Commentary

Jeff Green means go time

High-flying forward is excited to be one of Boston's 'go-to guys'

Updated: September 28, 2013, 5:48 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Two circles join together to form the digit "8" that Jeff Green wears on the back of his Boston Celtics jersey. But the way Courtney Lee sees it, those circles have multiplied and nested this offseason, taking on a different appearance.

"The target is on Jeff's back," said Lee. "Last year, we had [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce] and you knew those guys were going to be the go-to guys. And you had [Rajon] Rondo who was going to make the play. Jeff is that guy that came along and just showed everybody what he's capable of doing. Now, I think everybody in the NBA knows that now, so he's going to have a big target on his back."

[+] EnlargeJeff Green
Nathaniel S. Butler/NGetty ImagesJeff Green feels ready to assume a starring role.

And, unlike last season, there's no Garnett or Pierce -- both off to Brooklyn as part of Boston's roster overhaul this summer. At the start of the season, there's unlikely to be any Rondo, either, as he completes his rehab from ACL surgery in February.

No, it's just the much-scrutinized Green leading a young Celtics team and trying to prove that his late-season emergence last season wasn't an aberration.

"Talking with him, I think he's up for that challenge," said Lee.

By now you know the story with Green: For his first 5½ seasons in the league, his per-36 numbers were staggeringly static, to the point where his very vocal pundits wondered if there was another level to his game. His critics dubbed him a complementary player, the sort who excelled only when he had the likes of Kevin Durant or Pierce ahead of him on the depth chart.

After being somewhat unremarkable for the first half of his first season back from heart surgery, Green found another gear and finished the 2012-13 season with a flourish.

There was a March outburst highlighted by a big effort against the Heat; a couple of game winners in Indy and Cleveland (the latter in front of his heart surgeon, no less); and then an excellent playoff showing against the Knicks in which he shouldered much of Boston's offensive load (leading the team at 20.3 points per game).

The debate this summer has hinged on whether Green is capable now of stepping into a starring role for new-look Boston, or if that late-season glimpse was simply a career outlier.

Green seems fine with the target on his back and the weight of expectations on his shoulders.

"When you start playing basketball, that's what you want," said Green. "That's what you work hard for: to be called one of the go-to guys. This is what I've dreamed about, this is what I've worked hard for. It's all coming to fruition right now."

As Green pledged to do whatever new coach Brad Stevens asks of him, Stevens gushed about what Green can do for his team and said he'll wear many hats this season.

"I think Jeff is a really important player for our team," said Stevens. "The reason I say that is because he's a guy with a high ceiling, as anybody can see. I think he's very good in the open floor. I think he can get even better, both in the open floor and in the half court. And I think he's hungry to do well.

"[Green has] been in the [practice facility the past two weeks] and been very active and been great to have around. I think the thing that Jeff also brings to us is he can also play the 2, 3, [and] 4 in a given scenario for us. Especially with Rajon out early in the season, you could see him all over the place. That's going to provide some challenges for him, because he's going to have to be that much ahead of everybody else in one, two, [or] three positions. But it also provides ample opportunity for a number of guys, because it's then who can best fit with him? And then we figure out how to go from there."

Green believes that being another year removed from heart surgery, and having had a full offseason to better himself, will translate into sustained consistency on the floor.

"I think I just had more time to work on my game [this summer]," he said. "Last year, I was still dealing with trying to get back on my feet, get back on the court. This summer I had a lot more time to get in the gym. Took a couple weeks off and I was able to get back in the gym quicker than normal. I just took the time that I had and made it useful by making each skill that I had on the floor better."

And what exactly did he focus on?

"You'll have to see. It's a mystery," he said with a smile. "It's something that you gotta just watch."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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