"[Danny] Ainge has said that if [Avery] Bradley had waited until this year to declare for the draft, he would have been a top-five pick. Asked if that was a reflection on Bradley’s talent or the quality of this draft, Ainge said it was a compliment to Bradley.
"'I respect the players in this year’s draft,' Ainge said. 'But that’s what I feel about Avery and his potential. I’m not the only one that feels that way. There are a lot of people in the league that feel that way as well.'"—as reported by Julian Benbow in the May 26, 2011 edition of The Boston Globe.
Now why would Danny feel compelled to share that “a lot of people in the league feel that way as well?” And how exactly does a conversation about this year’s draft come around to Avery Bradley, specifically where Bradley would be drafted were he to come out this year?
It comes about as a shrewd general manager tries to establish value for his one tradable superfluous asset, indicating Bradley’s worth relative to prospective draftees while trying to drive demand by implying that he has already had conversations about Bradley with other GMs.
Let’s review the current Celtic Circumstance. With a mere six signed players—most of whom are getting long in the tooth—to count on entering the offseason, Boston has needs everywhere. With its nucleus getting older and ambitions of competing next year and beyond, Boston must address its lack of depth, its lack of athleticism, its lack of scoring diversity and efficiency and its lack of youth.
The Celtics must do this while sitting above the salary cap and without a high draft pick in the upcoming draft. While the Larry Bird exception will allow the Celtics to exceed the cap to sign their own free agents, it remains doubtful that they will do so for many of their holdovers.
Of the 15 players to end the season on Boston’s roster, two significant (when healthy) contributors have already left. Shaquille O’Neal has announced his retirement, while Nenad Krstic opted to play in Russia for the approximate equivalent of $9.6 million (Julian Benbow, Boston Globe, June 10, 2011) rather than wait out the collective bargaining agreement negotiations and potential NBA lockout.
Of the seven free agents remaining, only two seem likely to return and contribute to the Celtics' 2012 playoff push. Glen “Big Baby” Davis has likely played well enough to attract lucrative long-term contract offers from other teams while playing poorly enough and selfishly enough for the Celtics not to match. Von Wafer, Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic and Carlos Arroyo all proved unworthy of Doc Rivers’ trust and therefore unworthy of a contract offer this offseason.
This leaves Delonte West and Jeff Green as the two free agents the Celtics would like to return next year. West has proven himself to a valuable contributor to the playoff teams for whom he has played, despite his off-court issues and poor fortune with respect to injuries. He is a welcome and trusted member of the clubhouse and seems to relish the camaraderie of this Celtics squad. I believe he returns on an affordable, team-friendly contract.
Although Green struggled at times to adjust to his new team, his potential is evident, and his youth and athleticism are needed. As long as another team does not break the bank to sign him, I believe he also returns to the Celtics. However, as I wrote here, I project his stay in Beantown to be brief.
Assuming the return of West and Green, the Celtics enter the offseason needing to fill at least four roster spots and potentially as many as seven. More specifically, the Celtics desperately need to augment the center and power forward positions, as Jermaine O’Neal and Kevin Garnett are the only holdover players truly comfortable at these spots.
The small forward position is a relative strength with Paul Pierce and Jeff Green manning the spot. West’s versatility contributes to a relative abundance at both guard positions, as he is a very capable backup to Ray Allen at the shooting guard position as well as Rajon Rondo at the point.
West’s return would stunt Avery Bradley’s development and limit Bradley’s value to the Celtics as he takes minutes from the youngster. Since Bradley is undersized to effectively play shooting guard on a regular basis, and because Rondo will play heavy minutes at the point, it remains doubtful that Bradley carves out much of a role for himself on the Celtics next year, regardless of how much he improves.
This brings us back to Ainge’s comments. Although Bradley sits for the Celtics, many of the teams in the lottery are targeting point guards in this year’s draft and could use him. Beyond Kyrie Irving and possibly Brandon Knight, legitimate concerns surround this year’s point guard prospects. The Jazz, Raptors and Suns all have a need for a young point guard, and it could be argued that Bradley is a better prospect than the choices these teams face at their respective draft positions.
The Jazz in particular pose an interesting potential trade partner. With two picks in the lottery, at No. 3 and No. 12, the Jazz are rumored to be vacillating between selecting Brandon Knight or a big man such as Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas with the No. 3 overall pick. If the Jazz elect to go big with their first selection, their choice of point guards from which to choose for the 12th pick proves suspect, as players such as Jimmer Fredette and Josh Selby come with obvious flaws.
Whether or not Bradley would be a top-five pick in this year’s draft as Ainge asserts, the No. 19 pick of the 2010 draft certainly seems to be an upgrade over the available point guard talent at the back end of this year’s lottery.
With an obvious need for size and athleticism and a questionable ability to completely fill these needs via free agency given the Celtics' salary cap status, expect Ainge to pick up an additional draft pick in the lottery. Aside from purchasing a pick, trading Avery Bradley seems to be the only way for this to happen. Thankfully, Bradley does present an upgrade over many guards in this draft and fits a need for a handful of lottery teams.
Hopefully the five-year contract Rivers signed in the offseason provides Doc with an incentive to cultivate young talent, which would encourage Ainge to once again emphasize the draft.
Given the Celtic payroll, the number of roster spots to be filled and the recent sting of an over-reliance on aging stars, it seems Ainge no longer has a choice. He must acquire extra picks, and he needs to find contributors with his selections. Trading Bradley for a lottery pick is the only sure way to do it, and Ainge is much too smart and capable to let an opportunity pass.