Why Avery Bradley should start

697940.jpg

Why Avery Bradley should start

From the very start, we knew this NBA season would be a crazy one in Boston. Given the silly schedule and the uneasy state of the Celtics, we were prepared for anything, expecting the unexpected. We knew that moving forward, nothing about this team was set in stone.

Blah Blah Blah. It's the same stuff we'd talked about forever. But this time it was real. It had to be. So, we made peace with the fact that, after four years of consistently contending for a title, the fifth year of the Big 3 era (vol. 2) would be just as much about the future as it was the present. That things were changing, and no one was safe.

But not in our wildest dreams did anyone see this coming. That with fewer than 15 games left, the biggest, most emotional drama surrounding the Celtics wouldn't be KG's legs, Rondo's attitude or every bone and muscle in Jermaine O'Neal's body. But instead, this

Who should start at shooting guard: Ray Allen or Avery Bradley?

At first glance, it's still such a ridiculous question. You know, because one guy is Ray Allen and the other is Avery Bradley. But for me, it's an easy one to answer.

I'm on board with Avery. No matter when Allen returns from injury, and regardless of how great he feels, I think Bradley should stay in the starting line-up.

First, let me just say that this has very little to do with this season.

Which guy makes the Celtics better in 2012?

Take your pick.

On one hand, Bradley's obviously playing well enough to start. I could spend a second column arguing what makes him such a good fit (what he does defensively, in transition and for the overall flow of the offense), but for now, all we need to know is that the Celtics are more successful when Bradley's in the line-up. They're 11-4 with him as a starter. They're 19-4 when he plays at least 15 minutes. And while this sample is too small for us to draw any major conclusions, from what we've seen, Bradley's ready to roll.

Then, on top of Bradley's emergence, we have Ray's recent decline.

In many ways, it's really hard to forget how great he was at the beginning of this season. Looking back on it now, Allen's hot start probably had a lot to do with the fact that more than half the league came in out of shape, while Ray never skipped a beat. Why? Because he's Ray Allen. He only knows one way to live. There are very few certainties in life, but one is that Allen will never be out of shape. Ever. So when the lockout abruptly ended, he gained back a few years. He also happened to catch one of the greatest shooting streaks of his career, and was night innight out the Celtics most consistent and effective player.

But here are some updated numbers on Ray.

Field goal percentage by month: .581 --> .483 --> .442 --> .427
Three point percentage by month: .583 --> .549 --> .406 --> .397

As the season's gone on, he's gotten worse. And while he's certainly still capable of exploding for a big game much more so than Bradley a big game for Ray Allen doesn't necessarily translate into Celtics success. For instance, he's scored 20 or more points 11 times this season. In those games, the Celtics are 4-7.

But on the other hand, if I didn't need to tell you why Bradley is such a good fit with the starters, I obviously don't have to waste time with Allen. Even if the rest of league has finally caught up to his conditioning, and he isn't quite as consistent as he used to be, we all know what Allen is capable of. We understand the bond and chemistry he has with this starting unit, and that when push comes to shove, when the game's on the line, you're still more than comfortable to see the ball in Ray Allen's hands. And so are all his teammates.

Which guy makes the Celtics better in 2012?

Again, take your pick.

But then ask yourself this:

Does it really matter?

At the end of the season, will the identity of the Celtics shooting guard be the difference between them winning or losing the NBA title?

Regardless of who starts at the two, will anyone be able to make the argument: "If only Ray was still starting, the Celtics would have won!" or "Oh man, once they put Bradley back on the bench, they had NO shot!"

Nope. No way. At this point, this season is what it is. It's a lot more fun and inspiring than we ever imagined, but the bottom line hasn't changed.

This isn't a championship team.

No decision is going to make or break their year.

So for me, the AllenBradley conversation comes to down what this season was supposed to be about in the beginning: The future.

Figuring out the next step.

And on that level, there's absolutely no question as to which is the right decision.

Listen, there are many people out there, myself being one of them, who believe that Danny Ainge whiffed at a chance to trade Ray at the deadline. That, as sorry as we all would have been to see him go, the move was to trade Allen for whatever you could have gotten whether it be a draft pick or a younger body and stockpile for the future. You know how Danny does it, its all about collecting chips. And this was a chance for him to grab one. A chance to head into this offseason with a whole bunch of cap room and possibly three first round picks! But he balked at the chance, and opted for one last futile run with his Big 3. He sacrificed a little piece of future to keep peace in the present. And other than for nostalgia which definitely counts for something it didn't make sense.

Even more now that Bradley's clearly capable of stepping in and only getting better.

And looking ahead, I think that's one of the biggest questions facing this franchise:

How good is Avery Bradley?

Now that his game has clicked, and it's clear he's not the next Gerald Green, where does it end? Is there something to this RondoBradley backcourt? Is this the runningmate Rondo's been waiting for? The first major piece of his Celtics puzzle?

Because right now, I love it. Rondo and Bradley give Boston and edge and mentality that they've missed for years. Of course, it's still a little hectic. It's definitely a work in progress. But you can't help but feel that there's something else there.

The more I look at Bradley, his athleticism, toughness, dominating defense and willingness to move with out the ball (combined with his shy, understated personality), the more I think he might the perfect sidekick for Rondo. That he's exactly what Rondo needs. That the future might be now.

But of course, it's still early. They've only started five games together! But they've been out there enough to make us want to see more.

We'll need to see more.

So, when Ray Allen is healthy, Doc will have two choices:

1) Play out the rest of the season with Allen in the starting line-up, and do your best to work Bradley into the mix. (For the record, if Doc attempts to do this, he will fail. No offense to him, but that's not one of his strengths.)

In this scenario, the Celtics will be eliminated, and questions surrounding the two-guard position will linger into the summer and add more confusion to an already confusing offseason:

Is Avery good enough to start next year? Will him and Rondo work? Is this the back court of the future?

And here's Doc's second option.

2) Answer those questions now.

Instead of slow playing the process, and leaving yourself in even more summer limbo, you roll the dice and see what you have with Bradley and Rondo. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But you're in no worse position than you were before. Even in the worst-case scenario, you find out the Bradley's not ready, and can act accordingly.

On the other hand, if the future really is now, these next two months could be invaluable to the growth of the RondoBradley and the future of this franchise.

To spend the summer, planning and building around, a young, athletic and playoff-tested back court? To feel like this franchise finally has some some direction? To know: "OK, these two guys are going to be here, and this is something special!"

That would be something special. And would be a huge step towards proving that, once and for all, the Celtics are committed to putting the future first.

Danny wasn't quite ready at the trade deadline, but here's hoping Doc will be now.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Personally, I would buy a crapload of stock in Cyrus Jones. In part because – after his nightmarish rookie season – stock can be bought on the cheap. But also because he’s too talented, too committed and too smart to suck like he did in 2016 when he handled punts like they were coated in uranium and never made a big contribution in the secondary.

Because of his disappointing year, Jones is an overlooked player on the Patriots roster, but he’s in a pivotal spot. With Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon approaching free agency, Malcolm Butler’s contract expiring after 2017, Pat Chung on the edge of 30 and a free agent after 2018 and the other corners being Justin Coleman, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones is going to get his shot.

The reason I included safeties Harmon and Chung in the discussion is that when the Patriots go to six DBs, roles are less stringently defined. And because of Jones’ size (5-10, 200), powerful build and short-area quickness, he can be the kind of versatile player who covers inside against quicker slot receivers as well as being on the outside if necessary. Kind of like Chung can cover on the back end or drop down to cover tight ends.

The Patriots are confident that Jones will get it right. His teammates in the secondary are unanimous in saying he’s got all the talent he needs.  

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

But as 2016 wore on, it was apparent that Jones was miserable and let his failures consume him. Jones muffed or fumbled five kicks in the 2016 season.
 
By the time the Patriots played the Ravens on a Monday night in December, he was so inside his own head that he stalked a bouncing punt he had no business being near (for the second time that game) and had it bounce off his foot setting up a Ravens touchdown. That night, Jones exited the Patriots locker room and made his way to the players parking lot before the field was even clear of equipment.

Jones either expected things to come as easily in the NFL as they did at Alabama and wasn’t prepared to deal with adversity. Or the mistakes he made caused him to wonder if he really was good enough to play in the league.

Either way, Cyrus Jones was all about Cyrus Jones in 2016. And his comments to the Baltimore Sun over the weekend were evidence that the world he’s concerned with ends at the end of his nose. 

"I honestly felt cursed," he said. "I reached a point where I didn't even want to play. I just didn't have it...What I did this year was not me," he said. "I don't care how anybody tries to sugarcoat it. Yes, I was a rookie. But I feel I should always be one of the best players on the field, no matter where I am.
 
"But honestly, it was hell for me," he said. "That's the only way I can describe it. I didn't feel I deserved to be part of anything that was happening with the team. I felt embarrassed that these people probably thought they wasted a pick on me."

The first thing Jones needs to do this offseason is get over himself. He can look one locker down and talk to Devin McCourty about getting crushed for shaky play in 2012, battling through it and then turning into a Pro Bowl-level safety. He can talk to fellow Alabama product Dont'a Hightower about Hightower’s being benched in the 2013 season against the Broncos and labeled a bust before flipping his season around and being the team’s best defender by the end of that year.

But he’s going to have to figure it out. Draft status means nothing to New England and, as it now stands, undrafted corner Jonathan Jones out of Auburn has more demonstrated value to the team that Cyrus Jones does. In two months, the Patriots are damn sure going to add more secondary players.

This offseason, Jones needs to check his ego, simplify his game and simply ban outside perceptions from fans, media or coaches from infect his on-field decision-making.

His conversation with the Sun didn’t really indicate he’s ready to do that. Asked about criticism, Jones said, “It pisses me off. You can say shut it out or don't listen, but I know people are talking, and it's negative. I'm not a dumb guy. It definitely affects me. What it should do is piss me off in a way that I want to shut them all up."

From the limited number of times I spoke with him and from his teammates regard for him, I can confirm Jones isn’t a dumb guy. That doesn’t necessarily make life easier though. In 2016, Cyrus Jones’ brain got in the way. The Patriots need him to shut that thing off in 2017. 

Brady lists suspects in jersey theft: Edelman, Lady Gaga, Game of Thrones villain

Brady lists suspects in jersey theft: Edelman, Lady Gaga, Game of Thrones villain

The case of Tom Brady's missing Super Bowl jersey got a tad more serious on Tuesday as the Houston Police Department's report on the stolen No. 12 was published by TMZ. In it, police estimate the value of the jersey at a cool half-million dollars

Brady clearly took notice. 

Though he'd probably like to have the jersey back in short order, he took to Instagram on Wednesday to make light of the search. 

His investigation seemed to lead him toward a familiar face, Julian Edelman, who he describes as a "sneaky lil squirrel." 

To let his teammate know he means business, Brady pulled a quote from Good Will Hunting.

"Ya suspect, yeah you! I don't know what your reputation is in this town, but after that s@?# you pulled, you can bet l'll be looking into you!"