Birthday boy Bradley on return to Boston: ‘I ended up in a great situation’

AUBURN HILLS – Avery Bradley will see a lot of familiar faces upon his return to Boston. But not many of them will be wearing Celtics uniforms.

Bradley spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Celtics before his trade to the Pistons less than five months ago. So Monday’s meeting between the teams will be the first time he’s experienced the emotional tug familiar to the vast majority of players with that type of tenure. Getting traded or signing elsewhere as a free agent is business as usual in today’s world of professional sports.

So while Bradley says he’ll treat it as he would any other game, he’ll admit there might be a little extra jolt of adrenaline coursing through his veins – and that it might be tempered by the fact there just won’t be many of the guys he rubbed shoulders with still there. In fact, only four players – Marcus Smart, Terry Rozer, Al Horford and Jaylen Brown – were on last year’s Boston roster and both Horford and Brown were Bradley’s teammate for just one season.

“Not playing against guys that you battled with every single night, it’s a little different,” said Bradley, who turned 27 on Sunday and celebrated with a Pistons practice and a flight to the only other NBA home he’s ever known for Monday’s game.

“But there’s still some guys there, the coaching staff and, of course, all the staff is still there. So there’s going to be a little emotion, but I don’t think it’ll be that much more than it is for me for any other game. I try to leave everything on the floor every single game.”

That last bit – Bradley’s motor and defensive intensity – was one of the major appeals for Stan Van Gundy in swinging the trade that sent Marcus Morris to Boston. So was his even keel. Van Gundy expects Bradley to handle the emotions of his homecoming as he handles everything else: professionally.

“This is the first time he’s been through it. When a guy does it for the first time, I don’t even think that guy knows exactly what it’s going to feel like until he gets out there,” Van Gundy said. “If I had to bet on anybody’s maturity, I’d bet on Avery. But it’s not easy.”

That maturity is reflected even in Bradley’s response to being traded. While helping the Celtics earn the No. 1 seed in the East last season and advance to the conference finals, Bradley almost certainly felt integral to the franchise’s future. His backcourt partner, Isaiah Thomas, certainly did and took umbrage when he was dealt for Kyrie Irving, saying he didn’t intend to ever again speak to Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

“I understand what they did and I have no hard feelings at all,” Bradley said. “I ended up in a great situation, in a great organization, so I’m happy and they’re playing well – they’re playing great basketball right now – so at the end of the day it’s about making the best decision for the team.”

Bradley got a heads up that a trade might be coming when the Celtics struck an agreement with free agent Gordon Hayward and needed to dump some contracts to clear the necessary cap space. The uncertainty was his destination. And when it turned out to be Detroit, Bradley immediately found obvious silver linings. Friends among his NBA network told him Van Gundy would be an ideal coach for him. And Bradley knew, from the previous three seasons of heated battles with the Pistons, that he’d be a good fit alongside players like Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris.

Months later and 18 games into a season that’s produced twice as many wins as losses, nothing has changed his mind.

“I’m a true believer that God puts us in situations to help us ultimately get to where we need to be,” he said. “So that’s how I’m looking at this experience. It’s been really good for me so far. We have a great group of guys and a great coaching staff that’s pushing us every single day and I feel like we’re going to continue to improve as a group, grow as a group.”