Avery Bradley keeps positive attitude

Avery Bradley celebrated his 20th birthday Friday and his gifts included $20 from Nate Robinson (one dollar for each year of his existence) and a DNP, courtesy of coach Doc Rivers. Neither were likely at the top of his wish list.

No, Bradley, Boston's first-round selection in June's draft, is scheduled to make $1.42 million this season (which is roughly $60,000 more than Shaquille O'Neal will bank at the veteran's minimum), so money isn't an issue.

And, deeming himself at nearly full health after offseason ankle surgery, Bradley is clearly eager to get back on the court to showcase his abilities, but is stuck in a bit of a holding pattern due in part to his lack of participation to this point.

"Not being able to play as much as I want to," Bradley answered before Wednesday's game against the New Jersey Nets when asked what the most challenging aspect of the injury has been. "I started at every level when I was younger, but I'm taking this as a learning process. I'm just excited to be here in the NBA; I'm blessed to be here. I'm just anxious to get better, and when my chance comes, I'll be ready."

That opportunity might have arrived just hours after Bradley spoke to reporters, when Boston backup guard Delonte West crashed to the floor after a driving layup, fracturing his right wrist and shelving him indefinitely. It's bittersweet for Bradley, who spent much of the early part of his rookie season with West, the two working out together at the team's practice facility while the rest of their teammates were on the road (West served a 10-game suspension at the start of the year for off-the-court troubles).

While the Celtics hoped to bring Bradley along slowly, and still have enough depth to do so, injuries might force the team to throw him into the fire. And Boston is OK with that as well. After all, he was the 19th overall pick. (Put another way: Rajon Rondo was taken 21st overall in 2006 draft and managed to claw his way up the depth chart in his rookie season, so picks in that area do have expectations, even if Rivers has typically kept first-year players glued to the pine.)

The key is Bradley's ankle, which he injured during a pre-draft workout for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He revealed this week that the injury occurred after he was pushed going up for a dunk. He landed awkwardly, his left foot turning in, as if pointing at his right foot.

He initially thought the foot was broken with the way it swelled up immediately.

It wasn't that bad, but a piece of bone chipped off. Bradley said the Celtics had his X-rays and were aware of the severity of the injury, even as some less-informed teams deemed it merely a sprain. Even still, Bradley believed that it would be a minor surgery and he'd be back on the court in time for training camp.

"I thought it was going to be a couple of weeks," said Bradley, who underwent surgery the same day he inked his rookie contract, on July 2.

Instead, the team essentially kept him out of training camp, limiting him to noncontact drills. Toward the start of the regular season, he suffered a setback when he tweaked the same ankle during practice.

Despite the frustrations, he took it all in stride.

"You know, things happen for a reason," said Bradley. "That injury happened for a reason, for me to learn more. I needed to work on some parts of my game, [parts that] I didn't have to work on by walking or moving -- like my form and stuff like that. It definitely happened for a reason and it got me on this team."

Bradley quickly backed off the suggestion that his injury might have forced his draft stock to dip, but for a player who was hyped with the John Walls of the world (Bradley was actually ranked the No. 1 prospect in the country by ESPNU when both he and Wall were seniors in high school), it's clear some might have shied away, not wanting to deal with the rehab involved.

The Celtics were willing to wait and Bradley is reaping the benefits -- such as being locker neighbors with captain Paul Pierce (Robinson, who shares Seattle roots with Bradley, is on the other side).

"I love it [being with the Celtics], absolutely love it," said Bradley. "It's great being on a team like this where you look at guys as role models, but they're also big brothers for me. They teach me things every day, not only about basketball, but about life. I love being on an older team."

This from a player who entered the season at exactly half the age of 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal. He laughed while noting that he's "finally out of his teens" with Friday's birthday, but he's still young enough that he's technically not supposed to wield a bottle of champagne should the Celtics accomplish their championship goals this season.

For now, he's focused on smaller goals. Such as getting on the court regularly. Bradley played six minutes against Atlanta earlier this week in his first and only appearance of the regular season, sinking a pair of free throws for his first NBA points (he also missed two shots and committed two turnovers, while registering one steal, one rebound and one assist).

The Celtics are trying to balance getting him on the floor and not destroying his confidence knowing his ankle isn't fully healed. In fact, Bradley plans to both tape and wear an ankle brace to provide extra stability with his ankle at roughly "95 percent" health.

"I think [assistant coach] Lawrence [Frank] or [assistant coach] Kevin Eastman said it: [Bradley's] been through three full practices this season, including training camp," said Rivers. "And he's a rookie, and we're going to throw him on the floor.

"We've just got to protect him. We don't want to ruin him. And he's not healthy, yet; not great health. So, it's what we have."

There's also the potential that Bradley could be shuttled to the Maine Red Claws, Boston's NBA Development League affiliate, to get on-court time in a less stressful environment (and one that guarantees extended minutes). He doesn't seem opposed, admitting he'll do whatever the team thinks is best for him.

"The main thing for me is to just improve every day," said Bradley. "And do whatever my coaches and my teammates need me to do."

Spoken like a veteran.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.