The Celtics’ youth movement is upon us.
That’s the knee-jerk reaction amid the news that the Los Angeles Lakers have completed a trade to land Anthony Davis, pairing him with LeBron James out west (take a bow, Rich Paul). Suddenly, the futures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford take center stage and the Celtics’ best path forward might soon be tossing the keys to the car to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Let’s sift through the ramifications of the Davis-to-LA weekend blockbuster:
* Missing out on Davis seems to only decrease the chances of Irving staying in Boston, as it was starting to feel like landing Davis might have been the only way to make one last run at luring Irving back.
Danny Ainge’s less-than-optimistic tone while addressing Irving’s future last week hinted at the team’s uncertainty in retaining him. Maybe landing Davis would have convinced Irving to ponder a return a bit more. Instead, it’s harder to see how the Celtics convince him to come back given that much of the roster from last season’s head-slapping adventure would remain intact having missed out the top available trade target.
* Assuming Irving is gone, the big question becomes whether Horford is on board with essentially embracing the 2018 playoff core — this time with a healthy Gordon Hayward — and seeing where it can take this team.
Horford has to decide this week if he wants to opt into the final year of his deal, which would pay him $30.1 million. Opting in leaves him vulnerable to a trade but, with Davis off the market, it might give him the peace of mind to accept that big-money year and seek longer-term security next summer.
But the bigger question is whether Horford is on board with seeing how far this young core can go. He got a glimpse of their Kyrie-less potential during that 2018 run to the cusp of the NBA Finals but having admitted the priority at this stage of his career is winning a title, might he desire a deal to a more surefire contender?
It’s been pondered in this space whether there’s a possible deal to be made with the Houston Rockets, a team that’s already thrown up the “open for business” flags. Horford flirted with the Rockets before signing with the Celtics in the summer of 2016 and could be intrigued by trying to get Houston over the hump in the west. Might the Celtics be willing to take back some young talent — Clint Capela the name that invariably arises — knowing the road back to title contention with the young core is a bit longer?
* The 2019 NBA Draft looms on Thursday night and suddenly it feels like the Celtics might be best served to use their pile of first-round picks (14, 20, 22) for swings of the bat in hopes of landing some more young talent to pair with Tatum and Brown.
Boston brass would still undoubtedly like to push some of those assets into the future, giving them some capital to pair with the future Grizzlies pick in case another marquee name arrived on the trading block. Ultimately, the Celtics might just have to be patient in waiting for the next top-5 guy to become disgruntled. It seems to happen more often than you think lately (see also: Kyrie, Kawhi Leonard, Davis).
But the draft clock is ticking and, with the AD situation resolved, Boston has to decide fast if it simply wants to go all in on youth or ponder ways to turn those picks into more established talent before they are forced to use them on Thursday.
One thing is a bit more certain: Tatum and Brown might just be the faces of the franchise now and their development could dictate just how fast Boston gets back to title contention.
The Celtics were cautious not to mortgage the farm in pursuing Davis, acutely aware of how damaging it would have been if both Irving and Davis walked away by the summer of 2020.
Boston still has cost-controlled young talent and a pile of draft assets. But it’s clear that Plans A and, maybe Plan B, are slipping away. It’s time to embrace Plan Js — Jaylen and Jayson.
Is Horford on board with Plan J? Is Kyrie truly gone? The Celtics future is starting to come into focus.
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