Despite having NBA All-Stars Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, one can make a case that Avery Bradley is the most important player on the Boston Celtics roster. No other player has seemed to have quite the same impact as Bradley’s defense and intangibles have on the Celtics’ chances to win on a nightly basis.
Since returning January 2nd from shoulder surgery the Celtics are 17-10 with Bradley in the starting lineup, including 11-4 without Rondo, who is done for the season with an ACL tear. Bradley’s statistics won’t wow anyone, but his aggressive style of full-court pressure defense sets a tone and increases the intensity for the rest of the Celtics to follow suit and shut down opponents. For example, Bradley’s defensive prowess was on display Friday against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who came into the meeting with the Celtics white-hot before Bradley harassed him into a 6-22 shooting night on the way to a Celtics victory.
Bradley is one of those rare NBA players that a franchise can’t afford to lose due to salary cap restrictions, although the Celtics may be at risk of doing so unless some of their veterans are willing to take a pay cut. The Celtics already have close to $72 million on their books for next season including a $15 million player option for Paul Pierce.
If Pierce opts out and re-signs for a lower amount, the Celtics may be able to offer Bradley an extension in the $8-10 million range to prevent him from hitting restricted free agency after next season.
A core of Rondo, Bradley, Jeff Green (who has $36 million guaranteed on his contract through 2016) and some other role players will keep the Celtics competitive for a few more years and out of the NBA draft lottery, unless Boston can trade Garnett or Pierce for draft picks and rebuild quickly through the middle rounds. Whatever the case, the Celtics will need to get creative and lock Bradley up with a contract extension to avoid the risk of losing him to a competitor because of salary cap issues.