Imagine being a 20-year-old in the NBA.
As a teenager, you were ranked the No. 1 high school basketball player in the country.
A few years later you became a first-round draft pick, selected by a 17-time world championship team.
Your first professional teammates went by the names of Shaquille ONeal, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, to name a few.
You were a rookie on the Boston Celtics.
Now imagine being told four months into your first NBA season that you were assigned to the NBA Development League. Suddenly, your career had taken you from the sports mecca of Boston to Portland, Maine.
How would you feel? Frustrated? Disappointed?
Not Avery Bradley. He embraced the Celtics' decision.
Its very important for me to make the most of it, Bradley told CSNNE.com. Seeing how I didnt get the chance to play Summer League, this is really my first chance to get a lot of minutes since college. Im really trying to get my game back, trying to get all the rust off my game, so its really good for me. Thats how Ive got to look at it, and thats what Ive been doing.
Thats why Im staying positive, knowing that I have to do this so I can get better for my team, and that is the Celtics. They need me to do this and so thats what Im doing here, just trying to get better.
Bradley, the 19th overall pick out of the University of Texas, was assigned to the Maine Red Claws (the Celtics' NBDL affiliate) on January 14. He had spent most of his first season off the court, recovering from left ankle surgery and trying to get acclimated with the Celts' system. There was a line for playing time in front of him, and as a rookie guard on a veteran team his minutes were limited.
Bradley had played a total of 66 minutes in 14 games before Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge informed him of the move.
I was excited, but at the same time I was kind of nervous, he said. I was definitely excited, knowing that I was going to get the chance to play. I was nervous because I really didnt know many of the other players down here, so I was nervous about what they would think, the things Id have to go through. But once I got here, everything was cool.
Bradley had more than just basketball on his mind when he first arrived in Maine. For the second time in his short career, he was joining a new squad. He had already made a positive impression on the Celtics as a humble and modest rookie, but he didnt want his new teammates to think otherwise.
Fortunately for Bradley, he had known Red Claw Tiny Gallon since childhood, as well as Mario West and Jamar Smith from training camp, which helped ease the transition.
It made me feel even more comfortable knowing that they were here, he said. They already knew what kind of guy I was, so they kind of spread it around to the other guys. So when I got there, they were all real nice, knowing that were all here ready to work. That was really important to me. I didnt want them to think I thought I was better than them. I just wanted them to know that Im here to get better, just like they are.
First up for Bradley: Shaking off the rust. He had played more than 10 minutes only once with the Celtics and struggled to find his flow in the rotation. Couple the infrequency of playing time with a nagging ankle injury, and Bradley had yet to feel completely comfortable on the court.
To help his development in Maine, he has a goal for every game, set either by the Celtics or Bradley himself. Taking it one day at time helps him address specific aspects of his game.
Once Bradley got minutes under his belt, he was able to recognize areas for improvement.
The main thing for the Celtics and for me is just to get a chance to play, really, he said. But as I started to play, thats when we really got to see the mistakes -- seeing the floor and making the right play, learning how to be a point guard, making plays for your teammates. Every game that goes on, I try to improve on everything. Its going good because Im not making the same mistakes all the time, so that shows Im making progress.
When it came to leadership skills as a point guard, Bradley channeled what he had learned from Rajon Rondo. Bradley had felt nervous at times to speak up on a veteran team, and looked up to how vocal Rondo has been at just 24 years old.
Now that he is playing with teammates around the same age, he is able to assert his voice with more ease.
I really work on my leadership skills, Bradley said. In the games I really try to be like Rondo, put everybody in the right spot, and thats been one of the main things I focus on . . . On the floor, the point guard is really the second coach. Honestly, he does everything.
Bradleys confidence is translating into the box score. In seven games with the Red Claws, he is averaging 15.3 points, 5.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.1 steals.
He has already had a few highlights during his short time in Maine. When the Red Claws traveled to Texas to play the Legends, Bradley scored 20 points in front of his mother, who saw her son play basketball in person for the first time since he was drafted. (His family came to Boston earlier in the season but Bradley did not play in that game.)
On Sunday, he tied a D-League record with nine steals in a single game against the Tulsa 66ers.
It was crazy, I didnt even know how many steals I had, he said. My teammates kept telling me but I wasnt paying attention -- I was in there trying to win the game. That is crazy now that I think about it. I dont think I got that many steals in high school.
Bradley is averaging 30 minutes a game and has started in four, which not only has helped him find his stride, but also helped his surgically repaired ankle. He believes the repetition of coming in and out of a game over an extended period of time has strengthened it.
Starting in a game gets my ankle going early, he said. I think most likely its getting my ankle stronger, so when Im not playing as much, sitting down, I feel like my ankle will be ready once I do get in the game and it wont be bothering me as much as it usually does.
As Bradley continues to improve with the Red Claws, the Celtics are never out of mind. He also speaks with Ainge on a regular basis -- Hes just so positive with me and it really helps me out a lot. He just really wants the best for me, Bradley said -- as well as members of coaching staff, trainers, and teammates.
I talk to one person on the phone, and somebody else is saying something in the background. Rondos always checking on me, sending me a text, seeing how Im doing, he said. They were all happy that I got the chance to play. It made me feel good to know that my teammates are calling me, checking in on me. It just shows that they care.
Of the Celtics, he talks to Nate Robinson the most often. The two hail from the Seattle area and have known each other since Bradley was in high school. They also sat next to each other in the Celtics locker room.
Hes been telling me to play hard, just get my game back, Bradley said. Thats the main thing, just get my confidence back. He just told me to go out here and play hard. The main thing is my confidence level, thats what he was so worried about.
There is no timetable for Bradleys return to the Celtics, but thats fine with him. Rather than getting ahead of himself and focusing on when he will get called back up, he is absorbing every minute he gets to play for the Red Claws.
We just take it day-by-day, he said. This experience for me is more important. Its so important.
And when he does return, Bradley looks to be a different player than he was the day he packed up for Portland.
Just my confidence level, even in practice, it makes me want to work that much harder, he said. Now Im definitely going to feel a lot more comfortable if I get into the game because now Im being put in situations that I could be put in playing with the Celtics, game situations.
I feel a lot more comfortable and Ill definitely be ready when my name is called.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter athttp:twitter.comjcameratoNBA