Avery Bradley was the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers for the entire regular season, when healthy, serving as an able defender of other lead guards that allowed LeBron James to handle ball-handling responsibilities without having to check smaller, quicker players. He was a valuable energy guy who inspired the team and made the Lakers better when he was on the floor.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the NBA season was suspended. When the league announced it would resume in a “bubble” at Disney, Bradley opted out, citing concern for the health of his young son, who has dealt with respiratory issues in the past.
But while Bradley may not have been in the bubble in Orlando for the Lakers’ championship run, Malika Andrews and Dave McMenamin of ESPN made it clear in their postgame story that he was still very attached to the team he played for all year:
As that confetti engulfed the court in Orlando, Lakers guard Avery Bradley was jumping up and down celebrating the franchise’s 17th championship in his living room in Texas. His three children were in purple-and-yellow Lakers sweatsuits.
“Everyone was going crazy,” Bradley said over the phone on Sunday night. “Everyone was excited. My wife was excited.”
Bradley told ESPN that it was “hard” to not join his teammates, but that he had mentally accepted the decision because he felt he was doing what was best for his family. He has still tried to stay involved, and the Lakers have made sure to let him know he was an important part of their journey, and to get him involved in their title celebration:
Since the final buzzer of Game 6, Bradley’s phone has been ringing. Friends reached out. Family members called. Bradley sent texts to all of his teammates. He dropped a note in the team group chat — which includes DeMarcus Cousins, another player who spent most of the season with L.A. but wasn’t with the team in Orlando. He said he received FaceTime calls from Quinn Cook, assistant coach Phil Handy and general manager Rob Pelinka from that noisy locker room.
“He was just letting me know I am a part of it,” Bradley said of his call with Pelinka. “It has been a long season — and an amazing one. And we’ve been through a lot. It was just an amazing win. You could see it on his face.”
As Avery Bradley celebrated the Lakers’ championship from his home in Texas, he got a FaceTime call. It was Rob Pelinka letting the guard know this is his ring too.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) October 12, 2020
Scenes from the Lakers’ title clinching night with @mcten ⬇️ https://t.co/rb08BJhOkc
Bradley has previously said that he wasn’t sure if he would accept a ring from the Lakers, and now that they won and Pelinka — his former agent — has made it clear he’s being offered one, he’ll actually have to make a final decision on that at some point. Looming larger than that choice, though, is what Bradley will do this offseason.
There is still no set date for free agency, and the contract dates that players with player options on their contracts — like Bradley and teammate Anthony Davis — have to opt in or out by are still up in the air, but will likely be decided soon.
Whenever that date ultimately ends up being, Bradley will have a choice to make: Will he stay with the Lakers next season on a $5 million player option, or opt to test the free agency market? After opting out of the bubble and not playing in months — and amidst a market not exactly flush with teams boasting oodles of cap space — it seems fairly likely that Bradley will be back in Los Angeles this year.
Frank Vogel says that Avery Bradley has texted with him throughout this playoff run.— Championship Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 9, 2020
"Obviously he's a big part of our family and this journey."
Andrews and McMenamin’s story makes it abundantly clear that if Bradley does indeed return, it will be a lot like he never left:
While his teammates were getting back in shape through the seeding games, Bradley — who started in 44 games for Los Angeles this season — was helping to homeschool his son. But in the evenings, when games were on, he would plop down on the sofa with Ashley, his children and sometimes his mother-in-law.
“I watched every single game,” Bradley said. “I am still a Laker.”
Bradley said that before the first game of every series, he had a phone call with Pelinka. He shot off text messages of encouragement to his teammates before games and congratulated players and individual performances afterward. After Davis put up 34 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in his NBA Finals debut, Bradley texted him that he’d never seen a game quite like that.
If Bradley does come back and join his brothers, the team that just proved itself as the best in the NBA will get another glue guy back in its ranks, along with having the full mid-level exception and other avenues for reinforcements. Whether Bradley takes this ring or not, it seems fairly likely he’ll get a chance to pursue another one.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.