Rich Paul's comments on Anthony Davis shouldn't scare off Celtics

Rich Paul's comments on Anthony Davis shouldn't scare off Celtics

Despite Rich Paul’s latest public proclamation that Anthony Davis does not see a long-term future in Boston, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge ought not be deterred from his quest to land the superstar talent if he deems that's Boston’s best path to immediate title contention.

In a recently published Sports Illustrated story, Paul, referencing himself in the third person, says, “Don’t blame Rich Paul,” if the Celtics sacrifice assets this summer only to watch Davis walk away in free agency in the summer of 2020.

“[The Celtics] can trade for [Davis], but it’ll be for one year,” cautions Paul. 

Yes, Paul’s comments add another layer of intrigue to the high-stakes game of chicken that the super agent is playing while acutely aware that Boston has long coveted his client. It would be easier to heed Paul’s warnings if he didn’t have the obvious conflict of interest in being LeBron James’ agent (and pal).

Paul’s declaration, which might have come as early as March based on the timeline offered in Sports Illustrated’s story, leaves some Celtics fans wondering if it’s safer to embrace the idea of building around the team’s current young core, and simply move on from both Davis and Irving if they don’t desire to be here.

All of which us leaves us replaying one of Ainge’s more notable quotes from his recent press gathering.

"There's always risk in making deals. We’re not afraid of risk.”

If acquiring Davis is Boston’s best chance of retaining Irving, then the team has to consider it. That superstar duo, combined with a returning core that would likely still include Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, and at least one of Jaylen Brown or Marcus Smart, would position the Celtics as legitimate contenders in a league that could look very different next season. Yes, last year showed that it’s dangerous to make any assumptions about team potential but let’s remember that Davis was maybe the best player in basketball two seasons ago and would have three former All-Stars around him in Boston. That team should be pretty good if not overwhelmed (again) by the expectations that would exist.

Yes, there is obvious risk in mortgaging young talent and prime draft picks for a flight risk. There is even more risk if the only way to retain Irving is to sign him to a 1-and-1 deal that would essentially allow him to return to free agency in the summer of 2020, setting up a scenario in which Davis, Irving, and maybe even Kevin Durant, depending on how his situation plays out in the aftermath of his Achilles injury, hit the open market at the same time.

Celtics fans worry that the cupboards would be bare if Boston traded prime assets, including Jayson Tatum, for Davis, and then watched both Irving and Davis bail after next season. Remember, though, that the Celtics would still have paths to remain competitive in that scenario.

The Celtics’ books for the 2020-21 season are currently quite clean. Right now, Marcus Smart is the only guaranteed contract at $13.4 million. Hayward owns a $34.2 million player option while the Celtics are currently scheduled to have team options on Guerschon Yabusele ($4.8 million), Robert Williams ($2 million), and Semi Ojeleye ($1.8 million). Jaylen Brown, if not previously extended or traded, would have a $8.6 million qualifying offer while wading into restricted free agency.

Even if Davis and Irving both elected to move on, Boston could consider everything from sign-and-trade avenues to recoup proven talent to simply renouncing the rights to all of their potential free agents and examining the bountiful cap room they might have to work with. It’s not inconceivable that Boston could open enough cap space to pursue a new star duo to complement whatever young talent remains (making it important that Boston maintain at least some of its draft assets in the pursuit of Davis).

Is it a riskier path? Undoubtedly. But there is no guarantee with the alternative. The Celtics can build around a young core of Tatum and Brown but would need both to makes strides and have Hayward revert to All-Star form in order to have legitimate title potential next season. Remember, too, that Boston is going to have to pay Brown a hefty salary as early as the summer of 2020, limiting the team’s options to put talent around that young core further down the road.

It comes down to risk management. Heck, the Celtics could mortgage their future to make a Davis deal before draft night and not even know if it would guarantee Irving’s return (Ainge said last week that he’s uncertain if there are moves that would increase Irving’s desire to return). No Irving would make it even tougher to sell Davis on staying long-term, though certainly Paul’s hard-line stance could soften once Davis is actually here. Plus, the league is in such flux this summer, it’s hard to know exactly the situations that could attract players a year from now.

Which is why we keep coming back to what Ainge said.

"There's always risk in making deals. We’re not afraid of risk.”

The Celtics have long had their eyes on Davis. Maybe there’s a point at which the risk simply isn’t worth the pursuit. But an agent with an agenda probably isn’t the tipping point.

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Brad Stevens on Kemba Walker's knee injury: 'It's not a long-term thing'

Brad Stevens on Kemba Walker's knee injury: 'It's not a long-term thing'

Kemba Walker missed his second straight game Sunday with a knee injury, but Brad Stevens remains optimistic about the Boston Celtics guard's health going forward.

Before the C's road matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, Stevens provided an encouraging update on Walker.

"I think he's getting better day by day and he did a lot of weight room and workout room yesterday," Stevens said. "I don't know how long it's going to be, but right now we're really focusing on him feeling great and strengthening [the knee].

"I think that it's not a long-term thing, but we need him to feel great. And, you know, the swelling was something that was new coming out of the break, and so we need to make sure he feels great as we hit the stretch run here."

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That's certainly good news for the C's as they'll need Walker down the stretch, especially come playoff time. But even without Walker, Boston has found ways to get the job done.

Without Walker on Friday vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves, four Celtics players scored 25-plus points en route to their 127-117 win. While they can't rely on that kind of production consistently without their All-Star guard, that's an impressive feat.

Walker is averaging 21.8 points, 5 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game this season.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Celtics injuries: Kemba Walker (knee) out Sunday vs. Lakers

Celtics injuries: Kemba Walker (knee) out Sunday vs. Lakers

The Boston Celtics will have to take on the Los Angeles Lakers without Kemba Walker on Sunday afternoon.

The C's guard will miss his second straight game due to a sore left knee, the team announced Saturday. Head coach Brad Stevens revealed earlier this week Walker's knee swelled up and had to be drained. Walker also had his knee injected with Synvisc, a pain relief treatment used for knee soreness.

Robert Williams remains ruled out with a left hip bone edema, though there is hope the big man will return to the court after the Celtics wrap up their road trip.

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Celtics-Lakers tips off Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. When these two teams last faced off on January 20, the C's cruised to a 139-107 victory.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.