NEWPORT, R.I. -- Training camp is a magical time of year filled with unbridled and unapologetic optimism. It's when league doormats can gush about playoff desires and coaches shower players with praise from closed-door workouts before game action can reveal lingering flaws (remember Jermaine O'Neal: 2011 camp MVP?).
New Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been liberal with his praise this week. Jordan Crawford hadn't taken any bad shots at one point; undrafted rookie Phil Pressey was one of the best guards on the floor at another. These things might very well be true, but the point is that it's harder to make a bad impression than a good one this time of year.
Which is why eyebrows shot skyward a bit when Stevens was asked Thursday to critique what he's seen from Jeff Green.
"Jeff has had his ups and downs," started Stevens.
Ups and downs?! That's about as scathing as it gets this time of year. When reporters relayed this bit of info to Green, even he feigned a bit of shock.
"Me!? Ah, dammit," he playfully sighed.
This is simply your classic case of heightened expectations. Last week we told you about how Green has a gigantic target on his back this season and, especially early in the season while Rajon Rondo is finishing his rehab, Green is supremely important to Boston's ability to keep its head above water.
After the up-and-down comment, Stevens quickly added, "[Green has been] solid. He's obviously, talentwise, he can do things that other guys can't do. And he brings us so much versatility. Just like everybody else, no one is going to be perfect in these early sessions. But for the most part, he's been pretty good."
The Celtics have loaded up Green's plate this fall. He used to carry around a double-thick playbook while slotting at both forward positions. This season, Stevens desires to shuffle Green to the 2-guard spot at times, which could alleviate the logjams at the forward spots and challenge defenses with Green's blend of size and athleticism.
But it also means a brand-new triple-thick playbook and more demands on Green to know his role at three positions. Even he acknowledged it's a process.
"It's going to come," said Green. "This whole new role is new to me. It's just me, learning my new position, learning my new role. It's not going to be perfect, but each day I'll come in, give it my all, just try to make the best of it."
Green has been in great spirits throughout camp. He's been energetic and exuberant during drills, including basic intrasquad shooting competitions. On Thursday, as reporters were interviewing Keith Bogans, Green arrived shirtless as he departed the court and playfully sang and danced while Bogans tried to keep a straight face in answering questions.
"Coach Brad Stevens has been on me about just moving forward," said Green. "I'm a guy who's hard on myself. I don't like to miss shots. I don't like to turn over the ball. But in order for me to get better, I have to continue to move forward."
Being used at multiple positions should create more opportunities for Green, even as defenses focus on him without the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to create space. While he admitted it's a challenge, it's one he's embracing.
"Having that target on my back, me being a go-to guy, me just making plays for my teammates," Green said of what his role is. "And be every position on the floor -- 2, 3, 4 ... It's going to be very different, but it's fun. It's a challenge I'm willing to take on."
One player whom Green seems to have bonded with quickly is Gerald Wallace. The two often sit next to each other and converse after practice. Green hinted the two -- despite sharing the same natural swingman position -- could utilize their versatility to create havoc by playing on the floor together.
"[Wallace is] a veteran, a warrior, he's done so many great things in this league," said Green. "What I've learned from him is his intensity, his defensive intensity, and that's something I need to get better at. And he's there helping me out. Me and him are going to be a one-two punch when it comes to defense, being guys that can guard multiple positions."
Green knows all about ups and downs. Last season was full of them, and a slow start gave way to the best basketball of his NBA career. Now the bar of expectations has been raised up and Green is being challenged to eliminate the downs.