Irish Coffee: Celtics ‘veteran’ Avery Bradley emerges from Ray Allen’s shadow
|08.10.12 at 11:28 am ET|
Two years ago, as a rookie, Avery Bradley actually tried to hide in practice.
‘I didn’t want to get in, because I was so scared of KG [Kevin Garnett] yelling at me if I messed up,’ he said during a panel Thursday hosted by Jessica Camerato at the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation’s Summer Soiree. ‘I would sit on the sideline. I might not even get in the whole practice, because I didn’t want KG to yell at me.’
You forget Bradley’s only 21 years old, since he’s the elder Celtics statesman on a panel that included newcomers Courtney Lee, Kris Joseph and Dionte Christmas. How far the shy kid has come from Tacoma, Wash.
‘We’re like a family,’ added Bradley, making his third charitable appearance in as many days. ‘These guys are going to learn that we’re like a family on and off the court. We all hang out. We all go to each other’s house. It felt good to be part of a family, and I felt a lot more comfortable around the guys.’
It was once almost impossible to elicit more than a few words from Bradley, who could often be found fixating on the floor from a chair at his locker. Now? Camerato couldn’t get him to stop talking.
‘You guys are going to be happy once we start that first day of training camp because all we want to do is win,’ he added. ‘We’re a family. We don’t care about anything but winning. To be part of a team like that, it makes you feel comfortable, because there’s no pressure. You’re not going out there worrying about scoring or doing things you can’t do. You do your role and everything else will work itself out and we’ll win games.’
The only subjects he wouldn’t expound upon were his right and left shoulders, deftly explaining, ‘I’m just taking it day by day,’ four times during an interview session prior to the public panel. And when someone from the crowd later blurted out, ‘Avery, when you coming back?’ he simply smiled and said, ‘Can’t tell you.’
Of course, it wasn’t always so easy for Bradley. As a rookie, he averaged only 5.2 minutes over just 31 games, shooting 34.3 percent from the field and precisely 0.0 percent from 3-point range. And it seemed worse.
‘One day, KG saw me on the bus,’ he said. ‘I had my hoodie on. I was a little down. I wasn’t playing. He could tell I wasn’t the same Avery, always smiling but shy, and he told me, ‘You know what? I was sitting back in my room last night watching tapes of you in high school. If you continue to work how hard you work every day and never give up, the way you played in high school, you’ll play in the NBA.’’
And you know what? He did. Bradley averaged 7.6 points, shooting 49.8 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from distance this past year. And it seemed better. He displayed game-changing defense and a slashing offense to complement Rajon Rondo.
‘Then, one day I’m on the bus after a game and all KG said was, ‘I told you,’’ added Bradley. ‘At first I had no clue what he was talking about. He always sits in the back of the bus and tells his stories, and he’s like, ‘I told you that. If you continue to work … hard work always pays off.’ Coming from KG, that made me feel good and made me want to keep working, so I can be like him.’
He’s still got a long way to reach that height, but there’s no doubt Bradley has woven himself into the fabric of a veteran team, earning their trust by obeying their tenets of always staying ready and accepting your role.
‘It’s so fun,’ he said. ‘You finally feel like you’re an NBA player. It’s just fun going out there feeling like you’re a part of everything. After every game, even if you played two minutes, you feel like you’re a part of it. When I wasn’t playing, at first I really didn’t feel like I was part of the team, so it felt good. I felt like I was helping us out.’
Filling in for Rondo and starting in Ray Allen‘s stead, Bradley did more than help. He awoke a tired team. Then came the dislocated shoulder. Again. And again. Until finally it cost him the Eastern Conference finals.
‘It could’ve affected me this year if I continued to play, and I would’ve been really set back as far as surgery, so that was something I was worried about,’ said Bradley. ‘Of course I wanted to play because I’m so competitive and I wanted to be there for my team, but I had to do what’s best for me and what’s best for the team.’
Since, he’s watched Allen — the mentor whose starting shooting guard job he stole when his play forced Doc Rivers to make the switch this past season — spurn the Celtics to join the hated Heat during free agency.
‘I feel like I can speak for all of us: It’s kind of hard to see him go, because he was such a great teammate,’ said Bradley. ‘And not only a teammate, he was like a brother to all of us, so it was hard to see him go, but when you start playing this game you learn that it’s all a business. People come and go. So, you’ve just got to wish the best for people. We wish the best for Ray, and we know that he’ll do good, because he’s such a good guy and such a good player. We’ve just got to keep building as a team and focus on the season.’
How’s that for maturity? Once uncertain, Bradley’s now brimming with a confidence that not even Celtics president Danny Ainge‘s signing of combo guard Jason Terry or trade for swingman Lee could shake.
‘I’m happy with what Danny’s done,’ he said. ‘He always does a good job, always bringing good guys to the organization that fit right into our family, so I’m just excited for the season to start. I feel like we’re going to have a good year this year with the guys we have.’
All the while, Bradley builds from the foundation Garnett, Allen, Rondo and Paul Pierce laid for him. Rule No. 1 for the uninitiated on the panel? ‘KG and those guys, you guys have to listen. First of all, what KG says, goes.’
Need more proof Bradley has adopted the Celtics way as his own?
‘I’m just going into next season accepting my role,’ he added. ‘Whatever my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. Whether it’s score, play defense, not starting — anything, it doesn’t matter. We’re all about winning games, and I’m going to be open to whatever my team needs me to do.’
Which makes the shoulder injuries all the more disheartening. As a result of the NBA’s labor negotiations last summer, Bradley has yet to participate in a full Celtics training camp and almost surely won’t again this fall.
‘It’s so frustrating,’ he said. ‘Even last year during the lockout, I really didn’t have involvement with the Celtics, so that was even hard for me. It’s just setbacks, but all I can do is look forward and keep working, trying to get better when I do get healthy.’
Regardless, ‘of course’ Bradley will join his teammates in Turkey and Italy for the first two games of their preseason schedule, healthy or not. No matter how many questions he faces about the timetable for his return, the answer will be the same: ‘Day by day.’ He just hopes that day is the season opener against Allen in Miami.
‘It’s going to be wild,’ he said. ‘I’m excited. I hope I’m ready to play, because it’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s just cool that we’re playing them the first game. I can’t wait.’
Yup, Avery Bradley is hiding no more.
(Have a question, concern or conception for the next Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)