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Murphy: Former Celtic Jeff Green looking to work some Magic

December 5, 2016

Though it hasn’t gone smoothly, Orlando Magic management has attempted to sell its post-Dwight Howard fan base on youth.

Young players Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and the since-traded Victor Oladipo were held up as models of how this team wanted to build, and the crowd bought in. But Frank Vogel, in his first year coaching the Magic, has been forced to juggle lineups. Payton has been pushed back to second-string point guard behind well-traveled veteran D.J. Augustin.

And Gordon, an exciting, young, athletic small forward, has limited shooting range, an issue that was well known the night the Magic picked him No.?4 in the 2014 draft. So Vogel did something unexpected, and during a recent eight-game stretch replaced Gordon with Jeff Green.

The decision was generally hated on Twitter as Gordon is popular, but the move revealed that there is still a fascination with the former Celtics forward’s oft-unrequited talent.

The Magic are Green’s fourth team in the last two years, and after spending the last half of last season with the Clippers and old friend Doc Rivers, he’s being asked to add veteran presence to Orlando’s young roster.

But inconsistency has always hurt the flow of Green’s game, to the point where his prime asset to Orlando has been as a defensive player. His flagging offense may be one reason Vogel returned Gordon to the starting lineup last week, but also has toyed with the use of Fournier as his best small forward option.

“Those guys are working hard. They’re getting some looks,” Vogel recently told the Orlando media, pointing to Green and Gordon. “They just both have struggled this year. It’s something I think will come for them. They’re both better than they’re showing. But that’s definitely been part of our problem this year.”

Green shot 28.8 percent (17-for-59) overall and 11 percent (2-for-22) from 3-point range during that eight-game starting stretch. He’s not shying away from the difficulty.

“I’ve been playing (badly),” he told the Orlando Sentinel. “My offense hasn’t been there. My shot hasn’t been there. But it’s going to come around. And when it does and I continue to play the defense that I’ve been playing, then it all will look great. But right now it looks terrible.”

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Green had the brief opportunity during his Celtics tenure to play with one of the best trios in franchise history. Now that Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have retired, and Paul Pierce has announced this will be his last season, Green has turned a tad sentimental.

“Nobody can defeat Father Time,” Green, speaking of Garnett, told the Sentinel. “It’s tough to see him go. But I’ll always cherish the memories I have with that guy, the battles on the floor with that guy.”

Of Allen, he said: “It’s one thing to know that he is a good shooter. But it’s (another) thing to see the work that he puts in to become that. He’s a guy who works hard at his craft. His fitness — right now, I can guarantee if he came in and played now, he’d be one of the top in-shape players in the league. When you watch a pro like that, it forces you to follow the lead.”

This week’s C’s timeline

Tomorrow, at Houston, 8 p.m. — Much has been expected of the Rockets for two or three seasons now, and James Harden appears to be making his annual MVP bid. A victory here always represents a significant road win.

Wednesday, at Orlando, 7 p.m. — Frank Vogel’s new team is young, with a few notable free agent additions in Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green. But thus far the Magic is a strange mix in need of some chemistry.

Friday, vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m. — The team most have labeled as the Celtics’ chief competition for the second spot in the Eastern Conference — a spot the C’s don’t merit with their early play — comes to town for the first head-to-head meeting of the season. An early measuring stick.

RADJA: C’S PLAN RIGHT FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRYMAN ZIZIC

Ante Zizic (right), the raw-boned Croatian center whose physicality and interior skills may be a perfect down-the-road fit for the Celtics, is averaging 19.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for KK Cibona of the Adriatic League.

But the 2016 first-round pick isn’t ready for the NBA just yet, according to the first Croatian star to sign a contract and play for the Celtics: Dino Radja.

“To be sure, he does need a couple of years. He needs to go on the Euro League level and then come here,” Radja, former president of KK Split, said of Zizic’s need to compete against the top teams in Europe before taking on the NBA.

But Radja also understands why the Celtics took Zizic with the 23rd pick in June’s draft. Zizic isn’t just a draft-and-stash player — he’s a draft-and-stasher who eventually can make the move overseas.

“He’s good. He goes after the ball. He doesn’t wait for the rebound to get to him,” Radja said. “He has long arms — a very good feel for the rebound. He’s got some skills. He can play with his back to the basket. He has to develop a better outside shot. He’ll get stronger, but he has to be careful not to get too strong and lose his quickness. But he’s going to be a good player.”

Radja, though, agrees with the Celtics’ approach with Zizic. Once matched against better European competition, he will absorb much more than if sent up to play with the Maine Red Claws of the NBADL.

“He’s a good kid. He’s developing really good. I followed him the last couple of years. When he was really thin, at 17, he still had really good habits, which I liked,” Radja said. “He’s developing, and I think he will be a good player here. He just has to pick up the right timing. He can’t rush, because when you come here and you can’t play, there is so much traveling and so many games that you don’t have time to work out. If you don’t have the minutes, then you stall. But he has some really good habits. In two years he’s going to be a really good player.”