Earlier than his spectacular playoff efficiency with the Nets, earlier than 10 groups in 13 seasons, earlier than the guts surgical procedure that saved his life, Jeff Inexperienced had a choice to make.
Raised in Prince George’s County, MD—a basketball hotbed that served because the childhood dwelling for Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo and the late Len Bias—Inexperienced exited his highschool profession within the spring of 2004 with a flurry of packages wanting to add the 6′ 9″ star. Inexperienced initially dedicated to Georgetown, then reopened his recruiting course of when the Hoyas fired former head coach Craig Esherick. When Inexperienced finally walked on campus that fall, his arrival got here as a shock.
“I used to be very a lot shocked that Jeff was going to Georgetown,” former Georgetown and Pacers heart Roy Hibbert says. “I performed in opposition to him with a pair guys earlier than we had been freshman and I used to be like, ‘This man needs to be going to the NBA proper now out of highschool.’ He was simply an explosive expertise with actual capacity.”
John Thompson III was shocked as effectively. The son of Georgetown legend John Thompson took over as this system’s coach forward of the 2004–05 season, and the addition of Inexperienced helped easy what was a frightening rebuild for the previous Large East energy. The Inexperienced who got here to Georgetown as a slender freshman mirrored the one suiting up for Brooklyn at the moment.
Inexperienced performed heart for prolonged stretches as a freshman, however he was no back-to-the-basket bruiser. Very like the 2021 model, Inexperienced was ready to put the ball on the ground and make performs for his teammates, serving as a primitive model of the point-forwards and point-centers populating the NBA at the moment. Inexperienced would defend Syracuse ahead Hakim Warrick one sport and chase Villanova guard Randy Foye the subsequent. He match seamlessly into any lineup concocted by Thompson, shifting from heart again to the wing as Hibbert turned a pressure to be reckoned with within the paint. As positional flexibility turned extra en vogue throughout basketball over the past decade, Inexperienced served as an early prototype.
Inexperienced’s versatility and playmaking prowess isn’t what stands out to Thompson greater than a decade after Inexperienced final donned a Hoyas uniform. It’s Inexperienced’s basketball thoughts that takes precedent. He served as an extension of Thompson on the ground, dissecting defensive coverages and blowing up opponents’ offensive units inside the sport’s first few possessions. Maybe Inexperienced’s basketball brilliance is embedded in his DNA. Maybe the affect of Prince George’s County is larger than we all know. Regardless, Inexperienced’s basketball IQ prompted Thompson to inform Sports Illustrated in 2006 that Inexperienced is “the neatest participant I’ve ever coached.” It’s a sentiment Thompson stands by 15 years later.
“I nonetheless really feel that approach,” Thompson says. “While you inform Jeff one thing, he understands what you’re telling him; he understands why it’s vital. He understands when to do it, and he understands when to ignore you and do one thing else.”
“You discuss in regards to the gamers that know their place, however then all the opposite positions on the ground? That’s Jeff. The sport comes sluggish to him. He can see conditions growing.”
Inexperienced developed right into a little bit of a journeyman throughout his NBA profession. Solely eight gamers in league historical past have ever taken the ground for extra franchises, and he’s one among two gamers in league historical past to tally greater than 12,000 factors whereas taking part in for at the very least 10 groups. Such a winding wasn’t anticipated for Inexperienced as he exited school. Inexperienced was a two-time All-Large East honoree and the 2006–07 Large East Convention Males’s Basketball Participant of the 12 months. He helped lead Georgetown to the Last 4 as a junior, and he battled Buckeyes behemoth Greg Oden admirably within the ’07 nationwide semifinal. Inexperienced was chosen with the No. 5 decide within the ’07 NBA draft, becoming a member of Durant in Seattle as a presumed franchise anchor. And early indications pointed to a profitable pairing for the sons of Prince George’s County.
As Durant shortly ascended towards All-Star standing, Inexperienced settled into a task as a productive younger participant underneath the tutelage of P.J Carlesimo after which Scott Brooks. Inexperienced jumped to 16.5 factors per sport in his second season with the Thunder after their transfer from Seattle, and he began all 82 video games the next season. The 2009–10 Thunder received 50 video games following a dismal 23–59 marketing campaign the 12 months prior, and Inexperienced completed the 12 months sandwiched between Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the group’s scoring leaderboard. Oklahoma Metropolis’s season led to a first-round loss to the Lakers (the eventual champions), however spirits had been excessive throughout the group as Durant, Inexperienced and the Thunder’s younger core obtained their first style of playoff basketball.
“Our first few years collectively within the NBA, [Durant] made it simple on me,” Inexperienced says. “It was wonderful. Two guys coming from the identical space in Prince George’s County. Along with his work ethic and my work ethic, he pushed me to be higher. It led to progress for each of us.”
“Clearly we’ve taken completely different routes within the NBA, however we’re each nonetheless taking part in at the moment.”
There’s an alternate actuality during which Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Inexperienced develop as a younger core, doubtlessly rising because the group of the last decade with two superstars, a frontcourt presence and a supercharged model of Manu Ginóbili. A mixture of accidents, Sam Presti trades and free-agency selections supplied a far completely different historical past. Inexperienced’s time in Oklahoma Metropolis was short-lived and Harden was dealt far too quickly. Durant left town in July 2016. Three years later, Westbrook adopted. What was as soon as a possible dynasty is now the NBA’s biggest what-if of the century.
Inexperienced’s exit from Oklahoma Metropolis got here 5 years earlier than Durant’s, and it wasn’t by alternative. Inexperienced was traded to the Celtics in February 2011, swapped for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson because the Thunder eyed a possible run to the Finals. The transfer didn’t precisely pay dividends for Oklahoma Metropolis, whose late-game offense persistently stalled within the postseason in subsequent years. Durant didn’t have the requisite spacing to succeed as Westbrook, Perkins, Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha served as nonshooters. Robinson performed simply 4 video games for the Thunder. Maybe Inexperienced would have supplied a much-needed dose of playmaking and capturing had he been on Oklahoma Metropolis’s roster for the 2011–16 postseasons.
Leaving the Thunder didn’t ship Inexperienced into NBA exile in any sense. His scoring and minutes dipped in his first season with Boston, however he nonetheless served a notable position on a 56-win group with true Finals aspirations. The Celtics had been bounced by the primary iteration of the LeBron James–period Warmth within the spring of 2011, with Inexperienced battling Jermaine O’Neal, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal for frontcourt minutes alongside Kevin Garnett. With the three aforementioned large males previous their prime, the ’11–12 season arrange to be a serious 12 months for Inexperienced’s improvement. He might develop into the lacking piece to revive an growing older Celtics core, one that also had Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen performing close to an All-Star degree. Inexperienced’s physique had different concepts.
It was a quiet summer season for Inexperienced by most accounts. He educated for his first full season with the Celtics, joined fellow Georgetown alumni for exercises and approached the 2011–12 season prepared for a major position on a brand new potential title group. That modified throughout the annual league-mandated bodily earlier than the season.
Docs detected an aortic aneurysm in December 2011, shortly after Inexperienced agreed to a one-year, $9 million contract with the Celtics. Inexperienced performed in 315 of 328 potential regular-season video games in his first 4 NBA seasons from ’07–11. He was a paragon of well being, simply 25 years outdated with doubtlessly $100 million in profession earnings forward of him. The information got here as a shock, although as standard, Inexperienced’s preparation mitigated his worry. And upon exiting surgical procedure, Inexperienced says he had a newfound appreciation for the sport he cherished.
“All of it got here as a shock,” Inexperienced says. “I didn’t have any signs. No shortness of breath. No coronary heart palpitations. … It crossed my thoughts that it was the final time I’d play.”
“It’s been one thing I’ve taken with me to today. You solely get a lot time to play this sport. You higher cherish every second.”
The trail to taking part in once more was easy as Inexperienced remembers it. “You simply had to stroll,” he says. “That was it, to be sincere with you; that’s all I did.” However the simplicity shouldn’t be conflated with a low diploma of issue. Inexperienced remembers his first days of rehab after his surgical procedure, the place one of many NBA’s finest athletes struggled to stroll from the baseline to the three-point arc.
“First three days I most likely walked possibly 10 steps earlier than I had to flip round,” Inexperienced says. “You had to get the lungs higher conditioned. For 3 or 4 days strolling was it. Stand up, get up, see how far you possibly can stroll. Get too drained, sit down and that’s it.”
Inexperienced’s lungs responded effectively to the arduous bodily remedy, and he was again on the courtroom in time for the 2012 opener after a yearlong absence. But his return didn’t precisely coincide with the rise of Boston as a title contender. The ’12–13 season was the final one with Pierce and Garnett on the roster, a 41–40 marketing campaign that led to a first-round loss to the Knicks. As Boston transitioned to a brand new period, Inexperienced was dealt to Memphis in January 2015. The deal kickstarted a nomadic interval for the previous Thunder constructing block. Leaving Boston led Inexperienced to play for eight franchises over the subsequent six years, together with his present stint with Brooklyn. Middling seasons with the Grizzlies, Clippers and Magic signaled Inexperienced’s standing within the league was waning as he crossed the last decade mark. However taking part in alongside one other all-time nice revived his profession.
There’s a sure threshold of expertise one will need to have to play greater than a decade within the NBA, and at his finest as a younger participant, Inexperienced confirmed flashes of All-Star potential. However Inexperienced’s true worth is finest displayed when paired with the highest skills within the sport. He shortly served as a dynamic pick-and-roll risk with Durant and Westbrook shortly after leaving Georgetown, generally even inverting the two-man sport to management the possession as a ballhandler. Inexperienced feasted on pick-and-pop makes an attempt alongside Harden in Houston final season, when the duo posted a dominant 122.8 offensive score in 189 minutes. Inexperienced’s basketball instincts are on full show alongside league luminaries. He is aware of precisely when to slip a decide and dive to the rim. He’ll provoke hand-offs and set again screens, and when he’s free to make a play in area, he’s greater than keen to drive downhill and assault the rim. Incessant traps of Harden slowed the Rockets’ offense to a crawl with heart Clint Capela on the ground final season. Inserting Inexperienced as a small-ball 5 returned Houston’s assault towards the highest of the league.
Inexperienced’s defining NBA second to date got here alongside LeBron in Might 2018. Inexperienced turned in an uneven common season in his first marketing campaign with the Cavaliers in ’17–18, a 12 months that wasn’t precisely easy crusing for Cleveland writ massive. Isaiah Thomas performed simply 15 video games after being acquired within the Kyrie Irving commerce. A 6–12 stretch from Dec. 27 via Feb. 6 resulted in a roster overhaul, with Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Rodney Hood and George Hill arriving simply two months earlier than the playoffs. James’s brilliance carried the Cavaliers via the primary two rounds, although within the Japanese Convention finals, the King wanted at the very least a modicum of assist.
A collision with Jayson Tatum ended Kevin Love’s collection for Cleveland early in Recreation 6 of the convention finals, dealing a serious blow to a Cavs group desperately missing firepower. However with Love sidelined, Inexperienced stepped up. He tallied 14 factors off the bench in Recreation 6, posting a plus-10 in 31 minutes. His position in Recreation 7 was much more pronounced. Inexperienced completed second on the Cavaliers in scoring, including 19 factors and eight rebounds in an 87–79 Cleveland win. His three with 5:44 remaining gave the Cavaliers a lead they might by no means relinquish, sending James to his eighth consecutive Finals. As Boston swarmed the all-time nice, Inexperienced continued to discover cracks in its protection. Greater than a decade after he impressed Thompson at Georgetown, Inexperienced’s basketball mind helped gas one other essential victory.
“Being in strain conditions, you perceive the second,” Inexperienced says. “Successful the Large East regular-season title, successful the Large East championship, getting to the Last 4, these are major-pressure conditions in school. One loss and also you’re out.”
“That’ll make you battle-tested, and it transferred to the NBA.”
The Cavaliers had been subsequently squashed by the Warriors within the Finals, and the Rockets had been summarily bounced from the bubble after working into the Lakers in 2020. Inexperienced’s NBA legacy is already secured, with greater than 12,000 factors and a pair of,000 playoff minutes on his profession ledger. Although with out a championship, there might at all times be a lacking piece to Inexperienced’s in depth profession.
Maybe Inexperienced shall be ready to lastly hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy subsequent month. He joined Durant and Irving in Brooklyn together with his eyes firmly set on the Finals, a objective that turned more and more attainable following Harden’s arrival early within the season. It’s been an uneven trip as of late for Brooklyn, with accidents to each Harden and Irving inserting the Nets’ standing within the title chase in a precarious place. However tied 2–2 vs. Milwaukee and with Kyrie Irving sidelined on Tuesday night time, Inexperienced stepped up once more.
It seemed like Oklahoma Metropolis circa 2008 in Brooklyn because the Nets erased a 16-point Bucks lead to seize a 3–2 lead within the Japanese Convention semifinals. Durant turned in a historic efficiency, taking part in all 48 minutes as he scored 49 factors together with 17 rebounds and 10 assists. As Harden limped via the competition in a 1–10 capturing effort, Inexperienced emerged as Durant’s major scoring associate. Simply as he did in ’18 alongside James, Inexperienced completed second on the Nets in scoring, including 27 factors and 7 threes. If Brooklyn clinches the title, Inexperienced might be remembered as an important position participant on a championship group, related to Mike Miller, Shaun Livingston and Robert Horry over the past 20 years.
We received’t etch the Nets’ title on the championship trophy simply but. The Bucks are nonetheless alive within the second spherical, and a wholesome Joel Embiid might present an issue within the Japanese Convention finals. Any of the three remaining Western Convention groups might present a formidable problem, and admittedly, Brooklyn’s largest drawback could also be its personal well being. Inexperienced might very effectively enter his 14th season in 2021–22 with out a championship on his résumé, with one other alternative missed as he seems to be to elongate his profession. Thompson isn’t involved.
Inexperienced is the NBA’s ageless marvel, one whose psychological dexterity and bodily items have allowed him to stay a high quality contributor as he approaches his thirty fifth birthday. One other NBA season is a small job in contrast to open coronary heart surgical procedure. Whatever the Nets’ playoff end, you possibly can count on to see Inexperienced within the postseason as soon as once more in 2022, wanting to elevate the league’s high stars in pursuit of a championship. Inexperienced’s winding journey is without doubt one of the most unusual in NBA historical past. And he’s not finished simply but.
“Uncle Jeff nonetheless has numerous ball left in him,” Thompson says. “He has numerous successful to do earlier than he hangs it up.”
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