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Avery Bradley's contract will look like a bargain when it's all said and done

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Search on Google for "Avery Bradley overpay" and you'll be pummeled by articles claiming that the Boston Celtics overpaid to re-sign their 23-year-old guard to a four-year, $32 million contract extension.

They're all dead wrong.

With the rising salary cap and Bradley's ascending skills, the contract could actually turn out to be a bargain for the Celtics.

That's because Boston isn't paying for Bradley's past production, but for his expected future performance. Bradley wasn't worth $8 million per the past four seasons, but he might be over the next four.

Bradley is coming off of a season where he took huge strides in his game, seeing his usage rise by 4.4 percent. AB took advantage of his increased role by showcasing a knockdown mid-range jumper, with the potential to extend to above the break three-point range.

In preseason, Bradley is raining from downtown, hitting 15 of his 32 three-point attempts. He's jacking up 7.4 threes per-36 minutes, which would place him in the upper echelon of the league in terms of frequency. If he keeps up a similar pace all season long, he could very well attempt over 400 or 500 threes.

As one of the NBA's most stellar perimeter defenders, Bradley could become one of the better "3-and-D" shooting guards in the league. Bradley said on media day that he hopes to achieve first team all-defensive honors this season.

Despite the fact that many signs point to a progressing Bradley, many people believe he was still overpaid. With that in mind, here's a look at contract extensions that some wings and shooting guards received this offseason.

Player Name Contract 2014 Cap % 2015 Cap % * 2016 Cap % * 2017 Cap % *
Gordon Hayward 4 years, $63 mil 23.4% 23.2% 20.1% 18.6%
Eric Bledsoe 5 years, $70 mil 20.6% 20.3% 18.1% 16.7%
Lance Stephenson 3 years, $27 mil 14.3% 13.5% 11.8% ----
Avery Bradley 4 years, $32 mil 11.4% 11.6% 10.3% 9.8%
Jodie Meeks 3 years, $19 mil 9.5% 9.4% 8.2% ----
Nick Young 4 years, $21.5 mil 7.9% 7.9% 6.8% 6.3%
C.J. Miles 4 years, $18 mil 6.7% 6.6% 5.7% 5.3%

*The 2015, 2016, and 2017 salary caps are projected using a combination of reports from Larry Coon and Zach Lowe. 2015 is $66.5 mil, per Coon, and 2016 and 2017 are set at $80 mil and $90 mil, as Lowe projects. Those totals were used to calculate each player's "cap percentage," which accounts for how much space they take from the team's cap room.

Bradley will occupy 11.4 percent of Boston's salary cap room in 2014. This is the number that matters more than anything else, because with the growing cap, $8 million isn't what it once was.

As Zach Lowe explained on Grantland, the salary cap could reach $80 million in 2016 and possibly even $90 million in 2017. There are only projections, but the cap will undoubtedly rise significantly.

That's why role players like Jodie Meeks and C.J. Miles are getting "massive" contracts that might appear bad now, but will probably look pretty conservative by the tail end.

"Any player contract locked in now, under a $63 million cap, will obviously look loads better from the team's perspective if the cap hits $80 million in two summers," wrote Lowe. "Both agents and teams understand this. Good luck hammering out an extension in this environment."

Before last season, one of the popular numbers for Bradley's extension value was $6 million. In 2013-14, when the salary cap was set at $58.7 million, the hypothetical annual salary of $6 million would've accounted for 10.2 percent of the cap.

Factoring in Bradley's immense progress on the offensive end of the floor over the course of the season, a slight uptick from "10.2 to 11.4 percent" clearly isn't that large of a leap, yet "$6 mil to $8 mil" is in the eyes of fans.

Some people believe Bradley is overpaid, not because of their perception of his skill level, but because of their lack of understanding in the increasing salary cap.

It's understandable, since most fans watch basketball for dunks, not to be bogged down by math like it's high school all over again, but the context of a player's contract means everything.

An extension signed in 2014 is not the same as one signed just two years ago.

As the above chart details, each player's salary will count "less" towards the total salary cap in the final two years than it will in 2014-15 and 2015-16, assuming the salary cap jumps as it is projected to.

But even if you discount the upcoming jump, Bradley's salary still places him smack in the middle of two clearly defined groups of players. Most would agree that Bradley is better than Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, and C.J. Miles, but he isn't quite on the level of Gordon Hayward, Eric Bledsoe, and Lance Stephenson.

When the key concern about Bradley is his health, then it appears the Celtics have come away with a market-friendly contract. He doesn't carry too much risk, as he will count for about 11 percent of the team's cap over the next four years, but his upside could put him in the next tier in terms of talent level.

Maybe by this time next year you'll be able to Google "Avery Bradley bargain" and find a bunch of articles detailing how genius the Boston Celtics were for re-signing him before he hit the market. And even if Bradley doesn't make the leap to the next level, they already know they're getting a role player who will drain threes and play elite defense.

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