It was hard not to feel optimistic about the Boston Celtics at the conclusion of their 2017-18 campaign, even if it ended at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics had pushed a LeBron-led team to the brink without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, both of whom were slated to return by training camp in the fall.
Jayson Tatum was a revelation as a rookie, lighting it up from three-point range and providing a much-needed added dimension to the offense. Jaylen Brown took over as a primary scorer with Irving out and thrived in that role. Terry Rozier had stepped into the point guard void and played tremendous basketball in the playoffs. Al Horford and Marcus Smart were, well, Al Horford and Marcus Smart.
Add Kyrie and Hayward to that mix and, coupled with the fortunate departure of LeBron from the East, the Celtics were suddenly the favorites to reach the Finals, with some thinking 60 wins was a more than reasonable expectation. Kyrie spoke about re-signing at preseason fan events and all was right in Boston, as the team appeared to have played everything just right to have a squad capable of lording over the East in the present and future with their mixture of veterans and young talent.
Fast forward seven months and the Celtics enter the 2019 offseason facing a worst case scenario that is beyond anything anyone imagined back in September. Their young players failed to take positive steps forward and, in some cases, appeared to regress; Hayward was a shell of himself as he occupies an enormous portion of their cap sheet; and Irving appears on his way out of town after a miserable performance against the Bucks.
The summer has come early in Boston and what was supposed to be fairly simple is now incredibly complicated. Re-signing Kyrie now seems up in the air, although certainly not impossible. Before that, the team will have to figure out if they can get this group to coexist on and off the floor. It’s possible they will be determined to make it work, but if they can’t and keeping Irving is a priority, perhaps Boston will dive into trade talks with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis.
We don’t know how much trade rumors affected this team, but, like the Lakers, they were unavoidable for the young core. Davis’ camp has tried to make it clear he won’t re-sign in Boston, but the only chance they’d have at keeping him long term would be with Irving. If Irving walks, then it likely makes the decision for Danny Ainge, as he shouldn’t part ways with any of his young core under those circumstances.
If Irving tells them he wants to come back, but only if they add another star like Davis, Ainge would be in a tough spot. Pelicans executive David Griffin outlined what he would want, generally, in a Davis deal while he was a TV analyst, and a package of one of Tatum or Brown, draft picks, and a player like Marcus Smart, would appear to fit the bill.