The new year will certainly be an interesting one for the Celtics. A season of great promise gave way to an inconsistent and, on several occasions, puzzling first half for Brad Stevens' crew. What will 2019 have in store for the green — both for the rest of this campaign and a crucial offseason? Here are five questions that will go a long way to answering that question:
1. How all-in is Danny Ainge on this season? This is a tougher decision for the front office than it appears at first glance. On the one hand, the Celtics remain stuck as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference 35 games into the regular season amid a schedule that includes home losses to the Magic, Suns and Knicks. On the other hand, there may not be another season in which this group has this type of depth at their disposal up and down the roster. It has not translated in the win-loss column so far, but Kyrie Irving is playing like an MVP candidate and Marcus Morris is having a career year — two things that are not guaranteed to continue beyond 2019. With the very real possibility that half of this team’s rotation could be wearing another uniform next year (via trades or free agency losses), the Celtics still are in a pretty unique position to make a run at the title with the Warriors looking more vulnerable than they in years.
So what would constitute the Celtics going all-in on this season? A couple of options loom as possibilities. The first will be a potential move at the trade deadline. Danny Ainge has refused to move first round picks for a potential rental in recent years as he has focused on stockpiling assets for bigger moves. Now? The Celtics contending window may be deserving of a boost, particularly if some of the bench pieces (Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis, Jaylen Brown) aren’t meshing with the team’s success on the floor on a regular basis. I wouldn’t expect those guys to be dealt, but trading a late first round pick and a player with no trade value/roster filler (Brad Wanamaker/Jabari Bird) for a shooting upgrade with the second unit would raise Boston’s ceiling by a bit.
The other thing to watch for is just how aggressive Ainge will be on the buyout market. The Celtics are in the luxury tax but also have the full mid-level exception (nearly $6 million at their disposal) that they can offer to any one player. While convincing a prospective free agent that Boston has a big enough role for them might be a challenge, a big money offer will help on that front. With the buyout market expected to be active (with so many tanking teams in the East), the C’s level of pursuit will say a lot about.
2. Is Jayson Tatum going to be on the table for Anthony Davis without any guarantee about re-signing? With every Kings win and missed 3-pointer by Jaylen Brown, the reality is becoming more and more apparent that the Celtics are going to need to include Jayson Tatum in an offer for Anthony Davis this summer to outbid what will be a long list of potential bidders. Tatum serves as a bit of trump card as far as a prospect with All-Star capabilities who is on a bargain rookie deal for the next two seasons. The Pelicans will surely get offered All-Stars for Davis (who are making max money) as well as a long list of intriguing young players, but no one will have the mix of potential and low cost that Tatum provides that should be appealing to a New Orleans team that will be on path to rebuilding if Davis is gone.