As the NBA season rolls to an end, free agency talk will become more prevalent and for the Boston Celtics and general manager Danny Ainge, one of their premier players will be on the market.
Enter University of Texas product Avery Bradley. After spending his first few seasons with Boston seeing more playing time in the Developmental League than in the NBA, Bradley has evolved into one of the most important players in Boston’s lineup.
Bradley has taken huge steps in 2013-14 and has been dropping numbers of 14.6 points per game, 1.3 assists per game, and 3.8 rebounds per game, while manning the starting shooting guard spot. Although Bradley’s offense has shined this season, its his perimeter defense that makes him a top of the line free agent..
At the age of 23, based on his defensive abilities alone, Bradley has already been compared to players like Gary Payton and Michael Cooper by both teammates and coaches. Bradley has already started to make good on the high praise, being named to the NBA All Defensive Second Team in 2013.
Now we can talk about how good Bradley is all day, but that doesn’t change the question that will be lingering as the free agency period starts; will he be back in green come next season?
Contract-wise, Bradley is a restricted free agent (RFA), meaning the Celtics have exclusive rights to him and have the ability to match any deals that other teams offer Bradley. Basically, the Celtics can have full control over whether the fourth-year guard returns or not. With that being said, the Celtics will have to judge whether they want to spend the money and give Bradley a long term deal, or let him walk and use the money elsewhere.
Bradley’s main competition at the shooting guard spot this offseason will be current Indiana Pacer Lance Stephenson. Stephenson and Bradley have been having very similar breakout seasons actually, both averaging around 13-14 points per game, with Lance Stephenson being a larger triple-double threat, where Bradley excels defensively. Both players will be 23 years old throughout free agency and it’s safe to assume that each will be looking to cash in.
Whichever one signs first will most likely affect how much the other will be paid and both players excelling at a young age, it’s not out of the question to say both could be looking for four-year deals at around $7 million dollars per year, based on how players of their skill have been getting paid recently.
But how much Bradley is getting paid will mean nothing if the Celtics can’t afford him.
As of now, the Celtics will have some decent salary cap space, with Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans and Jerryd Bayless coming off the books and saving Boston about $20 million. So yes, the Celtics feasibly can re-sign Bradley for the estimated $7 million that I’ve come up with, but do they want to spend that newly generated cash on Avery or use it on other free agents, like current Utah Jazz forward and former Butler Bulldog Gordon Hayward, who the Celtics have been linked to ever since former Butler head coach Brad Stevens take over the helm in Boston?
Hayward, like Bradley, will also be a restricted free agent, therefore Utah can match any offer that Boston or any other team want to throw at them. Hayward will most likely command more money on the open market, being 24 years old averaging 16 points per game with around five rebounds and five assists per game.
Naturally, Utah will have a hefty amount of suitors knocking on their door for the talented forward, but with Jeff Green already manning that spot for the Celtics, barring a trade, Boston should not be one of them. And yes, I know, Hayward can play shooting guard, but at 6’8″, 220 lbs., his body is fitted much better for the small forward position and most teams willing to dish out the money for him will want him to play there.
Boston may end up toying around with other free agents, but in the end, Bradley might be the player in this free agent class best fit to return to the green come next season. Playing alongside Rajon Rondo is a great fit for Bradley, and as he grows as both a scorer and a defender, he’ll have all the opportunities to flourish in the Celtics younger, faster lineup. Danny Ainge and the Boston front office still have a few months to make up their mind on how they want to approach the Bradley situation, but with a young, rebuilding team, the moves they make now could affect their team for years to come.