NBA free agency is quickly approaching and the Portland Trail Blazers need to be active. Their biggest positional need is a backup guard and their biggest strategic need is defense. This is why the Trail Blazers must consider prying restricted free agent Avery Bradley away from the Boston Celtics.
Bradley would be more than a rental. Although Portland is eager for a ring, I do not believe that they are actually in a position to get one by putting a couple vets on the bench for a season or two. Bradley is 23 years old and could be just what the Trail Blazers need for years to come.
Unlike starting point guard Damian Lillard, Bradley is a defensive specialist. Actually, he is probably a top-3 defensive point guard in the league depending on how you value steals. Not only would he balance out Lillard’s shortcomings, Lillard may improve with his help.
Bradley is even beginning to score well. Under new Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, he averaged a career high 14.9 points per game during the 2013-2014 season, shooting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc. If he continues to polish the offensive side of his game, he could provide the sort of production Portland will be missing when/if Mo Williams leaves.
Of course, Bradley is a highly coveted commodity, so he is likely to be expensive. Anything North of $6M-$7M per season is going to be too much under most circumstances. However; his history of fragility should help keep his price from becoming outrageous if it comes to a bidding war.
Although Boston would love to have Bradley back, there are a few scenarios in which he would become available to Portland:
Scenario 1) The Celtics are an eyelash away from successfully trading for Kevin Love, but cannot quite make the deal work. In this scenario, the Trail Blazers step in with a 3-team trade proposal. This is almost exactly how Portland wound up with Robin Lopez, however, in this case, we would be looking at a sign-and-trade. Bradley would have to agree to sign with the Celtics as a pretext for playing for the Trail Blazers. Fortunately, free agents tend to make more money in sign-and-trades, and the added incentive could make this more appealing for him. The Trail Blazers pool of offerable assets includes C.J. McCollum, Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, Victor Claver, Dorell Wright, Meyers Leonard, future picks, and cash. With the proper shuffling, a mutually beneficial arrangement could be reached.
Scenario 2) The Celtics draft either Dante Exum or Marcus Smart. In this draft class, you have to draft for talent. If either guard (projected to be taken about fourth and fifth respectively) slips to the sixth spot, Boston will bite. Since they have made it clear that they are sticking with Rajon Rondo at point guard for now, they may be unwilling to pay Bradley what he is worth to retain his services in a crowded backcourt. He is already somewhat out of position at shooting guard anyway. If Bradley becomes unrestricted, Portland will see if he is interested in becoming a Trail Blazer.
Scenario 3) Through some Neil Olshey voodoo, the Trail Blazers create enough cap space to offer Bradley more than the Celtics are willing to match. This would almost certainly involve moving McCollum, because it makes little sense to pay through the nose for a replacement without getting some spare change off of the part you are replacing first. This scenario seems less likely, though, since it would mean spending starter money on a bench player. However; I could see this happening if Portland wanted to play Bradley at the starting shooting guard position when Wesley Matthews’ contract expires next year. Bradley has potential to be more cost effective in the long term.
Each scenario is a long shot in its own way, but worth keeping an eye on nonetheless. The Trail Blazers would have to splurge to get Bradley, but he is the free agent most suited to fill an immediate need in Portland. It is not outside the realm of possibility for the Trail Blazers to sign him, so why not aim for the best option? He will be at the top of their list of players to monitor. If utilized properly, Bradley could garner the minutes he is accustomed to, playing both point guard and shooting guard off the bench in year one. Depending on how the cards fall in Boston this summer, Bradley may be ripe for the picking.