In the last couple of weeks, I looked at a pair of extension–eligible Kings who must make their cases for long-term commitments almost exclusively on their offensive production. The opposite is true for Avery Bradley as he seeks an extension from the Celtics. Bradley is the rare player whose defensive prowess is perceptible even to the casual fan, as he's so often able to stand right in front of opposing ball-handlers without allowing them to blow right past him on the way to the hoop. It's an aggressive tactic that takes first-rate athleticism and a level of concentration most guys rarely exhibit on defense. That kind of play would make stars out of many mediocre NBA figures, and it would make an extension for Bradley a slam dunk if he managed so much as league-average offensive production.
Alas, the former Texas Longhorn took major steps backward on offense last year. Bradley made just 49.1% of his field-goal attempts from point-blank range in 2012/13, compared to 64.1% the year before, per Basketball-Reference data. He took fewer of those shots, too — in 2011/12, 40.8% of his field goal attempts came at the rim, but that figure dropped to 30.5% this past season. Bradley alarmingly took nearly precisely as many long-range two-pointers, widely considered the worst shots in basketball based on their risk-reward ratio, as he did shots from three feet away or less. He upped the frequency of his three-point attempts after making 40.7% of them in 2011/12, but his accuracy plummeted to 31.7% this past year.
Perhaps those numbers indicate that Bradley was still feeling the effects of the painful shoulder injuries that kept him out until January, which would suggest a turnaround is in order. His performance during the preseason will be an opportunity for him to show the Celtics whether he can at least return to his 2011/12 level of offensive production. With Rajon Rondo still recovering from his torn ACL, Bradley figures to have a chance to show whether he's improved his point guard play. He put up 2.4 assists per game against 1.6 turnovers per game in the 38 contests following Rondo's injury, a ratio that won't cut it as a team's primary ball-handler.
Still, the Celtics were a somewhat better offensive team when Bradley was on the floor last season, and a slightly worse defense team, according to points-per-possessions data on NBA.com. Of course, those stats don't account for the players surrounding Bradley, and the Celtics will certainly benefit from having a sticky perimeter defender around with Kevin Garnett no longer there to anchor the defense. It's difficult to find guys who commit as much effort to defending as Bradley does, and that sort of approach to the game has value with a young, rebuilding squad like the Celtics.
Restricted free agency generally gives teams leverage when it comes to re-signing players who are widely considered budding stars, but it can get tricky when a role player like Bradley is involved. Front offices may have widely varying assessments of Bradley's worth next summer, based on their evaluations as well as the needs of their teams. The Celtics will have $52.3MM in money committed for 2014/15, assuming they pick up the rookie-scale options for Jared Sullinger and MarShon Brooks and don't make any space-clearing moves this season. Their cap room could disappear quickly next summer if they have to match another team's bloated offer for Bradley.
Of course, an extension for Bradley would take most, if not all, of that cap room off the table to begin with. Taj Gibson's four-year, $33MM deal last fall is probably the price point for a rookie-scale extension to a valuable defensive-minded role player. Such a deal for Bradley would put the Celtics right at the cap line for next summer. Letting Bradley hit restricted free agency would afford the Celtics more wiggle room, thanks to the team's ability to keep him even if they're over the cap. If Bradley signs an offer sheet on the first day after the July Moratorium, and Danny Ainge and company want to match it, the team would have three days to use its cap room to sign other players before matching the offer sheet via Bird rights. As we saw this summer, restricted free agents were some of the last marquee free agents to sign, so the Celtics could wind up with plenty more time than that to use up their cap space before they'd be forced to either use it on Bradley or watch him walk to another team.
Bradley's agent is former NBA player Mitchell Butler, as our Hoops Rumors Agency Database shows. The Celtics recently signed obscure prospect Damen Bell-Holter, another Butler client, to a training camp deal, and perhaps that could be a sign that the team wants to extend an olive branch with the October 31st extension deadline looming. Even if my speculation here is correct, that doesn't mean the C's intend to grant Bradley an extension — it could instead signal that Ainge and company still regard Bradley and Butler highly even though they want to table talks until the summer. Regardless, there could be some intrigue as the cut-off date for extensions draws near, but given the lingering questions about Bradley's offense and the increased flexibility that restricted free agency would give the team, I don't think we'll see a deal.