Celtics

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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