The Celtics find themselves in the extremely unusual predicament of figuring out how to proceed with three first-round draft picks while also pursuing Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis and trying to do enough to convince Kyrie Irving to return to Boston.
It is quite a balancing act, and there are no firm answers yet, but it is clear that so far things have not progressed as the team was once hoping. According to league sources, the Celtics’ belief that Irving will re-sign with them after free agency opens on June 30 has eroded.
There is still some hope within the organization that Irving will have a change of heart if Boston is able to acquire Davis. And Irving’s fickle personality certainly makes anything possible until he officially agrees to terms with some team.
But the likelihood of an Irving return appears to be decreasing. Nevertheless, the sources said, it is clear that the Celtics’ pursuit of Davis will push forward.
It is widely known that the Celtics have the shiniest collection of assets for a potential Davis deal, but there are questions about how far they would open their treasure chest. One league source said the uncertainty surrounding Davis’s long-term future in Boston has thus far limited the Celtics’ willingness to overwhelm New Orleans with an offer.
Davis’s camp has insisted for months that if Davis is traded to the Celtics, he will play out the final season of his contract and then move on after becoming a free agent. Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, who also represents LeBron James, doubled down on that notion in an interview in Sports Illustrated this week.
If Irving leaves this summer, and Davis departs one season after Boston surrenders key assets to acquire him, it would set the Celtics back for years.
Although the tenuous situation may have affected the Celtics’ trade offers so far, the sources said Boston remains quite interested in Davis, regardless of Irving’s future.
There has been some suggestion that the Pelicans will push to complete a deal soon so they will have more time to evaluate prospects they could select with whatever draft picks they receive in trade. But a league source said that notion has been overblown, and that New Orleans is confident in its multiyear evaluation process of current prospects.
The sources confirmed the general notion that the chase for Davis is setting up to be a showdown between the Celtics and Lakers. Los Angeles would appear to be in a position of strength, knowing that Davis will almost certainly stay there long term if he is acquired.
But some sources believe there is still some bitterness among the Pelicans ownership group relating to how Paul and the Lakers essentially worked in tandem when Davis requested to be traded prior to the February deadline, even though Pelicans owner Gayle Benson has publicly been more open to the possibility of doing business with the Lakers.
For the Celtics, the opportunity to acquire a superstar such as Davis has been the goal all along as they stockpiled assets and young players, and they will continue to pursue the possibility regardless of Irving’s future with the team. But there is no doubt that Irving’s departure would deflate the championship momentum the Celtics had been hoping to build.
ESPN reported Wednesday that Irving had parted ways with his longtime agent, Jeff Wechsler, to eventually sign on with rapper Jay-Z’s agency, Roc Nation Sports. Jay-Z sold his ownership stake in the Nets in 2013 when he started this agency.
Warriors star Kevin Durant, who has long been linked to Irving in free agency, was a longtime Roc Nation client before he and Roc Nation executive Rich Kleiman branched off to form their own group, 35 Ventures. Also, Roc Nation president Michael Yormark is the twin brother of Nets CEO Brett Yormark. There are plenty of dots to connect.
When meeting with reporters last week, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge did not have a very optimistic tone when referring to Irving’s situation. When asked about the risks involved in making a future deal, he closed his press conference by saying: “We made a risk by trading for Kyrie, and no matter what happens with Kyrie, I’ll never regret that. You just move on to the next deal.”
Celtics forward Al Horford, meanwhile, has until Tuesday to decide whether to opt into the final year of his four-year deal, which will pay him $31 million next season. Horford has indicated in the past that his preference is to stay with the Celtics, but the 33-year-old has never won a title, and if he feels like Boston is shifting back to a youth movement, it is possible he might consider other teams. Horford could also decline his option for next season and sign a longer-term deal with the Celtics at a lower average salary. A league source said on Saturday night that Horford was still figuring out his situation for next season.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.