Garnett's return to Celtics allows another title run

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Garnett's return to Celtics allows another title run

WALTHAM The return of Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics was anything but a given.

Paul Pierce recalls many times sitting around with Garnett last season and asking him the only question Celtics Nation cared about - Are you coming back or what?

"I really wasn't confident he was coming back," Pierce said. "Kevin, he said this is it for him. People didn't know this, but there are times we'd be in the locker room and be like, 'Kevin, is this your last year?' He was like, 'Yeah, this is it.' I would say, 'If you retire, I'm going to retire.' But then I started thinking. I was like, 'Kevin's been in the NBA since he was 18. He doesn't know anything else. What is he going to do? He has to come back.'"

And because of Garnett's decision to return, the Celtics are once again in the hunt to win an NBA title.

You can point towards Rajon Rondo's development into one of the NBA's top players and not just one of the elite point guards. Boston has the kind of bench depth that the C's haven't seen since the 2008 championship team.

But any chance of the Celtics winning another NBA title hinged on Garnett's return.

Two of the folks who played a major part in his return - head coach Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge, the C's president of basketball operations - each had different takes on the probability of Garnett coming back for a sixth season with the Celtics.

"I had some doubt that Garnett would return," Ainge said. "Listen, it's a grind. And every year, players, it's amazing what a person like Kevin Garnett puts in to prepare himself for the year and what he does day-in and day-out just to go out on the court. I'm grateful that he chose to come back and play and I think a lot of it has to do with Paul and Rondo and Doc and what he believes that we can do this year."

Rivers remembers hearing Garnett talk about retirement often last season.

"It was a bunch of crap, I never believed it," Rivers said. "I really didn't. I told him that all the time. Everytime, in the middle of the season, I would say, 'next year,' (and he'd say), 'I won't be here next year,' that was Kevin. But I never believed it, I honestly didn't."

But if you listen to Garnett now, retirement was a serious consideration heading into free agency this summer.

And while he was able to sign with any team, Garnett made it clear that Boston was the only team he would consider playing for this season.

"I did give it some real thought," Garnett said. "My number one reason for coming back was Doc (Rivers). Doc being here is huge, and I enjoy playing for him. The guys, the city, the fans here are by far the best fans that I've been a part of. And all that stuck with me."

But as much as the fuzzy, feel-good stuff helped make Garnett's decision to come back for three seasons ("I don't know how Danny talked me into three years," Garnett said), his ability to still play at a high level was probably what swayed him the most to sign on for another run towards a title.

"This is in his blood," Pierce said. "This is what he's been born to do. For him to be playing at a high level to walk away from the game and with his competitive spirit, inside at the end I knew he wasn't going anywhere because me as a competitor, I understand other competitors. I just knew that he wasn't going to walk away."

Rivers echoed those sentiments.

"Even this summer when you heard whispers, I think there (were) a couple reports that he decided to retire, I just didn't believe it," Rivers said. "He just has too much passion. You don't usually see guys with the fire burning high with the level that he's played to just turn it off. It's unnatural, and it's definitely unnatural for Kevin."

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.