Avery Bradley will live up to the hype

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Avery Bradley will live up to the hype

One of my favorite things about the New Year is that we all get a much-needed break from lists. From the "Best of" and "Worst of" everything, and the entire Internet cramming a years worth of material into a weeklong string of slide shows.

Although, these days I guess its always slide show season. Theres never a bad time to slap together a list. As we speak, interns everywhere are already hard at work on "The Best Sports Moments in Martin Luther King Day History." Its going to be awesome! But in the meantime, I want to take one more second to quickly reflect on last year. On, without question, one of the most surprising and essential developments of 2012 (at least in the Boston sports world), and one that didnt receive all that much attention during last weeks Year in Review Listravanganza.

The emergence of Avery Bradley.

Its easy to misremember now, but this time last year, Avery Bradley was a bust. He was considered another Danny Ainge swing and miss. Another draft pick that Celtics fans could look back on and say, Yup. They blew it. No wonder this team is screwed.

He was J.R. Giddens.

But today, Bradley is Joe Dumars. AVERY BRADLEY IS A GOD. Hes . . . OK, Im probably understating things a little. But my point is that no one saw this coming no one (at least on the outside) imagined that Bradley would improve as much and as quickly as he did. And over these last two months, weve gotten a glimpse at just how screwed the Celtics would have been if Bradley had continued along the path to one day co-starring with Giddens in Poland.

So what happened? How did we get here? Eh, thats not nearly as important as the fact that we are here. That tonight at the Garden, Bradley rejoins the Celtics line-up for the first time in more than seven months the first time since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Philly and has an opportunity to jump start the season; to rescue Boston from the depths of lottery hell and restore the belief that theyre worthy of an eventual rematch with the Heat.

And you know what? I think he's going to do it.

I think that three months from now, we'll look back at tonight's game as the turning point in the Celtics season. As the moment everything started to make sense. Ironically (I think?), I also imagine the Celtics will lose tonight. Certainly if Rondo sits. But that's OK, because Bradley still needs time. No one expects him to take the court against the Grizzlies and pick up right where he left off as one of the most instrumental and perfectly complimentary shooting guards in the entire league.

I'm sure some people will find that last part ridiculous, but those people forget how effective Bradley was down the stretch last season. That over 15 games in April (after officially reclaiming the starting two spot), Bradley averaged 15.1 points a night, shot .520 from the field and .545 from three point land. That more often than not, he was and will continue to be the most dominant defensive player on the floor. That he's egoless, a guy who doesn't need plays run for him, and LOVES moving without the ball. That last season, the Celtics were 20-8 in games started by Bradley and 19-19 when he came off the bench. That even in the playoffs, as Bradley played through two bad shoulders, the Celtics offensive rating was 105.9 with AB on the court and 98.8 with him on the bench. That their defensive rating 90.2 with him on the court and 103.1 with him on the bench. That, bottom line: He makes the Celtics a better team.

He will make the Celtics a better team.

But like I said, we can't expect too much right away. The truth is that Bradley's return to court is not the final step in his recovery from shoulder surgery. It's an essential and incredibly uplifting shift in the right direction, but it's not the end of the road. It will take some time for him to get back in the flow, and grow accustomed to his new teammates. In turn, it will take the Celtics a little time to readjust to having him back in the flow.

But it won't be long until his impact his clear, and the Celtics are far better for his presence. The Celtics as a team, obviously. But also as individuals.

With Bradley, Rondo gets a much-needed break on man-to-man defense, and can focus on what he does best reeking havoc in the passing lanes. Rondo will also (finally) have someone in the starting five who's younger than 35, can get out on the break, and doesn't privately wince before deferring to his authority. On that note, I'm really interested to see what Rondo, Bradley and Jeff Green might do together. If Jeff is willing to run, that group can do some damage.

Then there's KG. Sure, the big guy will still be the glue and the last line of defense, but with Bradley, the Celtics won't have to count on the last line as much as they do now. And on offense, have you noticed that KG's assists are down this year? It hasn't been a monumental drop, but Garnett's 2.7 assists per 36 minutes is his lowest average since his rookie year. And while some of that is surely a result of Doc brainwashing Garnett to shoot more, I think it also stems from guys not cutting to the basket. That when he has the ball in the post, there's often no other option BUT to shoot. Bradley will change that. The entire offense will flow better with his movement. And expect those KG assists to bump up.

And what about Jason Terry? He's been an enormous disappointed over his first two months in Boston, but with Bradley back, he can finally return to the bench, to the sixth man role that the Celtics hired him to fill and that Terry's spent the last four years perfecting.

All in all, I know that there are a lot of people out there trying to warn the masses about putting too much emphasis on Avery Bradley's return. People who don't think there's anyway he can help that much. That the Celtics are in trouble, either way.

But I'm just not one of them.

I'm on the Bradley bandwagon.

In fact, his return is already No. 1 on my list of the most exciting things to happen during the first week of 2013.

The complete slideshow will be posted on Friday.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.