BOSTON -- With each passing day, the return of Kyrie Irving in a Boston Celtics uniform seems less and less likely.
The rumors about him playing for the Brooklyn Nets are gaining traction, and appear to be more than just talk after the Nets engineered a trade with the Atlanta Hawks that will essentially give Brooklyn enough space to potentially add a pair of max-salaried players.
And if Irving does what many expect him to do and join the Nets, that leaves a tremendous void for the Celtics at the point guard position.
So who will they turn to?
If you are looking for another high-caliber, star-studded point guard to swoop in and take over, prepare to be disappointed.
That’s just not happening, folks.
However, there are a number of serviceable playmakers that the Celtics could make a run at who maybe won’t dominate the game like Irving did, but they do enough good things to make acquiring them a positive.
Here’s a look at some of the top point guard prospects Boston will likely make a run at if Irving signs with another team besides Boston.
When the season ended, Terry Rozier went into full blown straight-no-chaser mode in breaking down all that broke down for the Celtics this past season.
It left many feeling as though Rozier had no desire to return to Boston.
But the truth is, Rozier’s comments came about in large part because he anticipated Irving would be back in Boston and he had no desire to remain a backup.
However, if Irving is no longer in the picture, it’s not a stretch to see Danny Ainge offer a multi-year contract to one of his favorite players — who just so happens to share the same March 17th birthday with Ainge — to keep him in town.
Game 7 of the 2018 playoffs and a good chunk of this past season were disappointing on many levels for Rozier and the Celtics.
But one thing has been consistent: When given a chance to play starter-like minutes or be a starter and not have to look over his shoulder, Rozier has been pretty good.
In 30 regular-season starts, Boston compiled a 22-8 record with Rozier averaging 14.4 points, 5.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game during that span.
The 25-year-old Rozier has appeared in 50 playoff games with 19 starts. In those 19 starts, the Celtics were 11-8.
When all is said and done, Rozier feels his body of work thus far has earned him the right to be a starter.
And with Irving’s anticipated departure, it would make a lot of sense for the Celtics to be the one that affords him that opportunity.
The way Patrick Beverley pestered Kevin Durant in the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State playoff series last month, was so… Patrick Beverley.
There are few players in the NBA who can get under the skin of great players, the way Beverley does night-in and night-out.
But there’s more to his game than being an on-the-floor annoyance.
His defense has a tendency to overshadow the fact that he’s a legit long-range threat, evident by him being a career 38 percent shooter on 3’s.
But luring him from Doc Rivers and the Clippers won’t be easy, especially when he’s likely to get more lucrative offers from other teams (Phoenix and potentially the loser between Brooklyn and New York in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes) than what Boston would be in position to offer him.
If you’re the Celtics, you would hope that a chance to play a prominent role for a built-to-contend team would be enticing enough.
But considering his age (31 by the time training camp starts) and how this is likely to be his last big-money deal, don’t be surprised if Beverley takes his talents to the highest bidder — and that’s unlikely to be the Celtics.
Losing Irving not only leaves Boston void of talent, but also star power. Even though his days as league MVP are in the past, there’s still a legit appeal among fans to Derrick Rose.
The way he battled back from injuries to put together a strong 2018-2019 season certainly endeared him to many basketball fans.
But in the end, it's about basketball and Rose showed more flashes than expected, of being that once-dominant star years ago.
So much of Rose’s game has always been about attacking the basket and finishing at the rim.
This past season, Rose played in 51 games while averaging 27.3 minutes per game.
His 8.3 points in the paint scored per game was tops among all NBA players who averaged 27 or fewer minutes and played at least half a season's worth of games.
So playing what would amount to being sixth-man/borderline starter minutes is something that Rose is familiar with, so that won’t be as big an issue as we saw at times this past season with some of Boston’s rotation players.
Knowing his minutes will be limited and the history he has had with injuries, the price for adding Rose won’t be terribly steep. He signed a one-year, $2.4 million deal last year with Minnesota and in all likelihood the market for point guards might land him a contract with a slight bump in pay or potentially a deal similar to the one he signed last season. At the right price, Rose becomes a high-reward, low-risk signing.
Regardless of whether Kyrie Irving returns, the Celtics are most likely still going to pursue another guard as a backup.
Which brings us to Ish Smith.
He is a veteran playmaker with great end-to-end speed, a talent that allows him to enter the game and change the pace quickly.
The 30-year-old is a nine-year veteran, having suited up for 10 different teams in that span, a clear indicator how he has been a career backup who plays well enough to stick in the league.
Because of that, fitting in with whatever role he’s asked to play won’t be a problem.
The bigger issue with Smith is his shooting which has been in the low-40s (career 42.7 percent) from the field and low-30s (career 30.8 percent) from 3-point range.
As stated earlier, his speed is a tremendous asset, allowing him to get out in transition and make plays on defense.
But the struggles shooting the ball have a negative impact on spacing, something the Celtics are big on.
By no means does an Ish Smith signing make up for the potential loss of Kyrie Irving. But it does aid in the need for more depth on the bench at the point guard spot.
Few players have embraced being a Boston Celtic — and that feeling being reciprocated — in such a short period of time as we saw with Isaiah Thomas.
In Boston, he was a two-time All-Star, doing things you seldom see from a 5-foot-9 playmaker in the NBA.
Before he could cash in on his success, a series of hip and back-related injuries derailed what was shaping up to be one of the all-time feel-good stories.
There are many questions as to how far removed Thomas is as a player, from his days as an All-Star in Boston. He spent this past season with the Denver Nuggets, but was taken out of their rotation near the end of the season and remained on the outside looking in during the playoffs.
A return to Boston would allow him a chance to reset his career and in doing so, potentially change the narrative back to where it was not so long ago.
Because of the lack of playing time due to injuries and coaching decisions, Thomas is well aware he is not in position to expect an offer anywhere close to the Brinks truck he so famously said teams would have to show up in in order to get his services long-term.
A shorter-term, lower-money deal makes sense for both Thomas and the Celtics.
It would afford him a chance to play his way into a bigger payday while the Celtics would be taking a high-reward, low-risk chance on a player they are familiar with, not only in terms of his play but also his mental toughness.
It would not be the most ideal addition for Boston, but no one would be surprised if a Thomas return worked out well for both the player and the franchise which gave him his first shot at playing major minutes in the NBA.
While adding Ricky Rubio doesn’t exactly move the needle closer towards winning an NBA title, he doesn’t set you back, either. And that’s both the blessing and burden of adding a player like the 6-foot-4 guard who is a solid NBA player but doesn’t put you over the top, either.
He has great size for the position which is one of the keys to his defense. And while he showed promise defensively in the early years of his career, his impact at that end of the floor appears to be regressing.
This past season, Second Spectrum data shows that opposing players shot better than 48 percent from the field when he defended them.
However, defense was never supposed to be his calling card in the NBA.
It’s playmaking, something he does with the absolute best of them in the league — and when you look at Brad Stevens’ system, it would make him an ideal addition from an offensive standpoint.
In five of the 28-year-old’s eight NBA seasons, he has ranked among the top 20 players in total assists. That includes three seasons (2014, 2016, 2017) in which he ranked in the top-5 for assists per game.
But his shooting leaves a lot to be desired, evident by him shooting just 40.4 percent from the field last season — and that was a good year for him.
His strengths and weaknesses on many levels mirror those of ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo, with the exception being Rondo was the better finisher at the rim and was at his best when the stakes were high.
The same can not be said for Rubio, a career 38.6 percent shooter in the playoffs who is just 26.9 percent in the postseason from 3-point range.
Rubio is at a point in his career where he is more consumed with playing for a contending team, than he is with starting or playing major minutes.
That is in part why he has been so disappointed in the Jazz, who have made it clear that re-signing him is not a priority for them.
He’s looking for a basketball contender in need of a playmaking point guard, a position that’s likely to be wide open in Boston sometime after June 30 if Irving does as many expect and signs with another team besides Boston.
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