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Celts will look different to Green

AP Photo/Brandon Dill

One day before Rajon Rondo returned to TD Garden for the first time in a visitor's uniform and eleven days before the trade that changed his own gameday laundry, Jeff Green sat on the sideline at the Boston Celtics' practice facility and struggled to fathom what it would be like to play against his old team so soon after being dealt away.

"I don't want to know how that feels because I don't want to be traded," said Green.

Alas, a trade was inevitable. The Celtics were underachieving with Green and couldn't risk losing him without compensation this offseason. With his value maximized by strong individual play at the start of the 2014-15 season, Boston moved Green to the Memphis Grizzlies in a deal that brought back a future first-round pick, Tayshaun Price, and Austin Rivers. Boston would later flip Prince for current bench contributors Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome, while Rivers was moved to the Los Angeles Clippers for a second-round pick and expiring deals.

Two months after his departure, Green must now face that reality of returning to Boston as a visitor when the Celtics and Grizzlies joust on Wednesday night. Green will likely be surprised by how different his old team looks, both in terms of new faces and the way it plays.

The Celtics are a different team since Green's departure. They don't have a player that has his pure talent and athleticism, but this new-look roster has found a way to perform as a team beyond what their individual talents might suggest possible.

Green won't receive the sort of video tribute that Rondo and members of the 2008 title team received upon their first visit back. But his four years and 222 total games with Boston will be acknowledged and he'll be received warmly given what he accomplished here, including working his way back from career-threatening heart surgery.

But don't expect Celtics fans to get overly nostalgic. Most believe Green never lived up to their lofty expectations and was unable to be a focal point of this team while navigating the rebuild. Boston fans always wanted Green to find consistency and, for a time at the start of the 2014-15 season, he did that. It simply didn't translate to wins.

When the Celtics moved Green in Phase 2 of a major in-season overhaul, most figured Boston was bound for the basement of the league standings. The Celtics were 12-23 at the time of the trade and owned the seventh worst record in basketball (and sat in striking distance of a spot in the bottom 5).

Now? Boston is within striking distance of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Sure, some of that is the woeful East, but the Celtics are also playing their most inspired ball of the season despite a season that has featured 11 trades, 22 gameday players, and 40 total roster players.

Green is just the first of many former faces that will pass back through moving forward.

It's also worth noting that Boston is now being propelled most by a player that's essentially the antithesis of Green. While Green is a freak athlete with a long frame who made the game look alarmingly easy at times, it's tiny Isaiah Thomas who has emerged as the team's go-to offensive option despite the fact that little tends to come easy for him, especially when he goes into the trees around the basket (hence why he's a game-time decision for Wednesday with a bruised lower back and elbow after hitting the floor hard on a drive in Monday's win over Miami).

While the Celtics used to look to Green to carry the offensive load, especially when the offense sputtered, this team has typically thrived recently when it has embraced the idea of ball movement and sharing the production. Thomas has simply given Boston the consistent closer the team so desperately needed.

What's most interesting is that the Celtics haven't necessarily improved dramatically since Green's departure. The team's defensive rating has actually fallen a bit over the past 27 games, while Boston's offensive rating has improved only slightly (it's in the top 10 for the league over the past 10 games).

But then there's the bottom line: Boston is 14-13 (.519) since the Green trade; it was 12-23 (.343) before it.

The biggest change? The Celtics have been better in crunch-time situations and have found a way to win more of the close games that previously tipped the other way. Even still, there's nothing glaring in the stat line that suggests Boston found some secret since overhauling its roster.

For whatever reason, this team has been more fun to watch. Green wasn't any sort of locker room malcontent and his teammates genuinely liked him. There's simply a different vibe on the court, and maybe that's the result of winning more games. With Boston's win in Miami on Monday, the team has exceeded its win total from last season.

The Celtics have replaced Green's presence by shuffling rookie Marcus Smart into the starting lineup and moving Evan Turner to his more natural swingman spot. They tried Jae Crowder, acquired in the Rondo deal, at swingman and enjoyed a bit of a honeymoon period, but Crowder has played his best basketball since moving back to the bench and playing both forward spots. Turner impacts the game in more areas than Green did, and Thomas has picked up the scoring load since being acquired at the trade deadline.

The Grizzlies with Green? There was a honeymoon period there, too, in which the Grizzlies won 11 of 12 games after acquiring Green. Since that point, the Grizzlies are 8-6, which is nothing to sneeze at, but worthy of consternation in the Western Conference. There's even been some debate as to whether Green should be coming off the bench with some clamoring for more of another former Boston product (Tony Allen).

Green is averaging 12.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists over 30.4 minutes per game over the past 14 games. He's shooting just 38.8 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. In the 26 total games since being acquired by Memphis his stat line isn't much different (12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2 assists over 29.8 minutes while shooting 40 percent from the floor and 32.1 percent from distance).

The Grizzlies would like to see him shoot the 3-pointer better, but he's added some athleticism and Memphis fans certainly perk up whenever he has the big scoring nights he often had here. All things considered, he should ultimately be an upgrade over Prince (at least the Prince that was in Memphis) and help the Grizzlies in the postseason.

The advanced numbers still defy Green, who owns Memphis's worst net rating -- the difference between the team's offensive and defensive ratings -- at plus-0.3 since his arrival. A positive number is still a decent number overall, but the team's defense is 4.5 points worse than its average in that span when Green is on the court. The team as a whole owns a net rating of plus-4.0 over that 26-game span. Green has drawn the brunt of criticism when Memphis' offense struggles.

Does that all sound familiar? Celtics fans are content not to obsess over Green's play any more. So remember the good times -- including his spirited play into the 2012-13 postseason, the game-winner in Miami last year -- but the Celtics have moved on with hopes that the players they have now can help Boston get where they couldn't with those that have been dealt away.