The Boston Celtics might have more riding on how the 2019 NBA playoffs shake out than any team in the league.
We all know superstar point guard Kyrie Irving can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He announced his intention to re-sign with the C's during a season ticket holder event in October, but has since backtracked a bit, telling reporters in New York a few months ago to ask him July 1.
Irving's decision will set the course for what should be a franchise-altering offseason for Boston, whether he stays or leaves.
NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh recently looked at playoff teams with uncertain futures, and the Celtics were on his list.
The interesting thing from the Celtics’ perspective is that Irving is seen as something of a package deal with Anthony Davis. If Irving stays, the Celtics could shoot up to the top of the Davis sweepstakes in New Orleans due to their appealing collection of young talent and draft assets. The Celtics might be more willing to part with their prized youngsters if they can flaunt an Irving-Davis partnership and rule the East. If Irving leaves, though, the Celtics might continue with Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the faces of the franchise.
The Celtics' collection of prized trade assets looked amazing at the start of the season, but as Haberstroh explains, that isn't the case anymore.
Few teams have had their long-term assets sour more than the Celtics’ this season. Tatum and Brown haven’t taken the leaps expected of them, respectively. Their 2019 Sacramento first-round pick almost assuredly won’t be in the top-10. The Clippers went on a tear, meaning their 2019 pick owed to the Celtics is less valuable than Boston’s own first-round pick. On the other hand, Memphis’ top-eight protected pick is likely to roll over to next season, making it top-six protected in 2020 and fully unprotected in 2021. That could be a extra tasty pick in 2021 if the age limit is lowered to 18 years old by then.
The Celtics likely will open the playoffs with a first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, who are without their best player, Victor Oladipo, due to injury. A triumph over the Pacers probably would set up a second-round meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks, who are dealing with injuries to multiple players. Boston also beat Milwaukee in seven games last year without Irving or Gordon Hayward.
Boston's path to the NBA Finals isn't easy, but it's not treacherous, either. The Celtics, given their remarkable talent and depth, should be able to defeat any opponent they encounter in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, if Irving and/or the team as a whole struggles and is bounced early, next year's roster could look very different.
We know Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is not opposed to wholesale changes if required. Just look at what he did to the Celtics' roster after reaching the conference finals in 2017.
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