Boston Celtics were knocked out of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. Attention turns to Kyrie Irving’s free agency after a limp, and almost embarrassing, exit from the postseason.
Irving has been the centre of attention since arriving from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2017. Along with Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, the 2016 champion was meant to be the frontman of a new Celtics dynasty.
Boston are at a crossroads. This offseason is huge. Horford has a player option, Irving can walk away and there’s the looming potential for an Anthony Davis trade.
The Celtics have time to reflect and evaluate before decisions need to be made. Here are a few options that they should consider…
Trade for Davis whatever it takes
It seems unlikely that Irving stays in Boston without a big move. The Celtics will surely at least try and convince him to stay, and landing All-NBA forward Davis is as good a way as any of doing just that.
The problem is, a Davis trade will likely happen before free agency, making it a major gamble. Do Boston dare give away picks and talented young players when they could lose Irving? Trading for Davis and seeing Kyrie go elsewhere puts them in a worse spot than they are right now.
There’s the added dilemma of how much is too much for Davis, even if they can keep Irving. New Orleans would ask for Tatum and/or Brown at the very least.
Retain young core, see what happens
It’s possible that Boston steer clear of the Davis sweepstakes. The disappointing regular season and Bucks thrashing makes that less likely, you’d imagine, but Boston really like their young guys.
Re-signing Davis is not a given, and it’s worth remembering he only has a year left. Boston were not keen to give Brown up to land Kawhi Leonard last season, and Tatum was considered a potentially elite scorer less than 12 months ago.
It probably makes Irving more likely to leave, but that’s not the fear it once was for many Celtics fans. Irving has struggled as a leader, and there must be some in TD Garden considering a reset and sticking with the young core that guided them to Game Seven in 2018.
Move Hayward, extend Horford
Still recovering from the gruesome broken leg he suffered on the opening night of last season, Hayward is a shadow of his former self. The former Jazz small forward is being paid a max salary, restricting Boston’s flexibility.
To some, the contract will seem unmovable. Attach a couple of picks, though, and a rebuilding team will surely be interested, particularly with the potential of getting a trade return for Hayward if he bounces back.
Horford might turn down his player option and look to extend on a lower annual salary. Say they offer him three years and $70 million and shed Hayward’s contract, the Celtics will have room to manoeuvre.
What Irving decides to do will alter the effectiveness of this scenario. It could, however, be a way to tweak this season’s roster without losing Brown, Tatum or Marcus Smart.
None of the above
There’s a chance, albeit a slim one, that the Celtics do not hit the panic button as many expect.
Irving or not, Boston have plenty of talent, and would be trading from a position of weakness. Hayward has shown flashes of becoming the All-Star he was, Horford is still effective, and Brown has been excellent in the playoffs.
Maybe Aaron Baynes and Horford take their player options, Marcus Morris and Brown get extensions and Boston run with it from there. Keeping Terry Rozier, who is a restricted free agent, is less likely, but it’s still a possibility.
If chemistry really was the issue this season (and that’s certainly up for debate), then losing Irving might be a blessing in a poor disguise. With picks aplenty and highly regarded young players, the Celtics do not need to rush into any rash decisions this offseason.