Bradley returns to practice for Celtics

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Bradley returns to practice for Celtics

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.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.