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Picturing life without Kyrie Irving

No, the Celtics would not be better without Kyrie, but they could be set upon a better path.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

We are no closer to knowing what is going to come of Kyrie Irving’s decision this summer and the whole Anthony Davis situation is very much up in the air. If you close your eyes, however, it wouldn’t be all that hard to imagine a situation where neither is in Boston next year. What would that mean to the makeup of the Celtics? Let’s explore that scenario here.

On one hand, losing an All Star starter and failing to land a guy that the team has been aiming for the last 3 years is not ideal. This is not a “we’ll be better without Kyrie” article because that’s simply not true - at least in the near term. Expectations for next season would be immediately lowered. On some level that would be a relief. It might even result in another plucky, overachieving group that we have reminisced about for the past year. But it would likely put a hard cap on how far the team can go next year.

Still, if you are a big believer in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (as I am) that would mean building around them as a core nucleus going forward. Or said another way, we wouldn’t have to decide which of our favorite sons we like better and which is more expendable.

The hope here is that Al Horford is still willing to either pick up his option or opt out and re-sign to a lower cap figure for more years. In addition, Gordon Hayward would most likely return and (in theory) look better with a full season of recovery under his belt. Aron Baynes is another guy that I would hope the Celtics can work something out with to return. Marcus Morris I’m less optimistic about. I generally think that he’s earned himself a nice payday and he’ll find a new team to play for this summer.

That leaves the question of Terry Rozier and what to do with the point guard position. This one has been trending towards a divorce for several months and Terry’s recent comments indicate that he may have his eyes on hitting the road.

With that said, the Celtics can match any offer to Rozier and with Kyrie gone the two sides may come to some kind of an agreement to keep him around as the defacto backup to Marcus Smart. Danny Ainge has always believed in Terry and he hates giving up an asset for nothing. Perhaps with more minutes and more touches he could find his groove once again. The burden of ball handling would also be shared by Smart, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford anyway. If not, he could be moved in a trade to team in need of bench scoring.

The Celtics would have 3 or 4 first rounders to fill out the roster with cheap contracts. Robert Williams would see his role increased and guys like Semi Ojeleye and Guerschon Yabusele would be given every opportunity to earn playing time. The Celtics could also add veterans on lower end and mid-level contracts (no, they would not have the cap space to be players for high-end free agents like Kemba Walker).

That’s a young team, but one that has a few veterans to lead by example and enough headroom from Tatum and Brown to grow into leadership positions. Hayward and Horford seem like the ideal supporting stars to surround them with. Ball movement would be the focus and nights where 5 or more players finish in double figures would be the likely result.

Would it be enough to make a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals? Unlikely, unless of course there’s a mass exodus from places like Toronto and Philadelphia to parts unknown westward. Still, that is the foundation of a roster that could set itself up to be a force in the future if key players develop in the right way.

It would be frustrating to see a team with so much promise take a step back in on-paper talent. In many respects it has seemed like this team has been “a year away” for several years and once they finally reached their destined year of promise, it vanished in a puff of smoke. However, a big picture reset might clear up roles for the key pieces and establish a stronger foundation for potential future success.

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