Let’s start here: The Celtics remain the frontrunner to sign Kyrie Irving this summer. Danny Ainge and ownership would also like to contend for an NBA championship this season and having Irving in a Celtics uniform for the remainder of the 2018-19 season gives them the best opportunity to do that. Additionally, any hopes of keeping Anthony Davis over the long-term after a hypothetical acquisition this summer also are likely directly influenced by having a star like Irving to play with. Sources tell BostonSportsJournal.com that the two are very close and communicate regularly.
With that said, there is a sizable contingent of the Celtics faithful that wonder whether Ainge should consider moving his All-Star guard in the wake of his comments on Friday morning that likely leave the Celtics feeling a little less comfortable about his prior commitment to stay in Boston. Ainge and the Boston front office have been and will continue to do their due diligence on this front as they try to best position themselves to be a contender for the long haul.
However, let’s say in the upcoming week, a nightmare scenario plays out for Boston. The Pelicans pull the trigger on a deal to send Davis to the Lakers ahead of the trade deadline, a situation I believe is only possible if the Celtics aren’t willing to promise them enough in the interim to match LA’s offer. If this happens (it shouldn’t), the Celtics front office may believe that anything short of an NBA Finals trip may not be enough to appease Irving, adding to the risk that he walks.
The disaster scenario for Boston is that Irving walks away in free agency for nothing since that could sidetrack a potential contending team in Boston for years. The Celtics do not have any room under the cap this year to replace Irving if he walks, so if he’s gone, he’s gone.
This scenario is unlikely, but the Celtics do have to prepare for it, so we ask the question: What could the Celtics conceivably get for Irving if they consider moving him before the deadline?
Let’s take a look at a number of hypothetical destinations after polling a number of executives from around the league, which better explain why there is next to no chance Ainge would consider moving him at this point, even if the C’s lose out on Davis before the deadline. Finding a deal that would Boston close to equal value without providing significant on-court dropoff this year is virtually impossible.
Big market potential long-term destinations for Irving
These are places that Irving conceivably would want to sign with this summer. It’s hard to envision them giving up much for Irving at this point (since all of these teams are expected to have cap space to sign him outright in summer), but acquiring him could give them some early advantages (ability to offer the fifth year on a max deal, jump start on recruiting, etc.).
Brooklyn: The talent downgrade is huge and the Nets are not a contender this year even with Kyrie. Given the fact that they can sign him in free agency outright next summer, why would they give up anything significant for him now? The only wildcard: If Nets are trying to trade for Davis now too, which feels like a huge long shot (they lack the premier player assets). Without that, it’s hard to see the Nets putting enough pieces on the table here to satisfy Boston. Guys like Jarrett Allen and Caris LaVert aren’t going to be available for a rental without assurances from Irving that he would stay.
LA Clippers: Not a popular rumored destination for Irving, but they will have room for two max free agents this summer as well. However, they just drafted a potential point guard of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and it’s hard to envision Irving wanting to play in the shadows of LeBron James in LA. Like Brooklyn, there is no real advantage for the Clippers to deal for Irving now since they aren’t a contending team now and they can sign him outright in free agency (perhaps as part of a duo). No sense for them to give up the necessary assets to make a move now.
LA Lakers: Despite Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report suggesting a Kyrie/LeBron reunion, I’m pretty sure the Lakers are busy targeting another big free agent name right now. They don’t have enough pieces to land both Davis and Irving in a trade so trading for Irving now would mean sacrificing open cap space and assets, which would hurt their quest to land Davis. It's not happening.
New York: Outside of Dennis Smith Jr., there aren’t any pieces left on this team that are signed beyond this season and would be able to get regular minutes on this Celtics roster right now. The Knicks clearly believe they can sign Irving in free agency anyway so why give up anything for him now?
These are teams that are good enough already to be considered a contender or could be deemed one if they acquire an All-Star like Irving. That wouldn’t make them favorites against Golden State, but it could give them a puncher’s chance. Top East teams are not being considered here since I don’t believe Ainge would do business with a fellow contender at this point of the year for such a valuable player.
Denver: Mason Plumlee or Paul Millsap would need to be in the deal to match money,