It's been a rough season so far for the Boston Celtics, to say the least.
A 93-76 win over the bumbling Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day moved the C's back above the .500 mark, which they've essentially straddled throughout the 2012-13 NBA season so far. They finally played a spot of lockdown defense, holding Deron Williams and company to 40.6 percent shooting and forcing 20 turnovers.
Doc Rivers can only hope efforts like this will be routine once Avery Bradley gets back into the fold. The third-year shooting guard out of Texas has yet to set foot on the floor this season. He underwent double shoulder surgery early in the Celts' run to the Eastern Conference Finals and has been sidelined ever since. According to Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald, Bradley won't be back in uniform until after the C's finish up their current four-game road swing:
Bradley will not join Celtics out west this week.— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) December 25, 2012
In the meantime, the presumed impact of his impending return continues to approach mythic proportions, due largely to Boston's defensive struggles in his absence. The Celtics have slid from second in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to 11th this season, from second to 17th in field goal defense and from fifth to ninth in opponent turnover percentage.
The offense has improved somewhat—from mediocre to merely middle-of-the-pack—but the results have been uneven overall. A 14-13 record and the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference through the first third of the season aren't exactly what the C's had in mind.
Not after a busy (and seemingly successful) summer.
General manager Danny Ainge snapped up a string of versatile wings and young bigs to deepen a team that came within one win of sneaking into the NBA Finals.
It's tough to blame Bostonians for being so optimistic about their prospects with Bradley. They were a markedly better defensive team with Avery playing a prominent part last season. According to NBA.com, the C's allowed a stifling 92.9 points per 100 possessions when Bradley was on the floor—a mark that would've been the best in the league by a long shot.
The results certainly showed in the win column.
The C's were 20-8 in regular-season games that Bradley started, including a tally of 14-4 after he replaced Ray Allen on a full-time basis in March. He sparked a team-wide resurgence after Boston stumbled out of the gate to a 15-17 record once the lockout was lifted.
As such, the hope for a bright future with Bradley isn't exactly unwarranted, though it is illustrative of bigger problems brewing in Beantown.
Avery's return won't strengthen the Celtics' woefully thin front line. It won't likely do away with Rajon Rondo's reluctance to shoot or force his way to the free-throw stripe. It won't help Brandon Bass find his mid-range jumper again or transform Jeff Green into a consistently productive player or Courtney Lee into a useful one off the bench.
Nor will having a young guy like Avery necessarily turn back the hands of time that are always grasping at Boston's aging roster. Their starting five in Brooklyn featured four guys aged 34 or older—Jason Collins (34), Jason Terry (35), Paul Pierce (35) and Kevin Garnett (36).
Not that being old is necessarily a bad thing. The New York Knicks are the oldest team in NBA history, with four of the seven most seasoned veterans in the league today. The battle with Father Time hasn't inhibited them much, if at all.
If anything, the additions of Jason Kidd (39), Rasheed Wallace (38), Marcus Camby (38), Kurt Thomas (40) and rookie Pablo Prigioni (35) have helped to propel New York to its 20-8 record and spot atop the Atlantic Division.
The thing is, the Knicks don't rely on their near-retirees to carry the load.
Each fills a particular role in support of younger guns like Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton and (soon enough) Amar'e Stoudemire.
The Celtics, on the other hand, rely heavily on three of their elder statesmen. Kevin Garnett anchors the middle of the defense and provides what little interior productivity Boston can count on. Paul Pierce still has to log big minutes and fill it up for the C's to be competitive. Jason Terry is Boston's "stretch man," shifting between backcourt spots and between the starting lineup and the bench.
Bradley will certainly share some of the burden that those fogies currently shoulder. He'll slow down opposing point guards, disrupt passing lanes as a help defender and hit long range shots from time to time.
But he's not a rebounding-and-shot-blocking big man or a prolific perimeter scorer or a truly versatile guard with championship experience.
Which is to say, Avery Bradley is a quality player and will be a welcome addition to the C's squad, especially when he's played himself back into proper shape.
But a savior, he is not.