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Robb: Bradley Aiming For First Team All-Defensive Nod

WALTHAM – The Celtics head into the 2014-15 season with a litany of questions surrounding which players will be part of the team's core heading into the next stage of the rebuild.

Veterans like Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo are entering the final years of their contracts (although Green has a player option for next season). Youngsters like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are signed for the next couple seasons, but could be easily considered as trade bait, if and when a promising player becomes available via trade. Look no further than Boston's pursuit of Kevin Love over the summer as an example of that.

With those question marks in place, there are really only a couple players right now than can feel secure about their future in green. Veteran shooting guard Avery Bradley is at the top of that list.

The 23-year-old guard received a vote of confidence from the Celtics front office this offseason, by agreeing to terms on a four-year $32 million deal right after the start of the free agency period.

In addition to Bradley's signing, the Celtics added other offensive weapons to their backcourt in the form of Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner this summer. That development has led Bradley to focus on getting back to his roots this season: dominating on the defensive end of the floor.

"You know, I'm a defensive player first," Bradley explained at practice Thursday. "I let everything else come. I know my team needs me to guard the best offensive player every single night and so that's what I'm willing to do. That's my main focus really, I don't worry about the offensive end, that all will come."

Bradley took a step back with his defense last year after being bothered during much of the season with an ankle injury that limited him to just 60 games. For 2014-15, he's setting a high goal: Be considered one of the NBA's elite defenders.

"I want to be on the first team all-defense," Bradley noted. "I made the second team two years ago. That's my number one goal this year, but obviously I want to improve in every part of my game."

Bradley last wreaked havoc against opposing guards during Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's final year in Boston back in 2012-13. Making the second team was nice recognition for the shooting guard at the time, but still left him wanting more.

"I wouldn't say angered," Bradley said when asked about how he felt about missing out on first team all-defense in 2013, "But I felt like, it just made me want to continue to get better at defense. I know that my team defense can continue to improve so that's what I'm going to try to do this year."

Bradley Defense vs Smith
Bradley gets up close to New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bradley will have plenty of help in that department this season with the addition of Marcus Smart to Boston's backcourt. The rookie's size and physicality will allow Bradley to take a more active role early on guarding the opposing team's ball handler.

"I did it last year. I'm excited about it because I know I can help my team if I'm guarding the point guard on the other team, I can disrupt the [other team's] offense," Bradley said.

Head coach Brad Stevens knows that with a roster lacking in size, the team will be relying on Bradley, Smart and company to make up for what the team lacks defensively in the paint.

"Avery is a guy that can impact the game," Stevens declared. "I had a long talk with Avery this morning about how, a lot of people can score, a lot of people can handle it, a lot of people can make plays with the ball. Very few people can do that and change the energy of the game with their intensity level. …I think he's different because of that. One of the things we're trying to emphasize with our guards, generally, is playing with that kind of energy and playing into the ball with more aggression because we need to do that, because we're small otherwise."

Boston's best chance of success this year will come via their defensive talent on the perimeter. Any improvement from Bradley in that department may help the Celtics rise above expectations in a revamped Eastern Conference.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.


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