The expectations have risen steadily for Jeff Green since his return from surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, and this season they will soar as he emerges as one of the leaders of the Celtics in another transition season.
Green is the team’s leading returning scorer and entering the third year of a four-year contract that concludes with a player option for next season. A breakout year from the small forward could mean a lucrative free agent contract next summer.
The Celtics have been waiting for such production, although Green slowly became a more productive scorer in his second season following surgery. He missed all of 2011-12.
Now at age 28, entering the prime of his career, Green said he understands and embraces his increased responsibility in the Celtics’ success.
“I’ve been working on everything basically,” he said last week. “There’s not one thing I didn’t work on. Just coming into camp in good shape, new focus, and a lot of people say it’s a different vibe they feel from me now and I just have to transfer it on the court, continue to get better as a player, and find a way to stay consistent. I think that’s been my biggest fall throughout my career, so I’ve just got to find a way to do that.”
Green averaged 16.9 points per game last season but a career low 41.2 percent from the field. The issue was 3-point shooting. He took a stunning 214 more 3-pointers last season than in 2012-13 but only converted 65 more.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens would love to see Green become more active in the paint, drawing fouls and using his length and size to score.
“I think it’s a new confidence that I have as far as my game and I think that just comes with a different approach,” Green said. “I’m very excited. We have a young team but I think we have a team that’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. A lot of people don’t have us in the playoffs but our goal is to get better each game and just try to improve to put ourselves in a great position to be in the playoffs.”
Asked if he felt like one of the team leaders, Green said, “I am one of the leaders. I have to take that role. It’s not an individual thing to lead this team. We have Rajon [Rondo] and Gerald [Wallace]. We’ve just got to have each other’s back.”
One of Green’s biggest summer accomplishments was making a $1 million donation to the John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletics Center at Georgetown University. The center, which will include practice courts for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, is expected to be completed by 2016.
“First and foremost, Big John, he really deserved it and he’s done a lot for me as far as the motivation, the influence on my career, my years there and now,” Green said. “Secondly, I think it’s great for the university as far as recruiting. I think it gives the kids, the new recruits coming there an advantage as far as the new facility, having a better place to work.
“It being open 24/7 and then [the basketball team doesn’t] have to share, that’s the biggest thing and it can make the team better. I think that was the biggest key for me because at the end of the day, I’m still a Georgetown Hoya.”
Center of attention
Zeller has chance to make mark in middle
Tyler Zeller was one of the casualties from the Cleveland Cavaliers clearing salary cap space to sign a certain Miami Heat forward. Zeller is now a Celtic, having been shipped to Boston along with Marcus Thornton after two solid seasons with the Cavaliers.
The Celtics have a sizable hole at center, with Kris Humphries gone to Washington and Vitor Faverani the team’s most viable big man after a shaky rookie season. Boston coach Brad Stevens used various combinations at center but never one that worked consistently, leaving plenty of opportunity for Zeller.
Zeller is a legitimate 7 feet and averaged 5.7 rebounds in just 26 minutes per game as a rookie two years ago. When training camp begins Sept. 30 in Waltham, he could be the favorite to start in the middle this season.
“I think I can rebound, be a big body, just the ability to run the floor, get out and try to push the pace,” said Zeller. “I think that’s the goal [to start] anywhere you go, and that’s my goal this year, but I have a lot of work to be able to earn that spot. I think it’s a great opportunity.”
The primary goal for Zeller over the summer was to increase his weight by 15 pounds. He said he felt he was at a disadvantage playing at 250 pounds and wants to begin camp near 270.
“I think that’s a reasonable weight for a 5-man [center],” he said. “You got guys like Dwight [Howard] and others who are 300 pounds, so you have to be able to hold your own against them but you’ve also got be able to move with the guys who weigh less than that.”
With a glut of power forwards, including Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Brandon Bass, the Celtics are ecstatic that Zeller is a legitimate center. “I think I’ve always been a center, I really actually don’t know how to play power forward,” he said.
Zeller said a case of appendicitis along with coach Mike Brown’s new system in his second season adversely affected his playing time.
“I was kind of always trying to catch up from [the appendicitis],” he said. “I don’t really know if it was one thing. It was a lot of things. But the speed of the game slowed down. I wasn’t trying to catch up as much as I was my rookie year.”
The Celtics dealt for Zeller on a Tuesday, four days before his marriage to Caitlyn Ferebee, making the pre-wedding conversation quite interesting. Zeller learned of the trade and said he called Caitlyn, who was at the hairdresser.
“Her mom picked up and I was like, ‘I need to talk to my fiancée,’ and she said ‘OK, she’ll call you when she gets done,’ ” Zeller said. “I said, ‘No, no, no, I kind of need to talk to her now.’ It went well. She took it very well and is very excited to be here.”
The Celtics are in Year 2 of their journey back to respectability. Zeller was in a similar situation last season with the Cavaliers, who were a vogue playoff pick before collapsing because of injuries and lack of chemistry, costing Brown his job.
“It helps you to know we’re probably not going to win 60 games and set records with wins,” Zeller said. “[But] I think we have a great opportunity to make the playoffs, make a run here.”
NOW continues push for greater awareness
The leader for the National Organization for Women has called for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s resignation after the Ray Rice incident and the subsequent release of a second video showing abuse against his fiancée. The Massachusetts chapter of NOW is keeping tabs on local athletes and wants to increase awareness on the domestic violence issue.
Former Heat center Greg Oden was arrested on Aug. 7 in Indianapolis for assaulting his girlfriend. Oden has been charged with a Level 5 felony. His court date has been pushed back to Oct. 22 and the NBA is likely to make a ruling on his status when the legal issues are determined.
“When incidents happen like this so publicly, it does breed awareness,” said Mass. NOW communications director Katie Prisco-Buxbaum. “I know one thing that we did that got a lot of attention locally is we urged people not to watch or share the [Rice] video because we believe a survivor should be able to determine how or if she shares her result. We definitely had a lot of people thank us for that.”
NOW has stood by its call for Goodell’s resignation. “The way it was handled was so inappropriate,” Prisco-Buxbaum said. “It’s a larger pattern of this culture of violence against women [by men] in a lot of professional sports. We are so supportive of the national organization’s efforts to really demand some accountability. Clearly, the culture is toxic there in terms of athletes and women. It needs to be addressed.”
Perhaps the primary benefit from the embarrassing exposure of the Rice incident as well as ones involving Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Greg Hardy, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer, and Oden, is the exposure of the disturbing issue of domestic violence.
“People don’t know how prevalent it is, people don’t understand attitudes people have [about] it,” Prisco-Buxbaum said. “People don’t understand the culture that we’ve created. I certainly think there’s a lack of awareness.”
The interests of professional sports and NOW don’t intersect often but they have this summer, and the organization said increasing awareness of domestic violence is a challenge.
“In so many ways we are making gains,” Prisco-Buxbaum said. “If you think how far back we were just a couple of decades ago in terms of the professional world, we’ve definitely made tremendous strides. Progress is there but it can be slow and we’re making sure that we’re working every day to address it. That’s what keeps us going.”
New NBPA director has much on her plate
Michele Roberts has officially taken over as executive director of the NBA Players Association and has several arduous tasks to accomplish. She is inheriting an uncomfortable situation in Atlanta where a general manager uttered racially motivated insults about Luol Deng; the commissioner’s office wants to address the age-limit rule and raise the minimum age of entering the NBA Draft to 20; and there is speculation the NBPA will opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2017, which is likely because of the new television contract that is expected to earn the league billions in 2016.
Former executive director Charles Grantham said it will be significant responsibility for the neophyte executive director.
“The biggest challenge for [the NBPA] is the [potential] lockout,” said Grantham, who teaches at New York University and Seton Hall. “The question is for the last three times, there has been probably 15 or 16 givebacks or concessions that [the players’ union] made over this period of time that puts them at the bottom.
“It starts with preparation and being prepared for this thing [a lockout] that we all know is coming. After three successive collective bargaining negotiations from management side, all that began with the  lockout and put the union in a concessionary bargaining position. The day is gone when you used to be able to tell players to save money. You can’t do that.”
The NBPA made several key concessions during past negotiations, according to Grantham, including the implementation of the rookie wage scale, the escrow system, and that the court system could not be the final decider for the CBA. He added that the NBPA conceded on those issues because the players couldn’t withstand an extended lockout, leaving them at the mercy of the owners.
“One, the first challenge is again to get back to the concept that it’s got to be an institutional response — how does the institution create the protection for the players?” he said. “[Roberts’s] challenge is to rally the troops and unite the troops and get them into a position of understanding the business side of the sport, which is always the most difficult part because our players are very active playing in their careers and if they’re asked to do two things at once . . . [and] we expect that they know everything else about the collective bargaining agreement.
“That road to having a four- or five-year NBA experience is a difficult one and we keep forgetting it’s in a fish bowl and they’re 19, 20, 21 [years old]. They are growing in front of our eyes but we expect them to make mature decisions. That’s the challenge, not to follow them but to lead them.”
Although the Minnesota Timberwolves have gone the past 10 seasons without a playoff berth, chasing Kevin Love to Cleveland after six years because of their ineptitude, they are building an impressive young core of players. The Timberwolves added Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (Cavaliers) and Thaddeus Young (76ers) from the Love deal, and Zach LaVine via the first round of the draft. The Timberwolves signed second-rounder Glenn Robinson III to a multiyear contract, meaning they view the former Michigan standout as part of their future. Robinson dipped in the draft because of his college inconsistencies but could be a potential cornerstone for Flip Saunders . . . While the Hawks have received criticism for separate racially insensitive incidents, their executive committee of eight includes three African-Americans who report to the team’s CEO. Only Charlotte and Miami have more African-American vice presidents, according to the NBA’s Race and Gender Report . . . The Maine Red Claws named Scott Morrison head coach, giving the Canadian an opportunity to guide the Celtics’ NBADL affiliate. Morrison was the coach at Lakehead University, as well as an assistant for the Canada national junior team . . . The NBA suspended Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson five games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. A scan of the league’s penalties for the three categories of disallowed drugs: performance-enhancing drugs, marijuana, and drugs of abuse (harder drugs), showed a five-game suspension is only levied when a player violates the marijuana policy for a third time. The first violation only means confidential entry into the league’s marijuana program, the second is a $25,000 fine, and the third is a five-game suspension. Any additional violation results in an additional five-game suspension. The NBA does not reveal players currently in the league’s drug program . . . The Heat added former Sacramento head coach Keith Smart to their retooled staff, along with ex-guard Chris Quinn, to join David Fizdale, who was promoted to assistant head coach, and Juwan Howard to assistant coach. Assistant coach Bob McAdoo has been reassigned as a scout, while Ron Rothstein accepted a job with the Heat’s television broadcast team . . . The Oklahoma City Thunder named former Seattle SuperSonics and Los Angeles Clippers forward Michael Cage as their television analyst, replacing Grant Long, who left because of reported financial issues. Cage, who spent 16 seasons in the NBA playing for five teams, worked college games for Fox Sports West, most notably the Big West Conference . . . Several members of the Celtics’ organization were scheduled to attend an event Saturday night to support Shooting Touch, a local nonprofit that uses basketball as a platform for health education and social development for youth in underresourced areas of the world. Expected to attend were Celtics coach Brad Stevens, assistant GM Austin Ainge, and players Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey, James Young, and Marcus Smart.