In a season in which almost nobody was immune from blame, Avery Bradley somehow avoided much of the fans’ wrath.
Rajon Rondo was fricasseed for declining to travel with the Boston Celtics to a road game in which he was not scheduled to play. Gerald Wallace was chastised as a locker room cancer. Jeff Green put up decent traditional statistics, but nowhere near what was expected of him in a supposedly breakout season.
When even Tom Heinsohn openly criticizes a member of the Celtics, things are not going well.
Through it all, only Bradley and perhaps Jared Sullinger made it through this minefield of a season unscathed. And it’s not because Bradley’s performance was above reproach.
Bradley is eligible for restricted free agency this July, when the 23-year-old is due for a considerable raise from his $2.5 million salary this season. He increased his scoring output to 14.9 points per game this season, thanks to an improved pull-up jump shot, and his on-ball defense continued to make the fourth-year guard a fan favorite at TD Garden. Statistically speaking, Bradley was the best 3-point shooter among players who finished the season on Boston’s roster.
Yet what is he actually worth?
It is one thing to get 15 points per game, defense-stretching potential and pesky defense at a relatively bargain-basement price. It is another thing to get that package at $6 million — or even the $8 million that Bradley reportedly wants. Bradley deserves credit for expanding his game each season in the NBA, but Celtics fans’ patience wore thin with players like Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford, neither of whom was paid anywhere near Bradley’s asking price.
Bradley is a useful player, as evidenced by his contributions to an Eastern Conference finalist two years ago, prior to his injury. But he is not irreplaceable, and he is not without flaw. Off the ball, he gambled and occasionally was out of position without Kevin Garnett pulling the defense together, and while he was not asked to create plays, his 1.6 assists per 36 minutes were startlingly low. This isn’t nit-picking. These are numbers other teams assuredly will point to when evaluating Bradley — and that the Celtics will consider in determining his true value.
Above all, the Celtics hold the upper hand. In addition to having the right to match any offer Bradley receives, the Celtics also might be the one team that values him to such an extent. Bradley is a player whom fans and executives have to see every day to fully appreciate, and only one set of fans and one team’s executives have that day-to-day exposure. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge surely will avoid bidding against himself in that regard.