Heading into the offseason, Avery Bradley's future is perhaps the biggest uncertainty facing the Celtics (well, except for whatever happens on draft lottery night).
It's hard to believe Bradley has just finished up his fourth season in Boston, and whether the 23-year-old has played his final game as a Celtic remains to be seen. Bradley and the Celtics nearly reached an agreement on a four-year contract back in October, but those talks came to nothing, meaning the guard will be a restricted free agent this summer.
So Bradley will be able to field contract offers from other clubs, and Boston will have the opportunity to match any potential deal. The two sides could also agree to let Bradley play out one more year in green before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2015 at the age of 24.
What the Celtics ultimately choose to do regarding Bradley will have a big impact on the franchise's future. If Boston matches a long-term contract offer from another team, Ainge is committing to Bradley as an important piece for the long haul and a member of the core he wants to build around. If the C's let Bradley walk, or at least allow him to enter unrestricted free agency next offseason, then it's clear they have decided to choose cap space, financial flexibility, and the allure of adding other talent over what Bradley has to offer.
It's not an easy decision for Ainge, and Bradley's future with the Celtics likely depends upon whether or not another team is willing to hand him an expensive contract this summer. A case can be made for retaining Bradley on a long-term deal, then, but also for letting him walk, and either side of the coin speaks to just what makes Bradley such an uncertain but intriguing player for the future.
The case for keeping Bradley
Bradley's defense and athleticism have always been touted, and for good reason—the Celtics generally perform far better on defense with Bradley on the floor. But the Texas product has also made great strides on the offensive end, culminating in his best season yet during the 2013-14 campaign.
Bradley set career highs in field goal attempts and makes per game this season, while also improving his three-point shooting and overall scoring. His points per game jumped to a career-high 14.9 points on 44% shooting, and Bradley's three-point stroke also improved, as he averaged 39.5% from behind the arc.
Just based on the eye test, there is no denying that Bradley was more confident and dynamic on offense this season. His foot speed and agility have always been assets, and Bradley used them well to create space with the ball, developing a solid pull-up jumper in the process.
If the Celtics think Bradley can continue to make strides on the offensive end and become a legitimate scoring option, then retaining the four-year veteran becomes an easier proposition. He set a career-high in usage rate (23.2%) and if his offense can catch up with his spectacular perimeter defense, Bradley certainly becomes a more valuable player.
He has always had good chemistry with Rajon Rondo, and elite defenders capable of forcing turnovers and tough shots out of opponents don't grow on trees. Considering all the potential Bradley brings to the table, Ainge would be smart to match any contract offer that comes this summer.
The case for letting Bradley walk
Bradley's athleticism and relative youth are no doubt valuable assets, but his durability is a huge question mark, especially if the Celtics must commit to Bradley for the long-term.
The 24-year-old has yet to play more than 64 games in a single season and missed more time during the 2013-14 campaign thanks to a nagging ankle injury. If another team comes calling with an expensive offer this offseason, how can Ainge truly bank on Bradley as a building block for the future when the young guard hasn't shown the ability to stay healthy?
And even though Bradley has improved on the offensive end, he will likely never be a player who can carry the Celtics on offense or even serve as a second or third option. With Boston in desperate need of more talent on its roster, Bradley's cost might prove prohibitive and handicap Ainge's attempts at maintaining financial flexibility.
Might the Celtics be better off saving money on Bradley and making a run at someone like Gordon Heyward this summer?
Bradley's future truly hinges on what type of contract other teams might offer him in the coming months. With the question marks surrounding Bradley's durability and offensive game, Ainge will have to determine how much he is willing to commit to Bradley over the long haul.
Let us know what you think the Celtics should do about Avery Bradley in the comments!