Over the last two years, the usual No. 34, No. 5 and No. 9 jerseys at TD Garden have gradually been joined by a new digit: Zero.
Avery Bradley‘s jersey has become a fan favorite, especially among a younger set of fans for whom the championship of 2008 is just a distant memory. (It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but a Celtics fan born on the day the team clinched its last championship would be beginning kindergarten this fall.) In just two short NBA seasons — his rookie year was mostly spent watching from the bench or playing in the D-League — Bradley has come to personify what the Celtics perceive to be their identity.
The question is, what is that identity worth?
Bradley, 22, will make a shade over $2.5 million this season as the incumbent starting shoot guard. That’s more than a fair rate for a defensive menace, tricky cutter without the ball and capable corner 3-point shooter. Ardent Bradley fans would even argue he has greater value as a “glue” guy for a team in transition.
The complications start at the end of the season, whether that ends with an early playoff exit or a trip to the draft lottery. The Celtics have a $3.6 million qualifying offer to submit to the league on Bradley, a restricted free agent. Bradley could sign anywhere, but the Celtics would have the right to match any deal. On the surface, that would seem to give the Celtics an advantage. But the history of restricted free agency suggests the Celtics could be in a tough position.
Other teams know the Celtics have matching rights. They will also know the Celtics would like to keep Bradley, if possible. Because of this, restricted free agents often receive above-market offers not just in hopes of prying the player away from his team, but also putting his team at a competitive disadvantage salary-wise if it chooses to match. That is how Jeremy Lin came to be a Houston Rocket.
So if Bradley does re-sign, it could be at a price point well above what it should be. “Glue” guys and defensive specialists rarely break the bank, but they do occasionally get overvalued. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has shown his appreciation for defense-first players only goes so far — hence Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzly.
If the Celtics sense they and Bradley do not value his services in the same way, could he be on the move? His small, expiring contract could be an enticing throw-in to a package with Gerald Wallace or Jeff Green, two contracts the Celtics would gladly get rid of, given the chance. Bradley might even be worth a late first-round draft pick — although probably not in the 2014 draft — from a contender that could use his “three and D” skills.
All those happy fans in their No. 0 jerseys would obviously be disappointed to see their favorite player go. Is the benefit of parting ways with Bradley worth causing so many sad faces? Vote in the poll below.
To kick off the official start to the NBA offseason, NESN.com will ask fans whether they think the Celtics should keep or move on from each player. The following day, we will provide the fans’ verdict. Here is the schedule*:
Thursday, July 11: Avery Bradley
Friday, July 12: Brandon Bass
Monday, July 15: Rajon Rondo
Tuesday, July 16: Courtney Lee
Wednesday, July 17: Shavlik Randolph
Thursday, July 18: Jeff Green
Friday, July 19: Gerald Wallace
Monday, July 22: Kris Humphries
Tuesday, July 23: Keith Bogans
Wednesday, July 24: Fab Melo
Thursday, July 25: Jared Sullinger
Friday, July 26: Kris Joseph
Monday, July 29: MarShon Brooks
Tuesday, July 30: Jordan Crawford
Wednesday, July 31: D.J. White
Thursday, Aug. 1: Colton Iverson
Friday, Aug 2: Kelly Olynyk
*Subject to change pending any moves