Bradley finding his game with the Red Claws


Bradley finding his game with the Red Claws

By JessicaCamerato

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 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


Boston Celtics officially announce five signings


Boston Celtics officially announce five signings

The Boston Celtics announced Wednesday that they have signed free agent guard/forward Gerald Green, re-signed center Tyler Zeller and signed 2016 NBA draft picks forward Jaylen Brown, guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Ben Bentil.

More to come...


Six of the NBA's best offseason moves


Six of the NBA's best offseason moves

BOSTON – At this point in the summer, all of the heavy lifting that NBA teams do when it comes to reshaping their roster is done now.

The stars you see now are the stars you’ll likely see when training camp begins in a few weeks (I know, crazy right?).

While every team will vow that they had a great summer and made lots of moves that will benefit them, we all know better.

The list of summer winners is not a particularly long list.

Here’s a look at the six offseason moves that should go far in helping their respective teams achieve noticeable growth from a year ago.

6. Dwyane Wade, Chicago

Few anticipated Wade would actually call the Miami Heat’s bluff, which as it turned out wasn’t a bluff at all, and take his talents elsewhere. He signed with his hometown Chicago Bulls after the Heat refused to give him parachute-like contract akin to what the Los Angeles Lakers did for Kobe Bryant. Wade’s arrival doesn’t catapult the Bulls to elite status and truth be told doesn’t assure they’ll be a playoff club, either. But it does provide them with a big-time scorer, an under-rated defender and just as significant, more talent after trading away Derrick Rose to New York. But the concerns with Wade – his health – are no different than they were with Rose. He played in 74 games last season, the most the 34-year-old guard has appeared in since 2011. Having set just about every franchise record of significance for the Heat, it’ll be different seeing him in a Bulls uniform. But considering he never was the highest paid player on the Heat during his 13 seasons, one can understand why he walked away to sign a two-year, $47.5 million contract with the Bulls. The Bulls were on the playoff bubble before Wade's arrival. With him, their chances improve but not by much.

5. Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers

Turner was among the NBA’s top sixth men a year ago in Boston, the kind of play that he was able to parlay into a four-year, $70 million contract. The Celtics held out slim hope of re-signing him, and Turner acknowledged he would be willing to leave some money on the table in order to return to the Celtics. But the Blazers made him a top priority with the kind of contract offer that was too good to pass up. He provides another ball-handler and solid defender who will be a great fit inside the locker room. But with him being most effective with the ball in his hands and not a very good 3-point shooter, it’ll be interesting to see just how much Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum play off the ball this season. Don’t be surprised if Turner winds up being a key reserve, similar to the role he played so well in Boston. The Blazers have enough talent to get back to the postseason, but the addition of Turner enhances their chances of getting past the first round.

4. Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks

The addition of Kevin Durant to Golden State sealed Barnes’ departure from the Bay Area. But no tears need to be shed for this 24-year-old who wound up signing a four-year, $94 million deal with the Mavericks. Barnes has played his entire NBA career up to this point in the shadow of older, more established, all-star caliber players. That’s not an issue anymore. He’s going to Dallas as the first option not named Dirk Nowitizki, a role the Mavs envisioned would be manned by Chandler Parsons, who despite being injury-riddled most of his time in Dallas, opted out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent. Parsons then signed a max deal with the Memphis Grizzlies worth $98 million over four years. Barnes had his struggles in the playoffs in June for sure, but he has shown lots of signs of being a player on the verge of breaking out if given a higher profile role with added responsibility. He has four years under his belt, and his scoring average has increased each season and is a career 37.6 percent 3-point shooter. And the 6-foot-7 forward has shown increased versatility, evident by him playing small forward 87 percent of the time when he was a rookie, to more even split this past season when he played more at power forward (55 percent) than small forward (44 percent). The Warriors played him on a few occasions (1 percent) at center. Being able to hold his own at multiple positions makes him a great fit for head coach Rick Carlisle. This was a likely lottery team if they didn't fill the void left by Parson's departure. Now, they're likely to be where they were last season - one of a handful of teams fighting for one of the last remaining playoff slots.

3. Serge Ibaka, Orlando

There were higher profile trades this summer, but this one may wind up being one of the most impactful. The Magic have been acquiring young talent for years but not showing much cohesiveness or improvement. They needed to add a talented veteran with legit leadership qualities. Ibaka is that guy. He made a name for himself as an athletic, shot-blocking center in Oklahoma City, quickly climbing the rungs of elite NBA defenders. He has ranked among the league’s top-4 in total blocked shots each of the last six seasons, and led the league in total block shots four times (2010-2014) in that span. And as the game changed, Ibaka expanded his game to beyond the 3-point line. After not taking a single 3-pointer in his first season, Ibaka has ranked among the better 3-point shooting big men in the NBA with career .427 shooting percentage beyond 3-point range. His ability and leadership should give the Magic their best shot in years of getting back to the playoffs.

2. Al Horford, Boston

Horford has been a player on the Celtics’ radar for quite some time. And Horford apparently was starting to at least inquire about possibly playing for Boston during All-Star Weekend. Horford has been one of the game’s better two-way big men who can defend both big positions in addition to being a decent defender when switched out on guards. And while he has a nice back-to-the-basket game, Horford expanding his game beyond the 3-point line has allowed him to be an even more impactful player. Adding him does more than just solidify Boston’s spot as a playoff team. He gives them legitimate hope that a trip to the Eastern Conference finals isn’t just a pipe dream; but with a break here and there, it could easily become a reality.

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State

On Tuesday night, Kevin Durant, playing his first game at Golden State’s Oracle Arena since he signed with the Warriors, drained his first three shots, which set the tone for a 50-point Team USA win over China. Durant was far and away the best free agent on the market, ultimately spurning the Thunder (and a handful of other teams including Boston) to join an already star-studded Golden State lineup that includes Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. Without Durant, the Warriors were still going to be among the teams expected to contend for an NBA title. But in adding him, they are the overwhelming favorites even if Cleveland returns its core group that includes LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. There are other moves that might have a greater impact on a team’s overall win total. But Durant moves the needle in a way no other offseason move has. Him joining Golden State puts the Warriors exactly where the other 29 NBA teams want to be: the team everyone is chasing.