Avery Bradley is a restricted free agent this summer but he might not make it to July as a member of the Celtics. That’s reasonable speculation considering this report from Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report:
A source said the Celtics are “going to make a lot of moves in the next year.” While the source said Courtney Lee, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are on the market, the team’s biggest personnel question this season revolves around Avery Bradley, who they feel is their starting shooting guard for the future.
In fact, that’s why, according to a source, the Celtics offered him a four-year, $24 million deal (with a team option on the fourth year) this past offseason, but he turned it down. That’s because he wants at least $8 million per year, which another source confirmed. Bradley will be a restricted free agent next summer, so things could get “tricky,” as one source said, for the Celtics to keep him.
It’s easy to believe the C’s want Bradley as their starting SG in the future but just as plausible they would balk at paying him $8M per season and decide to offload him before they have to deal with a competing offer sheet from another team. That’s what happened with Kendrick Perkins when Danny Ainge realized Perk was pricing his production out of what Boston considered reasonable compensation.
So, let’s unpack this a little bit.
The Celtics have long valued Bradley’s defensive contributions. Before his reputation as an elite defensive player was cemented league-wide (roughly around the time he started torturing Jameer Nelson) Boston regarded Bradley as a difference maker. The Celtics are notorious for overvaluing their own players but with Bradley, the confidence proved warranted when his injection into the 2012 starting lineup was a key catalyst for the Celtics making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. And, of course, Bradley made the All-Defensive 2nd Team last year for the first time at age 22 (he turned 23 last month).
Of course, his offensive game collapsed last year. Pressed into point guard duty and without Rajon Rondo to feed him the ball for most of the season, Bradley fell far below replacement level on offense. As Michael noted back in August, when he considered the possibility of Boston extending Bradley before the season:
His PER was an atrocious 6.7 in that [New York] 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 good news is Bradley’s offense has rebounded this season. He’s more effective using picks and off the dribble, and shooting traditionally inefficient mid-range jumpers at a high rate. His three-point shooting is climbing back up towards the 40.7% career high he registered in 2011-12 (he’s at 38.1% on the season). He’s also doing it without the benefit of Rajon Rondo. When was the last time you saw him streak across the baseline for an easy layup? The bad news is with a 12.04 PER, he remains no better than mediocre on offense. Which means at least half of his game is entirely replaceable.
There are ways to spin the numbers in a positive light. Bradley’s finally healthy. He’s still young. He’s on an upward trajectory. He’ll be even more productive with Rondo back. All could be true. But would you bet $32-34M over 4 guaranteed years on it? Would Boston?
There’s a lesson here from the Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass signings. Lee’s been a marginal contributor who hasn’t managed to find a consistent role. Bass has been, at times, very good, carving out an identity as a plus-defender at two positions and providing floor spacing with his mid-range shooting.
But if Ainge can find a market for them they’re both likely to be moved by the summer because they’ve hit their ceilings. And both can be replaced by younger, cheaper players. They’re role players.
There’s nothing wrong with role players. In the right context (James Posey — 2008) they’re gold. But committing big money to them — and Bradley at $8M per would be exactly that — is a trap. Ainge didn’t do it with Posey. He didn’t do it with Perk. And in both cases the Celtics came out better as a result. He did it with Jeff Green and, well, we’re still arguing about that one.
So, that’s Danny Ainge’s challenge: to assess whether Bradley’s defensive impact and offensive upside justify a large multi-year investment. Or if the Celtics are better devoting that cap room to other players and spinning Bradley off for another asset.
What does everyone think will and should happen?