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SB Nation Presents: Biggest Disappointment Day

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SB Nation continues its trek through the off season by offering up this week's theme: Biggest Disappointment Day. This one is a bit challenging because, unlike our Best. Trade. Ever. post, there are many players whom we can consider and also that the line between the Sonics and Thunder's history gets a bit blurred. There is no good way to delineate between the two franchise histories, since cornerstones Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both drafted as Sonics. So the best we can do is to choose a guy who will clearly be defined by his time in the blue and orange.

My Biggest Thunder Disappointment is: Jeff Green.

Green is a difficult pick because he was drafted in the same year as Durant and the two have remained close friends. Taken with the #5 pick in the 2007 draft, Green was supposed to be the young bookend to Durant. He is by all accounts a great teammate, works hard, is a solid locker room presence, and has a multitude of skills that translate well on the basketball court. The trio of Durant, Green, and 2008 draft pick Russell Westbrook was supposed to form the bedrock for the Thunder's ascendancy to the top of the West.

So what happened?

Two things.

1. Jeff Green was never given the opportunity to play in his natural position.

Green is a natural '3' who can on occasion switch to the '2.' What he is most definitely NOT is a '4.' Yet for the majority of Green's time in OKC, he was forced to play out of position in the power forward spot. Over the duration of his career, the 6'9" Green has never even managed to average 7 rebounds per game. While his perimeter shooting allowed him from time to time to play the 'stretch-4,' his inability to rebound or play stout interior defense constantly put a super-talented offensive team into taut struggles against mediocre opponents.

The problem with Green's play became most apparent during the first half of the 2010-11 season. Despite getting heavy starter's minutes, his numbers, while solid, never scaled with his court time. Meanwhile, he was posting some of the most confounding 'power forward' numbers I've ever seen. Combined with center Nenad Krstic's soft interior play, the Thunder were a deeply flawed team with a soft front line that was going to go nowhere in the playoffs.

2. Jeff Green lacked the hunger.

Even if Green had the good fortune of playing in his natural position, he never seemed to have the tenacity that a championship-caliber starter needs to have. On paper, the pairing of Green and Durant guarding the perimeter wings should have made defense easy for the Thunder, creating a wide net that included defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha and the superfreak Russell Westbrook. Instead, there were constant breakdowns on defense, little resistance at the rim, and against stout interior teams like the Jazz and even the Kings, OKC was getting carved up.

Perhaps Green would have been better off coming off the bench with James Harden. He would have been an ideal replacement for Durant, spelling KD for 15 minutes a game and essentially playing the same role that Durant does - a perimeter-oriented forward who could score inside and out. He could have just played a secondary role, rather than be counted upon to fuel the Thunder's primary attack.

Green's fate was all but sealed when OKC shipped him and Krstic to Boston in a trade for Kendrick Perkins. Almost overnight, a new front line featuring Perkins and Serge Ibaka completely changed the Thunder's front line. Instead of playing passive offensive-oriented basketball, the team was transformed into a defensive championship team.

In sum, I go with Green not because he was a bad player. He's not, and the Celtics' recent re-signing of him is proof of that. It has more to do with the fact that he was drafted as a guy who was meant to become an elite player, a player on which a championship team could be built along side Durant, and he fell short of that. Green may very well have a long and rewarding career, but until he gets the hunger inside of him (and teammate Kevin Garnett may teach him yet), he's likely going to be a 'nice' player who misses his big moment instead of claiming it.


Past Themes: