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Above the game: trading for Anthony Davis means partnering with Klutch, too

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The Anthony Davis saga has taught us that the game has changed on and off the court.

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NBA All-Star Game 2017 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In a recent report detailing the aftermath of the Anthony Davis trade debacle, The Sporting News’ Sean Deveney included this little insight into the inner workings of the failed attempt to get AD to the Lakers:

The Celtics were annoyed by the story of Irving having eyes for New York, not because of Irving, but because they felt the story was planted by Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, in order to scare the Pelicans into thinking Boston would back off making a trade offer for Davis in July if Irving left.

”It was cheap and underhanded,” one source told SN.

Call it gamesmanship. Call it a power move. Call it a flex by the one of the most influential player-agent duos in the NBA. This was a grenade lobbed at the Celtics by Klutch Sports and Rich Paul. And in five months, it's possible they could all be working together.

Over the last several years, the new CBA that was signed back in December of 2016 has ceded much of the power to the players. For the most part, they’ve rejected the siren calls of supermax contracts and stability in favor of personal freedom and movement. For better or for worse, the modern NBA has empowered its stars so much that even with multiple years left on their contracts, players can sit out (Kawhi Leonard), demand trades (Jimmy Butler, Paul George), and (attempt to) pick their new team (Davis).

NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

So far, the Celtics have been immune to this. Their six-year rebuild has been the model of asset collection, savvy in-season trades, and timely free agent signings. They’ve vaulted up the standings since 2014 with little drama and fanfare. But now, with an opportunity to acquire arguably one of the league’s best big men coupled with re-signing Kyrie Irving, Boston finds itself at a crossroads. They’ve done well drafting talent, identifying high character players, and building a team from the bottom up, but to get to that next level, they may have to get in the superstar business.

Since the trade deadline, Danny Ainge has tried to put out some of the fires that the Davis drama ignited. He’s publicly called the relationship between the Celtics and Kyrie “an engagement” with a wedding date set for the 1st of July. Save the dates are apparently already in the mail. Some of the nonsense has been media-driven. Irving’s absence over the final two games leading up to All Star Weekend quieted some of the noise, but there was chatter after the Celtics won in Philadelphia minus Kyrie that maybe they were better without him. He’s taken the young players aside and given them the “basketball is a business” spiel that Red probably gave to him when Ainge was dealt to Sacramento twenty years ago.

The All Star break didn’t help either. Davis publicly changed his tune in Charlotte when he told reporters that the Celtics were on his list. Every pre-game, in-game, and post-game interaction between Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis (and maybe more curiously, Kyrie’s “two max slots” conversation with Kevin Durant) has been scrutinized. They seem aware of the speculation at times, with their mouths tucked into the collar of their jerseys or their conversations at a safe distance from a wandering mic.

NBA: All Star-Practice Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Athletic’s Joe Vardon hinted that AD’s inclusion of the Celtics on his list could signal a growing confidence that Irving will live up to his promise in October and return to Boston next season. However, Stadium’s Shams Charania has reported that while he might welcome a move to Boston, they’re not a preferred long term destination.

Davis is undoubtedly one of the top-10, if not top-5, talents in the league. He’s 25-years-old and entering the prime of his career. Any team with the capital to get him will make an offer this summer, but remember: a trade for Davis is also a merger with Klutch and Rich Paul. What we’ve learned over the last few weeks is that players at Davis’ level are not just players; they’re public personas and entities and brands that come loaded with agendas and power. A lot of power. With the Cavaliers, Paul and LeBron worked behind the curtain to cater to LeBron and his timeline. That may have lead to multiple trips to The Finals and a championship parade in Cleveland, but there is a price and one that Ainge should be cautious of paying.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

To build that championship team in 2008, Danny convinced a 31-year-old Kevin Garnett to join Ray Allen and Paul Pierce for one last ride while they all still had gas in the tank. With Anthony Davis (and Rich Paul (and Kyrie Irving (and to some extent, LeBron James))), this will be the front office’s first foray in dealing with the empowered superstar. It seems simple enough because there’s a common goal: winning. But what happens when there’s a big decision to be made? Should Davis sit out some back-to-backs? Does Danny have to consult Rich Paul on a potential trade? If LeBron is unhappy in LA, could he muscle a move to Boston? It’s not inconceivable.

There is no doubt that AD is a generational talent that could make the Celtics contenders for a decade. As long as there’s a clear separation of the Celtics front office and Davis’ representation, it should work, but there will always be a difference in opinion. Does it matter? Just ask Warriors fans if they don’t mind the constant drama just as long as the finale includes a championship parade and a Larry O’Brien trophy.

During All-Star Weekend, Jayson Tatum addressed some of the rumors about being the crown jewel of a trade package for AD. His stock answer has been “I’ve just gotta control what I can control,” but he’s beginning to understand the league’s power dynamic and how it’s shifting to the players. Tatum said, “I think sometimes people get the idea that we should be grateful to be where we are rather than that we worked for it, and we worked our butts off our whole life and deserve everything we get.”

There are rumors that Tatum might even welcome a trade to New Orleans for a chance to be the face of a franchise. Tatum is just in his sophomore season. He doesn’t have the clout to demand a trade, but the 20-year-old up-and-coming star is already think two or three steps ahead, not unlike Anthony Davis. This is now the NBA world we live in with players and their agents on equal footing with front offices and owners. The league is flush with star talent, but for loyalists like myself who yearn for the days of Dirk Nowitzki staying in Dallas for his entire career, these are truly the best and worst of times.