The Boston Celtics‘ season is finally over. One of the most detestable teams of my lifetime has been eliminated. I’m not going to act like it wouldn’t have been nice to see the Celtics overcome their struggles and make a legitimate playoff run. Hell, even putting up somewhat of a fight against Milwaukee would’ve been nice. But alas, the Cs just rolled over and died like the gutless team that they are.
In the wake of their sorry performance, narratives about the Celtics are, to say the least, gloomy. Obviously, we’re never going to stop hearing takes on where Kyrie is going. We’re also never going to stop hearing discussions on who is to blame for the failure that was the 2018-19 Celtics season. I, however, choose to look to the future and to look at where this franchise is headed next season and I gotta say, I’m excited for it.
Contrary to Popular Belief, the Celtics Hold All the Cards With Kyrie Irving
The narrative all season has been around Kyrie’s decision to stay in Boston or to leave. Now, in a player’s league like the NBA, I can understand the immediate instinct that the franchise is at the mercy of the star player. And, for a period of time back in mid-season, it appeared as though this were the scenario since Kyrie Irving was often the only reason that the Celtics were winning games. At the time when he made the “Ask me July 1st” comment, it actually had serious implications.
I should also mention that I personally do not think Boston should re-sign Kyrie. I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t work with our system and he’s also a terrible leader. That said, I’m going to talk as if it’s up in the air because he’s still a great talent and it’s important that the Celtics are in the driver’s seat here.
The Celtics Have Shown That They Aren’t Dependent On Kyrie
The problem for Kyrie is that he stopped being the only reason that the Celtics were winning games. As the season went on, the potential for the rest of the team to contribute in major ways became clear. Guys like Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Gordon Hayward, and Jayson Tatum showed that they too are capable of taking over games. The Celtics clearly have a great core that may have some chemistry issues, but is capable of being the foundation of a championship team. The only missing piece is a star to take them to the promised land.
Is Kyrie that star? It sure doesn’t seem like it. To be honest, I don’t particularly want him back. If I were Danny Ainge, I’d be at least a little bit hesitant to hand Kyrie the keys to this franchise. Luckily, Danny Ainge knows more about building a basketball team than I ever will, so I don’t have to worry about him making the correct decision.
The important takeaway here is that the Celtics are clearly not at the mercy of what Kyrie wants to do. Kyrie did not look like the kind of guy who can lead a team this season. That has major implications on his value both to the Celtics and other teams. Kyrie may (albeit not likely) be in a situation where he is looking for a team that will give him the max contract that he wants.
Kyrie Hasn’t Quit On the Celtics
As far as the evidence that Kyrie doesn’t want to stay in Boston, I personally don’t buy it. It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that he didn’t This season was rough and Kyrie appears to be a mentally weak quitter. However, I don’t see any actual evidence of him not wanting to be in Boston. When his comments to the media have created doubt in his intention to re-sign I’ve always taken it to be more him being fed up with the media hounding him. I mean, this is the biggest decision of Kyrie’s life coming up. You really think he’d know exactly what he’s going to do six months in advance?
Sure he didn’t look too into the game down the stretch. I see this more as him giving up on the season, not giving up on the franchise. Being a star in Boston, specifically for the Celtics, is different from being a star everywhere else. It’s a special kind of fame that someone like Kyrie would find especially appealing. Plus, the Celtics have a better supporting cast (chemistry issues aside) than any other team that has a spot for Kyrie. Oh, and I haven’t even brought up the fact that the Celtics can offer him a supermax and the other teams can’t. To someone like Kyrie Irving, this likely matters a great deal.
With or Without Kyrie, the Celtics Have Plenty To Build Off
All this Kyrie drama can make us forget how good of a spot Danny Ainge has put this team in. This rebuild has been slow and meticulous. It’s about time the Celtics cash in. Let’s talk about how they can do that.
This Season Was Rough, But Boston Still Has the Building Blocks For a Championship Team
Throughout the season everyone has agreed on one thing: the Celtics should be better than they have been. This is because they have so much talent on their roster, top to bottom. There has been a multitude of theories behind the Celtics struggles this season. Some have put it all on Kyrie. Others have said it’s more of an overall chemistry thing. My least favorite take is that they have “too many mouths to feed” and players are getting frustrated with the amount of minutes they get.
No matter what the truth is behind this failure of a season, everyone is in agreement that it is not because this team doesn’t have enough talent. Not only that, but I have reason to believe most of these pieces are going to be even better next year.
Gordon Hayward is going to be much better next year than anyone expects him to be. He had a rough year for a number of reasons. Most obviously is the gruesome injury he just came off of. He was relegated to the bench in November and has been steadily improving. In fact, the only reason he never made it back into the starting five is because he was too valuable to the second unit’s effectiveness. I fully expect him to be an all-star once again next season, or else we have no business thinking about a championship run anyway.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are nowhere near their ceilings. Tatum needs no explanation, as he has been widely recognized to be something special even despite having his fair share of struggles this season. Jaylen started the season poorly, but since January has been one of the most hardworking and dependable Celtics. He’s one of the most athletic players in the league and has the potential to develop into both an elite shotmaker and a lockdown defender. These two alone would be enough to build a team around going forward.
Marcus Smart is the kind of player that every team wishes they could have. He is the definition of a hustle player, a defensive bulldog. Not only that, but he is the heart and soul of this team. His effort and spirit had a profound effect on the young 2017-18 team. This past season he constantly got the team moving in the right direction when they looked lifeless. A player like Marcus Smart can easily be the “it” factor that makes the difference between a contender and a championship team.
Danny Ainge Has an Almost Overwhelming Amount of Options This Summer
It’s hard to even keep track of the amount of moving parts on this team this summer. Most of the time that seems like a bad thing, but coming off a disastrous season with a GM as good as Ainge makes it the best case scenario. He has a plethora of young talents to shop for potential trades as well as four potential first-round draft picks. There are a few options this summer that interest me for the Celtics.
Let Kyrie walk, Horford takes his option, sign Kemba Walker using cap space.
Starting five: Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford
If we’re trying to onto Jaylen and Jayson for the long run, Kemba Walker is a much better point guard for this team than Kyrie is for a few reasons. Kemba is a much younger star to go with the younger team, yet he’s still big enough to hold respect in the locker room. He seems like a much better leader than Kyrie is to me, especially after seeing the heart and determination the Hornets were playing with as they were fighting to get into the playoffs.
I have no idea about Kemba’s intentions to stay in or leave Charlotte. If it turns out that he’s open to leaving, signing him through free agency seems like a realistic possibility to me. It would mean the Celtics are basically replacing a shoot-first point guard with another shoot-first point guard. This to me seems like a risk given the absolute disaster that Kyrie was as a shoot-first point guard in our system. That said, I think Kemba is a little more well rounded than Kyrie is. Kyrie is the best ball handler and finisher at the rim, as well as tough shot maker, out of any guard in the league. I think Kemba is a better passer and defender, and he’s capable of being every bit as good of a long distance shooter.
One of the best parts about this situation is that the Celtics don’t have to use Bird rights to give Kyrie a supermax while still having a star point guard. This allows them greater leverage to lock down a young guy like Tatum or Brown.
Let Kyrie Walk, Horford takes his option, sign Terry Rozier to a 3-5 year deal with cap space, sign Jimmy Butler with cap space.
Starting five: Terry Rozier, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford
There’s a lot to like about the situation that this would put the team in. Jimmy Butler has shown his capability to be a leader in Philadelphia with actions like going after Jared Dudley to stand up for Joel Embiid in the first round of the playoffs. This is the kind of player that can solve some of the gutlessness we’ve seen from the Celtics this year. Furthermore, he’d be a definite go-to guy down the stretch in games, something that the Celtics haven’t really had once teams started trapping Kyrie.
The biggest problem with this is the probability of it actually panning out. For a lot of the time this year, it’s really seemed like Butler wants to stay in Philly. Also, the Sixers can offer him the most money. Not only that, but Terry Rozier has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to come back to Boston. Even if he does, there’s little chance that Ainge would take him back considering that Rozier has thrown pretty much everyone on the team under the bus. That said, not being able to keep Rozier doesn’t totally kill this scenario. Any pass-first point guard who can shoot decently would work in this system.
So, while this scenario to me is the most ideal, it would take some serious Ainge wizardry to pan out.
Let Kyrie and Rozier walk, trade Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams (maybe a pick) for Anthony Davis. Sign a point guard.
Starting five: Hopefully someone good, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Anthony Davis
I hate this option so so much. I’m only including it in this article because everyone seems to think the Celtics want to do this. Without even addressing the fact that New Orleans just won the Zion sweepstakes so they might not even trade AD, let me explain why this sucks.
First of all, I have no idea who the point guard would be. Maybe we could get Kemba too if we did this. Maybe we could keep Kyrie although we wouldn’t be able to give him a supermax in this case. The problem with both of these options is that you have a shoot first point guard on a team whose best player is a big. I just don’t see that working out, especially when we also have Tatum and Hayward who also need to be taking a lot of shots. If the Celtics get AD, they’ll need a pass-first point guard, of which there are pretty much no viable options in the free agency pool.
Second, I absolutely hate bigs that get hurt a lot. I don’t trust them. Centers are good because they won the genetic lottery, but the best centers are also in shape. Guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis seem to me like they’re overstepping their limits when they get on the court, and if that’s the case, I have no reason to believe they won’t get hurt in the playoffs when they’re pushing themselves even more.
Lastly, and most importantly, it would require giving up either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. I’m not saying that these guys are more valuable than Anthony Davis. However, losing either one is definitely a negative and with the problems that I already addressed, it makes this deal absolutely not worth it to me. I could potentially be more open to signing Anthony Davis in the 2020 offseason once Al Horford’s contract is up. For now, I don’t see Davis playing for the Celtics anytime soon.
Other Less Likely Options
I’m just going to give my brief thoughts on the other top free agents here.
Kevin Durant: Would love to have him, obviously. By the end of his career, he will be recognized as the greatest scorer while being efficient of all time. I think the Celtics could actually make a very good pitch to him. Problem is that most of the insiders seem to be convinced he’s going to the Knicks. They have more info than I do.
Kawhi Leonard: Would be a great fit on this team, especially since Ainge and Stevens love defensive guys so much. This is another instance where I don’t think Boston is the kind of location he’s looking for. I see him most likely going to the Clippers.
Boogie Cousins: Another big that gets hurt a lot. I don’t really want him.
Klay Thompson: He is 100 percent staying with Golden State.
Khris Middleton: Aside from the fact that he seems happy in Milwaukee, I honestly don’t think he’s the right piece for this team.
Tobias Harris: I don’t think Danny Ainge would be willing to give him a max and I think another team will be.
There you have it, my pre-offseason thoughts on the Boston Celtics. The main takeaway here is that the Celtics have a few parts that can move and a lot of dynamic options this summer, and I trust Danny Ainge to come out of all of this with a championship contending team. A lot of factors I discussed here could change drastically on any given day, so I’ll be looking to take the discussion even further this summer, as well as comment on all news that affects the Celtics.
Remember, the Celtics are the only Boston team not to have won a championship in the 2010s. I’d say a decent way to make up for this would be with a solid 10-year dynasty through the next decade.