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As Thursday’s 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline approaches, the Celtics are in the thick of the juiciest trade possibility of all while simultaneously being stuck helplessly on the sidelines.
The good news for Boston is that Anthony Davis remains a member of the Pelicans for now, and the longer that holds true, the better the Celtics’ chances are of ultimately acquiring him next summer. Because of a rule that forbids teams from acquiring multiple players on designated rookie extensions — Kyrie Irving already became the first — Boston is unable to trade for Davis until Irving opts out of the final year of his deal at the start of free agency July 1.
Related: Washburn: Blowing up the roster to get Anthony Davis is a bad idea
So far, the Lakers’ offers for Davis have been rebuffed, and multiple reports have indicated that New Orleans has yet to make a true counter offer. So the Celtics remain in the mix despite not being able to do much about it
According to league sources, the Pelicans reached out to the Celtics this week to discuss the framework of a possible Davis deal, ostensibly to ensure that if they pass up on other offers before Thursday’s deadline, it would be for good reason.
Sources said the Pelicans have sought guarantees from the Celtics surrounding specific packages, but the Celtics have been reluctant to make absolute promises, simply because so much can transpire in five months, such as injuries. Nevertheless, sources said, the Celtics have made it clear that they will be ready and willing to offer an explosive package when the time arrives, and that no specific player will be off limits in negotiations.
Boston has been undeterred by the persistent narrative emerging from Davis’s camp that if the All-Star is traded to the Celtics he would not re-sign with them when he becomes a free agent in 2020. The belief is that once he and Irving are together, any unease that either of them has about the future would be washed away.
The one way the Celtics could acquire Davis now would be by trading Irving first, but league sources said they have made it clear to other teams that Irving is off-limits.
The Lakers’ obsession with Davis has been well-documented, but Los Angeles does not have the same collection of assets as the Celtics, so it could be in the Pelicans’ best interest to wait until June, when draft lottery Ping-Pong balls have provided more clarity.
The Lakers are aware of this, of course, and are trying to expedite a deal now that would pair Davis with LeBron James.
For the Celtics, the deep interest in acquiring Davis will likely keep them from doing much other shopping prior to Thursday’s trade deadline.
One source said Boston is expected to attempt to trade guard Jabari Bird and cash to a team with an open roster spot in order to lower the Celtics’ luxury tax bill. Basically, the new team would be paid to take on Bird’s $1.4 million salary and would then waive him, and the luxury tax benefits for the Celtics would end up being more than they money sent out, so both teams would benefit financially.
But these deals generally take place right at the deadline, when teams know there are no other moves to make. Bird, of course, is still facing domestic violence charges and is due back in court for another hearing next week. Even though this would essentially just be a financial transaction, the optics of acquiring a player in Bird’s situation, even if only briefly, might give some teams pause.
While questions about the long-term Celtic futures of Irving and perhaps Davis loom, sources said it has been made clear from ownership down that the focus of this season should be on trying to win a championship now. Within the organization, there is a belief that it remains possible, and the fact that the Celtics have won 10 of their last 11 games, have the third-best net rating in the league, and have generally thrived when healthy has served as evidence.
At the start of the season, forward Marcus Morris and guard Terry Rozier were viewed as the two players most likely to be traded before the deadline. But Morris, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, has emerged as perhaps the team’s second-most valuable player after Irving, and under the win-now approach, he is an essential cog.
Rozier, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent this summer, and he has made it clear he would like the chance to become a starting point guard. But some mild uncertainty about Irving’s future combined with Rozier’s key role as a backup now should keep him in the fold for the rest of this season. Also, there are no obvious holes on Boston’s roster that need to be filled.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.