The arrival of big fish free agent Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics on a four-year, $127 million max contract simultaneously resulted in the departure of shooting guard Avery Bradley, who was shipped to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for forward Marcus Morris.
The Bradley trade only yielded pennies on the dollar – Bradley had a career-year offensively, averaging 16.3/6.1/2.2 while shooting .463 percent from the field and .390 percent from deep, all career-highs, and while Marcus isn’t even the better of the Morris twins, Boston’s front office needed to make a move for the dollars and cents to work.
Rumors circulated at the time of the Hayward signing that Boston’s front office would ship Jae Crowder to the Utah Jazz and transform the deal into a sign-and-trade.
But with a team-friendly deal which pays a little under $22 million over three years, Boston decided to cut ties with Bradley instead, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season and will likely command a max contract.
Boston’s decision to send Bradley to Detroit leaves a vacancy at starting shooting guard, a role Bradley has occupied full-time since the 2011-12 season when he began to start over future Hall-of-Famer Ray Allen.
Barring an unlikely major change this offseason, the man most likely to serve as Bradley’s heir to the starting shooting guard throne is former Bear Jaylen Brown.
As a second-year player, Brown likely doesn’t immediately jump into Boston’s starting rotation when next season begins, but considering the current roster composition, the Bradley-trade puts Brown in the best position possible to start down the road.
When Bradley struggled with injuries in January and February, which forced him to miss 22 of 23 games, Celtic head coach Brad Stevens initially ran with Marcus Smart as the team’s starting shooting guard.
Smart put up solid numbers individually, averaging 12.9/4.1/.4.3 in seven starts, but the point guard’s individual contributions did not lead to wins as the Celtics only won three of those seven ballgames.
Following a 15-point loss to the rival Washington Wizards, Stevens inserted Brown into the starting lineup and the wins followed suit. In 12 starts, Brown averaged 9.5/4.3/0.9 in just 24.5 minutes per game and the Celtics won 10 of 12, including seven straight right off the bat with wins against the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers.
Upon Bradley’s return, Brown would only start five of his last 23 games, but with the veteran shooting guard no longer apart of the team’s rotation, the Cal product will likely see an uptick in playing time during significant minutes.
The Summer League has served as a sign of what is to come for Brown next season at shooting guard. On the defensive end, Brown has been put on both point and shooting guards; of note, he’s guarded the Philadelphia 76ers’ Markelle Fultz, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball and the San Antonio Spurs’ Dejounte Murray.
“I’m comfortable with whatever,” said Brown in regards to guarding 2s (via Brian Robb on Twitter). “If Brad wants me to play 1, 2, 3 or the 6, it doesn’t matter. I’ll play it.” Stevens has also told Brown he will guard 1s and 2s next season.
Brown ended his rookie campaign with 1.3 defensive win shares, the fifth-most among rookies. There will likely be a learning curve as Brown spent last season guarding small forwards, but standing at 6’7” with a 7’0” wingspan, he’ll have the length to disrupt small guards.
On the offensive end thus far, Brown has been a little bit of a mixed bag. He shined in the first game of the Utah Summer League, totaling 29 points and 13 rebounds in a 89-88 win over the 76ers, but has blended into the crowd in his last four games, only averaging 9.3/6.0/1.4 despite a weaker level of competition.
Brown has spent some time running the offense for Boston during the Summer League and has ran some pick-and-rolls as the ball handler as well, but his playmaking and dribbling remain two areas of growth, but at 20, he’s likely a ways away from being given the keys to run the offense.
A starting spot isn’t a guarantee for Brown despite the vacancy as Stevens may elect to roll with Hayward at the 2 and Crowder at the 3 to begin the season. Hayward, of course, is the superstar acquisition and Crowder upped his efficiency while posting career-highs in rebounds and assists.
Boston’s starting lineup will likely remain up in the air as it stands with Hayward, Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford as the only guaranteed starters. Stevens has the luxury of rotational flexibility, but whether or not Brown starts next season, the former Bear will be a key cog in Boston’s run to dethrone King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come next summer.