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Should The Celtics Extend Avery Bradley?

The decision to place the word “should” in this article’s title, as opposed to the word “will,” is very important. If “will” sat in for “should,” the entire post could consist of three words: Hell no, probably.

I won’t go so far as to say locking up Avery Bradley on a rookie scale contract extension before the NBA’s Nov. 1 deadline would be the absolute height of illogicality, but to do so before he’s able to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season while shouldering (no pun intended) a heavier role on both ends of the floor would be premature and borderline foolish.

The Celtics are a rebuilding team, rightfully prickly about how they’ll allocate money over the long term. Bradley is a fine young player, far from a bust and more than capable of having an overall positive affect on a game’s outcome.

But that doesn’t mean Boston won’t happily let the market dictate his price tag next summer. Again: “Will” they sign him? No (probably). However, “should” is the modal verb I’m using as clay to mold this column, which cracks the door open for discussion.

How large of a contract do you, a knowledgeable Celtics fan, think Avery Bradley deserves? How much is too much? Keep in mind: Unless you’re Avery Bradley, a member of his family, or his agent, there’s no such thing as too little.

Also keep in mind, this payment is based on what type of player Bradley will grow to become. Not who he was last year, or the year before. Boston (hopefully) wouldn’t be committing themselves to an incredibly disappointing enigma who played awful in all but the final four minutes of a sad six game series against New York last spring.

His PER was an atrocious 6.7 in that series, and an even more depressing 8.8 in 50 starts during the 2012-13 regular season, when he shot 40.2% from the floor, dribbling the ball, attempting layups in traffic, and entering passes into the post like his wrists were shot with a dangerous amount of Novocain.

No matter how dominant he is on defense, guards can’t do what he did on offense last year and be on the floor for 35 minutes for a successful team. 

The closest comparison Bradley has right now is former Celtics guard Tony Allen. Bradley’s nearly a decade younger, and has the potential to stretch his team’s offense by catching, shooting, and knocking down open threes from the corner. But other than that their playing styles are symmetrically chaotic.

Earlier this summer the 31-year-old Allen re-signed with Memphis for $20 million over four years. Allen almost certainly won’t get any better on either end of the floor in the future. But for all he offers on the defensive end—and immeasurably  as a tough, hard-working, positive locker room influence—the deal is a fair one within the context of Memphis’ current stature.

Do you, intelligent Celtics fan, think Bradley is worth that price? (Your answer should be an emphatic yes.) What about somewhere around $30-36 million. Can you sport a competitive team with Avery Bradley making $7-9 million per year over the next four seasons? Of course you can, especially after factoring in his value as a movable trade chip.

It’s modestly safe to say Bradley will never be an All-Star, and it’s tough to figure out if he’ll ever be the third or fourth best player on a championship contender. (I hate writing stuff like that because if the two best players on his team were 1990 Michael Jordan and 1995 Hakeem Olajuwon, there’s a good chance that team wins the title.)

Historically, an absolute best case scenario for Bradley’s career might be Maurice Cheeks, who was first-team All-Defense four years in a row as a point guard for a string of some criminally underrated Philadelphia 76ers teams (including the 1983 world champs, a team that’s one of the best in basketball history). Where the comparison gets ugly is on offense, where Cheeks was an incredible passer with amazing vision, made four All-Star teams, and was efficient scoring the ball.

Bradley’s a little bigger, stronger, and exponentially more athletic, which makes it fun for us to speculate on where his ceiling lies. But after watching him last year it’s tough to envision the crucial, consistent play Cheeks gave those contending teams in Philadelphia. (Also: Bradley will never be half the point guard Cheeks was, in part because Bradley will never play point guard full-time.)

I don’t mean to turn an article about how the Boston Celtics should spend their money into “Avery Bradley’s Unmitigated Destiny,” but to ignore the thin yarn connecting these two subjects would be to write something incomplete.

I possess no antipathy towards Bradley. Instead I feel our expectations for his potential are unfairly great. Over the past two seasons, Bradley was viewed as a literal game-changer by Celtics fans. Had he been healthy and able to cover Dwyane Wade in 2012, the Celtics would have reached the NBA Finals, says the entire city of Boston.

When the team got off to a sluggish start in 2013—sans Bradley, who was slowly recovering from offseason surgery on both shoulders—everyone figured the Celtics would turn things around when he returned.

His individual strengths aligned perfectly with the team’s identity, making him easy to root for. But it’s imperative people don’t forget that Bradley positively influenced a group that didn’t need a new engine (or even an oil change), merely cutting-edge headlights.

Bradley’s skill-set is rare and increasingly important now that defense is so obviously the key to winning championships in modern day NBA basketball (especially from the perimeter), but it’s also limited. And while the most optimistic fan loves imagining his offensive game one day catching up to where he’s at guarding the ball (somewhere between first and fifth overall in the universe), that line of thinking just isn’t very realistic.

That said, slim chance Boston loses him outright as a restricted free agent. He’s too valuable as an intriguing piece in any pending assets-for-superstar deal for that to happen, complicating things even further.

The counterargument supporting why Boston should re-up Bradley before the deadline is the same one every team faces when deciding whether to extend a player who’s on his rookie contract. What if Bradley becomes a dependable scorer in 2014? What if his offensive game flourishes, his market price as a restricted free agent increases, and the Celtics lose him for nothing?

It’s possible. But so is the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl before 2056, or Breaking Bad concluding with Walt and Hank hashing their issues out with a long hug and some hot cocoa.

Nobody knows the future, but in this case there’s enough evidence in the present to make the picture less blurry. Bradley’s defense is special, but his future in this league is probably that of a glorified role player. The Celtics won’t rush here, and that’s a good thing.

  • Jordu

    I'm shocked you think 7-9 million for four years for Bradley is somewhat reasonable and defensible. He has to improve a ton just to make that a fair deal. Judging by the contracts of Tony Allen, Sefolosha and Danny Green to cite a few examples, the going rate for defensive role players is around 4 million. These players are also all better than Bradley. Bradley becomes immoveable if he doesn't take a huge offensive leap after signing for so much. I'm pretty confident Bradley isn't going to come close to signing for that much.

    I'll also go further and say his chances of becoming a future all-star are more pessimistic than "immodest."

    • Michael Pina

      How much he's worth is certainly arguable. Saying Bradley is a worse player than Thabo Sefolosha isn't.

      • Jordu

        Sefolosha's a really good defender who hit the three well all of last season. That's more than I can say for Bradley who has shot well for only two months in his career. The other times he's been an atrocious offensive player. I believe in him but there's not a lot to go on.

  • dslack

    It's hard to predict with him.

    He played very well in 2011-2012 and looked plausibly headed for a few All-Star appearances. Then, he had off-season shoulder surgery and struggled this past year. Were the struggles a regression to the mean, and his 2011-2012 season was just an anomalous lucky stretch? Or were the struggles a result of permanently reduced range of motion or coordination as a result of the surgery? Or were the struggles a result of temporarily reduced shoulder function, and after a healthy offseason this summer he'll be back to top performance? His deserved future earnings depend crucially on the answer to this question, but it's not clear what the answer is. We have to see how he plays this year.

    • KBA

      I don't this AB ever looked like he would be an all start, even in 2011-12. I think he has a Tony Allen-ish ceiling, with hopefully a slightly better offensive game. Playing with Rondo really helps him, and he can guard the opposing team's pg or sg, whomever is better which helps out Rondo.

      I think $16-20M over 4 years seems like a fair deal given his ceiling. Worst case, make it $22M, which I think is around what Courtney Lee signed for… Anything over $6M/year would be too much for sure and might make it a tough contract to move if needed.

      I say will till the end of this season, and let the market dictate the price. Its a risk, but so is his health. And playing for a contract might allow us to see his true potential.

      • dslack

        Saying he was a plausible future All-Star isn't nutty. He shot 40% from 3PT, 50% from the field, and 80% from the line. Combine that with him being arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA and that he was only 21 at the time and the idea that he might be a future All-Star certainly wasn't insane.

  • hydrofluoric

    Why not $20M over 3 years? Shorter term and more money per year makes an expiring contract sooner, which ups its trade value.

  • hax

    Trade him at the all star break and put that trade thingamajig we got from the nets to work. He misses half of his lay-ups when he does those speedcuts. A pg playing SG and can't shoot. It's hard to watch him on offense.

    • hydrofluoric

      Rondo will be delivering passes to him now. He won't whiff as much.

      • Jordu

        I don't understand why Rondo delivering passes makes a difference. Defenses left him alone and he got very good looks without Rondo. He just missed a great majority of his looks. I don't think Rondo had much to do with his shooting struggles. If a shot is open, it shouldn't matter whether it came from Rondo or from Pierce/Terry/whoever.

  • Joe

    Guys, he's like 20. He was only drafted in 2010! And he's already an All-NBA defender. He even got more votes than the PF/C on the Defensive First Team! This dude has a nasty defensive potential. If you want a contract to shorten, cut Kris and Gerald's contract in half. They're both making a combined 20m that the Celtics just don't have.

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