Celtics options limited in aftermath of Anthony Davis trade to Lakers

Nick Friar
June 17, 2019 - 8:08 am

Between the reports of Kyrie Irving favoring the Nets over everyone else — or being “prepared to sign with” Brooklyn, however you want to phrase it — and another stating the Celtics are losing faith in his return, along with the Lakers winning the battle over Anthony Davis on Saturday, it doesn’t seem likely Irving will wear Celtics green again. Logistically, it can still happen. But it feels like it would take a complete 180 from Irving — which some might argue is very much on-brand.

Assuming he’s gone, the Celtics are left with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the present and future of the franchise. Naturally, those two becoming the foundation brings up the “you can’t win in this league without a star” point. And it’s a “point,” not a “debate” because it’s a fact, not an opinion: you need a star. The 2003-04 Pistons are the only team this century who won it all without a superstar. (Even then, you might be able to make a case for Chauncey Billups as a superstar at that stage in his career.) And that was before it became near-impossible to play defense in the league.

That point puts the focus on Tatum. It feels reasonable to say everyone expected more out him in his sophomore season. But, in fairness, the entire 2018-19 Celtics team was pretty underwhelming.

Something worth examining in all of this is Danny Ainge’s reluctance to part ways with Tatum throughout the Davis talks. The latest report on the Celtics’ dealing with the Pelicans indicates Boston was willing to trade Tatum for Davis, but in a deal that was close to a straight-up swap. There aren’t many scenarios, if any, where that’d be a good move for the Pelicans, even with Davis set to leave.

Now, the driving forces behind Ainge placing such a premium on Tatum had to do with uncertainty surrounding both Davis and Irving. That seems obvious. Assuming that’s the case, doesn’t this also mean the Celtics believe Tatum is going to turn into something much more than he was last season? Of course, their projections could be off, but, as Wyc Grousbeck made clear the other day, the Celtics aren’t looking to play things safe. While this is the safer move when it comes to Davis, it’s still a gamble. Whereas, trading Tatum for the big man without reason to believe he’d be a Celtic past 2020 would have been borderline reckless.

In addition to Tatum and Brown, that leaves Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Aron Baynes, Robert Williams, Semi Ojeleye and Guerschon Yabusele on the Celtics. Al Horford is still very much in play, but he has yet to opt-in. That decision comes down on Tuesday — though it could be delayed if the Celtics OK it. According to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe, Horford “was still figuring out his situation for next season,” on Saturday.


Horford opting-out then re-upping with the Celtics wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but he’s not getting any younger, while the foundation of this team has. He’s made it clear he likes Boston, but Horford also wants to play for a contender. With all the shifting that’s gone on, he may think he has better chances at winning elsewhere. Ainge recently said the matter of restructuring Horford’s contract was a priority, so they’re planning for him to opt-out and rework things.

If Horford stays — and let’s continue to assume Irving is gone — the Celtics could re-sign Terry Rozier, which Ainge is open to, and Marcus Morris, who is open to returning, too. Then the Celtics have their upcoming draft picks. They could try to move one or two to a player with NBA experience. If they only use two of their four picks (three in the first round and one in the second) that puts the roster at 13, leaving room for two more veteran minimum slots. (Isaiah Thomas?)

The Celtics could go after Nets point guard and 2018-19 NBA All-Star D’Angelo Russell if Irving goes to the Nets. His contract and presence would eliminate Rozier, and if the Celtics want to give him competitive pricing — though still at a discount — Morris would likely be out of the question, too.

Also, since people seem to put stock into this sort of thing, Russell started following the Celtics on Instagram:

The idea of trading for Houston big man Clint Capela is a good one, too. But it looks like the Rockets want more than the Celtics are willing to give, per The Globe. Outside of that, it would require a lot to go right on the C’s end to land a larger star — i.e. Kemba Walker. Adding the Hornets superstar to the roster would take the right combination of Horford leaving, along with Rozier and Morris, and then either Walker settling for less — which he’s said he would do, but for Charlotte — or somehow Boston would have to orchestrate a sign-and-trade involving Hayward and picks. So, yeah, probably not happening.

The likely outcome is the first scenario (Tatum, Brown, Hayward, Horford, Rozier, and Smart as the core) with there being a chance at swapping Russell for Rozier. Tuesday is the next big day on the schedule. From there, it’ll be easier to tell which targets are more realistic for the Celtics.