Finding his comfort level
Bradley wants opportunity
WALTHAM - Listen to the stories, and it sounds as though Celtics practices are battlefields.
The intensity apparently runs so high that when it surfaced last year that Delonte West and Von Wafer threw fists after a preseason practice, Ray Allen and Shaquille O’Neal sort of shrugged it off, essentially saying that things like that happen more than people realize.
Kevin Garnett is manic, never wants to get off the floor. None of the veterans do.
Rookies have to get in where they fit - if they fit at all. J.R. Giddens, the Celtics’ first-round pick in 2008, would find himself on the outside looking in.
Last year, Avery Bradley was a 19-year-old rookie, and trying to get on the practice floor felt like cliff-diving into a volcano.
“It was tough,’’ he said. “People don’t realize how hard we go, even though we’re an older team. We go hard. It was hard to get in practice because people don’t want to get out.
“Some practices, I wouldn’t even want to get in because I was so nervous.’’
It took him the length of the season to build the confidence, and really the nerve, but little things made him realize he belonged.
After almost every practice, a few players would stay for three-on-three games. Some for one-on-one. Bradley would go head-to-head with Rajon Rondo, and he wouldn’t want to give an inch.
At the same time, he would watch Rondo, studying the things that made him a two-time All-Star, and the more they competed, the more comfortable Bradley got.
“It helped a lot because it lets you know that you can play with those guys,’’ Bradley said. “All you have to do is, when you get the opportunity, make the most of it.’’
He started to force his way in during practice.
“As the year went on, my confidence got higher and I wanted to get in practice,’’ Bradley said. “I was grabbing, pulling people, saying, ‘Let me in.’ ’’
When training camp opens today, Bradley will be as eager to hit the floor as anyone. He hopped a red-eye from Seattle to Boston Wednesday night to get here as soon as possible.
He has added 10 pounds to his 6-foot-2-inch frame. He played anywhere he could during the lockout - from Orlando to Israel, Seattle to Texas - and after a quiet rookie year, he believes he’s ready to make a leap in his second season.
“So this year’s going to be a little different,’’ he said.
The Celtics took Bradley with the 19th pick in the 2010 draft, and from there, it seemed like everything that could derail his first season did.
A sprained ankle caused him to miss summer league and training camp. He was drastically behind and played catch-up the rest of the way.
He saw the floor in 31 games, but the Celtics knew that missing that time early on hurt him. This year’s lockout robbed him of another shot at summer league, and his first training camp will be a condensed one. But he plans to cram in as much as possible.
“He was hurt all training camp, no summer leagues, all those kind of things have really hurt Avery and his development,’’ said Celtics president Danny Ainge. “So this is going to be his first training camp, and his first time to get reps and stuff. So we don’t know. This is a big moment for Avery.’’
Whenever he saw the floor last year, the hesitation was noticeable. The one game when things felt easy was the regular-season finale when he dropped 20 points on the Knicks.
“Not going out there worrying about every time I make a play looking over at [coach] Doc [Rivers], just that confidence, going out there playing my game, doing what I do,’’ he said.
Bradley is still something of an unknown.
How much will he contribute this season?
Is he a point guard or a shooting guard?
Then there are the questions about what roster moves the Celtics are considering.
Bradley is unfazed by the questions, just preparing for the season.
“Anything can happen,’’ he said. “They can bring anybody in, but I’m not worried about that right now. I’m just worried about improving. I’m just excited for training camp to start so I can go out there and try to get a spot.’’
As soon as last season ended, he wanted to show the Celtics how committed he was. Before the lockout, Bradley went to Orlando to spend time with Rivers and develop a bond.
Trust off the court, he said, leads to trust on it.
“I was just trying to go down there and start a relationship with Doc, which I felt like I did,’’ Bradley said.
From there, Bradley considered his overseas options. Knowing how valuable any game experience would be, the Celtics encouraged him to play as much as he could during the lockout, and he found an opportunity in Israel with Hapoel Jerusalem.
He focused on playing point guard, but the experience lasted all of three games. Still, it was another shot of self-assurance.
“It helped my confidence level,’’ Bradley said. “And I feel like coming into this year I’m going to have more confidence playing against these guys.’’
He’ll have to jump into the volcano again. But the chance to earn more time is there.
“I think he’ll be given an opportunity,’’ Ainge said. “It’s up to Avery, how well he plays. We’re very excited about him and think he has a bunch of potential, but ultimately he’s going to have to prove to our coach that he deserves playing time and that we need him on the court to help us win.’’
Bradley hasn’t said a word to Ainge yet. Players weren’t allowed to talk to team officials until today. But he already answered Ainge’s question.
“That’s what I’m going to do this year,’’ he said. “If I get into practice, a game, anything, I’m going to make the most out of it. This year I feel like I’m going to be ready.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.