Agent David Falk wishes it had all happened differently for Jeff Green, that his phones were ringing off the hook for a very different reason these last few days.
If his client was never traded from Oklahoma City to Boston for center Kendrick Perkins in February 2011, and if the strapping young forward never suffered from the aortic aneurysm that cost him all of last season, then these calls that keep coming into his Washington D.C. office would be the congratulatory sort rather than inquiries about Green's free agency. Green was a crucial part of the Thunder's formula before the trade, and Falk is sure that Oklahoma City would have become a championship-caliber team with him just as they have without him.
"One of the things I'll always be disappointed about was that I didn't want him to be traded; I wasn't in favor of him being traded," Falk told SI.com. "He didn't get a chance to complete the mission. That's NBA basketball, but my point is that the guy had a pretty strong career his first three years out of the blocks. And I think when he comes back, he's going to be better than ever."
Make no mistake, Falk will take these calls with a smile on his face just the same. Green's life, let alone his profession, was on the line when his heart condition was discovered during a team physical last December. He had successful surgery to repair the aneurysm on Jan. 12 and has since returned to "100 percent," according to Falk. Now, he's ready to return to the livelihood that he loves.
Because Green became an unrestricted free agent in December after Boston withdrew its $9 million qualifying offer, teams are already calling Falk's office to discuss his possible exodus from Beantown. Free agency negotiations won't officially begin until July 1, but Falk said he has already had exploratory discussions with "12 to 14 teams."
While there is a strong mutual interest in Green returning to the Celtics, Falk said it's far from certain that it will turn out that way. Boston has nine unrestricted free agents in all, most notably Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. And judging by his view of the free agent market on the whole, Falk -- who is best known as the longtime agent of Michael Jordan and an influential advocate of the league's stars for the last 30 years -- will be driving a hard bargain as always.
"With the possible exception of (Brooklyn point guard) Deron Williams, I think that Jeff will probably be the No. 1 unrestricted free agent on the market," Falk said. "It's not like we have LeBron (James) and (Dwyane) Wade and all these guys floating around.
"I'd be very surprised if Deron Williams winds up anywhere besides Dallas or New Jersey (Brooklyn). So the next guy in the pecking order is Jeff Green."
Beyond Williams, who has made it known that he will decline his player option for next season and enter free agency, most of the star players about to become unrestricted free agents are older. Garnett (36 years old), Allen (36), Denver point guard Andre Miller (36), Phoenix point guard Steve Nash (38), Dallas point guard Jason Kidd (39) and San Antonio forward Tim Duncan (36, will all be coveted, but teams looking to build a young core will be looking elsewhere. While teams with restricted free agents can match any offer given to their player, unrestricted free agents can simply sign where they please.
Brooklyn small forward Gerald Wallace (29) and Portland shooting guard Jamal Crawford (32) are also expected to forgo player options for next season and become unrestricted free agents. Among the younger bunch, Milwaukee forward and Most Improved Player runner-up Ersan Ilyasova (25) and Houston point guard Goran Dragic (23) will be unrestricted and should receive significant interest.
"Because of (Green's) age...and because he can play two positions and he's freaky athletic, I think he could be very sought after," Falk said.
Green has averaged 13.9 points (44.5 percent shooting overall) and 5.6 rebounds over his career, though he struggled to fit in during his 26 games with the Celtics before they fell to the Heat in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. He spent significant time around the Celtics during his season away from the floor, and even sat in street clothes on the team's bench during a March 25 home game against Washington.
If Garnett and Allen depart, Falk sees the teaming of Green with point guard Rajon Rondo and small forward Paul Pierce as Boston's best-case scenario for forming a new "Big Three." The Celtics have Green's Bird Rights, meaning they can offer a five-year contract while other teams can only offer four years. They can also offer 7.5 percent annual raises as compared to 4.5 percent for other teams.
"I know that (the Celtics) want Jeff to come back, from (general manager) Danny (Ainge) to the owners to Doc and to his teammates," said Falk of Green, who was drafted fifth overall by Boston out of Georgetown in 2007 as part of a draft-night trade with Seattle (now Oklahoma City). "He loves Boston. We're waiting to see what happens with KG, what happens with Ray...There are other teams that could be very, very interesting to him around the league that will also have cap room."
Falk said the "life-changing experience" with Green's heart is likely to change the way he plays, too.
"The only thing -- in my opinion -- that was holding him back before was his extreme unselfishness," Falk said. "I think the medial situation won't make him selfish, but it will just give him a much greater sense of urgency.
"He had something that he loves almost taken away from him. I truly believe that -- more than any pep talk from (his former Georgetown) coach (John) Thompson or from (Celtics coach) Doc Rivers, I think that the experience will give him a much greater sense of urgency on the court. I think he'll be better than ever, because I think he'll be much more focused on getting the job done."
It remains to be seen, of course, where he'll be working.
"We've picked out three or four teams, of which Boston is one, that he has a high level of interest in talking to," Falk said. "I would say that Boston is the incumbent, but I've learned in this business not to assume things. Nothing is guaranteed."
Green knows that as well as anyone.