The biggest Celtics news of free agency broke this morning, with the team and restricted free agent Avery Bradley agreeing to a 4-year, $32 million deal. Of course, the debate began immediately: Was this a smart signing by the Celtics? Or did they overpay their talented, yet oft-injured shooting guard?
Obviously we don't know the answers to that question, but I think we can at least break it down by asking, and attempting to answer some questions regarding this deal. Let's work through it.
Question #1: How does this impact the Celtics' salary cap situation?
Here's an updated look at the Celtics salary situation with Bradley's cap hit estimated at $8 million.
Rajon Rondo - $12,909,091
Gerald Wallace - $10,105,855
Jeff Green - $9,200,000
Avery Bradley - $8,000,000
Brandon Bass - $6,900,000
Keith Bogans - $5,285,817 (team option)
Joel Anthony - $3,800,000
Marcus Smart - $2,736,100
Vitor Faverani - $2,090,000
Kelly Olynyk - $2,075,760
Jared Sullinger - $1,424,520
James Young - $1,395,400
Chris Johnson - $915,243 (team option)
Chris Babb - $816,482 (team option)
Phil Pressey - $816,482 (team option)
All inclusive total: $68,470,750
Non Bogans/Babb total: $62,368,451
2014-15 NBA salary cap: $63,200,000
For the sake of this article, I'm assuming that Pressey and Johnson will be back, but no matter what the Cs do with their minimum salary guys, this deal basically eliminates the small amount of cap space they had.
As for future seasons, the Celtics now have approximately $37 million in salary on the books for 2015-16, with a roster of: Bradley, Wallace, Green, Smart, Young, Sullinger and Olynyk. That number will bump up with the two first round picks, but the Celtics should be somewhere in the area of $40-44 million worth of commitments, leaving them with about $22-26 million worth of cap room (the 2015-16 cap is estimated at $66.5 million).
Bradley is currently the only guaranteed money the Celtics have on the books for 2016-17 or 2017-18, but the Cs will almost definitely pick up option years for guys like Olynyk, Smart, Young and they'll also have their 2015 and 2016 first round picks, plus Jared Sullinger will be a restricted free agent in 2016. But the Cs will be completely removed from the Wallace albatross and Green's un-appealing salary by that point.
So Bradley's deal does do away with the little 2014-15 cap space the Celtics had, but they can still use their mid-level exception if they so choose. So that's not a major blow. As for next year, it's really too difficult to sit here and guess what else will happen to the roster between now and then. The Cs could trade Rondo, or let him walk next year. They could also move Green, shedding his $9.2 million salary. So I definitely wouldn't go as far as to say that this deal will prevent the Celtics from making future moves, but it obviously gives them less flexibility.
Question #2: Did the changing free agent market impact this deal?
Look around the league during the first few days of free agency, and tell me if you notice anything.
3 years, $16 million for Shaun Livingston
4 years, $18 million for C.J. Miles
3 years, $19 million for Jodie Meeks
(likely) 4 years, $50-63 million for Gordon Hayward
5 years, $60 million for Marcin Gortat
NBA teams are making money hand over fist, the salary cap is going up, and thus, the prices of players is going up.
So I think that Danny Ainge and company recognized that and since they clearly wanted Bradley back, jumped in with 4/32 before someone else offered 4/36 or 4/40. I mean, if Meeks is making $6.3 million, Bradley getting $8 million seems like a bit of a bargain. So yes, the fact that the cap and luxury tax are going way up the next few years impacted this signing. It's basically impacting every signing.
Question #3: Did the Celtics bid against themselves?
Ainge has a bit of a reputation for bidding against himself, going in and making his best offer based on what he thinks a player is worth, and not waiting to see if another team is willing to approach those numbers. I absolutely think this happened with Green, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if it happened again here. It's a calculated risk for Ainge, as he gets the player he wants at a price he's comfortable with, but also risks paying more than he had to.
Personally, I would have waited in this situation. I like Bradley, but $8 million isn't any kind of home town discount, so why not see if another team is going to give him it first? If the deal had been 4/24, I'd feel differently, but I just can't imagine the market for AB reaching higher than what the Celtics gave him. And considering Bradley and his agent jumped at the offer, I'd have to imagine they saw it the same way.
The best part about restricted free agency is that you have the right to match, so why not take advantage of that unless the player is willing to take less than market value to sign immediately? It's a perplexing decision from Ainge, unless of course a mystery team had made the same offer, and Bradley came to the Celtics with a "just offer me the same thing and we're good" stance. But it's 2014, and those types of offers usually get reported, and we didn't hear a peep about an offer.
Question #4: If healthy, is Bradley worth $8 million per year?
Bradley is a really intriguing player. He made the NBA's All-Defensive team at age 22 in 2012-13, despite having missed 32 games that season. He also has continued to develop as an offensive player, averaging 14.9 PPG last season while shooting 44% from the field and 40% from three.
He also has his warts (beside injuries, which we'll get to). Among them:
- He is terrible at converting around the rim, converting only 60% of his shots from within three-feet, and a pathetic 28% from 3-10 feet. He also struggles from 10-16 feet, where he knocks down only 32% of his attempts. He's great from mid-range (44% from 16 feet to the three-point line) and above average from deep (40% on threes compared to the league average of 36%), but that inefficiency from close really hurts him. It also makes him useless (offensively) on nights where his jumper is cold, something we see quite a bit as Bradley is amazingly streaky as a shooter.
- He is not passable at point guard. We've seen the Celtics try time and again to get Bradley minutes at the point, and every time it has failed. He just does not have the court vision, nor the handle to succeed at the point, a fact illustrated by his 1.6 assists-per-36 minutes rate last season, one of the worst rates in the NBA by a guard.
- Last season, his 1-on-1 defense dropped off a lot. According to Synergy Sports, in 2012-13 Bradley allowed only 0.73 points-per-play, and opponents shot a woeful 32.3% against him. In isolation his numbers were even better, as he allowed only 0.67 ppp while players shot 30.3% against him.
In 2013-14 he allowed 0.85 ppp overall (38.2% FG) and 1.09 ppp in isolation (52.9% FG). Some of this can be credited to the loss of Kevin Garnett, as the Cs lost their last line of defense, and a guy who erased a lot of mistakes. But man, those iso numbers are ugly. In fact, Bradley went from top-10 in terms of ppp, all the way down to 342nd. That's not good.
Early last season Bradley went on the record saying that Brad Stevens and company wanted him to calm down his relentless 1-on-1 defensive pressure, instead focusing on angles and better team defense. Only, you're taking away Bradley's best asset: his ability to change the game with his ridiculous defensive skills. It's like telling a great shooter to work on his drive-and-dish abilities, sure it's nice in theory, but why mess with an amazingly successful thing? And through one year, it's clear that the Celtics need to go back to how Doc Rivers used AB. Especially if they're going to be paying him $8 million per year.
Overall though, Bradley does have the ability to be an $8M player. But for that to happen we're going to have to see the 2013-14 Bradley on offense and the 2012-13 Bradley on defense. Considering AB is not yet 24, it's definitely possible that his best days are still ahead of him. However, for that to happen he's going to need to stay on the floor. Which leads us to..
Question #5: Can Bradley stay healthy?
What we know: Bradley has already had a double shoulder surgery that cost him the last 10 games of the 2012 playoff run, plus the first 32 games of the 2012-13 season. Bradley then battled an ankle injury in 2013-14 that cost him 22 games in the second half of the season.
The good news seems to be that Bradley has not had any issues with the shoulders since the surgery, so hopefully that issue is a part of his past. But as we know, ankle injuries have a tendency to reappear later on in a players career, so that's something to keep an eye on during the course of this contract.
Sports injuries are one of the last true unknowns when it comes to player evaluation, but as a general rule of thumb: players generally get less healthy as they get older, not more healthy. While AB could absolutely be an outlier, someone who is injured early and then has a run of great health, everything we know about sports injuries says that that's unlikely. And Bradley is never going to be an $8M player wearing a suit and sitting on the end of the bench (I know, super hot take right there -- but it's just a fact. "One of the best abilities is availability". Never forget that.)
Bottom line: The Bradley deal seems like an overpay, and I'd be much happier if it were in the $6 million range, or if we actually saw another team make an offer before the Celtics matched. That said, AB has the upside to make this a fair, or even good deal. But for that to happen we need to see him stay healthy, while his 2013-14 offensive game collides with his 2012-13 defensive game. Possible? Absolutely. Likely? I say no, just because that's a lot of ifs.
Celtics, Bradley agree to deal
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Michael Dyer 7/02/2014 04:05:00 PM Tweet