various skill sets and all three have proven themselves to be valuable NBA players. Still, it isn’t obvious what kind of roles each will play yet this year.
Last year’s Celtics were an assortment of ages and experience. Veterans Kris Humphries, Courtney Lee, Jerryd Bayless, and Joel Anthony have been scattered to the NBA winds. In their place are younger, less-experienced players: Evan Turner (25), Tyler Zeller (24), Marcus Smart (20) and James Young (19). As the Celtics move forward, they have only one over-30 year-old player under contract for 2015-16, Gerald Wallace (33).
Want to divide Celtics fans? Mention Jeff Green’s name. An offense that was struggling even with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2011-12 (24th in offensive efficiency) was made even weaker after the Brooklyn trade.
Left in the wake of that trade was a fan-base desperate for some sort of scoring option. Celtics Nation turned its lonely eyes to Jeff Green and talk of his newly-signed contract was proof that he was supposed to become “the man.” The problem: Rajon Rondo went down with an ACL tear. Jeff Green was left to become “the man,” on a team without any other main options and without a point guard. Consider how sweet-shooting wing-players depend on point guards to produce (last year, Trevor Ariza’s fantastic season owes much to John Wall; Klay Thompson owes much to Steph Curry, etc.). Then consider Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford are not point guards.
Jeff Green has never been that me-first player and has never displayed the indomitable will and sometimes-selfish attitude of a primary-scoring option. The people wanted Jeff Green to become Paul Pierce, circa 2002. Jeff Green might be making himself into a better pure shooter than Pierce used to be, especially from the corners, but he doesn’t have the same kind of body as Pierce (able to absorb all kinds of contact) and he doesn’t have the same chip on his shoulder. Few players have sustained that chip-on-your-shoulder spirit that Garnett and Pierce had. Being drafted 10th overall was part of it. Growing up as a chubby kid probably has something to do with it. Never being the most athletic player probably has something to do with it. That’s Pierce. Green has elite athleticism. He makes eye-popping drives to the hoop, finishing with flourishes at the rim. We want Jeff Green to do that every night, because it stirs up hope and passion within us. What can you say? There are only a handful of scorers in the NBA that can score 20 points per game and take over games on a regular basis. Celtics fans would be much happier if they learned to temper expectations with Green. When one steps back from the game and considers the fact that he had life-threatening heart-surgery and is back to playing full-contact basketball with the best athletes in the world, it should make fans realize that expectations are often unreasonable, especially with desperate fan-bases.
Zach Lowe recently predicted that the trade market for Green will heat up this winter, as his once-maligned contract looks a lot more reasonable with the rising salary cap. In addition, Green becomes a free-agent in the summer of 2016, which is attractive to teams on the tax bubble. Personally, I’d like to see Green stick around for the next two years, and watch him help these Celtics get to .500 by the end of next year. Sometimes small victories are necessary. Especially for young teams.
Strengths: corner three-pointer over the last two years. Last year, from the right-corner, Green shot 27 of 64 (42%). Finishing at the rim (62.5% last year). Due to Green’s wing-span and leaping ability, he can sometimes finish drives over opposing defenders. Green’s length and foot work make him a very good defender against athletic power forwards. He matches up well with LeBron, so when the Celtics make the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Celtics will be all set.
Weaknesses: rebounding – Green’s body is not made for interior pounding and he struggles to get great position underneath. Offensively, Green needs a point guard to direct him and to get him easy baskets in transition. When he’s feeling it, Green can become a different kind of scorer, which is what makes some fans so frustrated on the nights he isn’t feeling it.
Remember when the Celtics traded for Brandon Bass? Glen “Big Baby” Davis was sent to Orlando, and the Celtics received another undersized power-forward. At 6’8,” Bass is about two inches shorter than many power forwards, and lacks the springy jumping ability to make up for the lack of height. As a result, rebounding is not his strength. Bass has been a dedicated player for the Celtics, always professional and prepared, and played a significant role for those last few years of Pierce and KG. There were rumors of trade talks with Houston and Asik last winter, but Morey had other ideas.
Strengths: consistent 12-15-foot jumper, especially from the baseline. Bass is one of the few non-three-point-shooting big-men who made more from 10-15 feet (56.3%) than they did within 5 feet of the rim (54.8%) last year.
He has excellent lateral quickness and good hands, which makes him a great individual defender when matched with players like Carmelo Anthony, who lives on the elbow, blowing by slower defenders. Bass’ defense on Anthony during the playoffs a few years back was excellent. Bass would have matched up well with LaMarcus Aldridge in the playoffs. Count that as a whiff for Morey. As Bass hits free agency this summer, more rumors will creep up as January approaches. Bass’ age (he turns 30 in April) may limit his desirability.
Weaknesses: rebounding, interior offense (finishing at the rim around the trees), leaping ability.
Can you say versatility? Can you say “low-risk”? Danny Ainge signed Evan Turner for the mid-level exception, which means he’ll be in Boston for two years at a very low cost to the cap. Ainge may be thinking of Turner in terms of a stock. Buy low. Sell higher. Personally, I can’t stand thinking about players in those terms. So much talk about the NBA and its players has become a reflection of GM-think: players as faceless investments that either produce good value or poor value. Still, it’s undeniable that Turner’s value was very low after last year’s performance with Indiana.
If Turner regains some of the shine he had coming out of college (2nd overall pick) or the confidence he had in 2012-13, on a decent (34-win) Philadelphia team (13/6/4 on 36% from deep), Ainge has made a great move. Last year was a roller-coaster for Turner, in large part because the Sixers were in all-out tank mode, and stats were easy to come by in a frenetic offense that pushed the pace at all costs. One of the costs: Turner was traded to Indiana and asked to play meaningful minutes in a tightly-controlled offense that rarely was able to push the pace. Is it a shock that he disappointed? Outside shooting was never a real strength for Turner.
Strengths: ball-handling, jack-of-all-trades versatility, off-the-bounce mid-range game, transition, creativity with the ball.
Weaknesses: needs to be able to flow within a system and know his role (back-up point guard, creating mismatches), long-range shooting, confidence, turnovers.
I don’t have it in me to go deep on Gerald Wallace. I used to love watching him play. He is as unselfish a player as there is the Association, constantly sacrificing his body in the name of defense. He used to be an elite defender who got by with transition points on offense. He would have been an ideal role player (like Tony Allen and James Posey) on those 2008-12 Celtics teams. As you’ve probably noticed, his game hasn’t aged well.
The contract, which he earned every dime of and which is a constant source of criticism, was the price of all the future picks Brooklyn handed to Ainge. He has two years left on it. Sort of surprised the front office didn’t decided to use the stretch provision last year, but I suppose the longer they keep Wallace, the more useful that contract is when it expires. Not convinced that it’s such a big deal with the rising salary cap.
How awesome would it have been to have had Gerald Wallace from 2005-2011, when he was electrifying crowds in Charlotte?