What do Celtics do if Kyrie Irving walks?

What do Celtics do if Kyrie Irving walks?

Much of the chatter since lottery night has focused on whether the Boston Celtics should be willing to go all-in with their pursuit of Anthony Davis. Boston still owns maybe the most intriguing blend of young talent and draft picks to offer New Orleans, should the Pelicans be unable to convince Davis to stick around to play alongside Zion Williamson.

Boston’s willingness to push all its chips in, however, could hinge heavily on one factor: Will Kyrie Irving re-sign with Boston this summer?

Without Irving, the risk associated with trading for Davis, who has only one year remaining on his current deal, is elevated. Danny Ainge might still be crazy enough to pursue him. But there would be the very real chance that, if Irving did not return and Davis bolted after the 2019-20 season, the Celtics could find themselves star-less and with bare cupboards after trading away their best young players and much of their best draft capital.

If Irving simply elects to walk this summer, spurning the roughly $50 million extra he can pocket by signing a five-year, $190 million maximum-contract extension with the Celtics, it might be safer for Boston to embrace a youth movement and focus on building the team through their young core.

What exactly would the Celtics’ roster look like if Irving departs?

Irving’s exit, as stressed in this space, does not open any sort of avenues to immediate cap space for the Celtics. They’d be watching an All-NBA talent depart and almost certainly without compensation (even a sign-and-trade seems unlikely if Irving desired to sign with a team with cap space). Boston would get some luxury-tax relief but, if Al Horford elected to return (either by opting in or signing a long-term extension), Boston would remain over the salary cap and would have limited avenues to add impact talent.

Still, the Celtics could essentially rally themselves around the notion of building around the 2018 playoff core — Horford, Tatum, Brown, and, yes, maybe even Terry Rozier — while hoping that a healthy Gordon Hayward and some tweaks to the complementary pieces could keep this team competitive. 

Some Celtics fans might actually embrace this path, particularly as frustration lingers about Irving’s attitude throughout a maddening 2018-19 season in which the Celtics fell woefully short of expectations. Despite the fact that Irving put together one of the best statistical seasons of his NBA career and is likely to land a spot on the All-NBA team, his inability to consistently get the best out of the talent around him leaves some yearning for a less ball-dominant presence.

We’d argue that those yearning for Irving’s departure are a little too focused on his struggles against Milwaukee and assigning too much of the blame for Boston’s woes this season to the All-Star guard. To be sure, Irving is not without fault and might even deserve the lion’s share for the way his leadership struggles impacted the locker room. But those clinging to the idea that Irving’s departure would solve a lot of what ailed this team are likely misguided and are overlooking a lot of the good vibes that existed two seasons ago. Winning cures a lot of what ails you and, ultimately, you need star talent in the NBA to have success.

The Celtics will be ready to welcome Irving back should he hold true to his preseason suggestion that he intended to re-sign here. If he doesn’t, Boston’s championship desires take a hit and the quest for the next star gets murkier.

Despite his repeated suggestions that he might have to go if the roster looks similar, Rozier could be brought back to fill Irving’s loss at point guard, a particularly agreeable course for Boston should Rozier find a lukewarm market in restricted free agency. The Celtics can match any offer he receives, or try to find a price point that helps both player and team in the short term.

Boston could also consider splurging to retain Marcus Morris, though he might find a better blend of pay and playing time elsewhere (LeBron’s Lakers might have some money to spend if they can’t fetch another star). Aron Baynes has a $5.5 million option to consider, while the team can guarantee the bargain salary of Semi Ojeleye.

The Celtics would also enter June’s draft with three first-round picks (Nos. 14, 20, and 22) and could either fill out the back end of the roster with young talent or, more likely, try to explore deals that push those assets to future seasons when they might help facilitate a deal for impact talent. Boston struggled to find time for Robert Williams despite his obvious raw talents this season and it’s hard to see the benefit of three more first-round picks trying to develop in the land of DNPs.

That’s why the Grizzlies pick rolling over to future seasons was so important this week. Yes, Memphis getting Ja Morant in this year’s draft at No. 2 could accelerate their rebuilding process, but it’s unlikely that the Grizzlies will climb too far before that pick conveys (and the Celtics could always move it before that becomes an issue if they fear any sort of KingsPick 2.0 situation). 

The Celtics could examine the progress of their young core and would still have some nice assets to pounce when the next star became available (in much the same way they were ready when Irving surprisingly became an option in the summer of 2017). Invariably, you’d hear suggestions that the team should look into the likes of Bradley Beal, but so much depends on the price tag and the landscape of the league after this potentially seismic offseason.

Things get a little murkier for next year’s Celtics if Horford opts out and departs. Then the Celtics’ youth movement likely gets even youthier. There might be a path to cap space in that scenario but not without losing multiple All-Stars without compensation (which is to say it wouldn’t be ideal).

The bottom line is that Boston has options to remain competitive regardless of how exactly the summer plays out, but so much hinges on Irving and how the dominoes fall from there.

It should be stressed again: Boston’s best option to maintain a championship-level team is keeping Irving. Even if things fizzled again next season, there would be opportunities to move him down the road while recouping the assets you’d otherwise sacrifice if he simply walks.

It takes star talent to win in the NBA. Maybe players like Tatum and Brown reach that level if thrown the keys to the car, and maybe a healthier Hayward changes the calculus entirely for these Celtics. But there’s a lot more ifs without Irving.

Instead of dreaming about a two-star headlining tandem in Irving and Davis, the Celtics would prioritize development while trying to figure out whether the next face of the franchise exists in-house, or must be extracted elsewhere.

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Kemba Walker's new transition game: From Hornets to Celtics

Kemba Walker's new transition game: From Hornets to Celtics

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Yes, Kemba Walker is a three-time All-Star and is coming off a season in which he was named to the All-NBA Third Team. 

Despite a disappointing seventh-place finish for Team USA during the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, Walker did his part in leading the team in scoring and assists with 14.4 and 5.4, respectively. 

But in a few days the Boston Celtics will open training camp and Walker, even with all his accomplishments and success as a pro, will be another new guy rockin’ a Celtics practice uniform trying to figure out where he fits in. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens is confident things will work out, but he knows all too well that there will be some ups and downs that come with the process. 

“Once the season hits, he’ll be ready to roll,” Stevens said of Walker while attending the Celtics Shamrock Foundation Golf Tournament. “The biggest thing for him is … even though he is an All-Star and as good as he is, it’s still a transition.”

The 29-year-old Walker is entering his ninth NBA season, with the first eight all having been played for the Charlotte Hornets, where he leaves as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 12,009 points. 

“A new city, a new team … those great players have a tendency to make those things look smooth,” Stevens said. “We just have to be cognizant as a staff of that, players of that.”

This is not new territory for the Celtics. 

In the summer of 2016, it was Al Horford who arrived in Boston after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Hawks. Two years later, the offseason in Boston delivered Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, who had been NBA lifers in Utah and Cleveland, respectively. 

Now it’s Walker’s turn at the transition game in Boston after the Celtics and Hornets did a sign-and-trade in July that sent Terry Rozier to the Hornets. 

During his introductory press conference in Boston, Walker didn’t mince words when describing why he was eager to become a Celtic after learning of Boston’s interest. 

“For me, they’ve been winning for years. You see all the banners,” Walker said. “As a pro, I haven’t won consistently. I just want to get a taste of that.”

And while each of those players who arrived after a basketball lifetime elsewhere had their own individual circumstances that brought them to Boston, once they arrived they became the big-time new guy — just like Kemba Walker is right now. 

“When we do a practice it’ll be as new to Kemba as it will to (rookie) Romeo Langford,” Stevens said. “It’s just a different deal now. He’ll (Walker)  pick up things quickly because he’s a 29-year-old pro, but at the same time it’s just normal that there’s going to be some transition there.”

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Brad Stevens expects full health for start of Celtics training camp

Brad Stevens expects full health for start of Celtics training camp

PLYMOUTH , Mass. — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he expects the team at full strength when training camp opens next week.

Stevens then immediately searched for wood to knock on while detailing some of the minor maladies that his players are nursing before camp opens on October 1.

Touching on a handful of players, Stevens noted that: 

* Jayson Tatum is “fine,” after suffering a sprained ankle early in FIBA play. “He’s ready to go, from what I've been told,” said Stevens. "I don't know if he will do anything 5-on-5 this week [in open gym] but we anticipate no issues when camp starts next week.”

* Kemba Walker has "been here since he got back,” after sitting out the final game of Team USA play. Added Stevens: "We've seen [Walker] almost every day. Last week, he did a lot less, obviously, because he was just getting worked on, but he was on the court today. I don't think he ended up playing 5-on-5 but he looks good. I think, once the season hits, he will be ready to roll.”

* Romeo Langford “has been fine for about a month,” while recovering from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb. Langford, Boston’s top pick in this year’s draft, missed summer league while rehabbing.

* Tacko Fall “should be cleared by tomorrow.” Stevens said the camp invitee and roster hopeful twisted his knee in 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 work recently. Added Stevens: "I don’t know if we’ll have him do anything, per se, until he gets on the court next week against live competition.”

Stevens also noted that “a couple of the other guys I heard are going to be back here [Tuesday].” That group likely includes Marcus Smart, who was nursing calf/quad and finger ailments by the end of the World Cup. Said Stevens: "We wanted all those guys to get off their feet. It's not as much the physical — because our guys have been working out here. It's more the travel and the toll of being gone for 39 days. They needed to get away for a minute before they came back to join us.”

Stevens did express excitement about having everyone ready to roll for the start of camp, particularly given the short ramp to the start of regular-season games.

“The preseason is so short with the three weeks now, when you start on the 1st and you play the 23rd,” said Stevens. "It was the same way, each of last couple years, I think. You can’t come to camp, like maybe in the past, where you’d come to camp to get in shape. You gotta be ready to roll. I think it’s one of the benefits of the guys that played overseas because they got a lot of time, and conditioning. 

"Then you just gotta be mentally prepared for the games to be right around the corner. Have a couple warm-up games and practice games to get our legs underneath us and then we go right into the lion’s den early. So it should be a lot of fun. I think our guys are excited to get ready and get after it.”

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