Guards are getting expensive.
Can confirm that the #Celtics & RFA Avery Bradley have agreed to a deal. Terms: 4-year-deal worth $32 million.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) July 2, 2014
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald brought word of the deal first:
Celtics have agreed to terms with restricted free agent Avery Bradley, according to source.— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) July 2, 2014
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports drops another tidbit of information, too:
Celtics Avery Bradley's new four-year, $32 million contract is fully guaranteed with no options, agent Mitchell Butler said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 2, 2014
Bradley's return is no surprise. Celtics president Danny Ainge tipped his hand ahead of free agency, telling ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg that, "Avery is a big part of our future."
It's the contractual terms that are shocking. The Celtics are investing a lot of money in a defensive specialist who has yet to contribute consistently on the offensive end in consecutive seasons.
Paid Out of Conviction
Paying Bradley this much now, while in the throes of an extensive rebuilding project, is incredibly risky. It's ironclad evidence that Ainge wasn't lying, that Bradley is one of their primary building blocks.
But $32 million is still a lot of coin. One has to wonder what the primary motivation behind the actual number is.
Grantland's Zach Lowe and a couple of SB Nation's finest offer their thoughts:
Teams are paranoid about the glut of cap space around the league, and fearful of waiting for other teams to strike out on bigger FAs.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 2, 2014
Totally. RT @Aykis16: I think teams realize cap will jump a lot next few years after TV deal is renegotiated— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) July 2, 2014
Banking on future cap rises is dangerous territory.
Though the NBA's salary cap is projected to increase by roughly $5 million leading into next season, the Celtics are already paying Jeff Green's $36 million pact. They're in no position to overpay players on the off chance it could, quite possibly, maybe just maybe, be proportionate to forthcoming spending power.
Allowing the restricted free-agent market to dictate Bradley's value is equally perplexing. Rumors didn't cite him as an especially hot commodity, nor did it appear that he was on the verge of signing a similarly lucrative offer sheet with another team.
Fearing what hasn't happened yet isn't Ainge's style anyway. He's always been willing to get his hands dirty, to make the tough decisions. He's the same guy who blew up Boston's dynamic last summer, bidding farewell to Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers.
Plenty of others would have tried to squeeze more years out of that core, yet Ainge—after milking as much as possible out of Boston's familiar faces—hit reset. It's unlikely that he was intimidated by Bradley's market value and even less likely he was running scared after the three-year, $19.5 million contract Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski says the Detroit Pistons handed combo guard and shooting specialist Jodie Meeks.
Bradley is more likely someone Ainge, head coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics felt confident in handsomely compensating, seeing him as a lockdown defender and flowering offensive weapon.
There's nothing to argue about that first part. Bradley has long been exalted for his defensive acuity as someone who can defend either guard position and go blow for blow on the block particularly well for a player his size.
Some saw his defensive performance as regression this past season. True or not, he still made a noteworthy impact.
Opponents shot just 40.1 percent when guarded by Bradley last season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). More than 43 percent of his defensive stances came against pick-and-roll ball-handlers, attesting to how much Boston relies on him to shut down primary rock wielders. Opponents converted only 41.1 percent of their shot attempts within those sets.
Stationary and perimeter-oriented scorers also don't stand a chance against him. He closes out shooters in spectacular fashion—that is, if he's not already smothering them. Spot-up assassins shot just 36.2 percent against him all season, per Synergy.
Gauging Bradley's offensive value is more difficult, but that's exactly what the Celtics are trying to do here. One-way specialists don't average $8 million annually over the next four years. The Celtics are looking for him to build upon his offensive production from this season, as Forsberg explains:
Ultimately Bradley's offensive resurgence made up for a bit of his defensive decline, some of which is most certainly related to the team's rebuilding pains. The challenge moving forward for Bradley is to maintain that offensive output without letting it come at the expense of his defense, especially considering Stevens' desire to inject Boston with a Defensive DNA and make that the backbone of the team.
Balancing increased responsibilities on both ends of the floor is something Bradley began to do in 2013-14, even if it came at the expense of his defense. He averaged a career-high 14.9 points per game while burying 39.5 percent from beyond the arc, emerging as a consistent floor spacer within Boston's simplistic, tailored-to-young-and-inexperienced-personnel offense.
There's more than one colossal caveat at play here, though. Bradley is coming off a contract year, for one. Players tend to perform better when millions of dollars are at stake.
But more than anything else, Bradley's 2013-14 was a small sample size. He's yet to contribute at that offensive level in successive seasons, and he played on a rebuilding—potentially tanking—Celtics team.
Statistical output always comes with an asterisk there. It's the Michael Carter-Williams Paradox (formerly known as the D.J. Augustin Paradox): Middling players can put up gaudy numbers on bad teams. The 25-win Celtics were a bad team—entertaining, but bad.
Solace and uncompromising optimism cannot be channeled by looking at Bradley's success through a systematic prism either. Even if his offensive improvements were the product of his elevated usage rate, the Celtics' situation has changed.
Rajon Rondo will presumably be healthy next season, and the Celtics drafted a tweener guard in Marcus Smart at No. 6 in this year's draft. Bradley is now tasked with succeeding alongside both of them, which Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal sees as problematic:
Avery Bradley's new 4yr/$32MM deal will absolutely be worth it as long as he can complement Rondo/Smart on off. So...it won't be worth it.— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) July 2, 2014
Both Rondo and Smart are ball-dominant guards. The former needs to be on the rock to create for his teammates and the latter is more deft at creating his own shot.
Neither of them are deadly shooters. Smart never hit more than 29.9 percent of his long balls while at Oklahoma State, and Rondo has been developing a jump shot for the last eight years.
That puts more pressure on Bradley to become a better shooter and off-ball scorer in general. Luckily, it's an area he's borderline excelled in. He knocked down 43.7 percent of his standstill three-pointers last season and 37.2 percent in 2012-13, per Synergy. Spot-up shots accounted for at least 20 percent of his offensive possessions through both campaigns as well.
Legitimate Building Block?
Can Bradley assume such a role full time? Will he find that appropriate offensive and defensive balance?
Is he something more than what we've seen since 2010?
Is Avery Bradley worth his new contract?
That's what the Celtics are left asking, knowing he's missed 54 total regular-season games over the last two seasons.
They're betting on the answer(s) being yes. They're betting on him being a franchise cornerstone for what they hope will be a contender. The Celtics are betting a whole lot on Bradley's contract, actually.
And they have even more riding on its outcome.