Bradley set to return Wednesday vs. Grizzlies

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Bradley set to return Wednesday vs. Grizzlies

WALTHAM Avery Bradley can't walk on air or turn water into wine. So you can save all the talk of him being some sort of basketball savior for the Celtics.

Still, there is no mistaking that his return to the lineup on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies (19-9) will make the C's a better -- a much better -- team than they are without him.

And his return could not come soon enough with the Celtics riding a season-long losing skid of three games in preparation for a Grizzlies team that is still among the better teams out West despite losing three of their last four games.

If he's healthy enough to play, C's coach Doc Rivers said Bradley will be with the first group.

"Avery's going to start," Rivers said prior to the C's practice on Wednesday afternoon. "We had him markered down -- not penciled down -- before the year that he was going to be a starter."

In terms of what his role will be, Bradley isn't consumed with starting versus coming off the bench.  

"I try not to worry about it," he said. "All you can do is go out and play hard. That's what I'm gonna do. That's how I play. Tomorrow that's what you guys will see."

However, injuries to both shoulders last season resulted in surgery that forced him to miss part of the 2012 playoffs as well as the first 30 games this season.

It was a disappointing finish to what was a breakout season for the former first-round pick of the C's who burst on to the scene as a defensive pest to opponents that was critical in the Celtics becoming a much better team after the all-star break.

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics had an efficiency differential of plus 5.5 prior to the all-star break last season which ranked 10th in the NBA. After the break, the C's more than doubled that to a plus 11.5 which ranked fourth in the NBA.

Part of that bump was Bradley's ability to not only impact the game with his individual defense, but having it trickle down to his teammates.

"He knows his role," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "He plays with a lot of energy. A lot of guys don't like to face a guy like Avery. I believe he's the best defender in the league, hands down.

Rondo added, "Hopefully we all try to step our level of play up when he steps on the court; the intensity he plays with, hopefully is contagious and we all do the same."
 
The impact that Bradley will make on the C's remains to be seen, although it is expected to be significant.

But Celtics coach Doc Rivers, well aware that the pressure isn't coming from Bradley's teammates or the C's, has made a point repeatedly to emphasize that Bradley should not be seen as some Knight on a white horse coming in to save the day.

"I'm anxious to get him back, but I know that he's not Bill Russell. He's Avery Bradley," Rivers said. "But Avery Bradley is going to be important to our team. He is one of those guys that helps change your culture as far as on the floor and how we play and the intensity that he plays. I hope when he comes it helps one or two other guys do that. Other than that, he's been out a long time. To think he's going to play well right off the bat, I don't know if that will happen or not. But he'll play hard right away."

And that in itself might be just what the C's need; a player who plays with great effort and intensity consistently.

"I don't have any expectations of how I'm going to play," Bradley said. "I'm just going to go out there and play hard. Whatever happens, happens. That's all I can control, how hard I can play."

But that effort in many ways is what fuels Bradley's defense which is his strength as a player.

"Defense, I feel it's an effort thing," Bradley said. "If you want to play hard on the defensive end, you have to want to. I obviously want to and that's what I can bring to this team."

Indeed, Bradley's on-the-ball defense has a way of containing or wiping out at least one member of an opposing team's backcourt.

"Unfortunately there are four others on the floor," Rivers said. "Avery's probably top-5 in the league on the ball defense and not getting beat. But if you can stop one of the guards from dribble penetration, it has to help."
 
And the Celtics (14-16) can use all the help they can get right now.

Bruins sign pair of draft picks, including BC's Fitzgerald, to entry-level deals

Bruins sign pair of draft picks, including BC's Fitzgerald, to entry-level deals

Amidst the current turmoil at the NHL level, the Bruins delivered a little good news about the future today . . . with more potentially to come. 

The Bruins announced the signing of a pair of prospects/former draft picks -- Boston College forward Ryan Fitzgerald and defenseman Emil Johansson -- to entry-level contracts that will kick in next season. There will likely be another wave of signings with the Bruins from the amateur ranks once players like Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson are finished up with their college teams in the NCAA tournament, though it remains to be seen exactly which players end up taking the NHL plunge. 

There was some uncertainty as to whether Fitzgerald would definitely sign with Boston after completing his senior season at BC, but he will immediately join the Providence Bruins on an amateur tryout agreement after signing a two-year deal. Johansson will join the Bruins on a Professional Tryout Agreement with a three-year entry level deal that kicks off next season. 

The 5-foot-10, 177-pound Fitzgerald was an alternate captain for BC in 2016-17, with 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 34 games with 56 penalty minutes and a plus-14 rating. Fitzgerald is also the son of Billerica native and former Bruins forward Tommy Fitzgerald, who took to Twitter on Friday to voice his overwhelming pride over his oldest signing an NHL contract. He was a fourth-round pick by the Bruins in 2013.

Johansson, 20, completed his first season with Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League in 2016-17, establishing career highs with 7 goals and 10 assists for 17 points with 26 penalty minutes in 49 games. The B's selected him in the seventh round in 2014.

Report: Clippers' Griffin willing to consider Celtics in free agency

Report: Clippers' Griffin willing to consider Celtics in free agency

With all attention focused on overtaking the Cavs for the No. 1 seed in the East, the offseason -- trades, the draft, free agency -- is on the backburner in Celtics Nation these days.

But that pot's still simmering,

And it began to boil a little today when Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, in the middle of a story on the Clippers being at a crossroad, threw a little accelerant on that old Blake Griffin-to-Boston flame . . .

But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start — perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win. The most intriguing fit might be if he were to go home to Oklahoma to join Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, but his interests in the entertainment industry make staying in Los Angeles a priority.

Not much of a thread to grab there. But that didn't prevent cbssports.com's James Herbert from looking into it . . .  

Jumping to another contender on a max contract might not be simple. As CelticsBlog’s Keith P. Smith pointed out, Boston would have to dump Terry Rozier, waive Tyler Zeller and renounce all its free agents, including Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson, in order to even get near the amount of cap room that would be required to offer Griffin or someone like Gordon Hayward a max deal. 

Then again, Herbert says the Lakers and Thunder, Griffin's supposed other two destination spots, are even less financially flexible than the C's.

For now, it's all just a temporary diversion from the battle for No. 1.

It's also a reminder, though, that a whole new season -- the offseason -- is just around the corner.