Starting the rebuilding process by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets for multiple future first-round draft picks wasn't easy, but it made a lot of sense. The Celtics needed to shed salary, add assets and get younger more than anything else.
The trade accomplished that, but it also created a lot of questions, particularly for those members of the roster stuck between a youth movement and a veteran purge.
Bradley is one of those players, despite his age. At 23 years old, you would think that the young shooting guard could very easily be a part of Boston's future, but it might not be so simple. Here's Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling with more:
... The team's biggest personnel question this season revolves around Avery Bradley, who they feel is their starting shooting guard for the future.
In fact, that's why, according to a source, the Celtics offered him a four-year, $24 million deal (with a team option on the fourth year) this past offseason, but he turned it down. That's because he wants at least $8 million per year, which another source confirmed. Bradley will be a restricted free agent next summer, so things could get 'tricky,' as one source said, for the Celtics to keep him.
While Bradley may want $8 million a year, ultimately, the market will set his price.
Any team making an offer in restricted free agency isn't going to do so without the intention of stealing him away, so it would seem rather unlikely that he'll sign an offer sheet elsewhere for less than $6 million per year. No team wants to tie up cap space for a week with a restricted free agent unless it really thinks the player's original team won't match.
What that could essentially create is a stalemate between Bradley and the Celtics, which would actually be preferable from Boston's point of view. If Bradley can't sign an offer sheet elsewhere this offseason, Boston is under no obligation to give him a long-term deal if he doesn't want to lower his asking price.
In that scenario, Bradley would either have to lower his demands long-term or accept the one-year qualifying offer worth $3.5 million. If the qualifying offer were accepted, Bradley would then become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, where he'd likely find a more hospitable market for his services.
That may be the most likely outcome at this point, but let's assume that Bradley does indeed land a substantial offer from another team looking for a defensive difference-maker in the backcourt. Should the Celtics match, or should they let Bradley walk and maintain some future cap flexibility?
A lot may depend on what Boston wants to do with Rajon Rondo, as Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com explains here:
Rumors circulated prior to the season that Bradley and the Celtics were $2 million apart annually in contract extension discussions, which seems too close to not eventually get something done for a 23-year-old All-Defensive guard averaging 14.1 points.
But Rondo isn’t an easy case, either. Come draft night in June, Ainge will be faced with the difficult choice of trading his lottery pick for a veteran piece to pair with Rondo or trading Rondo for a younger piece to pair with his lottery pick. How Rondo meshes with Bradley over the final month of the season may influence that decision.
If the Celtics want to be competitive with Rondo in the last year of his deal, letting Bradley walk would certainly be counter-intuitive to that. The backcourt pairing has had success together in the past, despite the lack of perimeter shooting they offer as a tandem.
Bradley has certainly made some strides in that department, however, as he's shooting 37 percent from behind the arc this season. This is a pairing that can work so long as Bradley continues to develop, particularly since Celtics head coach Brad Stevens values tough on-ball defense pretty highly.
For what it's worth, Bradley seems to think he and Rondo can be the backcourt of the future as well, as he told Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com:
“We just work very well off each other,” said Bradley. “I love playing with him.”
“I would love it,” Bradley said of remaining the four-time All-Star’s backcourt mate. “I would love to play for Boston, and I would love to play with Rondo, so I wouldn’t mind it at all. I’m pretty sure any guard in the NBA would love to play with Rondo.”
While the last month of the season will be an important time to see if the two can play well off each other, Ainge will have to look a little further down the line for the answers regarding Bradley's worth. Truly rebuilding teams typically shy away from signing non-stars to substantial long-term deals, primarily because it hurts flexibility.
For example, if a star shooting guard were to come available, Boston might be a little more hesitant or flat out unable to strike because of Bradley's presence, particularly if he's making an amount more in line with a starter ($8 million a year) than a third guard.
Ainge isn't the type to let an asset go for nothing, either, so perhaps a sign-and-trade deal to a contender who doesn't have the ability to sign Bradley outright would be the best option. Bradley is probably worth a late first-round pick, which might be enticing enough for Ainge to take.
What should the Celtics do with Avery Bradley?
There are options available here, basically, but it will be interesting to see if another team forces Boston's hand.
Ainge has to be cautious either way. Mid-range deals around $8 million a year can be some of the most damaging of all, particularly to teams that aren't quite ready to contend yet.
And even though Bradley has made improvements, particularly this year, his career statistical profile (10.5 PER, 49.5 true shooting percentage, 1.4/1.2 assist to turnover ratio) falls more in line with a player making around the mid-level exception ($5.6 million a year), like former Celtics guard Tony Allen. Obviously Bradley has lots of room to grow, but there's a lot of risk in signing him long-term if he doesn't continue to develop quickly.
With that in mind, don't expect Bradley to pull down an offer sheet in the range of $8 million like he may be hoping for. More and more, teams are looking to find shooting wherever they can, and there will be a host of more accomplished players in that area available on the market. Bradley is a luxury, and he's not one that not many teams can afford, particularly since he's a restricted free agent.
Like he usually does, Ainge should be able to get his guy for the price he wants. Bradley probably won't be able to secure the leverage he needs to negotiate for more, but if he's willing, he can still most likely stay in Boston.