The worst kept secret so far this NBA season? Easy: Jeff Green simply hasn’t felt that comfortable in his own skin, much less with his role with the revamped Boston Celtics. Heart surgery can do that to you. When the realization hits you that you could have dropped dead playing the game that you love, well, your head has a way of playing tricks on you. Can you blame Green for looking over his metaphorical shoulder and wondering whether he still has a ticking time bomb inside his chest?
There’s something about professional athletes and the money that they make. We tend to think of them as something other than human – as if they don’t have fears and insecurities like the rest of us. We see the big dollars that they sign for and we forget for a moment that they’re still flesh and blood, and that some of them are as prone to things like heart valve defects like the rest of us.
And we’re hard on our heroes. We want them to excel and help our teams win championships in the process, and when they don’t live up to their potential we’re quick to get on their case. It’s the same in every city, worse in some more than others (e.g., Philly). And we lose sight of the fact that our heroes are playing games for our entertainment, and that the world isn’t going to come to an end when the final buzzer sounds.
Jeff Green is no exception. We chewed our fingernails this summer, worried that he might sign elsewhere, and then we rejoiced when he signed the $34 million contract to remain in Boston. And, almost immediately, we started demanding greatness out of Jeff Green. Not that he couldn’t produce it. Not that he didn’t have it in him. But we demanded it immediately. Forget the fact that Green has a long scar on his chest from open heart surgery. Green is one of our heroes, and the big dollar contract means that he’s supposed to go out and dominate the competition.
Green scored 3 points and grabbed 3 points in his first game of the season, against the World Champion Miami Heat. He looked lost. A pair of 11-point games followed, and then he managed just 10 points in the next two contests. As recently as November 25, Green managed but 1 point, 1 assist and 2 rebounds in a win over the Orlando Magic. He was 0-9 from the floor.
The whispers grew louder after Green’s bottoming out in Orlando. It didn’t help that his first sting with the C’s was an underwhelming disappointment. Green never felt comfortable following the Kendrick Perkins trade, neither on the court nor in the locker room. He’s an introspective guy, quiet, mild-mannered, and he really couldn’t figure out his place in the pecking order.
Starting slowly this season, Green seemed to provide Boston with more of the same – and reason to wonder if this was as good as it was going to get. A supremely gifted virtuoso who could play three positions, Green continued to looked timid, almost as if he were afraid to let those talents shine.
It wasn’t that, of course.
It was the heart surgery. And while we’ve been quick to forget about Green being cracked open and dug into, Green certainly hasn’t. And the proof of this has been in the uneven performances he’s turned in on the court, trying to focus on basketball while blocking out what could have happened if his condition had gone undetected.
But if you’ve been paying attention lately, Green is starting to put the surgery behind him. He has been averaging 15 points and 4.5 rebounds in December, up from 8.7 and 2.5 just a month earlier.
That Jeff Green is starting to find his comfort zone is great news for the Celtics, who are a far better team when he’s playing at his best. And while Boston has started slowly again this season, posting an 11-9 record through its first 20 games, having consistent performances from Green should go a long way toward turning the Celtics into a serious threat come playoff time.