BOSTON -- It was only fitting that Avery Bradley was in Boston on Sunday, his 27th birthday.
He has a new lease on his basketball life with the Detroit Pistons now. But the birth of Avery Bradley as an NBA player began in Boston with the Celtics, the only NBA franchise he played prior to this season.
Tonight he returns to where it all started, the TD Garden, as the Celtics (18-3) host the Pistons (12-7) in a battle between the top two teams in the East.
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The Celts' place among the elite in the East isn’t all that surprising. They had the best record in the conference last season, and while they radically reshuffled the roster in the offseason there was no mistaking the fact that, on paper at least, this was a more talented team than the one we saw a year ago.
But in that pursuit of becoming better, there was some collateral damage along the way -- specifically, the trading of Bradley.
When the final numbers for the salary cap came in lower than expected this summer, the Celtics had to make another deal in order to ensure they would be able to fit the four-year, $127.8 million contract signed by Gordon Hayward.
That led to Boston parting ways with Bradley in exchange for Marcus Morris.
"I understand what they did and I have no hard feelings at all," Bradley told reporters recently. "I ended up in a great situation, in a great organization, so I'm happy and they're playing well -- they're playing great basketball right now -- so at the end of the day it's about making the best decision for the team."
Not only are the Pistons off to a great start, but Bradley’s individual statistics are once again on the rise.
The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game. Prior to the trade, Bradley had talked about getting to the free-throw line more often. This season, he’s averaging a career-high 2.8 free throw attempts per game. Bradley’s 3-point shooting (42.5 percent) is also at an unmatched level.
Morris, the player Boston acquired in trading away Bradley to Detroit, isn’t surprised at all that Bradley has had such a seamless fit with the Pistons.
“He’s fit in Detroit because Stan [Van Gundy, Detroit's coach] is a defensive type of guy,” Morris said. “So [Bradley] can go over there, defend his ass off and he’s going to play. He’s not going to say too much about shots; Avery’s a veteran. He knows how to play the game. Detroit’s probably helping him a little more because he has the ball in his hand more, can create for himself.”
To see Bradley thrive in a new surrounding isn’t the least bit surprising to Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“Huge part of our team” was the first thought that came to mind for Stevens when he was recently asked about Bradley.
“When we had to make that move after Gordon signed, those are really difficult things,” Stevens said. “We talked about this summer, any time you’re getting guys that are really, really talented, it usually comes at a cost in professional sports. There’s both the cost of the guy that’s been on your team, the emotional cost of someone that you’ve been around every day.
Stevens added, “it’s great to see him playing well. He’s having a tremendous season. They’re a heck of a team. He’s a great fit for how they play. So, hats off to him and he’s going to be a hard guy to play against.”