AUBURN HILLS – If it seemed like Avery Bradley was strangely upbeat for a player who’d just been traded by the East’s No. 1 seed to a team that had finished outside the playoff field at his July introduction to Pistons fans, there’s a reason for that.
More than one, actually.
First, Bradley had been forewarned by the Celtics that their free-agent agreement with Gordon Hayward could quite possibly trigger a trade even before the July 7 deal that sent Marcus Morris to Boston for Bradley and a future second-round pick.
“I feel like (a trade) shocks everybody, but that’s something that me and Boston spoke about a few days before, so I kind of knew it was happening. I just didn’t know where or when,” Bradley said. “I ended up here and I was excited about it. I gave Stan a call and he made me that much more excited. He seemed like he was really excited. Helped me feel more comfortable and relaxed.”
And then Bradley started getting feedback from the many players he’s come to know over his seven NBA seasons – all spent with Boston, which drafted him 19th in 2010 after Bradley’s freshman season at Texas – who’ve played for Van Gundy. Among them were new teammates Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Tobias Harris, players Bradley has known since their AAU days in their early teens.
“Every person I’ve spoken to – I mean, every person – they all have good things to say about Stan.”
The nut of these third-party endorsements is this: He’s the coach meant for Bradley’s personality and ability.
“The first thing they would all say is, ‘You’re going to love Stan. With your personality and how hard you work, you’re going to love Stan. You and Stan will get along perfectly.’ We all know Stan’s a very good coach. He’s very intense. I feel like he’s just going to help me be a better player, help me get out of my comfort zone, which is going to help me go to the next level in my game.”
There’s a sense around 6 Championship Drive that Bradley, despite not being known as a particularly vocal player, will emerge as a big part of a Pistons leadership core that will be necessarily altered with the exits of Morris, Aron Baynes and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“Hundred percent,” Anthony Tolliver said. “He’s going to be in the forefront of that, right with Reggie and Andre (Drummond). If he’s just himself and no more than he’s ever been before, he’s going to help our team tremendously. When you have a guy that works like that on the defensive end and is that good, it forces you to play harder.”
“Whenever you come to a new situation like this, you have to take it day by day,” Bradley said. “You don’t want to just come in telling people what to do, so I’m trying to learn and figure out how I can help our team in that way. But we have a great group of guys and I feel like I can definitely help guys on this team so we can reach our full potential as individuals and as a team.”
Bradley has felt a positive vibe during the last few weeks with virtually the entire Pistons roster assembled, minus Boban Marjanovic who on Sunday wrapped up his commitment to the Serbian national team, at their practice facility. It’s not unlike what he’d experienced in Boston the past few years.
“Who would’ve thought we would’ve won the East last year in Boston? No one believed that,” he said. “Same thing here. Anything’s possible if we buy into what Stan’s trying to do and continue to improve every single day.
“Everybody seems upbeat and open to what Stan is trying to do and understand that we all have to do our part in order to be a successful team. Whenever you have guys that have their own agendas, it’s hard to put all together. But I feel like everybody is going to be able to accept a role and go out there and execute that role every single night. That’s ultimately going to help us be the best team we can be.”
Bradley’s communication with Van Gundy has made it clear to him what his role will be. He’ll guard the opposition’s best backcourt player – often the point guard – every night. And if Van Gundy hadn’t pitched that role to Bradley … well, Bradley might well have pitched it to Van Gundy.
“That’s what I look forward to every single night,” Bradley grinned. “Even if he didn’t say that, that would be something that we’d probably sit down and talk about. I like that challenge. I don’t back down from anybody. I’m never going to back down from anybody and that’s what I play this game for – to go up against the best guards and compete against them at a high level and bring it every single night. Everybody knows that I’m going to bring it every night.”
Bradley plans on another conversation, this one with Stanley Johnson – the player Van Gundy expects to be Robin to Bradley’s batman and guard the opposition’s top forward every night.
“We need to sit down and have a real convo because I think Stan is very talented. If he’s able to accept that role, I feel like it’ll blossom him into the player he wants to be. He can be an elite defender in my eyes. Even being in Boston, I saw him and I was like, man, he’s a freak. He reminded me of Ron Artest. If he’s able to go out there and challenge himself, let Coach challenge him and his teammates challenge him to go out there and want to be the best defender on the floor every single night – have that same mindset I’m going to have – he can be a very special player. I’m looking forward to it.”
It didn’t take long for Avery Bradley to get comfortable with the idea of playing for the Pistons. Doesn’t sound like it’ll take long for him to get comfortable with the idea of being one of their leaders, either.