Let’s flash back to 2010.
The Boston Celtics had just drafted a kid named Avery Bradley out of Texas with the 19th overall pick.
Just 19 years old at the time, no one knew what to expect from Bradley. He was a raw, albeit talented prospect who didn’t really have a clear position.
He wasn’t a good enough ball-handler or playmaker to be a point guard on the NBA level, but he also didn’t seem big enough nor did he possess the perimeter shooting touch to play the 2.
Bradley saw limited action during his rookie season, and the minutes he did play were disastrous.
Over 31 games at 5.2 minutes per game, he shot 34.3 percent from the floor and failed to make a single three-pointer, confirming the worst fears of scouts and Celtics fans at the time: he just couldn’t play offense.
One year later, Bradley shocked everyone by shooting 49.8 percent and hitting on 40.7 percent of his three-point attempts. He was so impressive that he even won the starting shooting guard job while Ray Allen was out with ankle injuries, and he kept it even when Allen returned.
Now, here we are in 2016, and Bradley is one of Boston’s top scorers and is coming off a First Team All-Defense (*Tony Allen voice*) selection.
The 25-year-old averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game in 2015-16, stroking the three-ball at a 36.1 percent clip on high volume (5.1 long-range attempts per game).
By all accounts, Bradley will probably enter the 2016-17 campaign as the Celtics’ No. 3 scoring option behind the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford.
He will also serve as a crucial piece to what Boston wants to do defensively.
However, we must ask ourselves: just how vital is Bradley to the C’s in the long run?
This is not to discredit Bradley’s impact, but to ponder whether or not there will be a place for him in the Celtics’ crowded backcourt once his contract is up in 2018.
Along with Bradley, Boston’s backcourt features the likes of Thomas, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. You could even throw R.J. Hunter and Demetrius Jackson name into the mix.
Do Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green count, as well? Maybe, but Brown projects to be more of a small forward and Green probably doesn’t figure into the Celtics’ long-term plans.
So, let’s roll with discussing Thomas, Smart and Rozier for now (the jury is out on Hunter and Jackson, so we will exclude them for the time being).
Obviously, Thomas fills a very different role than Bradley does. He is Boston’s top scorer, and his job is to set the offense up and put the ball in the basket. Bradley is to be a defensive stopper and an outlet for Thomas offensively.
Still, even though their niches differ, they are both guards, and, therefore, they will run into each other when battling for minutes.
Thomas will also be a free agent come 2018, and Boston will certainly prioritize him over Bradley.
That brings us to Smart, whom many fans and pundits had the same concerns about when he came out of college.
While Smart is still struggling to find his footing offensively, he is an absolute menace on the defensive end, possessing a blend of size, strength, quickness and athleticism that most players at his position–or in general–simply do not have.
As terrific of a perimeter defender as Bradley is, Smart is more versatile, holding the ability to not only defend guards but also bigs on the block (ask Kristaps Porzingis and Paul Millsap about that).
Smart’s utility on the defensive side of the ball is so valuable that, when it comes to picking between him and Bradley, it actually undermines how effective Avery is.
There is also plenty of room for Smart to grow as a scorer, so when it comes down to it, who would you have rather have for the future if forced to choose? I’d roll with the younger Smart.
Finally, that brings us to Rozier, the guard who is most like Bradley regarding style of play.
Both are undersized players who are really shooting guards in point guards’ bodies, although, to Rozier’s credit, he is a better ball-handler than Bradley and has the edge as far as breaking down a defense.
Still, the similarities are uncanny.
Like Bradley, Rozier projects to be a decent shooter despite questions about his shooting in college. Also like Bradley, he tends to favor the corner three-pointer.
Rozier is also a pitbull on the defensive end, compensating for his lack of size with sheer will and tenacity.
To be perfectly honest, it’s not crazy to envision Rozier doing everything Bradley currently does in two years, and who knows? He might even do it a bit better.
Rozier is the guy who could ultimately push Bradley out the door.
If he is cheaper and younger but can do just as much as Bradley, is there really any reason to hold on to Avery?
Of course, there’s a disclaimer here: This is only if Rozier develops into that type of player, and that is certainly a huge “if” at this juncture.
But, with the C’s looking for another to star to put alongside Thomas and Horford and Bradley being one of their more attractive player assets, the possibility Boston will trade him in the next year or two exists.
With Thomas and Smart in tow and with the possibility of Rozier becoming a Bradley clone, Bradley becomes expendable.
Will Celtics fans like hearing that right now? Probably not, but what everyone needs to understand is that you need to give something to get something, and by dealing Bradley to get that something, you are trading from a position of depth.
Again, this ultimately depends on the progression of Rozier.
If he comes along quickly, Danny Ainge will have an interesting “dilemma” on his hands.