WALTHAM — The departures of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce sent out ripple effects that touched every inch of the Celtics franchise.
For Jeff Green, their exits meant opportunity, the one that players want most.
“To be that guy,” said Green, who averaged 12.8 points last season, including 16.4 over the team’s final 38 games.
And now he is that guy, the Celtics’ top offensive threat while Rajon Rondo recovers from knee surgery — and perhaps their top threat even when Rondo returns this season.
The Celtics plan to give Green, their 27-year-old slashing swingman who’s entering his sixth season, as much as he can handle, especially because he can play multiple positions.
‘Bring it on. It’s a challenge that I’m willing to take on.’
“It’s going to be a big burden for him because he’s going to have to know more than one role,” said first-year coach Brad Stevens.
Green said he doesn’t mind having a lot on his plate.
“Whatever [Stevens] serves me up, I’m going to take,” Green said.
Green took strides last season toward the role he’ll play in the upcoming campaign.
Aside from improving his scoring, he played in all 81 regular-season games in his first full season back after missing the one prior while recovering from heart surgery.
That recovery process left him fatigued at times last season, but Green said this most recent offseason was the first in some time in which he was both healthy and not busy with classwork from Georgetown, where he was finishing up his degree.
“So, this year I was able to put all the focus and time into getting better on the court,” Green said. “I feel good. My conditioning is there. My game is there.”
But Green shrugged off the notion that the role he’ll play will be bigger than any he has had.
“It’s just more under the microscope,” he said, referencing the media.
But defenses will focus on him more now, especially with Pierce and Garnett gone.
“Bring it on,” Green said. “It’s a challenge that I’m willing to take on.
“At the end of the day, I can’t score 100 — well, I can if I really try to shoot the ball a ton — but I can’t score however many points it’s going to take to win the game. It’s a team effort. And I’m not going to be the only one out there on the court.”
He added, “The focus will be on me, per se, but teams will realize they can’t put all their focus on me because we have other guys who can put points up on the board.”
That he’ll play shooting guard, small forward, and power forward should make Green a tougher cover for most defenses.
“I call myself a ‘hybrid,’ just out there, not having a position, but you can put me anywhere on the court,” he said.
Fellow swingman Gerald Wallace can play those same positions, but Stevens said he’s excited about the potential lineup possibilities involving Wallace and Green.
“You’ve got a lot of different options with those guys,” Stevens said. “The more versatile that you are, again, the more pairings you can play with, usually the more minutes you play.”
But Green is weary of the idea that he has to fill the void left by Pierce and Garnett.
“My job is to continue to be Jeff Green, continue to play hard, continue to play Jeff Green basketball, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Green said.
“I’m not looking to fill the footsteps of Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. What they’ve done is in the books. My job is to now create my own footprints and be the best player I can be and not try to live up to anyone’s standards.”
Just the same, Green, along with Rondo, will be counted on as leaders for a youthful team full of new pieces, and Green credited Garnett for how the veteran led by example, adding that he’ll try to do the same this season.
Green also said that it was Garnett who made Green a more efficient scorer during the latter half of last season.
“He’s a guy who pushed me to become the player I ended the season as,” Green said. “I owe a lot to him as far as my focus and my determination and my aggression.”
His goal, he said, is to slash to the rim, finish with dunks, or draw fouls. If teams change strategies, Green will be open to shooting jump shots, but he still wants to attack.
“My game is to get to the free-throw line at least eight times a game,” he said. “I want to be aggressive.”
Aggression is an issue for Green, a player who at times overpowered competition with his size, athleticism, and talent but at other times was complacent or inconsistent, deferring to Pierce or Garnett.
Now both are gone, and Green will have to prove that the player he was for much of last season is a player he can be for all of this one — and he’ll have to do it without Garnett barking in his ear.