It’s a fascinating strategy the Celtics have in trying to pursue Anthony Davis without the ability to acquire him before this Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline without sacrificing Kyrie Irving.
The Celtics have reached out to the New Orleans Pelicans and promised a fruitful package if general manager Dell Demps waits until the summer, when the Celtics can allow Irving to opt out of his contract, trade for Davis, and then re-sign Irving.
All of this is predicated on the Pelicans not making any deal with Davis before the deadline, with the most interested suitor the Lakers. The Celtics aren’t likely to do much before this trade deadline, and they shouldn’t.
They are 25-9 since a 10-11 start and have won 10 of their last 11 games since that ghastly three-game losing streak in early January. The Celtics became a different team starting with that home game against the Raptors and have resembled the team expected to reach the NBA Finals.
So the question is why would president of basketball operations Danny Ainge blow up the current roster in pursuit of Davis, who is one of the best players in the league but 1) hasn’t reached past the second round of the playoffs in seven years and 2) would give no assurances he would re-sign with the Celtics after the 2019-20 season, when his contract expires?
Davis’s father was quoted as saying he would not want his son to play in Boston because of Ainge’s treatment of Isaiah Thomas, who was shuttled to Cleveland for Irving after playing through the tragic death of his sister and extreme hip pain. Thomas hasn’t been the same player since and hasn’t played this season for the Nuggets, although he is expected to return soon.
If Ainge is offering practically the entire roster besides Kyrie to New Orleans if it waits until the summer, what does that do to the morale of this roster now? And what happens if this current roster reaches the NBA Finals, does Ainge still blow it up for Davis?
Firstly, Jayson Tatum shouldn’t be included in any deal for Davis. He’s 20 years old and is averaging 16.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1 steal per game and remains under his rookie contract. While Davis is in his prime and is a cornerstone player, moving Tatum could burn the Celtics for years.
Players such as Tatum should be built around, not sacrificed for a one-year rental. Now, if Ainge can pull off the deal without Tatum, the Celtics could have one of the best trios in the NBA with Davis and Irving. But there are so many ifs.
The Celtics worked feverishly to quickly rebuild after the decline of the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, and they heisted the Nets for draft picks. They drafted well. Ainge used Thomas to get an unhappy Irving. He was able to sign Al Horford and Gordon Hayward.
While this season hasn’t worked out as well as the Celtics would have liked, they are still the third seed in the Eastern Conference with plenty of time to catch Milwaukee. The East has gotten tougher and the 76ers just made an astute move to get deeper in acquiring swingman Tobias Harris.
The Bucks and Raptors are also looking to make moves to add depth, and the Celtics should have their phone ringer on super loud in case they get an interesting call before the deadline. They need another big man. They need another 3-point shooter. But honestly, they have the depth those other teams are striving for.
Jaylen Brown is playing his best basketball of the season. Terry Rozier is saying all the right things and playing well when he replaces Irving. And as much criticism as Hayward has withstood over the past few months, he is shooting nearly 48 percent from the field, averaging 11.5 points per game with 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists since Jan. 1, and that is in 24 minutes per game.
The fact is the Celtics have the team capable of competing for a championship now, and if they could acquire a DeAndre Jordan or Wayne Ellington through a buyout, that makes them even stronger. But this trade deadline should come and pass with only perhaps a minor move from the Celtics.
As for promises to Davis, Ainge is only doing his due diligence in determining an asking price for a top-10 player. But he has to realize the assets and players he already has and the ability to build a sustainable contender from the wealth of talent on the roster.
They may be kids. Tatum and Brown may make mistakes, but teams such as the Warriors built a foundation around draft picks Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, which required patience, and then used their remaining assets to nab Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins without touching that core.
If Ainge needs to eradicate some of that core for the sake of a one-year risk on Davis, it’s not worth it. If Davis’s heart is in Los Angeles, it may be best to step back and put faith in the players who have played in Boston and want to stay in Boston.