The Celtics extended forward Jeff Green a one-year qualifying offer at $5.9 million, which will make the forward a restricted free agent. The move was procedural and gives the team the right to match any offer Green receives once the league opens — or rather re-opens — for business following a lockout that could start as early as midnight on July 1.
The team also announced that they have exercised the third-year option on Avery Bradley. For first round picks, the first two years of their contracts are guaranteed. The team has options on the third and fourth years before a player can become a restricted free agent like Green is now.
Green can still sign a long-term extension with the team once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules in place or he could return for the one-year offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Celtics could also let him walk if another team offers a huge deal, but that seems unlikely as they have maintained that he is a part of their long-term plans.
Yet the Celtics have also carefully planned to have as much cap space as possible after next season and it will be interesting to see how much they ultimately invest in his services. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for the franchise if Green simply came back for the one-year offer and kept the books clear for the summer of 2012. Of course all the roster speculation is premature until the new CBA rules are in place.
The question for the Celtics and Green — assuming he does return — is what kind of player will he be for them?
Green arrived from Oklahoma City in the Kendrick Perkins trade with the expectation that he would provide scoring and athleticism off the bench, as well as a solid backup for Paul Pierce. Green averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 26 games for the Celtics and while his minutes were cut from 37 in OKC to 23 with the C’s, that was essentially the same production he gave the Thunder. On the plus side his field goal percentage jumped from 44 to 49 percent, but his 3-point shooting dipped under the 30-percent line.
After four years in the league, Green seems to have settled in as a good but not great player, which doesn’t exactly translate into future franchise cornerstone. But the Celtics believe that he still has room to develop, particularly with a full training camp under his belt.
“I think Jeff played excellent,” team president Danny Ainge said in an end of the season media session in May. “Maybe the expectations were too high. We knew he wasn’t going to start. We knew he wasn’t going to play 35 minutes. We needed a veteran player, an experienced player, an athletic player. We know what Jeff Green is. He’s a highly efficient offensive player who plays good defense. That’s what we need and he’s young and I think he’s just going to get better because of his character and work ethic.”
The problem — as it was last season — is finding a role for Green. Ainge floated the idea of starting Green and using Pierce off the bench, which seems like a reach considering Pierce is one of the best players in franchise history and still playing at an All-Star level.
While Pierce’s minutes are likely to go down next season that’s still only about 15 minutes of action. Green also struggled defensively as a four-man, although that had a lot to do with whoever was playing center. When he was in the lineup with Pierce and Kevin Garnett for example, he did just fine. When he teamed with Glen Davis to form an undersized frontcourt, not so much. Adding legitimate depth at center behind Jermaine O’Neal and rookie JaJuan Johnson can only help Green.
The Celtics believe that they can contend for a championship again next season with their core players in place, provided they receive some help from free agency and their young players develop into contributors. But no player needs to help more than Green.
If Ainge is right that Green’s best years are ahead of him he can give the Celtics a dimension they’ve lacked since the big three era began. If this is as good as it gets then it doesn’t seem likely that Green will be enough to get them past Miami and Chicago.