The rumor mill suggests Danny Ainge has long had his eye on Anthony Davis. The Kyrie Irving trade appeared to be just another stage in a multi-year plan to eventually pair Davis with a fellow superstar and create a perennial championship contender.
Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan since then. After a disaster of a second season in Boston, Irving seems like he’s already out the door. Davis demanded a trade right on cue, but the Celtics were always going to have to wait until July to start trade talks because of a CBA rule prohibiting teams from having two players on max extensions stemming from their rookie contract. Now here we are, only two weeks from free agency, and Davis’ agent Rich Paul said, in no uncertain terms, that Boston is not the destination he and his client are looking for.
There are precedents, quite recent at that, to this sort of situation; Paul George immediately comes to mind as a guy who fully planned on heading to greener pastures before being sold on team culture and competitiveness. Even if Kawhi Leonard leaves after this season, I’d bet every Raptors fan would agree the trade was worth it. But not every situation is the same, and where the Celtics are at right now, they’d be better off dropping out of the Davis race entirely.
With or without Irving, shipping out all of their best young players and assets for a guy who will need a heavy sell to remain in Boston is, shall we say, not ideal. The worst-case scenario in such a situation is that Davis leaves after next season and the Celtics are left with Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, and… well, that’s pretty much it. The best-case scenario will always be that Irving stays, Davis buys in to the program, and the Celtics are title contenders for the next half-decade, at least. But all the signs are pointing to that being the most unlikely outcome possible, and that’s not the foundation you want to have for a trade that sends off all players with any future potential.
Rolling into next season with an aging Horford, still-shaky Hayward, and the combo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown isn’t exactly what Celtics fans had in mind before the year. But it’s far better than finding themselves spurned this time next year, with the star you gave up everything for walking out the door without a second thought. There’s always risk that goes into big trades, and Ainge is among the best at gauging that level of risk. He should see that it’s far too high now.
Just head in to next year with the kids and lowered expectations, the type of environment Brad Stevens teams tend to thrive in. See what happens, and cross your fingers that the Memphis pick (protected 1-6 next year, unprotected in 2021) lands you a third young stud to lead the team into the new decade. That might not lead to Banner 18 anytime soon, but it’s better than the alternative.