One might think re-signing Bradley, who is eligible for restricted free agency this summer, would be a high priority for Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. Had they been healthy all season, Bradley and Rajon Rondo might have logged more than 30 minutes per game side by side in coach Brad Stevens’ backcourt.
But they weren’t always healthy, and they didn’t spend considerable time on the court together, which complicates things for Bradley and the Celtics.
“Avery had a good season,” Ainge said before Wednesday’s season finale at TD Garden. “I’ve seen improvement in Avery this year. The biggest issue with Avery has just been health. He plays hard and he’s had some injuries, but none of them are injuries that should prevent him from being a great player.”
Bradley earned roughly $2.5 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract. The Celtics will have to submit a $3.6 million qualifying offer for the right to match any contract he is offered by another NBA team this offseason. So if the Celtics want Bradley back at any price, they will be able to keep him.
Yet what Ainge framed as a throwaway matter — Bradley’s persistent injury trouble — is in fact the crux of the issue. Bradley has appeared in 205 out of a possible 312 games in four NBA seasons, with most of that missed time due to injuries. He did suit up for 64 out of 66 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, but he struggled through twin shoulder injuries toward the end of the season and in the playoffs.
Bradley eventually missed the final three games of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals and the entire conference finals series against the Miami Heat. He underwent double shoulder surgery that offseason. This season, he battled chronic injuries to his right ankle and Achilles.
So much missed time makes it difficult to assess Bradley’s value. Bradley and Rondo played together for just 15 games and 324 total minutes this season, relatively paltry sums, but their numbers in limited playing time weren’t awe-inspiring. For a pair that prides itself on defense, their 107.2 defensive rating was just the 22nd best out of any Celtics duo with at least 100 minutes together, and an offensive rating of 103.2 points per 100 possessions was underwhelming.
Ainge therefore isn’t placing any of the Celtics’ many free agents on a pedestal, he said, including fan-favorite Bradley.
“I don’t have a list,” Ainge said. “They’re all priorities. Every player is a priority.”
That is a sensible approach, and one that Ainge outwardly claims also is the case with Rondo, who can become a free agent after next season. But Ainge and the Celtics really do appear to be treating Bradley’s free agency without a true sense of urgency, if only because it’s impossible to know, right now, how urgent re-signing him actually is.