Sometimes it only takes one good game. For Avery Bradley, that game came early in the season against the Orlando Magic. Up to that point the Celtic's second year guard had had a rough time of it in the NBA. He missed almost his entire rookie training camp with an injury, and barely got off the bench in his rookie year. The NBA lockout robbed him of a real sophomore year training camp, and early on this season he was passed on the Celtic depth chart by rookie E'Tuan Moore. Then came that game in Orlando when Bradley continually hounded Jameer Nelson in the back court and took the Magic right out of their offense. Since then the defensive stopper has been one of the first players off the bench for coach Doc Rivers and has gained a reputation as one of the best wing defenders in basketball. However, last night was the first time that Bradley showed what he can do offensively when he gets starter minutes. With both Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus unavailable, Bradley drew the start against the Washington Wizards, and poured in 23 points on 9-14 shooting.
For Celtic fans, this is a glimpse of a future, and an indication that it might not be so bleak in the post Big Three era. With Ray Allen an impending unrestricted free agent, and his future with the team uncertain, tonight showed that Bradley can be an effective replacement if Ray does indeed walk away. He actually went all Ray Allen a few times, coming off screens and burying jumpers, and even going 1-2 from beyond the arc. Fans have always known that Bradley was an NBA defender, but last night showed the Bradley can really be an NBA player. He can give even the best guards problems with his pressure defense. Now apparently he can also force them to guard him on offense, making him that much more effective. If Ray does walk away the Celtics will be alright with Bradley.
This will be an interesting offseason for Celtic fans. With both Ray and Kevin Garnett's expiring contracts it's hard to know exactly what President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge will do. Ray and KG certainly will not be earning the same amount of money that they are right now. They both might retire. They both may accept somewhat smaller deals elsewhere. They both may sign back with the Celtics on minimum contracts. However at this point one has to ask is that really what's best for the team? It's almost impossible to envision a scenario in which the Celtics are better without Ray and KG, particularly since they are both still playing at a high level. However there have been times this season when the Celtics have looked better with Rajon Rondo running the second unit than they have with him on the floor with the starters. Would it be better for the Celtics to go with Bradley and Jajuan Johnson instead of Ray and KG? That's a tough question, but at least now the Celtics know that they will be okay either way.
Celtic fans would obviously love to have Garnett and Allen back if only for their veteran leadership. In a perfect world Ainge would sign them both back on minimum deals and gradually ease the Big Three into bench roles, giving Bradley, Johnson, and Jeff Green more and more of their minutes. Alas this is not a perfect world. Ainge will likely either re-sign Ray and KG and use his available cap space to bring in two more big name players, or commit to a full rebuild and hand the reigns over to Bradley and Co. It's a tough choice and one Celtic fans likely don't want to make. But with Bradley showing what he can do at least fans know that either way they will be ok.
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