Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bradley Return To Savor, Not Savior

According to the latest reports, Celtics Guard Avery Bradley is set to return to the starting lineup tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies (7:30 p.m.).

Whether this is or isn't yet the case, I feel that there are certain things Celtics fans need to get straight before his name is ever announced to take the court for the first time this season since double shoulder surgery sidelined him from the middle of the 2011-2012 Playoffs to the present.

First, here's what Bradley is NOT:

The Messiah, Superman or Harry Potter. He's also not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. He's not even Joe Dumars (yet, though he certainly has the skillset and determination to someday take a seat at the same table). Hell, until he gets his wind back and rust off, he may not even be Tony Allen, who he figures to see some time guarding tonight, if reports are correct.

What I'm trying to say here is that there are many out there who would have you think that the return of Bradley is going to be all it takes for the Celtics to regain last year's Playoff form and as soon as he suits up for the team, it's lights out for the rest of the NBA. That he'll come back and his dogged, tenacious and ferocious brand of defense will somehow erase the fact that there are still 8 new teammates who have never shared the court with him as a Celtic and two more who didn't share much if any significant playing time with him last year, either.

The defensive (and offensive) lapses that the Celtics have suffered that have been costing them a slew of winnable games are attributable to those new players on the team not yet grasping the "Celtic Way." These are things that Bradley can undoubtedly help them with, but not save them from. The work will have to be done on the practice court, in the video room and during games and it has to come from everyone, not just Bradley.

Here is what Bradley IS:

He is a 6' 2" shooting-guard-trapped-in-a-point-guard's body with a career scoring average of 5.6 who also happens to carry a trunkload of that aforementioned ferocious, tenacious, dogged and scrappy energy mixed with tremendous athleticism that allows him to overcome his lack of size against taller offensive players and score against just about anyone who dares guard him with an array of cutting, slashing drives and an accurate 3-point stroke.

Bradley is, to be sure, a major defensive cog in any machine that the Celtics hope to drive through the Playoffs and towards the Finals and his presence will pay major dividends for this team once he gets his legs underneath him and his stroke free from 7 months worth of cobwebs.

That said, the chances of Bradley fulfilling his potential is VERY strong. Based on his track record, he ranks as one of the most mentally tough (he fought through a rookie year filled with adversity that included a broken ankle, a year-long shooting slump and almost zero playing time) and physically toughest (this kid played through not one shoulder dislocation, not two dislocations but three reported shoulder dislocations and played through the playoffs while suffering the injury repeatedly until doctors advised him that he might do lasting damage if he continued to play!!!) players in today's NBA.

The key for everyone to remember is that Bradley underwent 2 shoulder surgeries (each shoulder!) and the jury is going to be out as to whether his physical troubles are behind him until he makes it through the playoffs without incident. Fans have to be patient with him and not expect rainbows dropping Skittles from the skies in his first, fourth, or even fifteenth game back. What we SHOULD all do is savor the fact that he HAS returned and watch him do what he does best -- something that the entire Celtics roster and even those around the rest of the NBA can learn from -- play lock-down, knock-down defense. The individual and team success will come in time.

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