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Would Celtics surrender a lot of their young core to acquire Kyrie Irving?

Kyrie Irving reportedly has asked the Cavaliers to trade him.FILE/BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF

The Celtics will never be done trying to improve their team. Their offices aren’t closed until training camp despite a flurry of moves over the past few weeks.

When Cavaliers All-Star guard Kyrie Irving reportedly asked for a trade (players get fined if they go public with trade demands, so Irving hasn’t confirmed it other than privately informing the Cavaliers), the Celtics were one of the teams that placed a call to Cavaliers management to gauge a price.

It’s not that the Celtics are ready to deal Isaiah Thomas and completely overhaul their roster to accommodate Irving, but if Irving is available (depending on the price), the Celtics were obligated to inquire.


And of course, having so many assets and young players, the Celtics are the first team many others call when a top-caliber player becomes available. So don’t be alarmed by talks between the Celtics and Cavaliers. They simply chatted and never got into particulars.

The question is whether the Celtics should make a serious push for Irving, and this is dangerous territory. Would the Cavaliers make a deal with a conference rival looking to overtake them? Is Irving good enough to push the Celtics to the NBA Finals when they would have to relinquish Thomas and likely two other starters/rotation players and draft picks to get him?

Irving is a splendid offensive player who, like Thomas, can take over games. The two are similar offensively — small, crafty around the rim, streaky 3-point shooters, score-first players who have learned to become better distributors. So if you’re the Celtics and you are interested in Irving, you believe he’s an upgrade over Thomas (a close decision) and he is signed for two more seasons.

That’s not all that much security. Irving has an opt-out clause in his contract after the 2018-19 season, when he will be will be 27 years old and will command a maximum contract. But what is difficult about making such a drastic move is the Celtics have no idea how their new core will work out.


Since free agency began, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, and James Young have left, replaced by Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, and Daniel Theis. Getting Irving would likely require relinquishing four of those players along with a draft pick. That’s a little too expensive because adding Irving doesn’t necessarily make you a title team.

The Celtics are at a point where they need to be careful with their moves. They are getting close, and just about every team besides Philadelphia and Miami has taken a step back in the Eastern Conference. They have a chance to rule the conference for many years if they make astute moves, not ones fueled by emotion or quick decisions.

“I think when you stop thinking that you can get better, that’s a big mistake,” president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe. “I think you always think that you can get better, as a player, as a coach, as an organization. We’re always trying to improve. That’s always an objective. You have to be able to adapt on the move in our business because unexpected things happen, both good and bad, and you have to be able to change your course in the middle of a plan because of an injury or mishap.”


Ainge’s phone never stops ringing. He remains camped out in his office making and taking calls. But the team he has assembled over the past month is intriguing.

“I feel like our team is in a good place,” Ainge said. “We don’t have to do anything, but there’s no pressure on us to do anything. If we can do something to make our team better, we always will. It’s not that complicated. It’s always a temptation to get really good players. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.

“We don’t feel like we’re as good as we could possibly be. I don’t ever tell anybody what I’m up to. I’m trying to get better.”

The question is not whether the Celtics should swap Thomas for Irving. That would be a close tradeoff that may benefit the Celtics in the long run.

But they are not a better team if they also sacrifice their young core. Thomas finished this past season with a 26.5 player efficiency and made the All-NBA second team. Irving finished with a 23.0 player efficiency rating.

There is a difference in age (Thomas is 28, Irving is 25). Thomas gets to the free throw line on average four more times per game, while Irving is a slightly better 3-point shooter but attempts fewer threes than Thomas.

Their offensive similarities are uncanny, which makes this trade a wash if it were straight up, unless the Celtics believe Irving has more upside because of his age. But they would need to re-sign him two years from now when players such as Jaylen Brown and Tatum will be nearing extensions.


It’s not an easy decision, and one the Celtics may continue to discuss when the Cavaliers determine if they truly have to part ways with Irving. Players have made trade demands before, such as 10 years ago when Kobe Bryant said nothing could keep him with the Lakers. We all saw how that turned out.

This is in the early stages, and the Celtics have made the courtesy call, but it would be difficult to sacrifice so many parts to acquire Irving and also help rebuild the Cavaliers. The Celtics want the Cavaliers out of their path to the NBA Finals.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.