I don't want to oversimplify the Celtics' current struggles, but at the same time, I don't want to overlook a very basic and obvious storyline in this up-and-down season. Or really, the last two up-and-down seasons.
1. The Celtics are a very good team with Avery Bradley on the court.
2. The Celtics are a very average team without Avery Bradley on the court.
I broke down the numbers in my column from the morning of Avery's return, and just for fun, here they are again:
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.
What happened next?
The Celtics eased Bradley back into action that night, in a 10-point loss to Memphis. After that, with AB in the mix, they won six straight games; their longest winning streaking in more than two years. Four of those wins came against quality, playoff-caliber teams. We all believed that they had finally turned the corner.
What happened next?
Bradley injured his ribs against the Hornets and the Celtics lost. He missed the game against the Bulls and the Celtics lost. He played against the Pistons last Sunday, but he shouldn't have; he was nowhere near his typically tenacious self. And the Celtics lost again, leading to Doc Rivers now famous post-game rant.
So, to sum it up: In six games with a healthy Avery Bradley, the season went from shambles to saved; in three games since his latest injury, it went from saved to "TRADE EVERYBODY!"
Like I said before, I don't want to oversimplify things. After all, Doc Rivers doesn't have a reputation as a guy who carelessly loses his cool the way he did in Detroit. You get the sense that his frustration runs much deeper than one three-game losing streak, and that, Avery or not, there are guys in that locker room who aren't living up to the coach's crazy (but necessary) expectations.
I'm just saying that it might be worth seeing what happens with a healthy Bradley back in the lineup before re-tooling the entire roster.