It’s difficult to pinpoint where the crack was that divided the 2018-19 Boston Celtics. Was it veteran versus youth? Kyrie Irving versus everyone? Did Terry Rozier have a bigger role in the overall discontent than most people thought?
The Celtics can now determine that for themselves and adjust accordingly this summer. Danny Ainge said at his first appearance since his heart attack a month ago the team will welcome Irving back. Irving’s decision ties up their direction if that’s the case. But the Celtics should have some inkling of which way they could feasibly go before the gun sounds on the offseason in two weeks at the NBA Draft.
But Ainge did not provide a clear view into the Celtics’ intentions. Irving will be a free agent and Anthony Davis is under contract for another NBA team. Any commentary on Boston’s conversations regarding them would be against the rules. The hope is that the Celtics internally have some idea about Irving’s willingness to stay.
With Irving — quiet since the Bucks series and always discreet — that could be too much to ask for. Ainge alluded to ongoing discussions with him, conversations that should give some glimpse into his willingness to return. Irving announced before the season that he was staying. Plenty has changed since then that would warrant him changing his mind, but Ainge should take hesitation as a signal to imagine a future without him.
Ainge and Irving have both gone about business as usual. The Celtics have discussed trading their trio of draft picks. Irving is opening a window into his life at home through brief Instagram videos.
If he leaves, the C’s will need to quickly pivot toward Terry Rozier and decide if the collective cast of youth is worth a Davis trade. Ainge kept the door open for Rozier’s return.
The biggest challenge for Boston is determining if a year of turmoil spoiled the production of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Rozier. All three took a hit in production. It’d be devastating to give up on them now if they go on to thrive after leaving this environment.
Ainge will have to carefully form a new one this summer. After the emotions of the Isaiah Thomas trade, Irving’s discontent and the palpable lack of energy last year the Celtics need to regain an identity. The uncertainty that hangs over the youth and Brad Stevens does little to work toward that. Stevens put the weight of the team’s demise on himself.
Meanwhile Brown joined Carmelo Anthony this week for a workout. Tatum could play with Team USA. The team hasn’t fully come together yet in the wake of last season’s debacle. Though some of the youth were around the practice facility this week.
It’s the nature of the NBA summer that foresight is futile. The Celtics can come to an internal preference anyway, while Kevin Durant ponders the eastern time zone, Irving meditates and David Griffin fields Davis calls
A one-year deal for Irving, with Davis, comes with an all-in mentality and no certainty beyond next year. Trading for Davis without Irving puts the team in a weird middle ground. Even a youth movement necessitates a long-term commitment to Brown as soon as this summer, with Tatum soon to follow. Unless Tatum sprouts into what the highest of expectations cast of him last summer, the specter of the next move for a superstar would remain.
The Celtics still have Robert Williams and picks in ensuing drafts, all of which carry their own potential to reach stardom. Boston has long scoured the trade market, and more recently free agency, for top-tier talent. The Warriors, Thunder showed within the past decade that committing to and building around young talent is a viable route too.
If Irving is re-upped long-term and carries the same emotional weight and injury concerns forward, it could derail the team’s plans for the next decade. Every route carries risk.
Accommodating what Boston knows it has right now is most important.