Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo have been a fun backcourt pairing for years in Boston.
You may recall that Bradley played so well with Rondo (cutting hard backdoor behind unsuspecting defenders, spotting up from the perimeter and making Boston’s backcourt an aggressive nightmare for opponents on defense), he essentially punched Ray Allen’s ticket out of Boston, replacing the future Hall of Famer in Boston’s starting lineup as the 2011-12 season rolled toward the playoffs. Bradley was a key cog on a team that had the future champion Miami Heat shook like a halfway crook in the playoffs.
Bradley got his contract first, a four year/$32 million deal that caused quite the Twitter uproar but is probably in line with the shooting guard market. We covered the basics already, but the question everyone wants to ask now is a pretty logical follow-up: What does Bradley’s deal mean for Rondo?
The short answer? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The long answer? Nobody knows, but Boston now has a plethora of attractive options in the backcourt. Let’s break this thing down.
In this scenario, Bradley is likely the team’s sixth man behind Smart and Rondo — a 3-point shooting energy player who can throw himself at the opposing team defensively with as much abandon as he wants, since he doesn’t have to worry about foul trouble in such a deep backcourt. Bradley’s only job offensively is shooting shots he’s comfortable with, and as his shot continues to improve after his shoulder surgeries, he could prove very effective in this role. Meanwhile, Rondo and Smart give the Celtics a pair of players who can both bring the ball up the floor and distribute. Boston doesn’t seem to think Smart’s shot is as broken as some, so this might not be as much of a spacing disaster as one would think. If it is, all three players have trade value, and at this point, the Celtics aren’t locked into any combination that doesn’t work.
Again, this is a real possibility. If the Celtics look to move Rondo, they have a plethora of trade options. They could offer him up for size and rim protection, or they could try to get more shooting. In either case, Rondo would at the very least bring back a worthwhile piece and — conceivably — a low draft pick or two. Alternatively, Boston could make draft picks the main part of Rondo’s deal, gambling that rim protection or some other position of need would be available in the draft.
In this scenario, Bradley is likely Boston’s starting shooting guard — right back where we started. The NBA has very few truly talented shooting guards at this point, and he could play a similar offensive role with Smart to the one he played with Rondo. Rondo liked to pick and probe the defense, creating openings and getting players open. Smart will bully his way to the basket, collapsing the defense in on himself. Either way, it boils down to the same thing for Bradley in a successful offensive system: Good looks from 3-point range and not a lot of ball-handling responsibilities.
Defensively, Bradley would have to save himself a little more as the defensive aggressor, but 30-35 minutes of Smart plus Bradley per game would be an uncomfortable prospect for opponents.
This is less than ideal, of course. If a team is going to lose a player of Rondo’s caliber, it hurts to lose him without bringing anything back.
But this is why Boston’s maneuvering is so smart: The roster flexibility would still remain. Smart and Bradley still appear to be a good combination. There would still be a lot of potential and young talent on the team. Rondo’s departure would do little tangible damage other than putting the rebuild into hyperdrive.
Oh, and remember James Young? The 17th pick in this year’s draft? He has the size to replace Jeff Green at small forward, but he could also be slotted next to Marcus Smart if Boston would rather bring Bradley off the bench. Boston’s entire backcourt (including this scenario’s likely backup PG Phil Pressey) would be 23 or younger and on a relatively affordable contract.
Boston doesn’t have much room available to sign any more free agents this offseason, but the Celtics were never likely to get anyone of note anyway, and trades are still possible. Options still abound. Boston will still lose a lot of games while developing young talent next season and will likely still be in the lottery in 2015.
Whether or not Rajon Rondo is still in Boston, Danny Ainge still has an entire deck of cards to play while keeping Avery Bradley with the team. That’s probably all he wanted anyway.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.