The recent play of Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger has been a brilliant left turn after the depressing road through the first two months of the season. I’d be hard-pressed to pick which of the two I favor. Sullinger’s breakout game against Phoenix moved him up to a 22.4 DRR, a seductive number for a 20-year-old rookie. His facility as a passer and a cutter, his potential to develop a reliable perimeter jumpshot, and his temperament and basketball IQ all suggest he’s going to run off a series of double-double years before he even hits his prime. He’s also got a scorer’s instincts and that will pay off when Doc Rivers starts running plays for him.
What more is there to say about Bradley? He was a game changer from his first game of the season and Danny Ainge is stretching less than you’d think when he compares Bradley’s defensive impact — in terms of how he elevates his teammates’ defensive performance — to that of Kevin Garnett. Bradley may never be a go-to option on offense but if he could make himself a reliable perimeter shooter and transition threat (and both of these things seem likely) then he’ll be a starter in the league for years to come. And that’s his floor. He could be a lot better.
Here’s the problem: the kind of piece Boston needs to legitimize its chances at a championship run this season may only be available for a package that includes one of Bradley or Sullinger. With every game, that seems a more exorbitant price to pay because, shy of acquiring a star, Boston will enter the playoffs as no better than the second most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference, and if there are any health snafus amongst Garnett, Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce, they could be far further down that list.
So, how interested are you in shipping off one of Boston’s two brightest young pieces to honor KG and Pierce, who most assuredly deserve reinforcements if they’re available?
I don’t see an easy answer to that question.
You could hope that more consistent work from Jeff Green and the returning Chris Wilcox could shore up the big spots in the rotation, but then you’d be gambling on Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox and historical returns on those two stocks have been south of subpar.
You could hope Bradley and Sullinger are the missing pieces and that the two can make incremental leaps between now and the playoffs but then you’re asking a lot of two young players, one of whom struggles to stay on the court because of foul trouble and another whose continuing shoulder health is an uncertain prospect.
You could move either for an upgrade but unless it’s a star with a capital ‘S,’ you could be mortgaging your future for nothing better than a dark horse shot. Aren’t those guys worth more than that?
So, I’m torn. All these options have things to recommend them as well as clear downsides. All these things are risks. I hope some clarity will come out of Boston’s play over the next month and, to a lesser extent, the developing trade market, which might make Ainge’s decision for him.
But what about everyone else? What do you want Ainge to do?