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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Carsen Edwards' 3-point barrage for Celtics catches Dwyane Wade's eye

Carsen Edwards' 3-point barrage for Celtics catches Dwyane Wade's eye

How does one earn the praise of an NBA legend during a meaningless preseason game?

By hitting eight 3-pointers in one quarter, of course.

Boston Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards accomplished that mission Tuesday night in Cleveland by pouring in eight triples in the third quarter -- seven of which came in a span of less than five minutes -- to finish with 30 points.

And guess who took notice? Recently-retired superstar Dwyane Wade, who urged his 8.3 million Twitter followers not to sleep on the young point guard.

Wade, who spent one season with the Cavs, also shouted out Cleveland rookies Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. later in the game. But he clearly was impressed by Edwards, a second-round pick who's garnered considerable hype from his NBA contemporaries.

The 6-foot-1 guard also has a fan in former Celtics guard Nate Robinson, who commented, "My favorite guard in the league" on the NBA's Instagram post of Edwards' highlights.

Looks like it's getting harder to sleep on Edwards, especially if he continues to get buckets when the regular season begins.

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Has Brad Stevens finally found his 'microwave' in Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards?

Has Brad Stevens finally found his 'microwave' in Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards?

Maybe fellow rookie Tremont Waters best summed up what it was like to watch Carsen Edwards erupt for eight third-quarter 3-pointers in the Celtics' exhibition finale Tuesday night in Cleveland.

“I didn’t want to get burnt, so I tried to stay away from him,” Waters (half-) joked to reporters.

Edwards scored 26 third-quarter points behind his 3-point barrage, all of which came in little more than a five-minute span. Maybe more staggering was the distance of his 3-point makes in the quarter, including four of 30-plus feet and an average distance of 29.1 feet on the eight makes.

Edwards nearly matched Klay Thompson’s regular-season record of nine 3-pointers in a quarter. He did match Boston’s regular-season record of nine 3-pointers in a game, a feat accomplished by both Isaiah Thomas and Antoine Walker.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was present for Thomas’ outburst and Edwards’ offensive explosion still left him searching for the right words.

"I don't know if I've ever seen anything like that,” Stevens told reporters in Cleveland. "Those were deep, hard 3s. And how many? Eight? In like five minutes? I've never seen anything like that. I don't know that I have any reference points. He was pretty special.”

For his part, Edward shrugged off his part. He credited his teammates with finding him open shots. He suggested that he slipped into a similar shooting zone against top-seeded Virginia during the NCAA Tournament (that day, Edwards scored 42 points on 14-of-25 shooting with ten 3-pointers as Purdue nearly produced the upset).

What Stevens liked best was how Edwards, who took a hard shot to the nose in the opening minutes of the game, shook off an uneven first half to erupt in the second.

"I think the most encouraging part of the whole performance was I didn't think he was very good in the first half. And for him to be able to recenter and play and come out of the gates like that in the second, that's a great thing for a coach to learn about somebody,” Stevens told reporters. "Sometimes guys don't have it on a given night ... but you always know that he's probably one time from hitting the net away from getting hot.

"He lives on heat checks.”

The bigger picture here for the Celtics is that, in summer league and the preseason, Edwards has shown that his scoring skills should translate to the NBA. He might just be the microwave bench scoring option that the team has long coveted in the Stevens era.

It’s fair to want to see it in regular-season play. But it would also seem logical that Edwards might see even easier shots if he’s got talents such as Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward on the court and opposing teams can’t send their best defenders at him.

Not that it would deter him, anyhow. In the preseason, 31 of Edwards’ 43 field goal attempts came beyond the arc. He shot 45.2 percent from 3-point land and 51.2 percent overall. He scored 61 points in 73 minutes and the Celtics had an offensive rating of 112.6 when he was on the court.

Edwards’ usage percentage was 28.8 percent this preseason, a number driven slightly higher by his six turnovers. Still, he accounted for a staggering 34.1 percent of Boston’s points in his floor time.

This suggests that he won’t be particularly bashful when Stevens puts him into regular-season games. There’s backup guard minutes to be had with the departure of Terry Rozier and Edwards will get plenty of reps if he shoots like he has since arriving in Boston.

It’s a good sign for Boston if players like Waters need a bit of zinc oxide to combat any burns they get from being too close to Edwards moving forward.

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