On Media Day on the eve of training camp, Avery Bradley did something uncharacteristic of the mild mannered vet: he talked about himself. This is a guy that doesn’t throw it in opponents’ faces after every three pointer, but points to the sky. He’s improved so steadily in his six years as a Celtic without much fanfare that not until last year has it really been noticed. But on that day in early October, he talked about himself. He hyped himself even. That might be the first time in AB’s career that he’s ever done something that brash or bold. He said:
"If we’re playing well this year, I’ll give myself a chance [to compete for the Defensive Player of the Year award] because, to be honest, I feel like I should always be in that conversation," said Bradley. "I think I’ve [been left off the] defensive team because of our [lack of] success in the past. We weren’t winning as many games and I’m not going to name some players, but when I was looking at the list I’m like, ‘That person got more votes?’ It’s just because they had a better year, they played longer, they were on TV more -- all those things help you out. This year, I feel like the amount of TV games and how we should be playing this year should be able to help me be in that conversation.”
Bradley is the NBA’s version of Atticus Finch: a man of few words and strong principles with a compass that always points true north. In some ways, he’s the perfect embodiment of where the Celtics are heading and how they’re getting there. Heading in to the playoffs, the general opinion about Boston was that it was an overachieving team that didn’t really have any great players, but were good defensively because they tried really hard. Sound like anybody you know?
Bradley is now the only hold over from the Big Three era, the last connection to those teams that hung Banner 17. It’s been satisfying watching the franchise rebuild with Stevens at the helm the last four years, the younger players mature and grow more confident, and this team overcoming an 0-2 hole to make it to the second round, but it’s been somewhat bittersweet seeing those older former Celtics fade into the night.
Seeing Tony Allen grinding his teeth in street clothes as Memphis lost a grinding series to the Spurs was heartbreaking. Watching Rajon Rondo dismantle the Celtics in the first two games in the Garden was maddening at first, but at the same time, it was great to see his genius at work again on the parquet. And there’s of course Paul Pierce. Today might be The Captain’s final game of his illustrious 18-year career. He won’t finish it in green, but his influence on the franchise—the devotion to the city, his leadership of the team, and his understanding of the importance of Celtics history—lives on.
It lives on in Avery Bradley. He may not be the team’s highest scorer. That’s Isaiah Thomas, who seems to shine brighter in the spotlight. He’s not Al Horford, the max contract free agent who seems to always be justifying his price tag with his underrated play. No, Avery Bradley is Avery Bradley, the quiet elder statesman who leads more by example regardless of his numbers or his contract.
The second time I’ve ever heard Avery Bradley take so much ownership of his game was in the presser after Game 6 in Chicago. The Globe’s Gary Washburn asked him about being overlooked as a two-way player in this league. Here’s his answer:
Even after getting disrespected by Jimmy Butler and then beating him on both ends of the court to eliminate the Bulls, Bradley’s response is so Bradley: “I feel like every player should respect this game and respect the guys that go out there and prepare every single night. The smile on Horford’s face says so much and he later added, "Avery Bradley's been amazing. I don't think he gets the respect and credit he deserves...he's been the difference."
There’s some speculation that as the Celtics head into the off-season, Avery Bradley could be the odd man out as Danny Ainge maneuvers to add another superstar to the roster. He could even make a play for Jimmy Butler and include AB in the deal. If it happened, my guess is that Bradley would just repeat some platitude about basketball being a business and how he’d work even harder in Chicago to prove his worth. Maybe Bradley does need a hype man, but here’s my question: is there a better hype man for what it means to be a Celtic than Avery Bradley?