Avery Bradley sat at the head of his bed and began his nightly routine. He carefully piled pillows around himself, making sure not to overextend his reach and cause any pain. Stacking one on top of the other, he strategically surrounded his body with a "fort," as he described it, until he was securely blocked in on both sides. Still sitting in the upright position, Bradley pressed his back against the wall and closed his eyes for a good night's rest, or as good as it was going to get.
"That was the hardest part for me," he said. "It sucked."
Bradley underwent double shoulder surgery this year, first a season-ending procedure on his left shoulder in May and another operation on his right shoulder in July. He knew the road to recovery would be a long one -- there is still no definitive timetable set for his return -- but he didn't know all of the bumps he would encounter along the way.
He also didn't realize all he would learn from being apart from the game.
Last Spring Bradley was riding the momentum of a breakout season with the Boston Celtics. After a rookie year in which he saw minimal playing time while battling through shyness around his veteran teammates, Bradley had earned the starting shooting guard role in place of Ray Allen. Lauded for his defensive toughness, he offered the team a glimpse into a future of a young, athletic backcourt with him and point guard Rajon Rondo.
During the 2012 playoffs, though, Bradley began suffering nagging shoulder injuries that plagued him as the Celtics title hunt continued. The 21-year-old guard was shut down after only 10 playoff games.
His first procedure was just as emotionally painful as it was physically. A tenacious competitor on the court, Bradley found it too difficult to watch his team from the sidelines.
"It was really hard not being able to play while they were playing Miami (in the Eastern Conference Finals)," said Bradley. "I didn't come to any games because I couldn't handle it yet."
The Celtics lost to the Heat in Game 7 of the series and began rebuilding their team for the 2012-13 season. Bradley made it a priority to do the same for himself. It wouldn't be without hardships, though.
After living on his own for nearly two NBA seasons, Bradley found himself back in Seattle, Washington with his family. He bandaged his shoulders -- "It's taken skin away because I had them on there for so many days," he said -- and alternated resting one arm in a sling at a time throughout the day.
There were points in the recovery when everyday activities were off limits. Bradley was unable to turn a steering wheel. As a result, he had to depend on his mother and girlfriend for rides. Even typing on a laptop was ruled out. When it came to being around people, Bradley had to stay away from large groups out of concern of being bumped in his shoulders.
"They hurt so bad," he said.
Bradley had two options. He could either spend the coming months pitying himself over lost playing opportunities, or he could use the time to enhance his game for his return. He didn't become a key member of a championship contender by being a person who would choose option A.
The young guard embraced an even deeper sense of focus. There was a purpose to his injuries, he decided. He never learned the Celtics system in Summer League nor did he ever have the full training camp experience. Bradley had rehabbed from ankle surgery prior to his rookie season and this time he was recovering with a new perspective.
"I was so focused on this year," he said. "I was like, 'OK, this year (2012 season) is over.' I wanted my team to do well, but all I could do was control next year. For me to be prepared for next year, I had to do everything the doctors and (Celtics athletic trainer) Ed (Lacerte) were telling me to do. That was my main thing."
Unable to do many physical activities with his upper body, Bradley focused on the mental approach to the game. He studied film -- a lot of game film -- after watching Rondo do the same over the years. Soon he began seeing the court differently, comparing the realization to solving a Magic Eye puzzle. By shifting the way he watched the action, he opened his eyes to a completely different point of view.
"There were some of those things (head coach) Doc (Rivers) would yell at us about," Bradley said. "He would look at us like, 'Are you serious? You don't see that? You don't see what I see?' We'd be like, 'No, we don't.'
"Now I see those things and I look at people that way, like, 'Why aren't you doing things that way?' I look at the game completely different, it's weird. It's like once you know the plays and you feel comfortable, you know all the other teams' sets, it's like you know everything and it's just easier. I know Paul (Pierce) and them can say the same thing, too."
Bradley constantly reminded himself his recovery was an opportunity to focus on all facets of his game. He had played in less than 100 regular season contests over his first two years and with practice time at a premium during the lockout-condensed 2012 season, there was never a lengthy stretch of time to hone in on areas of improvements.
And the ambitious Bradley has a long list of ways he would like to further himself as an all-around player.
"I want to be a stronger ball handler," he said. "I've been working on that a lot. I want to be a consistent shooter. I want to improve my defense -- I want to be great at team defense. Those are my main focuses right now. I just want to learn the game."
Bradley turned 22 years old on Monday. As his NBA game continues to develop, he is enjoying a dual role on the Celtics, both as a mentee and a mentor.
"I ask Rondo so many questions now," he said. "I watch a lot of film because of him. It's funny because it seems like I was just a rookie yesterday and now I'm helping the rookies and sometimes I'm helping the older guys because I look at the game differently."
Bradley hopes to participate in contact drills during practice in December. He encourages his teammates to stay ready at a moment's notice and continues to practice what he preaches. Each step in the recovery process, every dribbling drill and shooting routine are all critical to being able to get back into action when he is cleared to play.
"People do come in and out of this league but I always look at it, I say this all the time, things happen for a reason," he said. "I got injured for a reason and that made me hungry, want to keep working. I just continued to get better and better and better, and when my time came last year, I was prepared and I just want the same thing to happen this year. I want to continue to keep working."