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On Monday, the Celtics officially announced that they had extended a qualifying offer to restricted free agent shooting guard Avery Bradley, the terms of which were not disclosed. The offer is the necessary first step to retain negotiating rights with an RFA, meaning that now Boston can re-sign Bradley by matching the highest bid by another team.
Bradley, the 19th pick in the 2010 Draft out of Texas, has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of his four years in the NBA, going from defensive specialist to bona fide offensive threat, and the offer proves that general manager Danny Ainge rightly considers re-signing him a priority this offseason.
Despite missing 22 games in 2013-14, mostly due to a recurring right ankle injury, Bradley was consistently one of the Celtics’ best players when healthy, averaging 14.9 points per game, an increase of 5.7 ppg from the previous season. He also shot 43.8% from the floor, including 39.5% from beyond the arc, while playing a career-high 30.9 minutes per game and adding 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals.
Keeping Bradley has to be high on Ainge’s to-do list because, with Jerryd Bayless an unrestricted free agent, the only SGs under contract are Chris Babb, who played in just 14 games last year, the still-MIA Keith Bogans and the recently drafted, and very raw, James Young. It remains to be seen how much competition the Celtics will have for Bradley’s services, but he is definitely among the top five free agents at his position.
As for the rumor mill, which is just heating up with the official beginning of the free agency period, the first target that reports are linking the Celtics to is Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, who played his two-year college career under current Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler and was drafted 10 picks before Bradley in 2010.
Like Bradley, Hayward is coming off a career year, with season-high averages of 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 77 games played. As they do at other positions, the Celtics need help at small forward, where Jeff Green has been consistently inconsistent and Gerald Wallace missed the last six weeks of his worst season since 2003-04, forcing mid-season pickup Chris Johnson into a prominent role in which, in all fairness, he exceeded expectations.
Utah daily the Deseret News, however, reported that the Jazz intends, in principle, to match even the highest offers for Hayward, whose other suitors are said to include the Hornets and Suns. This year’s free agent small forward class also features Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng and Chandler Parsons - not to mention Celtics legend Paul Pierce. As always at this early stage of free agency, only one thing is certain: the rumors are only going to get better.