WALTHAM — Avery Bradley is taking his time this time and the Celtics are taking a cautious approach to his rehabilitation from a badly sprained right ankle.
Bradley is practicing with the team and may return for Friday’s home game against the Suns. Bradley initially suffered the injury in the first quarter of the Celtics’ loss at Miami Jan. 21. He was expected to miss a minimum of two weeks but returned Feb. 2 against Orlando.
He played three of the next four games before he began laboring Feb. 9 against the Mavericks and the team decided to shut him down for a while.
An MRI last Wednesday revealed the bone bruise in the ankle is healing, said coach Brad Stevens.
While the Celtics are playing out the string with 20 games left and headed for the draft lottery, the final six weeks of the season could be critical for Bradley’s future. He will be a restricted free agent this summer and his market value is uncertain. Bradley has played one full NBA season, logging 64 of 66 games during the 2011-12 lockout-shortened campaign. He missed 32 games last season recovering from shoulder surgery and 16 this season with the ankle.
“I’m progressing and my ankle is a lot better,” he said. “It feels better and it looks better. I definitely have to watch it because I’m competitive, I want to help my team and I want to get out there, but that’s probably why I’ve been sitting out so long, they’re holding me back. They don’t want me to make a mistake and go out there and hurt myself again.”
Bradley and the Celtics nearly reached an agreement on a four-year contract before the Oct. 31 deadline, but now his status will reach into the summer, when he could field offers from other clubs that the Celtics have the right to match. Or the sides could agree to allow Bradley to play out the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
Bradley said he believes he’s proven his worth and durability.
“I think I’ve proved that throughout this year because you can’t really control something like [the ankle],” he said. “But the last 16 games or whatever that I come back, I am going to go out there and play hard. This is a game I love to play. We need to go out there and prove to our fans and to ourselves we’re going to fight no matter what.”
Stevens keeps close tabs on his former school, Butler University, which is struggling in its first year in the Big East. The Bulldogs, which beat Seton Hall on Saturday, finished is 14-16, 4-14 in the conference heading into the Big East tournament next weekend at Madison Square Garden.
Stevens said he talks with Butler coach Brandon Miller at least every other day.
“It was one of those years they started off really hot and then they had about four or five games there that went to overtime that went against them and it was tough to overcome,” said Stevens, who led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in five of his six seasons as head coach. “It’s hard to win the next one when things don’t go your way. But it’s interesting, they had a few days off and they went to DePaul and won by 30-plus. It looks like they’re finding their groove and hitting their groove and next week’s a big week for them, going to the Big East tournament.”
Sunday will be the final day for Chris Babb’s 10-day contract and Stevens said he hopes the club continues the relationship with another contract. The club is expected to extend Babb with another 10-day deal. Babb has appeared in three games for the Celtics and has averaged 3.7 points. He was signed from NBADL Maine . . . While the Celtics may have hurt their chances for a premium draft pick with their 91-84 win over the Nets on Friday, they improved their chances of getting an improved second first-round pick. The Celtics own the worst of the first-round picks between Atlanta and Brooklyn. The Hawks have the league’s 12th worst record while the Nets have the 15th. Barring either team going on a long winning streak, the Celtics are likely to have two of the top 20 picks in what is expected to be one of the more fruitful drafts in recent memory.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gwashNBAGlobe.