While the NBA’s official return is still over a month away, players have until Wednesday to inform their teams/the NBA of whether they plan to participate in the restart in Orlando. News of player opt-outs have already begun, with the Wizards Davis Bertans (health concerns) and the Blazers Trevor Ariza (family situation) deciding they would not join their respective teams in Orlando when teams begin their departures on July 7th.
Add Avery Bradley to that list. He has informed the Lakers he will not be traveling to the “bubble” in Orlando with his team:
The health of Bradley’s son was not a known factor before tonight’s report, but it’s a totally understandable decision and one that have the utmost respect for. Family is always the most important thing and the prospects of spending months away from them while also having the burden of worrying about potential health concerns would be far from an ideal situation under normal circumstances, but especially so during a pandemic while trying to compete for an NBA championship.
We also cannot ignore Bradley’s views on the current state of our country and what role those could have played in his decision. Bradley clearly expressed strong views on wanting to see tangible plans for progress from the NBA in regards to the racial inequalities that plague the U.S. and show their teeth in the hiring practices and makeup of front office and league executives. The idea that returning to play could serve as a distraction from or in some way hamper the causes that have come to the forefront of American life were clearly stated by Bradley in the past weeks, so we shouldn’t be quick to pivot away from those now.
I think those ideas should be heard now, too, even if Bradley isn’t actively pushing them in this moment. Those are important and matter and should not be cast aside even if the primary reason for Bradley not going to Orlando are based in concerns for his family and their health.
In getting to the basketball side of this, with Bradley unavailable, the Lakers will have a hole to fill and it will not be easy.
While Bradley isn’t the Lakers best perimeter defender, he’s a very important one. He sets a defensive tone with his ball pressure and physicality at the point of attack. His want to get into the space of opposing guards has many tangible benefits–helping to drain the shot clock, wearing down lead guards, taking away first options in a team’s sets, etc–but also intangible ones. There’s an attitude that comes with the style of play he brings to the floor and it’s one that the rest of this team has fed on all season to the tune of being a top-5 defensive team for nearly the full campaign.
Offensively Bradley had his ups and downs, but there were more of the former than the latter as a couple of rough patches shooting were bookended by extended hot streaks from behind the arc. Bradley is also a wonderful cutter and someone who knows how to space and clear the floor by drawing defenders with him by smartly slashing off the ball into the gaps of the defense. Bradley’s aggression as a shooter could sometimes go beyond his role, but overall I saw his willingness to take shots as a benefit to the overall flow and shape of the Lakers offense.
He will be missed, then, on both sides of the ball.
In saying all that, the motto of every good team is “next man up” and the great teams find a way to not miss a beat when a key player is out. The Lakers fashion themselves a great team and it will be up to Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, KCP, and Dion Waiters to pick up the slack in Bradley’s absence. Of those names, Caruso is the player who is best equipped to fill Bradley’s shoes, but time will tell how the rotation shakes out. There’s also already rumors about the Lakers signing a player to replace Bradley on the roster (more on this in a separate post), so there could be more reinforcements coming who aren’t currently on the team.
Ultimately, though, I’ll end this by repeating something I’ve already said. Respect to Bradley and a thanks to him for all he’s contributed to the Lakers this season. He’s been a steady veteran contributor who has really helped the team. I hope the Lakers can honor his decision by bringing him home a Larry O’Brien trophy and a bottle of champagne to pop in celebration.