Avery Bradley's return to the floor will certainly re-energize the Boston Celtics. It will allow his teammates to return to their true roles. It will improve the defense and change the dynamics of the offense, especially in transition.
But Bradley's return will not be near enough to get the Celtics where they need to be this season.
The problem for the Celtics is less about their talent than the talent around them. Boston is 13-13 and staring up at seven teams in the Eastern Conference alone. That doesn't factor in at least four teams in the Western Conference—Oklahoma City, L.A. Clippers, Memphis and San Antonio—who would run through the Celtics easily in a seven-game series based on early season play.
The Celtics aren't going to win it all this year—or any time in the immediate future, thank you LeBron—but Bradley's return does have some important implications for Boston and the future of the franchise. Lets take a look.
Finding an Identity
The Celtics are a maximum of two years away from a certain rebuilding period, as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce become free agents after the 2013-14 campaign.
Pierce should retire as a Celtic, so he may get a short extension at that point if he chooses not to retire. If Garnett doesn't hang 'em up at that point it would be wise for the Celtics to pursue younger options anyway.
Avery Bradley is part of the Celtics' future. For that reason, it is extremely important that he get floor time with the veteran leadership before they depart.
Upon his return, players like Jason Terry will no longer be forced out of their traditional roles. Terry can come off the bench every night, where he is significantly more valuable to the Celtics offense.
Bradley will be all over the floor, collecting loose balls and scoring easy buckets in transition. His addition will help the Celtics get back to their true game plan.
Speaking of a game plan and a team identity, the Boston Celtics are never winning anything unless they are the better defensive team on the floor.
This season, they've been very inconsistent, largely because of lineup inconsistency and lack of focus on a nightly basis. Take their 99-94 overtime loss to Milwaukee as a prime example of the importance of their defense.
Boston's entire strategy is predicated on getting stops on the defensive end and then letting Rajon Rondo do his thing in the open court. Bradley will quickly become Rondo's speedy sidekick and will be a major upgrade defensively from Terry and Courtney Lee.
Bradley is a stopper, the kind of feisty perimeter defender that keeps opponents' star scorers out of the paint and taking tough shots. His intensity on the ball will allow his teammates to rotate more quickly and also stay with their man rather than immediately help off during penetration.
In short, Bradley will immediately be the best backcourt defender the Celtics have when he rounds into midseason form.
This Celtics team looks and feels old. The stars are still pouring their heart into every minute of time, but veteran legs are just not keeping up with the explosive athleticism that has swept the NBA.
Bradley is one of those explosive athletes. Watching him fight for loose balls and out-hustle opposing guards should inject the team with some more confidence and energy.
The Celtics that won in 2008 had a true defensive swagger unmatched by any team in the NBA at that time. Between James Posey and Tony Allen, the C's perimeter defense was a major factor in allowing Garnett and Kendrick Perkins to shine in the paint.
Unfortunately, then defensive coach Tom Thibodeau is now the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Fortunately, Doc Rivers and his staff haven't forgotten the importance of being the best and hardest working at the defensive end.
In order to get back to that kind of game-altering, lockdown defensive mindset on a nightly basis, Boston is going to need Bradley to play as heroically as he did when forcing former Celtic Ray Allen out of his starting role.