The road has been long and difficult, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Avery Bradley.
The 19-year-old guard has been a non-factor for the Celtics since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle on July 2. He missed all of the C's summer league action, he played just 16 minutes total in three preseason games and he's yet to suit up for a regular-season game in the NBA.
But the rookie was on the floor at practice Monday, scrimmaging with his teammates and ready to show he could contribute. It was a big step forward for the young guard.
"People kept asking me if I was nervous," Bradley said. "I wasn't nervous at all. Just anxious to get a chance to get in there and get a chance to practice with my team again."
Bradley hoped to be back on the floor by opening night, but Doc Rivers and the rest of the Celtics' staff have been overly cautious with their first-round draft pick this fall. They kept him limited in the preseason, and they've yet to activate him since his last exhibition appearance on Oct. 15. His ankle was doing fine in October, but he had an accident on the practice floor that sidetracked him again.
"I was in practice and rolled my ankle on Paul [Pierce's] foot," Bradley said. "It was the same ankle. I just had bad luck. But I'm back now, and I'm ready to get out there again."
He's been in the gym working out constantly, trying to accelerate his rehab process. While his teammates were on the road this past week, improving their record to 8-2 on the season, Bradley was in the gym, lifting weights and working to strengthen his ankle.
He doesn't know when he'll play again. It could be Wednesday, when the Celtics take on the Wizards at the TD Garden; it could be later. He's not even sure if he's medically cleared to play, much less whether Rivers wants him out there.
"I'm not really sure," he said. "It's up to the coaches to decide whether to put me out there or not. My main thing is just to get my ankle stronger and get better, so that when I do get my chance, I know what I'm doing."
Bradley's closest confidant during this process has been Delonte West, who like Bradley has been kept off the court these last couple of weeks. While Bradley's been rehabbing his ankle, West has been suspended, and the two have become fast friends in the gym together.
"Avery's a talented young man," West said. "He's going to do big things in this league. He's big and strong for a guard. He's physical, he's athletic, and the biggest thing is he has heart. He plays defense. We were going at it a little bit today in practice, and he reminded me of myself a little bit, in terms of getting after guys defensively."
But the support system for Bradley has been the entire team — not just West, and not just his fellow rookies who join him in the gym every day for spirited games of two-on-two. All the Celtics have had a hand in helping Bradley get acclimated.
"A little bit of everybody," Bradley said. "The guys, they were gone, but they were still sending me texts, making sure I'm watching the game, watching certain things. And that's the good thing about this team — they want me to get better, and the older guys want to help me out all the time. I really appreciate them, and I love being on this team."
The only downside, of course, is those same teammates who help Bradley now will be the ones stealing his minutes as the season wears on. West is one such teammate.
"Unfortunately we have one of those teams where there's a long pecking order for playing time," West said. "But given the right opportunity, on a team where he could get out there and play 40 minutes like some rookies do, he'd be showing you his talents.
"But I think it's good to get the opportunity to be with these guys who have experience. It'll make him better."