BOSTON—The Celtics’ backcourt got a little bit more crowded yesterday. The team kicked off their free agent maneuvering by reportedly agreeing to terms with restricted free agent Avery Bradley on a new four-year contract, according to Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald.
Bringing back Bradley solidifies one part of the Celtics' rebuild for years to come. The 23-year-old guard is considered one of the best young defenders in the NBA and posted career highs in scoring and rebounding last season.
Bradley’s return, combined with the drafting of hybrid guard Marcus Smart by the Celtics last month, raises questions about the future of another prominent member of the Boston backcourt: Rajon Rondo.
We all know a Bradley-Rondo pairing in the backcourt can coexist.
During the last couple seasons Bradley has been Boston’s starting shooting guard alongside Rondo. The pair has mainly thrived when they have taken the court together, but health has been a major obstacle for the duo as they missed a combined 148 games over the past two seasons.
With Smart added to the mix, the Celtics now have a talented option off the bench to spell both players. Alternatively, with Smart and Bradley under team control for the next four seasons, the option of trading Rondo this summer or next season just got a lot more realistic.
The reason why is simple: Rondo enters a contract season in 2014-15 and will be looking for a major raise in his next deal. Celtics radio analyst Cedric Maxwell told Yahoo! Sports Radio in an interview last week that rumors have circulated that the point guard is seeking a $100 million dollar contract extension, an amount he would be eligible for when his current deal expires.
If true, it's a hefty price tag to pay a player in the midst of a rebuild, when the Celtics already have plenty of depth and talent signed with Bradley and Smart at the same position.
The presence of that duo gives the team more flexibility when weighing the team’s future options with Rondo.
That’s not to say the team will be looking to deal Rondo, just that the team could be more willing to listen to proposals now. The odds are firmly in favor of the Celtics holding onto Rondo for the start of next season to see whether the team’s current backcourt can coexist.
Celtics’ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stated on the record as recently as last week at the NBA Draft that he believes Bradley, Smart and Rondo can play together.
"[Smart's] a very versatile player," Ainge said. "Easily those guys can play together. I think they would really thrive playing together, all of them."
Ainge later added: “I think that you obviously need three guards who are going to play a significant amount of minutes. We also think Marcus can play with Phil Pressey. Phil can play with Rondo. Phil can play with Avery. Because of the versatility of Rondo and Marcus, that probably allows that.”
A Rondo-Smart pairing in the backcourt could challenge the Celtics from a floor-spacing standpoint. Both players have not been reliable outside shooters throughout their careers, but the Celtics coaching staff believes that Smart is a better shooter than he showed at Oklahoma State.
If Smart lives up to those expectations and Bradley remains consistent from the outside (he shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range last year), it would give the backcourt trio a better chance of succeeding together on the offensive end of the floor.
Like Ainge, head coach Brad Stevens voiced his confidence that the Rondo and Smart duo could excel when speaking to reporters last week.
"I don’t think there’s any doubt [Smart and Rondo] can play together," said Stevens. "I think it will be great for Marcus to have a guy like Rondo to look up to, to learn from. Not many guys get that opportunity, especially early on in the draft like this…I expect him to play some off the ball. I expect him to play some with the ball. But he’s a young guy. He’s going to be playing with a guy there that’s been in the league for a long time, that can really help him learn about it. I think it’ll be great for both of them."
For now, the Celtics backcourt appears to be a position of strength. Unless an enticing offer comes along this summer, Ainge will likely give Rondo a chance to mesh with Bradley and Smart at the start of next season.
From there, the Celtics will determine whether they are better off investing in Rondo long-term or using him as a trade chip to address their needs elsewhere.
"Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand"