Avery Bradley gave Celtics fans a glance at the future when he took over as shooting guard last spring.
Ray Allen is gone, it doesn't matter whether you love him, hate him, feel betrayed, or feel thankful. When the 2012-2013 season starts, the Celtics won't have Ray Allen on the roster.
Allen has been the opening night, starting shooting guard ever since he arrived in Boston, prior to the start of the 2007-2008 season.
Last season he had injuries, and by March Allen was not starting every night, Avery Bradley was.
Bradley offered far superior defense, but was a definite "minus" as far as offense went. Nonetheless, Doc Rivers has always placed a premium on defense, and Bradley is one of the best young defensive guards in the NBA.
He's also hurt.
The injury occurred in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. Initially it didn't seem serious, but once its true nature was revealed Bradley had to undergo surgery, which caused him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.
The first surgery impacted last season, but a second surgery which was performed in early July, will extend Bradley's recovery period into next season.
When the 2012-2013 NBA Season tips-off, the Boston Celtics will not have the services of the two guards who started at shooting guard last season.
So who starts? There really are two parts to this question. Who starts when the season begins, and does Bradley automatically reclaim the starting position once he's healthy?
The opening night starting position really comes down to two men, neither of whom have ever played for the Celtics before. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee.
Jason Terry is the more experienced, more accomplished player. He's also one of the best sixth men in all of the NBA.
Terry has finished in the top three of the Sixth Man of The Year Award voting in each of the past five seasons, and he won the award in 2009.
It is one thing to acquire Terry with the intent of taking advantage of his greatest strengths. It would be a little different to acquire Terry, who will be 35-years-old when next season starts, and then ask him to take on a roll he hasn't played since the 2006-2007 season.
That's the last time Terry was a regular starter. He was only 29 that season, and the player that Boston is getting now is not as durable, not as quick, and not as qualified to take-on the minutes and physical wear-and-tear that starting brings with it.
That's why Courtney Lee, a player who has started 135 of the 278 NBA games he has played in, is probably the wiser choice.
Lee is not as good a basketball player as Terry, or at least he's not nearly as accomplished.
Lee is a 6'5" former first round pick. He's athletic, young (26-years-old), and a solid on-the-ball perimeter defender. Lee is not going to produce a ton of gaudy offensive starts, but he's also not a guy who jacks up a ton of shots. He's a "plus" on defense, and won't be too much of a negative on offense.
In other words, Lee's strengths just happen to matchup with the priorities of his new head coach, Doc Rivers. Rivers has been stressing defense since he arrived on the scene in Boston, and he's backed it up also. The Celtics are routinely among the NBA's best defensive basketball teams.
Just because Lee starts, doesn't mean that Terry won't get considerable time on the floor. The Celtics recently brought veteran point guard Keyon Dooling back to serve as back-up behind starting point guard Rajon Rondo.
That insures that the bulk of Terry's time will be spent spelling who ever the starting shooting guard is.
Lee starting and Terry backing him up seems like a simple and logical plan, but what happens when Avery Bradley is healthy?
That's going to happen at some point, and it could create a bit of a logjam, or will it?
Bradley's return only will create a minutes issue if the Celtics are playing well, and getting solid production out of Lee.
The "playing well" part seems likely, but the production out of Lee? That's not assured, and even if Lee is giving Boston fantastic production, the odds of every player in Boston's backcourt maintaining 100 percent health, through an 82 game regular season, are somewhere between slim to none.
So Bradley returns, and in all likelihood assuming he's practicing well, and looks ready, he will get that starting role back.
Bradley is the future, Lee is only 26, but Bradley is only 21. Bradley has a higher ceiling than Lee, and is already a superior defender.
Right now his offense is no better than Lee's, but it has more potential.
Remember, when Avery Bradley was a senior in High School (only four years ago) he was one of the top recruits in the entire nation.
Bradley may have an extremely bright future. Lee is signed to a four year deal, but it only pays $21.5 million, and with Terry who will be in his late 30's by the time his contract nears completion. The Celtics probably envision Lee as a future sixth man, as opposed to a future starter.
Of course, it is only late July. We're still over three months away from the first game, there could be other transactions, injuries, or an unforeseen preseason standout.
For now it seems like a safe bet that when the season tips-off, the Celtics will start Lee at shooting guard. That will allow Terry to play to his greatest strength, coming off the bench as the sixth man, and three-point specialist.
Look for Avery Bradley to reclaim his starting role when he's healthy, and look for the Celtics to be a deeper and tougher team by the time the playoffs roll around next spring.