A two-way swingman with playoff experience, a respectable three-point stroke and difficult-to-quantify defensive chops, Avery Bradley should have a solid market once he hits unrestricted free agency this summer.
The 6-foot-2 shooting guard’s market won’t be quite as strong as it would have been last offseason, however, for two simple reasons: For one, he dragged through an injury-plagued campaign that only allowed him to see action in 46 games all year and two, more importantly, there’s going to be a serious shortage of money league-wide once free agency opens up.
The NBA’s sins from the summer of 2016 have finally caught up to the league, and the money that was once dolled out so flippantly is all but gone. Only a few select teams are projected to have cap room once this summer rolls around, and the ones that do, for the most part, are going through rebuilds.
That leaves Bradley in a precarious position.
He’s only 27 years old, still in the midst of what should be his athletic prime. But at that age, he doesn’t make much sense for teams on Year-1 or -2 of starting over.
What’s more, the defensive-minded guard is coming off a campaign in which he regressed as a rebounder (from 6.1 nightly boards in his final year as a Boston Celtic to 2.5 as a Detroit Piston and Los Angeles Clipper this season) and as a scorer (46.3 percent shooter from the floor in 2016-17 to 41.1 percent in 2017-18).
He did play with nagging ailments for most of the season (which eventually led to him being shut down on March 13 for abdominal surgery) while having to adjust to playing for two new teams in the span of months, but even so, his play clearly tailed off this season.
Bradley’s market will surely be heavy on contenders, either for championships or, at the very least, postseason play. The issue is, those are the very organizations that aren’t exactly flush with spending cash at the moment.
Would the Texas product take the mid-level exception (around $4.4 million for teams under the cap, $5.3 million for taxpaying teams and $8.6 million for teams over the cap but under the luxury tax) from a franchise with major aspirations in 2018-19? Or would he rightfully hold out for a bigger deal in hopes one comes through?
We present four teams to keep an eye on in Bradley’s impending free agency if he decides against returning to the Clippers.
The potential for the Philadelphia 76ers as Bradley contenders comes provided they lose the services of their own starting 2-guard JJ Redick, who also hits unrestricted free agency this July.
The Sixers, despite their vast improvements this season thanks to the outstanding play of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, still lack the outside shooting to make a real run at the Eastern Conference crown.
What’s more, Brett Brown’s men are a mediocre 21st overall in spot-up shooting in 2017-18, according to Synergy Sports Tech. Bradley, in his 40 games as a Piston, produced a very healthy 1.16 points per spot-up possession, a mark healthy enough to put him in the league’s 85th percentile.
Add in Bradley’s excellent one-on-one defensive skills, as well as his age, which slots in nicely with Philadelphia’s overall timeline, and you have the potential for a fantastic marriage between the guard and the future Eastern Conference giant.
Financially, a fit between the two parties exists as well.
The only team with less money tied up in salaries than Philadelphia after this season is the Los Angeles Lakers. And although the 76ers surely have their eyes set on more important targets this summer, they’ll have plenty of money to offer up as they see fit even if they do shock the world and land a big fish.
San Antonio Spurs
Another team that would need to lose their own starting shooting guard before becoming fully vested in acquiring Bradley are the San Antonio Spurs.
Unlike Bradley and Redick, though, Danny Green owns a player option on his deal next season, one worth $10 million. Considering the money-dry landscape free agents will face this summer, it’s not a total guarantee Green will opt out.
Nevertheless, chances are, the nearly 31-year-old sharpshooter will choose to look for one more long-term contract before exiting his prime.
If Green were to leave San Antonio this summer, Gregg Popovich and Co. could see Bradley as a natural replacement. Green has better size than the current Clippers 2-guard, but Bradley is a more well-rounded scorer. And he’s every bit as good of a defender when facing opposing guards.
Plus, according to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, San Antonio had interest in Bradley around the trade deadline:
The Spurs are locked into about $98.4 million in salaries for 2018-19, leaving them under the projected salary cap, which latest estimates have at $101 million. That figure could hurt San Antonio’s chances with Bradley, as it would only leave them with the $4.4 million mid-level exception reserved for teams under the cap.
Even if the Spurs offer Bradley the full four years, that only amounts to a four-year, $17.6 million deal – a number the veteran guard would likely scoff at.
To get around that, San Antonio could re-sign one of their own players whose Bird Rights they own (like Tony Parker or Kyle Anderson, for example) and go just over the cap in the process, thus freeing up the standard $8.6 million mid-level exception to use on Bradley.
Look for the two parties to rekindle talks when Bradley is free to sign with anyone this summer.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Spurs were one of two teams rumored to have major interest in Bradley at the trade deadline. The other was the Oklahoma City Thunder. Back in February, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote:
“Avery Bradley’s name keeps popping up as a top target for the Thunder, according to multiple league sources, and the Clippers have made the guard available after acquiring him in the Blake Griffin blockbuster. […] The problem is it’s unclear whether the Thunder have anywhere close to what it takes to acquire Bradley.”
Oklahoma City’s interest in Bradley was born in the fact that they lost their own defensive-minded swingman in Andre Roberson to injury in late January. That left them with a massive hole on the less glamorous side of the floor. (They still haven’t really recovered. Since losing Roberson, the Thunder were 14th in defensive efficiency; prior to that, they were sixfth.)
So with Roberson set to return at some point next season, the need for Bradley lessens a bit.
However, with the very real threat of starting small forward Paul George heading home and joining the Los Angeles Lakers existing (provided he opts out of the final year of his deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, which he almost certainly will), a hole on the perimeter could open right back up for Oklahoma City.
The Thunder could consider signing the eighth-year guard and moving Roberson to the 3 to fill the hole left by George. Bradley’s spot-up shooting would be a fantastic fit next to Russell Westbrook, and his point-stopping prowess could form a nasty tandem with Roberson.
Financially, even if Oklahoma City does lose George and fellow new addition Carmelo Anthony, they’re still projected to be over the cap to start 2018-19. But they will be under the tax, freeing up the same $8.6 million mid-level exception the Spurs can offer.
At that price, Bradley would be a steal if he can regain his 2016-17 form.
New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans, despite their respectable playoff push this season after losing a Top 10 player, have a roster that’s lacking if they plan to contend anytime soon.
And if they re-sign DeMarcus Cousins this summer as is expected, it will be extremely difficult for them to improve on their deficiencies.
One of those deficiencies is at 2-guard. Despite E’Twaun Moore having a career year (12.5 points and 1.6 triples nightly while shooting 42.5 percent from deep), he’s still better suited for a backup role.
Adding Bradley would give the Pelicans an elite defensive starting backcourt between Jrue Holiday, who should be a lock for 1st Team All-Defense this season, and the Texas product.
And offensively, his shooting, along with his cutting off the ball (Bradley was in the 83rd percentile as a cutter in 2016-17, per Synergy), would fit in perfectly playing next to players as ball-dominant as Cousins, Holiday and Anthony Davis.
It must be noted, though, that by bringing back Cousins at a price resembling the max he will likely still command even despite his injury, the Pelicans will begin to approach the projected luxury tax figure for 2018-19 of $123 million.
If they get over that number, that would leave them with only the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3 million) to offer Bradley, and that may not be enough to entice the talented shooting guard, even if they stretch it out into a four-year, $21.2 million offer.
It’s going to take some serious maneuvering by general manager Dell Demps to improve the pieces around New Orleans’ Big Three, which is a shame; Bradley would be a near-perfect fit.
At the end of the day, Bradley will be hoping to land a big money, long-term contract offer this summer. And there are a few teams who can offer him such a deal, like the 76ers, Lakers and Utah Jazz.
But with how little money will be available for prospective free agents, the further from July 1st (the annual opening day of free agency) Bradley goes without signing, the likelier it is he opts to go with the mid-level exception and join a contender.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.