By John Denton
July 7, 2016
ORLANDO – The new-look Orlando Magic are hoping to get the Jeff Green that they got to see at his absolute best last season while playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.
It was Jan. 25 of last season and Green proved to be a one-man wrecking crew for the Grizzlies in their 108-102 overtime defeat of the Magic in Memphis. With the Magic leading 100-96 in the final seconds, Green converted a dunk, stole the inbounds pass and hit a buzzer-beating jumper to send the game into OT. In the extra period, Green put the finishing touches on a 30-point, eight-rebound masterpiece that showed the allure that teams have looked for from him throughout his eight years in the NBA.
That game, in addition to Green’s enormous potential and defensive versatility, played big roles in the Magic pursing and signing the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward. His deal became official on Thursday when the NBA’s moratorium ended on the free-agent courting period.
``I would think so,’’ Green said when asked if his big performance in January played a role in the Magic pursuing him. ``That was a fun game. That was brought up (Wednesday) during dinner (with Magic officials). It was fun. They were on the losing end then, but now that I’m on the team hopefully things will change.’’
For a Magic team looking to improve its defensive grit and stockpile players that can play multiple positions on both ends of the floor, Green, 29, looks to be a perfect fit. He has the lateral quickness to guard wings on the perimeter and the requisite size to play power forward in ``small-ball’’ lineups. In today’s NBA, when team’s offensive sets are often centered around getting bigger players switched onto smaller ones and vice versa, Green can exist whether he’s required to check cat-quick shooters or bigger post players.
``When you think about (the Magic’s defensive possibilities), it’s scary,’’ Green said of a potential lineup that could include shot-blockers Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, Green, Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton. ``But it’s about transferring it to the floor. It starts Day 1 when we all enter the gym together and we start practice and transferring it to the games. It’s going to take time together as a team. Great things aren’t going to happen overnight. We just have to come into the gym every day and trust the process.’’
The Green signing falls in line with Orlando’s addition of head coach Frank Vogel and the trade for Serge Ibaka. Vogel has always been a coach who has preached defense first and foremost, and Green will likely thrive in a system where the veteran coach wants the Magic playing suffocating defense and pushing the pace offensively.
``Jeff (Green) is a veteran that brings versatility and depth to our frontcourt,’’ Magic GM Rob Hennigan said. ``He will provide tremendous leadership to our team, both on and off the floor, and we are extremely excited to welcome him into the Magic family.’’
Orlando acquired the shot-swatting Ibaka on draft night in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. While Ibaka is expected to play predominantly at power forward alongside starting center Nikola Vucevic, the 6-10 Ibaka will assuredly play some center with Green at power forward.
Green, the No. 5 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, has seen his career filled with some wildly erratic play. Those flashes of greatness sandwiched around stretches of spotty production has resulted in him playing for the Sonics/Thunder, Celtics, Grizzlies and Clippers.
Now, the Magic will be the ones trying to extract some consistency from the versatile pro.
Green’s 30-point performance against the Magic this past January came during a five-game run where he averaged 24 points and 5.4 rebounds a game while making 11 3-pointers and shooting a robust 60.2 percent from the floor. A week later, however, Green’s production tailed off and he was dealt to the Clippers before the NBA trade deadline.
In 80 games with the Grizzlies and Clippers, Green averaged 11.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 blocks and 0.7 steals a game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from the 3-point line. His production in the Clippers’ first-round playoff loss to Portland was very similar: 10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 blocks and 1.0 steals a game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line. For his career, Green has shot 43.8 percent from the floor and 33.9 percent from 3-point range while averaging 14 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.6 blocks and 0.8 steals a game.
``For me, this is a fresh start,’’ Green said candidly. ``This is my first chance at free agency and being able to choose an organization where the feeling was mutual both ways and this is a great refresher for me. This is a great opportunity for myself and for this team to accomplish some things that haven’t been accomplished in awhile. I’m looking forward to it and I think it will be a great fit both ways.’’
Green, who has started 472 of his 636 games in the NBA, will likely compete with blossoming Magic forward Aaron Gordon for the starting job at small forward. Green has been a spot starter much of the past two seasons, coming off the bench in 39 of the 80 games he played in this past season.
Neither Gordon or Green are particularly good 3-point shooters and Orlando can also use Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja or Jodie Meeks at the small forward position if floor spacing is needed.
Again, positional versatility is the name of the game in today’s NBA and the multi-talented Green provides the Magic with another player who does a lot of things well on both ends of the floor.
``I’ve done it throughout my whole career and I don’t see why I can’t do it now,’’ Green said of his ability to guard multiple positions and play two spots offensively. ``With the team that we have we have a lot of guys who can (play multiple positions). We have the kind of team that can match up with pretty much anybody.’’
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