Despite a very encouraging Christmas Day performance against the Brooklyn Nets that featured the tenacious version of C's defense, this team needs Bradley.
Bradley is either going to be the defensive catalyst that helps return the spirit and mentality to a lineup that looks older by the second, or he will become a marketable trade piece to land a playmaking center before the deadline.
Bradley's return to the floor has been highly anticipated for a few reasons. He ranks among the top three pure athletes that Boston has and will immediately inject the lineup with youth, speed and a renewed fire.
He single-handedly played Ray Allen out of a starting job last season, forcing the best three-point shooter of all time to take his talents to South Beach. Once Allen joined the dark side, the pressure on Bradley to become a star for his team increased.
He played with great heart and developed tremendously in his limited time as a starter, quickly becoming a go-to weapon for Rajon Rondo in transition. Still, the Celtics can only rely on a small sample size of Bradley's work to project just how important he'll be this season.
Boston fans and coaches cannot question his toughness or determination, as the young shooting guard played through his injury during the 2012 playoffs until his shoulder issues finally forced him out.
Such spirit is exactly what the stumbling Celtics need right now. AB will provide a reality check for this team, reminding each and every player on the roster of the importance of individual and team defense, hustle and preparation.
Bradley has yet to register any minutes in the 2012-13 season, and the Celtics have clearly missed him. New additions Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have been adequate substitutes, but even Rondo suggests the C's will show their real teeth once they have their true starting five on the floor.
The Celtics have lost more games early on than they'd like, but it has exposed some important issues that Boston will need to address if it plans to make a title run come 2013. In that way, his absence can be seen as a positive.
Since the departure of Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics have had matchup problems with opposing big men. Kevin Garnett has played like a warrior at the center position, but he is undoubtedly more effective in his traditional power forward role.
Bradley's return won't directly change how Doc Rivers utilizes Garnett, but it may take some defensive responsibility off of KG's shoulders. Bradley is a terrific on-ball defender who will relieve some of the strain of constant rotations by staying in front of his man.
If he can't return to the Celtics lineup in stride and the C's continue to play .500 ball, threatening to miss the playoffs, his name could quickly be thrown around in trade conversation.
If you're like me, you'd like to see AB and the Celtics in action before jumping to any decisions about his and the team's future. However, Boston's championship window with the current talent is rapidly closing—if it hasn't already—and he may be the most interesting asset GM Danny Ainge has to offer to other franchises.
The Celtics front office seems to think that he will be a key cog this season and for many to come. Their confidence in their young star is admirable and representative of a measure of trust within the organization. If he can't deliver, Boston could consider moving him while his value is still high from last year's run.
Whether he returns in style or not, Avery Bradley will be the most crucial part of the Celtics' success this season.
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