So, now what? Nine thoughts on the state of the Celtics
Anthony Davis is a Laker. Jayson Tatum is still a Celtic. Kyrie Irving is, well, Kyrie Irving. And the NBA Draft is here, and the Celtics own three first-round picks. Here are nine thoughts and observations about all of those things, and more:
■ The strangest part of the Irving situation right now is that it appears he has essentially ghosted on the Celtics. The people within the organization I have spoken with have made it clear that they have had little, if any, communication with Irving in recent weeks.
There had been some hope that trading for Davis would have given the Celtics a new vision to sell to Irving. But that, clearly, is not an option anymore.
There has mostly been radio silence from Irving’s camp, and that could be partly because his camp has undergone a makeover. Irving last week fired his longtime agent, Jeff Wechsler, and reportedly intends to sign with Roc Nation Sports. The Athletic reported Monday that Irving and the Celtics could meet sometime before the draft. Obviously the Celtics would like to have some idea about his plans before deciding how to use their picks.
■ Irving, if you have not noticed, certainly marches to his own beat. I think he is planning to leave, but it also wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world if he just re-signed with Boston, looked around, and said, “What was all the fuss about? I told you guys in October I was coming back.”
■ Even though this summer is just beginning, it has already taken on an “OK, what’s next?” feel for the Celtics. With the Davis dreams dashed and Irving’s departure seeming imminent, the focus shifts to Al Horford’s decision about the final year of his contract. [Update: Horford on Tuesday declined to exercise his $30.1 million option for next season and will become a free agent.]
Horford can sign a longer-term deal with Boston, he can simply become a free agent and sign with another team, or the Celtics can orchestrate a sign-and-trade if Horford hopes to join a team that does not have salary cap space.
The guess here is that Horford will ultimately stay with the Celtics on a longer-term deal at a lower average salary. There’s no doubt that he is in a position of strength, however, with the Celtics understanding that his departure after some other swings and misses would be crippling.
■ Horford is 33 and has made it clear he would like to contend for a title. In three years in Boston, he has reached the conference finals twice and the semifinals once. If he knows that Irving is leaving but decides to stay anyway, I don’t think that would be an indication that he thinks Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are ready to lead the Celtics to a championship.
But he seems happy here. He has a great relationship with coach Brad Stevens, he appreciates the culture, and he and his wife have three young children and might not have great interest in uprooting everything just in hopes of possibly getting closer to a championship.
■ There has been some suggestion that the Celtics ultimately chose their youth movement over Davis. I guess that’s technically true, but let’s not get this twisted. The Celtics prepared for years to make their play for Davis. It was not like they decided they’d rather have their young players than him.
The bottom line is that the nearly year-long propaganda flood coming from Davis’s camp had an impact. The Celtics had very real concerns that Davis would bolt after becoming a free agent next summer. And based on that possibility, they simply were not willing to take a risk by giving up their best assets.
■ If the Celtics had acquired Davis, it was widely believed that they would ship out at least a couple of their three first-round picks in the process. So all along it felt a bit premature to handicap how Boston would approach this draft, because there was a good chance that by the time it arrived, the cupboard would be empty.
But the Celtics front office never pulled back its prep, and it is ready for Thursday’s big night. Boston holds the 14th, 20th, 22nd, and 51st overall picks. Once again, there are so many possibilities at Ainge’s fingertips. The only thing that feels certain is that the team will not be adding three mid-first-round picks to its roster for next season.
■ It’s also worth pointing out that Ainge really hates to lose. And he probably hates losing to the Lakers most of all. I wouldn’t put it past him to strike back instantly to grab a player who has grabbed his attention.
We all remember four years ago, when he was ready to open up the treasure chest to move up and select Justise Winslow, who has turned into a good but hardly spectacular player for the Heat. If the Celtics packaged all three of their first-round picks, they probably could net a choice around No. 7 or 8 overall.
■ If the Celtics do not trade up, look for them to use at least one pick on an international player who could be stashed overseas for at least a year, much as they did three years ago when they took Guerschon Yabusele 16th and Ante Zizic 23rd. Another option is to trade into a future draft to restock the cupboard of picks.
■ Speaking of future picks, since the Celtics did not land Davis, they kept their most valuable future asset: the Grizzlies’ pick. That choice will be top-six protected in the 2020 draft before becoming fully unprotected in 2021.
Memphis is expected to draft Murray State point guard Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick Thursday, and his NBA readiness will have a big impact on the value of the future choice. Also, it seems to make a trade of veteran point guard Mike Conley more likely, which would be good news for Boston.
ESPN reported last week that center Jonas Valanciunas, who averaged 19.9 points and 10.7 rebounds after being acquired from the Raptors in February, declined his player option for next season but intends to sign a multiyear deal to stay in Memphis.