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Sunday, June 29, 2014
Bradley and the backup(s) plan

By Chris Forsberg

The Boston Celtics will formally introduce first-round draft picks Marcus Smart and James Young on Monday afternoon. About 12 hours later, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his staff will start working the phones at the start of free agency in a quest to add additional pieces for the team's future.

Avery Bradley, Shaun Livingston
Avery Bradley, who averaged 14.9 points last season, wants to remain with the Celtics. "Obviously, I want to be here. And I let those guys know that," Bradley said.
One of those calls will likely be to Avery Bradley's representatives. The Celtics have extended a $3.6 million qualifying offer with the hopes of retaining Bradley moving forward, while also giving themselves the opportunity to match any offer he receives.

When Ainge met with reporters following Thursday's draft, he talked about the possibility of pairing Smart and Bradley in the same backcourt, hinting at the potential for a quality three-guard rotation when you include Rajon Rondo. The way Ainge talked with such certainty about a future pairing, you get the sense the team expects Bradley back.

And that certainly seems like the most likely scenario. There is the potential that a deep-pocketed bidder could lure Bradley with an offer that Boston doesn't want to match in order to preserve payroll flexibility moving forward. But the Celtics aggressively attempted to lock up Bradley before the extension deadline last October and it would seem likely that those talks would resume in hopes of finding a comfortable number for both sides.

Bradley is coming off a solid season in which he averaged 14.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals over 30.9 minutes per game in 60 appearances. Bradley rediscovered the consistency in his offensive game that disappeared for a while after double shoulder surgery two summers ago and was a much better rebounder. His defense slipped a bit this season, reflected in him landing only a handful of votes for the NBA's All-Defensive teams despite being a second-teamer after the 2012-13 campaign.

Ainge was asked on the final day of the 2013-14 season where Bradley ranked on his list of offseason priorities.

"I don’t have a list; they’re all priorities. Every player is a priority," Ainge said. "Avery had a good season. I’ve seen improvement in Avery this year. The biggest issue with Avery has just been health. He plays hard and he’s had some injuries, but none of them are injuries that should prevent him from being a great player."

Ankle woes cost Bradley 22 games this season and he missed 31 games the year before while coming off the double shoulder surgery that forced him out of the playoffs during his breakout 2011-12 campaign. Fair or not, some have pinned the "injury prone" label to Bradley, who also missed time at the start of his rookie campaign while recovering from surgery to repair a chipped bone in his ankle.

As Ainge noted, Bradley plays at a full-throttle pace, which could leave him more succeptible to injury. Bradley's desire to get back on the court quickly this season might have ultimately cost him games when the ankle balked upon his initial return.

Those injury concerns might scare outside bidders and keep his price tag reasonable. If the Celtics can secure the 23-year-old Bradley at a fair price, it gives Boston another young, talented player under its long-term control while navigating the rebuilding process.

For his part, Bradley has maintained a desire to be back in Boston. He's planted some roots here and is in town this week for the first of two skills academy basketball camps bearing his name.

If another team emerges and throws a hefty salary at Bradley, the sort that the Celtics would be uncomfortable matching, the 2014 draft provided some players who can help fill his shoes.

Smart is a 6-foot-3, 227-pound bowling ball. While he's projected as a point guard at the NBA level, the Celtics will utilize him off the ball, particularly when paired with Rondo. Smart has potential to be a Bradley-like lockdown defender. According to Synergy Sports data, Smart allowed a minuscule 0.655 points per possession during his sophomore season at Oklahoma State. Among 279 Division 1 players with at least 250 plays defended last season, Smart ranked fourth in the nation. Opponents scored on a mere 29 percent of plays defended by Smart last year (fifth best in that same field).

Young is only 18 and his offensive game needs some fine-tuning, but he's got the sort of size (6-foot-8) that Boston has lacked at the shooting guard position. He's regarded as an excellent penetrator, an area where Bradley needs to improve to help get himself to the free-throw line more often.

The ideal scenario for Boston is to have both Bradley and the rookies along for the future. Even with the uncertainty around Rondo's future -- he'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer -- that's a quality group of young guards (and you can throw the likes of Phil Pressey and Chris Johnson into that mix as well after their exploits last season).

There's a line of thought that Boston might want to limit its offseason spending this summer while targeting the opportunity to have increased cap space next year. In a way, that could make Bradley one of their biggest priorities this July. But it's the other 29 teams in the league that will ultimately dictate just how easy it will be to retain his services.