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What Tony Bradley’s NBA decision means for North Carolina next season

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The Tar Heels will defend their title without the help of Tony Bradley.

North Carolina Tar Heels Championship Welcome Rally Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Tony Bradley announced on Wednesday that he will remain in the NBA Draft and hire an agent. While nearly no one thought of Bradley as a one-and-done along the lines of those churned out by Kentucky’s program, winning championships seems to change how some things shake out. This may be one of those things.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of criticism for Bradley’s decision not to return to school, particularly if he doesn’t end up being drafted in the first round. If his ultimate goal was to do everything in his power to be drafted as highly as his talent would allow, that criticism may be understandable. However, if his goal was only to get to the NBA as quickly as he could, and we can never really know what his ultimate goal was, then he’s accomplishing just that by staying.

We all want Carolina basketball to be as good as it possibly can be with the best players it can possibly get. Having Bradley on next year’s team would make it much better than a team without him, and that’s pretty undeniable. At the same time, it’s not hard to see why guys may choose to pass up another year of playing for free when the alternative is there in some capacity. School just isn’t for everyone, maybe it wasn’t for Bradley. It’s difficult to ever really know.

So now the Tar Heels know they must proceed next season without Bradley, in addition to needing to fill the vacancies left by Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Nate Britt. What does Bradley’s departure mean for the 2017-2018 Heels?

The J5 Show

Maybe we should have all been a little more convinced Bradley wouldn’t be returning when incoming freshman Jalek Felton posted this picture on his Instagram page a week ago. Not that numbers necessarily mean anything, and Bradley could have easily switched if he returned to North Carolina. Still, it’s kind of interesting.

A post shared by Jalek Felton (@thej5show) on

The players who have worn No. 5 for the Tar Heels in recent years have been pretty good, to say the least. Kendall Marshall, Marcus Paige, Tony Bradley...now Jalek Felton. As the top recruit for this class, Felton enters with a lot of justified hype. He has the last name to turn a few heads, and could find himself making a somewhat immediate impact.

Felton is 26th in ESPN’s Top 100, ranked as the sixth best shooting guard in the class. Carolina may have to experiment with smaller lineups this season because of how thin they are in the post, and Felton could definitely be called on in that situation.

Growing up fast

Bradley’s somewhat unexpected departure could be great news for Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman. The post being paper thin is going to mean Roy Williams will need to rely on his freshmen bigs a bit more than he probably would have otherwise.

Carolina nearly didn’t get Brooks after he originally committed to playing at Mississippi State, but his late change of heart ended up being incredibly valuable for the Heels. It’s quite possible that Brooks could be the starting 5 on next year’s team. Otherwise, Williams could turn to Huffman.

Either way, someone less experienced will almost certainly be getting the call to step into a big role. The freshmen will need to be ready for the challenge.

All eyes on Pitt

The Cameron Johnson adventure with Pittsburgh is still ongoing, but getting him as an addition to next year’s team would be huge now that Bradley is staying in the draft. Johnson doesn’t want to come to Carolina if he has to sit out for a whole year, understandably, so it seems like Pitt’s cooperation is necessary.

It seems almost a done deal for Johnson to end up in Carolina blue if Pitt drops the block on ACC schools. Bringing in another experienced player like that who could be added to the starting lineup would be absolutely huge.

Hopefully Roy Williams doing some campaigning on his behalf pays off in the end, or Pitt grows tired enough of all the negative PR this has sent their way, and they allow Johnson to transfer where he pleases. Hopefully that place is North Carolina.

Another step forward

Next season could be big for the development of Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. Both guys are likely looking at expanded playing time, particularly in the case of Maye, and both showed really strong flashes of promise last season. Neither was a perfect player, but they have the potential to make great strides this year.

If there’s one trend it feels like you can rely on, it’s players improving year after year under Roy Williams. Maye and Williams are now both upperclassmen with multiple deep tournament runs under their belt. Having to lean on them a little more this upcoming season gives them an opportunity to really shine.