Avery Bradley ready to emerge
After offseason full of change, Celtics need guard to take on larger role
During Brad Stevens' introductory press conference with the Boston Celtics earlier this month, the new coach was answering a question when president of basketball operations Danny Ainge squinted his eyes and searched the crowd in front of him from the dais. Ainge managed to catch the attention of a PR staffer to aid his hunt, but he too wore a puzzled expression while looking around the team's practice facility.
The pair were looking for Avery Bradley, who had popped into Ainge's office before the festivities to introduce himself to Stevens, but evidently disappeared soon after.
"He must have wanted to lay low," Ainge said later with a shrug.
That appears to be Bradley's offseason in a nutshell. The soon-to-be fourth-year guard is one of the few returning players who has managed to keep a low profile during a summer that's been anything but understated in Boston. While many of his teammates turned up in Orlando to watch some of the summer league, Bradley managed to avoid the cameras and microphones.
Bradley has been spotted throughout the offseason, working out in his native Tacoma in June, enjoying some downtime in Cabo soon after, and back working out at the team's facility throughout much of July. Teammates expected him to drop by Orlando for some informal workouts as well.
This an interesting offseason for Bradley. For starters, this is the first time in his pro career that he's been able to simply work on his game during the summer. Soon after being drafted, he required surgery to remove a chipped bone from a pre-draft workout (which contributed to him sliding to Boston); the start of his sophomore season was detoured by the lockout; and last summer he was rehabbing from a pair of shoulder surgeries after his 2011-12 season was cut short by those injuries.
But this is also a big summer for Bradley because it amounts to a contract year. The 22-year-old guard is scheduled to earn $2.5 million next season in the fourth year of his rookie pact. A $3.6 million qualifying offer looms next offseason, but he will be a restricted free agent if that kicks in, and outside interest could force the Celtics to negotiate a longer-term deal or risk losing him to a deep-pocketed bidder.
Despite missing the first 30 games of the 2012-13 season while rehabbing from the shoulder surgeries, Bradley asserted his position as one of the game's top young defensive guards last year, landing a spot on the league's All-Defensive second team.
According to individual defensive statistics logged by Synergy Sports, Bradley limited opponents to 0.697 points per play, the lowest mark in the league among those with at least 475 total defensive possessions. Opponents shot just 30.8 percent against Bradley and scored just 31.8 percent of the time, also a league low based on at least 475 possessions.
But Bradley struggled just as mightily offensively last season. Of all players with at least his 574 total offensive possessions, Bradley ranked 183rd out of 187 in points per possession, according to Synergy. While he would never admit it, his confidence eroded as he was forced to play de facto ball handler when starting backcourt partner Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in January, less than a month after Bradley had returned from his own rehab.
The last we saw of Bradley on the court, he was enduring a rough postseason, exploited by New York Knicks guard Raymond Felton, who might have been the X factor of a first-round series when many thought Bradley would fill that role for Boston. One New York writer dubbed him "Average" Bradley.
Bradley did finish with a flourish, nearly spearheading a Game 6 comeback with his efforts at both ends of the floor, but even he admitted after the loss that this was an important offseason to get to a more consistent level.
"I'm going to work on everything," Bradley said. "This is going to be an important summer for me, one of my first summers since I've been in the NBA to be able to work out, because of injuries."
The biggest goal for Bradley has to be reestablishing his confidence. He's got all the tools to be an impact player -- his defense can change the game on its own -- but it was obvious that his mental struggles morphed into physical woes late in the 2012-13 campaign.
While Bradley never used his shoulder injuries as an excuse, those who knew him best said he was never 100 percent. An offseason to further strengthen his shoulders could help bring back consistency to his perimeter shooting, while also allowing him to be an even more aggressive defender (particularly against bigger guards such as Felton). When you play like Bradley, you can't go anything less than full throttle.
With the departure of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, two players about whom Bradley often gushed in regard to helping him develop as a player and being leaders in the locker room, Bradley will be called upon to shoulder an increased load this season. What's more, he's now one of the team's longest tenured players, second only to Rondo in that department. As Boston assembles the foundation upon which the next iteration of the club will be built, it must determine if the Rondo-Bradley combination is its backcourt of the future.
Through a tumultuous offseason, Bradley is laying low and staying out of the spotlight. But don't mistake that for relaxing.
After Boston's season ended, he noted, "Nobody likes to work out with me because I work so hard in the offseason. Honestly."
It's that sort of effort and determination that makes Boston's decision-makers believe that Bradley can bounce back next season.
Once the season starts, they don't want him to ever lay low.