CHICAGO When the Boston Celtics arrived at the United Center for today's practice, Avery Bradley was one of the first to enter the court area.
That's not surprising when you consider he was just moments away from practicing -- something he has not done in nearly six months.
It's still too soon to say when he will play again, but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told CSNNE.com recently that he anticipates Bradley's return to games being sometime in early January.
And Doc Rivers said on Monday that when Bradley does return, it will most likely be as a starter with Courtney Lee returning to the role of being a key perimeter reserve along with Jason Terry.
"That's what he was when he left," Rivers said. "But he'll have to earn that and get it. But I just think on paper, it looks better. But you have to wait and see once he gets back."
The last thing Bradley is thinking about right now is whether he will start or come off the bench. Knowing he's one step closer to actually playing in a game is all he's concerned about.
"I'm just excited," said Bradley who has been recovering this season from surgery to both of his shoulders. "Hopefully there are no setbacks and I have a good practice today."
Bradley has gradually been building up to this day.
First there was the time spent letting his body heal from the surgeries to both shoulders. After that came a slow but steady process of strengthening the muscles just so he could function normally.
From there, he went about trying to get the shoulders and the rest of his body back into basketball shape with the last few weeks spent prepping for today -- his first practice.
Bradley has been playing one-on-one with former Celtic Keyon Dooling who has since been hired by the C's as a player development coach. Bradley has also had coaches set screens on him which has forced him to fight through the screens.
"I've been working on game situation things," Bradley said.
His return to practice can only be a positive for a Celtics team that could use a bit of good news after what has been a rougher-than-expected start to the season.
Once considered on the short list of title contenders, the Celtics (12-11) have been wallowing in a cesspool of mediocrity all season.
While there's no argument among the C's and those throughout the NBA that Bradley's return will help, Rivers isn't about to put the team's fate moving forward solely on the surgically repaired shoulders of Bradley.
"We have to be a better defensive team. Avery is going to help us," Rivers said. "But he ain't the savior. But he absolutely is going to take a lot of pressure off of guys."
And he'll do that by doing what he does as good as any guard in the NBA -- putting pressure on opponents.
Bradley's impact will indeed have a domino effect on several players, and not all of them guards either.
Because he's such a strong on-the-ball defender, that will likely mean less double-teaming will be needed from the bigs which gives them a better chance of holding their own on the boards, and playing better interior defense.
"It's huge to have those type of guys on your team," Boston power forward Brandon Bass told CSNNE.com. "That's what Doc (Rivers) means when he says, 'give yourself up for the team.' There's going to be a lot of guys who are just numbers guys. And then there's guys who may not have great numbers but just as valuable as guys with numbers. It's going to be great having Avery back."
Indeed, Bradley provides the kind of intangibles that reminds Rivers of what former Celtic Kendrick Perkins meant to the C's when he was a member of the Green team.
"Completely different players," Rivers said. "But there are certain guys that transcend their numbers with their team. Avery does that; Kevin Garnett does that. He has numbers, but he really does. Garnett can have average numbers and his impact on the game is undeniable. Avery does that as well."
First-year Celtic Jason Terry has known Bradley for years with both hailing from the Seattle-Tacoma area in Washington. Bradley at one point played for the AAU team of Terry's father.
"I seen right away he had some talent, but he was a raw talent," Terry told CSNNE.com. "But immediately going into his senior year I could see the difference. He began to stand out."
Terry recalls Bradley playing full court defense at a basketball camp for high school All-Americans -- something that rarely happens.
"That spoke volumes to the kind of player he was developing into," Terry said.