Having your name left out of a conversation is sometimes an indicator of a job well done. This seems to be the case for the league’s general managers. When a draft pick doesn’t pan out, whether it’s J.R. Giddens, who was taken with DeAndre Jordan still available, or Fab Melo, who was taken with with 48 other players still available, all the hot air gets blown in Danny Ainge’s face. When a draft pick that was taken after Epke Udoh, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Ed Davis, and Luke Babbitt is named to the NBA’s All-Defensive 1st team, suddenly I’m not hearing anything about general managers any more. Bradley is the 3rd guard drafted by the Celtics to make the All-Defensive 1st team in recent years, the other two being Rajon Rondo (09-10, 10-11 seasons) and Tony Allen (11-12, 12-13, 14-15 seasons).
Ray Allen’s departure in the summer of 2012 to join LeBron in Miami was a real kick in the pants, yet in hindsight it was an important move that allowed for Bradley to develop into a talented two-way player sooner rather than later. While we didn’t want to believe it at the time, Boston’s window to win a second title with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had more than likely closed with or without Ray Allen sticking around to help. Boston’s first-round loss to the Knicks in 2013 was the first indicator of changes to come, as it was clear the veterans were running on fumes after a furious comeback attempt brought the Celtics up to only 80 points in an elimination game.
There were no fireworks in Boston when they locked up Bradley with a four year, $32 million deal in 2014. Bradley was already known to be a staunch defender due to the Celtics’ success with him in the starting line up when Ray Allen was out with an injury. Bradley remained in the starting line up even when Ray Allen had returned as the team was on an upward trend with Bradley starting games. Still, his contract was seen as an overpay by Boston.
The headlining concern was not his ability to play, but his ability to stay healthy. Bradley had missed over 100 games to injury over his first four seasons to shoulder and ankle problems, yet he was set to make almost $2 million more per year than Jodie Meeks, who signed with Detroit for 3 years, $19 million after a career year with the Lakers. (Meeks has played a total of 63 regular season games in the past two seasons and Bradley has played in 153.)
Now, we find him on a list with Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul as the guard with the most first team votes and the third highest point total overall (1st place votes multiplied by two + second place votes = total points) among selected players. Bradley’s career-best 117 steals are nice, but defensive pressure isn’t something that can be shown through statistics alone. The way he harasses players while stomping on their own team’s logo at center court to force awkward passes, to rush the offense, or to deny their point guard of the ball altogether cannot be shown through numbers.?
When Danny Ainge cleaned house for the rebuild, it was pretty well known that just about everybody on the roster was on the trading block, but Ainge was resilient to trade Bradley while the likes of Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo were shipped out of Boston. Even coach Doc Rivers was let go in exchange for a draft pick. Part of a successful rebuild is playing your cards right, and Ainge played the Bradley card perfectly. I wouldn’t consider the Celtics’ current position a total rebuild anymore, it’s more like a refining process, but Bradley’s continued success as a Celtic has fortified my trust in Ainge to make the most out of the team’s assets. We worried about the team’s direction after the end of the Pierce/Garnett era. We worried about another long rebuild after the Rajon Rondo trade. Now, about one year later, we’re already in debates on how to properly manage our mountain of assets following a 48 win season.
The Celtics have developed many young players in the past couple years, and it’s because Danny knows who stays and who goes. Looking at how Brad Stevens worked with line ups last year (especially in the playoffs), he clearly has a knack for player management as well. While we can’t predict the team’s future, we can usually bet on history repeating itself, and history indicates that we have a lot to look forward to.
Source: Google images