Three years into Avery Bradley’s career, the Boston Celtics had hoped they would have their backcourt of the future figured out. The fall of 2013 lined up perfectly to extend the contract of their stud defensive shooting guard in preparation of a long career alongside Rajon Rondo.
However, three years after selecting the University of Texas product No. 19 overall in 2010, the franchise still doesn’t know exactly what it has.
Good thoughts go out to Avery, as he deals with a difficult family situation at this time. The Celtics roster is going through alterations, but that support system remains hopefully unchanged.
This possibly fearsome duo played only 11 games together this past season; Boston won six of the first seven. Those games came after Bradley returned from his shoulder surgeries and before Rondo tore his ACL.
The season before, Bradley’s minutes were jerked around due to the sporadic availability of a healthy Ray Allen. Fans remember some great games the two put together in late March and April 2012. Bradley shot 52 percent on 11.9 attempts while averaging 15.1 points per game in April. Rondo averaged 14.2 assists per game that month, the most of any complete month for his entire career.
Unfortunately, that month or so is the only true evidence available that supports a necessity of extending Bradley immediately. The handful of games last year were a period of cobweb-shaking for him before being transplanted to play a point guard role for which he was ill-prepared.
The current contracts of both Bradley and Rondo are set to expire following the 2014-15 season. Rondo will become a free agent that summer, barring an extension of his own. Bradley becomes eligible for an extension at the outset of this coming season. If one is not reached, he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer.
Rondo is actually a perfect comparison in some regard. The Celtics locked him up during a similar time period in 2009, coming off his own rookie contract. He signed his five-year, $55 million extension on Nov. 2. However, Rondo was coming off three straight seasons of playing 78-plus games and had just averaged a near triple-double in the postseason.
Both players have proven their worth to the Celtics. There is little reason president of basketball operations Danny Ainge wouldn’t want players of their caliber wearing green in the future.
What isn’t proven is that the two can win together—more specifically that Bradley can be a starting NBA guard, capable of lining up alongside Rondo.
Looking into the financial specifics: Bradley will make $2.5 million next season, with a $3.58 million qualifying offer on the table for 2014-15. Rondo’s number sits at $11.95 million and $12.9 million over the next two seasons.
Monetary reasons should play little part in this decision, however. The Celtics currently have relatively clean books heading into 2014-15. The financial flexibility to kick Bradley up a notch starting next summer and offer Rondo his max deal for the following year is there.
It is unclear what role or angle Bradley’s agent will be playing in his upcoming negotiation. He is the only player with NBA experience on Mitchell Butler’s client list.
Parent company Lagardere Unlimited has very little stake in basketball as well. Per its website, it seems to specialize in more individual sports, representing tennis star Victoria Azarenka and golf pro Keegan Bradley, along with a smattering of NFL and MLB players.
The trouble with attempting to view Bradley’s future is that he has no obvious contemporaries or comparable predecessors. Thus there is no precedent trajectory for him to follow.
Bradley is somewhat paving his own path here. The league hasn't seen many 6'2" defensive stoppers with limited offensive games. What happens with his contract could have some forward-thinking effect on the futures of a Victor Oladipo or Iman Shumpert—both bigger, but similarly styled ball-pressuring defenders.
In some way, the future of Eric Bledsoe, taken one spot ahead of Bradley in 2010 and now with the Phoenix Suns, could be altered by the Celtics' decision.
This isn’t to say that one-trick ponies, which Bradley may be, can’t get paid or have value in today’s NBA.
For being able to shoot threes and nothing else, Steve Novak inked a four-year, $15 million deal. The Toronto Raptors once signed Jason Kapono to a $24 million contract over four years.
This past April, The Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes published an in-depth profile on what made Bradley into the defensive phenom Celtics fans had been watching. Gary Payton is brought up, but he is 6’4” and was a career 16.3 points per game scorer.
Bradley finished this, his third season, allowing 331 points on 475 plays. Of players with at least 450 defensive plays under their belt this season, Bradley’s average (0.679) is far and away the best. The next closest is Chicago’s Taj Gibson (0.744).
His value as a defender is understood. There isn’t a point guard in the league who enjoys a night of being on Bradley’s dance card. However, despite that identity of intensity, he is surprisingly calm, cool and collected on the floor. He hasn’t had Rondo-like outbursts of emotion. Instead, he’ll just grin at a whining or frustrated player.
Like the night in early March when Stephen Curry came to town on a God-like shooting tear. Bradley smiled through a game of ticky-tack foul calls while holding the superstar to 6-of-22 shooting and helping his team win by eight.
Scouring the lists of defensive guards though, one has to travel back in time all the way to Mookie Blaylock. Limited offensively, the point guard who landed on six All-Defensive teams played his final game in 2002. Avery Bradley was 12 years old.
Defensive stud Tony Allen mans the shooting guard spot for the Memphis Grizzlies. He just signed a nice new contract for four years and $20 million. Remember, though, the former Celtic turns 32 before the All-Star break, while Bradley will be just 23 next summer.
Per Basketball-Reference.com, Bradley's offensive win shares last season came to minus-1.3, ranking No. 467 of 469 eligible players. Trailing him in offensive futility were only Kevin Seraphin and Michael Beasley. His defensive win share mark of 1.6 was a decidedly more reasonable No. 153 in the NBA ranks. However, that is still not an eye-popping number like Paul George's 6.3 or even Tony Allen's 4.1.
Of course, much of this argument can be partially nullified by the number of games played. Bradley saw time in only 50 games, while everyone in the top 30 played in more than 65. However, whose fault is that?
This only brings forth another problem with Bradley. Disregarding a rookie year that saw him on and off the active roster, Bradley has missed 34 regular-season games in two years. Not to mention, his absence in 10 games of the 2012 playoffs.
At just 22 years of age, Bradley has had surgery on both shoulders. Maybe a less valuable body part to other NBA players, but they are constantly being bumped through monstrous screens in order to free the opposition's suffocating guard.
On one hand, all of these detractors could make this the perfect time to extend Bradley on the cheap. If he comes back next season and gets in 60-plus games with Rondo, that old form could return. Then the Celtics are looking at a larger extension come next summer.
Boston is in a rebuilding period, though. That means looking for and signing sure things. Signing Bradley before the season would be an excellent buy-low risk, but the Celtics are in no position to start taking risks.
Even with a good fourth year under his belt, Bradley’s number shouldn’t crawl above a spot the Celtics would be willing to go long term.
These new-look Celtics may be playing a fast-paced style, but there is no need to rush.