The outrage surrounding Avery Bradley's new four-year, $32 million contract with the Boston Celtics has been just about what you'd expect, equal parts reactionary and acerbic. Fans love getting up in arms when a team spends money that's theirs to spend, as if Stephen Drew's $10 million contract would have been destined for their own pockets if not given to the plucky shortstop.
Beyond ignoring the fact that the Celtics have a salary cap (projected at $63.2 million for the 2014-15 season) to meet and a roster to fill out, the Bradley detractors ignore that the deal is fair market value for a 23-year-old guard who will just be entering his prime by the time the contract is up. They ignore the fact that Bradley is one of three players on the roster, Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger being the others, that you'd like to have on any competitive team, rebuilding or otherwise. They ignore the fact that on the open market, you're not going to find a a top-five defender at his position who made 40 percent of his 3-pointers last season.
One quick note about the market, and then we'll get to the part about other players' contracts and who we'd rather have. The Herald's Steve Bulpett reports Thursday that the deal will start off paying Bradley somewhere around $7 million and cap to nearly $9 million by the 2017-18 season. Bulpett cites league sources as saying that there were other teams prepared to offer Bradley the same amount, and that at least one team had already done so. Here are five deals that lead me to believe those sources are right.
5. Jodie Meeks: 3 years, $20 million with Pistons
Meeks averaged 15.7 points last season and, like Bradley, shot 40 percent from 3-point range. Unlike Bradley, Meeks is something of a 3-point specialist, chucking up 404 of them last season compared to Bradley's 200. Meeks is 26 and had is best season last year seemingly out of nowhere. Bradley's scoring has gone up steadily each season. Meek's annual average of around $6.7 million is rightly under Bradley's average of $8 million.
4. Kyle Lowry: 4 years, $48 million with Raptors.
On the other end of the spectrum is Lowry, a guard universally acknowledged to be a better player than Bradley who will also be making 50 percent more than the Celtics guard. In Lowry the Raptors get a 28-year-old who averaged 17.9 points per game last season, by far the best of his career. They also get a guy who didn't average double-figures until his 5th NBA season (Bradley did it in his third). Lowry is a lead guard, the team's primary ball-handler, and thus should be paid more, but Bradley has the chance to make the same kind of impact on defense.
3. Arron Afflalo: 5 years, $43 million with Nuggets (in 2011)
Something none of Bradley's detractors want to talk about is the fact that the Celtics, like most good teams should be (we're looking at you Lakers), are paying for Bradley's future performance, what he did in his first three seasons. It's the same thing Denver did with Arron Afflalo in 2011, signing him to a deal with an annual average of $8.6 million. At that time Afflalo had never averaged more than 8.8 points per game.
The deal actually proved to be priced a little too low for Afflalo, who may opt out of his 5th-year player option to pursue free-agency this summer.
2.Ben Gordon: 2 years, $9 million with Magic
As much as it pains my UConn-loving heart to say it, Ben Gordon continues to sign contracts his performance can't cash. The latest is a two-year deal from the Magic that follows a season in which Gordon played 19 games and scored 99 points total for the Charlotte Bobcats. What are the Magic paying for here?
1. Jeff Green: 4 years, $36 million with Celtics (2012)
It might seem risky to defend one controversial Celtics contract with another, but that's how I roll. The outrage over Green's contract when he signed it reminds me a lot of this: how can you give a guy coming off a heart problem, a guy who has never been a No. 2 or 2. option, this kind of deal? Lost in all the outrage over Green is that an annual average around $9 million is not that much. The Celtics had three guys (Rajon Rondo, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries) making more than Green last season. Green's scoring average of 16.9 points led the team, but even if the Celtics had been a contender, that's perfectly acceptable production for a 4th option, which Green was paid to be.
Which brings us back to Bradley. If you consider him one of the best four or five players on an NBA roster -- which I absolutely do, than this deal makes perfect sense. The Celtics are building a team, of which Bradley is a crucial part, no matter whether Rajon Rondo stays or Kevin Love shows or any of that. You need guys like Bradley, and you've locked him up.
There are other arguments to be made for Bradley's contract, such as the fact that NBA salaries are going up across the board. But in the end the best argument surrounds the team-building aspect. Stan Van Gundy, who signed Meeks as part of his rebuilding plan in Detroit, summed the signing up as one part of many pieces he's trying to bring together.
"The analogy I've used is we're not going to hit a home run, but if we can get three singles, or two singles and a double and drive in a couple runs, we'll be okay," said Van Gundy. "I think it's important. I think we can improve some things on our team, I think we're pretty specific about what we're looking for and we'll go out and pursue those guys. Then you need a little bit of luck, too, you really do."