- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Avery Bradley's agent said Monday that he is exploring overseas options for his client but stressed that any deal would be contingent on an out clause that would allow Bradley to return stateside should the NBA lockout end, as his focus is on being with the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics only have six players under contract for next season and, beyond Bradley, the other five are All-Stars who have combined to earn a whopping $749.5 million in NBA contracts alone during their careers. The 20-year-old Bradley earned $1.4 million during his rookie campaign last season.
Trekking overseas would have little to do with money for Bradley, however. As agent Mitchell Butler of Lagardère Unlimited stressed, his client simply needs playing time in a structured environment in order to aid his development.
Bradley underwent surgery to remove a chipped bone in his left ankle immediately after inking his rookie deal with Boston last July. He missed summer league, nearly all of training camp (engaging only in non-contact skeleton drills), and the entire preseason. Bradley didn't make his NBA debut until Nov. 22 in Atlanta and logged only 162 minutes in 30 total appearances.
That's not a lot of basketball for a player whose last extended action came as a freshman at the University of Texas.
"He's so young and Avery didn't get the same opportunities as the other rookies in his class," Butler said. "Now he's already missed out on another summer league."
Fortunately, said Butler, his client is a strong self-motivator and has pushed himself this offseason despite lacking the typical structure the NBA offseason offers when owners and players aren't bickering over the next collective bargaining agreement.
Butler said he's put out feelers to see what's available for a player like Bradley overseas, but he pointed to NBA players like Sasha Vujacic and Sonny Weems, who recently inked international deals that don't include lockout escape clauses. Bradley, whose third-year option was picked up by Boston before the July 1 deadline, is under contract with the Celtics for two more seasons and his priority is to be back with the team the moment the lockout ends.
After all, with only those six players under contract, Bradley is almost the entire Boston bench at the moment. Injuries pushed him down on the guard depth chart last season, Boston even bringing in veteran Carlos Arroyo late in the year, but the Celtics expect a much larger role for Bradley during the 2011-12 campaign, potentially being one of the primary backups to Rajon Rondo.
"I think they'd like to see him extend his range," Butler said when asked what the Celtics asked Bradley to work on this offseason. Bradley missed all five 3-pointers he attempted last season but boasts a solid mid-range game the Celtics would like to see flourish.
Bradley needs to strengthen that jumper to be the sort of combo guard Boston envisions. He's got NBA-caliber defense and he's got the potential to attack the basket with his speed, but expanding his range will prevent teams from taking away one aspect of his game.
Butler said he envisions Bradley evolving as a point guard in the mold of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, who thrive off their aggressiveness and attacking the basket. That's some lofty company, but Butler thinks a healthy Bradley will thrive when given the opportunity.
But the lockout is complicating matters for Bradley and that's why he might have to look overseas. Butler noted how the practice and game structure of playing internationally would aid any young player, especially one that has logged limited game action.
"Avery just needs to get on the court and play," said Butler. "That structure could be good for him."
The majority of Bradley's extended playing time last season came in Maine, where he appeared in nine games while averaging 17.1 points, 5.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. It was a short stint as injuries forced Boston to recall him, yet his court time remained limited.
Bradley appeared in 30 games for Boston, settling for bite-sized chunks of minutes at the end of quarters and ultimately logged 21 percent (34 minutes) of his season playing time during Boston's final two games of the regular season, as the Celtics rested starters in advance of the playoffs.
Those two appearances included an encouraging glimpse against the New York Knicks in the regular-season finale, where Bradley scored 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting, while adding three rebounds, two steals, and two assists over 27 minutes in a 112-102 triumph.
"I felt good," Bradley said after the game. "I mean, we've been practicing a lot and [I've been] going up against [Rajon] Rondo every single day. We go hard in practice, and so, those guys just got me so much better from the beginning of the year to now. Even though I don't play much, I still get better in the little bit of time we've got in practice and on my own. It was big for me tonight to go in there and show coach that I go hard when my name is called on to help our team out any way I can."
But even coach Doc Rivers admitted injuries detoured Bradley's rookie slate.
"Listen, Avery didn't have a normal NBA season," Rivers said at last month's draft. "He missed the entire training camp. He missed the entire preseason. He had no chance last year. It was just unfair for him -- physically, mentally, everything. This year, hopefully he gets a fresh start and a fair start with his health."
Bradley trekked to Orlando before the lockout to spend time with Rivers, who knows a thing or two about being an NBA point guard.
"Right now, Avery's a scorer, he's not really a point guard," Rivers said. "He's a direct line-drive guard. We ran a couple sets for hand-offs that, with his speed, getting to the basket, he finishes at the basket. He was an NBA defender before he got here, and he still is. We haven't messed him up. So he's a better defender now. And he's young, we can't forget that. He should be a sophomore in college, right?"
Bradley's role next season could be dictated by whether the Celtics are able to re-sign veteran combo guard Delonte West. But Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said before the lockout that he believes Bradley is capable of carving out a role on next year's team.
So long as there's a team next year for the Celtics and the rest of the NBA. Otherwise, Bradley will have no choice but to take his game overseas looking to aid that development.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.