While acknowledging the loss of swingman Jeff Green for the season is a big blow to the Boston Celtics, coach Doc Rivers on Sunday stressed the silver lining of Green's aortic aneurysm: While it will sideline him for an extended period, it does not seem to be a life-threatening situation.
"That's the way I looked at it and that's basically what I conveyed to him," Rivers told reporters in Toronto before the Celtics took on the Raptors in their preseason opener. "'Don't look at this as a negative. This is an extreme positive. You're gonna be OK, and that's good.'"
A routine physical administered after the 25-year-old Green agreed to a one-year, $9 million contract with the Celtics last week detected the aortic aneurysm, a diagnosis the Celtics confirmed with follow-up examinations and testing.
"We were hoping we were wrong obviously," Rivers said. "It's a tough one, obviously. Not more for the team, I think that's an easy way to look at it. I look at it more in a couple of ways, No. 1, how lucky Jeff is because the fact that we found it and the fact that he can actually come back and play to me is the minor part. I couldn't care less about that."
"It hits home because it is your little brother, it is your guy," Kevin Garnett told CSNNE.com after Sunday's preseason game. "I'm just glad that it was fortunate to be caught early, and he can go ahead with his life and make some adjustments to that. I just hope everything works out for him."
Green will undergo surgery Jan. 9 at the Cleveland Clinic.
"Thank u everyone for ur thoughts and prayers," a post on Green's Twitter account read. "...much appreciated love u all..and I'll be back soon stronger and better than ever I promise."
Former NBA guard Fred Hoiberg, one of four previous NBA players to suffer the same heart condition Green has, is confident Green will return, though he himself was unable to make it back to the NBA after his diagnosis.
"He can definitely come back and play," Hoiberg said. "I had every intention of coming back, too, but I had a lot of complications."
Etan Thomas, Robert "Tractor" Traylor and Ronny Turiaf all had the same procedure. Thomas and Turiaf are in the league today. Traylor didn't return to the NBA after his surgery in 2005 but played six more seasons of professional basketball overseas before dying in May of a heart attack.
"It's a tough blow, it really is," Hoiberg said of being diagnosed. "There are no symptoms, so it's like a kick to the gut. I'll never forget the day they told me. But the hardest thing is the recovery process. You don't think you're going to run again. It's a very invasive procedure. They shut down your system and then they have to crack you open and wire you back together again."
Green's absence leaves the Celtics thin at small forward. Paul Pierce, the team's starting small forward, is currently nursing a right heel injury, while backup Marquis Daniels is coming off spine surgery this summer (his 2010-11 season ended with a freak on-court injury last February) and Sasha Pavlovic is nursing an injured left hand. Neither Pierce nor Pavlovic is expected to be sidelined for an extended stretch.
The loss of Green also takes away maybe the team's top bench option, putting additional pressure on newcomers like Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, and Keyon Dooling to fill the scoring void Green leaves behind.
"Team wise it's obviously a blow to us," Rivers said. "It just tells you all those plans in the summer, I could have played four or five more rounds of golf because we put a lot of time into, we really were going to commit to in some point in every game going to a small group to try to pace of the game with Kevin (Garnett) and Jeff. We wanted to be an effective small team. That's basically going to get tossed."
Green's contract has been voided because of the failed physical, but the Celtics retain their rights to him when he returns. Even without Green's contract on the books, the Celtics will not receive any salary cap relief. The Celtics were on the books for roughly $85.6 million for 14 contracts. Shedding $9 million from that not only leaves Boston still well over the salary cap ($58 million), but also the luxury tax threshold (approximately $70 million).
The Celtics could apply for an injury exception for Green, but that would require them to not only pay Green his $9 million this season, but also up to 50 percent of his salary ($4.5 million) for a replacement. So that would cost the team upwards of $27 million giving that tax-paying teams pay dollar for dollar over the threshold. Boston would be pushing a $90 million payroll and $40 million luxury tax bill by applying for an exception.
Boston, instead, likely will have to settle for examining a thin market for free-agent swingmen willing to join the team on a veteran minimum contract.
ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg and Peter May, and ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher contributed to this report.