Beard: Pistons may have found 'glue guy' they needed in Bradley

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Avery Bradley, 26, played all seven seasons with the Boston Celtics and was their second-leading scorer last season.

Auburn Hills — With seven years’ experience, Avery Bradley joins the Pistons as one of the most-tenured veterans on a team. They’re a bunch of twenty-somethings who don’t have a lot of playoff experience, save a quick four-game sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers in 2016.

The Pistons essentially gave up two starters — Marcus Morris in the trade with the Boston Celtics and letting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope go in free agency — to get Bradley, who has just one year and $8.8 million left on his contract.

On the surface, it’s a bit of a gamble but the trade isn’t just about getting one of the best two-way guards and a more palatable salary than the $18 million the Lakers are giving Caldwell-Pope next season.

This is about getting a more vocal leader, a player who can change the culture of this franchise quickly — and have a deeper impact if the Pistons are able to get Bradley to sign a longer-term deal when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

“We’ll talk about that when the time comes — but I do feel like this is going to be a great opportunity for me. This is going to help me grow as a player,” Bradley said. “Whenever you’re in a place that’s helping you grow and become a better player and person, you might want to stay there because anything can happen.

“I want to reach my full potential as a basketball player — and I’m hoping that can be here.”

Van Gundy is hoping the same thing, but it’s both a risk and the potential payoff for both parties. All things being equal, it’s probably more prudent to pay the max to a more proven player in Bradley, who is a more developed version of Caldwell-Pope, at least at this point.

“The thing you notice when you look at in Avery’s career is he’s been at this for seven years and he’s gotten better every single year,” Van Gundy said. “There really weren’t any negatives here; he’s a guy we’re really excited about to take a leadership role in us going forward.”

It’s a void the Pistons have had for a couple years, but they may be getting the "glue guy" they need to take a big step forward.

The Pistons finished 37-45 last season and on many nights, their lack of effort was a big question mark.

Bradley is regarded around the NBA as one of the best perimeter defenders, having made first-team All-Defense in 2016. He’s not only a leader they can rally around, but emulate what he does on both ends of the court.

“I want them to know I’m going to play hard and bring it every single game. I want the fans to know I play hard from the beginning to end of each game,” Bradley said. “I want to lead by example and everybody to have that same mindset. The sky’s the limit for our team if we’re able to play that way.

“I’m going to lead in my own way: by example and speak up when I need to. I want to come in and work hard every single day, hoping I’m able to share some of my habits with the younger guys and they can share with me. We can all help each other get better.”

It’s already having an impact on Reggie Jackson, who made the trip from California to Detroit for the press conference. Although he lost his backcourt mate in Caldwell-Pope, he was compelled to fly in and welcome Bradley.

“I love it. It’s only going to elevate my game,” Jackson said. “If I look at him every play, I expect him to hold me accountable and I’m going to try to get the best out of him and get him to get the best out of me.”

Bradley got a front-row seat in learning from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in his first couple of years in the league with the Celtics. He’s at a point now that he can be the rudder that helps set the Pistons on course toward a return to the playoffs — or more.

“Those guys really helped me be a pro basketball player on and off the court. I want to do the same here, from Day 1,” Bradley said. “You have to build good habits; you can’t just become a good player just be being able to jump high and run fast. There’s a lot of work you have to put in and a lot of focus, from film work and down the list. Those are things you have to build from the beginning.

“I’m going to bring all those things to this team and try to help us and build better habits.”

The Pistons lost some of their veteran leadership after reserves Anthony Tolliver and Joel Anthony didn’t return last summer. Tolliver re-signed for next season but Bradley adds some credibility and visibility, contributing from a starting spot.

With the tide of talent moving heavily to the Western Conference, the Pistons have a shot to get back to the playoffs, which could be a key piece in trying to keep Bradley around longer than just this season.

It’s a big gamble, but it could also be a big payoff.