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Gap year: even with all the trade chatter, the young Celtics are letting their games do the talking

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the year, Jayson Tatum jokingly said that he’d trade himself for Anthony Davis. Well, it wasn’t exactly Tatum that said it. It was a story that Cedric Maxwell relayed to Adam Kaufman on CLNS’ Celtics Beat podcast where Tatum’s dad was giving Cornbread a hard time for suggesting trading his son for AD and when he told Jayson the story, he said, “yeah, I’d trade me too for Anthony Davis.”

That may have been playful banter between the Tatum’s and the longtime Celtics TV broadcaster, but there’s always truth in jest and that moment is here. Or at least six months from now.

With Anthony Davis informing the Pelicans that he has no intention of re-signing in New Orleans and requesting a trade, the NBA is abuzz with less than a week before the February 7th trade deadline. All leaks point to AD’s future being in Los Angeles, but it’s been reported that Danny Ainge will tell Pelicans’ GM Dell Demps that he’ll top any offer come July 1st. As exciting as that may be, there’s still a season to play out.

The Celtics are now 32-19, half a game behind the Indiana Pacers who tragically lost Victor Oladipo for the year and a game behind the Philadelphia 76ers who they’ve beat twice this season. It may not exactly be where we expected them to be, but they’re still one of the best teams in the league. They went toe-to-toe with the Warriors last Saturday, are 9th if OffRtg, 3rd in DefRtg, and 3rd in NetRtg for the season.

However, there are these odd circumstances that loom over Boston. Because of The Rose Rule, the Celtics are in a unique and uncomfortable situation where they have a legitimate shot at contending for a title this season and landing a generational talent for next season. It’s unprecedented. Everybody knows that trade season chatter are mostly lies and rumors driven by team and agent agendas that get convoluted and twisted by social media and yet, it still makes it all so awkward.

Before the game, Brad Stevens threw some water on some of the drama this week and said, “the NBA is what it is because of the scuttlebutt and the excitement around it. Obviously, the game is great and there’s a lot of good things about it and captivates everybody’s attention for twelve months out of the year. The unfortunate thing about being in the middle of it is that you realize most of it is not true, but it’s still fun to listen to.” That may be, but the reality of the situation is Anthony Davis is available, Danny Ainge has coveted him for years, and he has a stockpile of young players and picks at his disposal.

The crown jewel of Ainge’s war chest is Jayson Tatum. He’ll represent the Celtics in the Rising Stars game and many believe he’ll someday be an All-Star for years. However, after July 1st, he could be repping another team. When asked about the swirling winds of the trade vortex, Tatum responded, “my job is to control what I can control. I can’t control what happens. You gotta go out there and focus on today and play the game and see what happens.”

After being pressed about potentially being the centerpiece for a player of Anthony Davis’ caliber, Tatum modestly replied, “it’s good to be wanted.”

In this cloud of uncertainty, the young core of the Celtics have responded and looked like the same squad that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Against a Charlotte Hornets team that had won 5 of their last 7 games, Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored 20 and 24 respectively in 126-94 rout. Terry Rozier recorded his first double-double of the year with 17 points and 10 assists in a start with Kyrie Irving still out with a hip strain.

If Davis remains with the Pelicans after the trade deadline and Ainge has a chance to acquire him in the off season, a cynic could suggest that the remainder of this year is the perfect showcase. But if you were a believer in Boston’s depth and versatility at the beginning of the season, maybe you’d think twice about pursuing AD after what hopes to be a championship run.

Marcus Morris, a veteran in the locker room who has seen his fair share of trade deadlines (and been traded himself a few times), said, “hopefully, Danny don’t make moves and we keep this thing going because I think we’ve got a special squad.”