I am a HUGE Avery Bradley fan. I have as much respect for his effort as any Celtic I can remember besides maybe the great Larry Bird. AB is not fun to play against. In a league and an era that has become increasingly friendly, Bradley gets after people’s behinds every time he steps between the lines. Every night. He’s 26 years old and has developed a ton since coming into the league as a defensive-minded, but offensively limited, player. He was not a shooter coming out of college, but is now one of the better marksmen in basketball. He’s having a career year on the glass (6.9!!! rebounds per game) and scoring (17.7 points per game). At worst, he’s one of the 10 best defensive guards in the NBA. That’s the good news.
Here is the bad news for AB admirers: The Celtics are playing their best ball of the season while he has missed the past six weeks due to injury. Boston has lost six times since AB’s second to last game back on January 6. He’s played one more since. Isiah Thomas is playing MVP-caliber point guard and Marcus Smart is beginning to blossom at the other guard spot. AB’s contract status looms large now that he’s on the back end of his deal and the salary cap has jumped to historic heights. Like it or not, he’s looking at a nine-figure deal (it’s true) in his age 27 walk year in 2018. With the Celtics having to make a decision on Thomas at the same time and the team’s young players showing substantial growth in AB’s absence, things seem murky for the longest tenured Celtic. The good news is, it’s a nice problem for the Celtics. Having too many quality guards is rarely a bad thing in a league increasingly dominated by smaller players. AB’s injury has allowed young players like Jaylen Brown and James Young to thrive in increased roles.
This is an increasingly interesting situation. While it’s great that the Celtics are playing really well without him and some of the young guys are getting to show what they can bring, it’s hurt his trade value at the worst possible time. His value was peaking with career highs in points and boards, and he’s on a very affordable contract for the next season and a half. Sure, Ainge could wait until the summer to unload him, but he’ll be a half season closer to free agency at that point. Does Ainge want to move him? It will be interesting to see who is valued more between AB and Smart, because it’s hard to see a scenario where those two and Thomas are still in Boston in 2019. Timing could play a role as well given Smart is still on his rookie deal and has an additional year left on his contract compared to AB’s. This felt like a good time to possibly sell high on one of the best two-way guards in basketball.
Another factor that complicates the big picture is the fact that the Celtics are going to get a top pick in this coming draft, which is expected to be guard-heavy at the top. With young talents like Terry Rozier already buried behind three quality guards on the Celtics, Ainge might have to get creative to alleviate that issue. Regardless, he hardly lacks options. While it’s unlikely to be a busy trade deadline for the Celtics, AB’s status bears watching.