In the new series "Clippers Free Agent Retrospective", we'll look back at the mark left by the Clippers' departing players during their time with the team. First up is Jeff Green, and this one's not pretty.
Name: Jeff Green
Key Clipper Facts:
6'9" Combo forward in his 8th NBA season.
Acquired at the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline from Memphis for Lance Stephenson and a future protected first-round pick. Boston (who received the pick in a subsequent trade from Memphis) will have one shot at a Clippers pick--if the Clippers are in the lottery, Los Angeles will keep it and convey a future second to Boston. If the Clippers are a playoff team, Boston will get the late first rounder.
Played 27 games as a Clipper, starting 10. Averaged 26 minutes per game, with 10.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 blocks, and 0.7 steals per game. Shot 42.7% from the field and 32.5% from deep.
Played in all six Clippers playoff games, starting one. Averaged 26.5 minutes per game in the playoffs, with 10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.7 assists, and 0.3 blocks per game. Shot 45.7% from the field and 40% from deep (4-10).
It's safe to say that expectations for Jeff Green were split coming in--some were very pessimistic, some were very optimistic. I probably fell somewhere in the middle: never feeling that he was a star or a savior, but hopeful that his experience and all-around play would help push the Clippers core over the top.
In fact, when Clips Nation's writers got together to grade the trade back in February, the sentiment was generally the same and most grades were C or B--we generally agreed that Green wasn't a perfect player, but was a talent upgrade at the Clippers' weakest position, and that he'd help the Clippers in their seeding fight while Blake Griffin was out, and then in their playoff push.
Particularly, one of the redeeming factors in the deal was that Jeff Green's bird rights would be transferred to the Clippers, allowing them to sign him long-term. Again, Green wasn't a perfect player, but we saw him as a talent upgrade from what the Clippers had been able to patch together at SF, and certainly as a better player than they would otherwise have been able to sign.
While nobody was a fan of the future lottery-protected first going to Memphis, we generally begrudgingly accepted it. Both Stephenson and Green were on expiring deals, so Memphis had no incentive to move him to the Clippers. Maybe the Clippers could have gotten him for less, but the looming trade deadline forced their hand. Maybe the lottery-protected first was something carefully negotiated and agreed upon, and the best deal the Clippers could have gotten. We'll never really know.
Legacy as a Clipper:
Jeff Green's legacy as a Clipper will forever be poor, though it's not necessarily due to his on-court performances. He was inconsistent, his shot was average (32.5% is a poor mark, but the sample size was small enough for some forgiveness), and he never harnessed his physical tools to become a great defender and take over the starting SF spot. Overall, however, none of that was surprising to anyone with realistic expectations. It's easy to talk yourself into the theoretical Jeff Green and then be let down, but if you didn't let that happen, the real-life Jeff Green shouldn't have let you down.
Unfortunately, the reason his legacy will be poor is because his role was not just to be Jeff Green. His role was to be a veteran forward to be a big piece of the supporting cast of a Chris Paul and Blake Griffin-led team trying to get over the hump. Instead, both Paul and Griffin went down with injuries in the first round of the playoffs, and the Clippers were eliminated. Again, this isn't Jeff Green's fault--he didn't cause the injuries and he was never expected to be the team's hero with those two out of the lineup. But the entire reason the Clippers traded a future first round pick for a half-season upgrade at forward was to increase the bet on the 2016 season, and when the 2016 season went down the toilet, there was no longer any real reason for the trade to have been made.
That's not an indictment of Jeff Green's play or Doc Rivers' trade process, it's just the reality of the outcome. Anytime that the Jeff Green Era is brought up, his legacy with the Clippers will be a future first round pick traded for 27 games in a season that ended up being wasted.
It could have been avoided had Green re-signed with the team. Give him a training camp and more time with the full roster, let him play some SF with the starters and some PF in small-ball lineups, and he could have enjoyed an extended stint as one of the main pieces in the Clippers' supporting cast. But when he unexpectedly bolted early in free agency for a one-year, $15 million deal with the Orlando Magic, even that was lost.
The Clippers justified trading a future first for Green in 2 ways: a short-term upgrade in a win-now move, and a long-term upgrade by acquiring his bird rights. The "win-now" part never even got a shot due to injuries, and the bird rights were negated by his departure.
A future lottery-protected first isn't the worst thing in the world. Likely in 2019, the Clippers will either make the playoffs and send a late first to Boston (via Memphis), or they'll miss the playoffs, keep their pick, and send a future second. But the Clippers gave up something small for two chances at something big, and missed out on both, meaning they essentially gave up something for nothing.
Judging the Jeff Green era in hindsight and second-guessing the decision-making months afterwards is likely both subjective and unfair. But in simply evaluating the outcome, there isn't much question: the Jeff Green era was a failure.
Green is nearly the end of the line for the most disappointing series of front-office failures in the Doc Rivers era (once the future picks have been conveyed, it'll all be over). Originally, the Clippers signed Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar using their MLE and BAE two summers ago. As a result of those signings, the Clippers had to trade Jared Dudley and a future first to clear room under the hard cap. Farmar was cut halfway through his first season, and Hawes was awful and immediately traded the next summer. Those failed signings contributed to the Clippers' lack of depth in the 2015 playoffs, where they collapsed late in the second round. Hawes was traded (along with Matt Barnes) in a high-upside swap for downtrodden Lance Stephenson. It was a high-reward move to buy low on Lance, but the fit never worked, and then Lance was packaged with another future first in the Jeff Green trade. Now Jeff has left in free agency.
In a series of moves that were, for the most part, defensible gambles, the Clippers ultimately came away with nothing, and now have two future firsts missing from the war chest. If you could just make Hawes, Farmar, Stephenson, and Green never exist as Clippers, and still have Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley, you'd do it, and that's without the picks.