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What is Avery Bradley’s future with the Celtics?

Posted by Adam Kaufman  March 19, 2014 07:59 AM

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Celtics guard Avery Bradley is a curious case as his fourth season in Boston winds down.

On one hand, he’s only 23, enjoying a career-year on the floor, and his energy – particularly on the defensive end – is a constant breath of fresh air. The Texas product was named to the league’s All-Defensive Second Team in 2013.

On the other, he’s proven quite fragile in his young NBA career. Bradley’s already had surgery on both shoulders and the former 19th overall pick in 2010 has missed significant time this season to repeated right ankle injuries that have included sprains and a bone bruise.

When he enters restricted free agency this summer, Danny Ainge and the Celtics will have a decision to make and that’s likely to be heavily influenced by the interest Bradley receives on the market.

It’s a foregone conclusion that Ainge will extend his player a $3.6 million qualifying offer, but what then? Bringing Bradley back for around $4 million annually over multiple seasons would be a coup, especially since the speculation prior to this year’s setback was that he could earn in the neighborhood of $30 million across four seasons. It’s why he didn’t want to sign a contract extension prior to the October 31 deadline and why he reportedly turned down a four-year, $24 million deal from the C’s over the summer.

In retrospect, could that have been a mistake?

The guard has played in 49 games this year, starting all but two. Those appearances off the bench have come in his last three games since returning from his latest ankle ailment, which cost him 19 outings. It’s impossible to ignore Bradley’s increased production on the floor. He’s averaging 14.1 points a game – well ahead of his 8.7 career average – along with 3.8 rebounds. Bradley is also shooting more from everywhere, knocking down 43.3 percent of his shots from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. Both totals are in line with his career marks of 43.6 and 34.2 percent, respectively.

However, as impressive as the increased scoring has been, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Over the last three years, the first two were spent primarily as a bench player behind Ray Allen and all three were alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. In the case of this rebuilding year, Bradley’s midrange jumper has improved, as has his aggressiveness near the basket, but there’s also an element of, “Well, the offense had to come from somewhere.” To his credit, though, he’s shown the ability to take over a game, having eclipsed the 20-point plateau in a fifth of his games.

The Celtics are down to their final 14 contests of a miserable but expected 22-46 season. Bradley probably won’t play in every game and his minutes are guaranteed to fluctuate in an effort to preserve his health. That’s as much in the team’s best interests going forward as it is the guard’s, particularly when even the most competitive of losses equal ping pong balls.

Ultimately, the decision over whether to retain Bradley will come down to dollars and sense. If the asking price is north of $6 million per year, it doesn’t make sense. He has age, promise, and defensive talent on his side, but lacks a consistent offensive game and is hampered in the almighty games played category. The two-guard certainly won’t get the annual $8 million salary he is said to be seeking in free agency, not from Boston or anywhere else.

Many fans or critics will jump on Rajon Rondo for the captain’s lack of leadership or enigmatic personality, but there’s no dismissing that he’s an elite talent with the potential to build around. Bradley doesn’t fit the latter criteria.

That’s clearly not to suggest Jerryd Bayless is the answer. The free agent to be is better served as a bench player, but there are other shooting guards set to hit the market this offseason who are worth a look.

Lance Stephenson, the best second-round pick in recent memory, will be an unrestricted free agent – and also my dream choice if it’s a financial reality, but he’s going to earn a sizeable payday. His Pacers teammate, Evan Turner, formerly a star for the Sixers, will be restricted. The Lakers' Nick Young, a very talented scorer averaging 16.8 points almost exclusively off the bench, will also be an RFA. Someone like Dion Waiters may also be available by trade from the Cavaliers. His personality raises more questions than his abilities.

It’s natural, of course, for people to come back to the, “Rondo and Bradley complement each other so well” argument, but the two have only been active for a total of 56 games as teammates. Fifty-six. In four years. The same size is small, far too small to overspend for Bradley’s services.

Ainge has no shortage of tough choices to make as he tries to rebuild the Celtics into a perennial contender for the second time in the last decade, and Avery Bradley’s future will surely be near the top of that list.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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