Anthony Davis’ trade request from the New Orleans Pelicans has spread across the NBA in ways the league has arguably never seen.
It’s rare for a star such as Davis to become available. He’s already an All-NBA player, just 25 years old, and has nearly a year and a half left on his contract. Virtually every team has taken stock of what they could offer the Pelicans in return for Davis.
One of the few exceptions is the Boston Celtics, for whom Davis’ trade request has come at the worst possible time.
The Celtics are widely regarded as the team that could make the Pelicans the best offer, thanks to their treasure trove of young players, role players, and future draft picks. The Celtics have long had their eye on acquiring Davis to build a contender.
However, because of an NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement rule, the Celtics can’t trade for Davis this season because he and Kyrie Irving are both on “designated” contracts, and teams are prevented from trading for two “designated” players. The Celtics would need to wait until the summer, when Irving becomes a free agent, to trade for Davis.
There are further complications with that. Despite Irving publicly saying that he wants to re-sign with the Celtics this summer, last week he declined to double down on his commitment with the team, telling reporters he doesn’t “owe anyone s—.” When asked about his plans, he said to ask him on July 1, when free agency begins.
The New York Knicks, who just opened up enough cap space for two max players this summer by trading Kristaps Porzingis, are reportedly a threat to sign Irving away from the Celtics.
That’s troublesome for the Celtics because they reportedly view Irving as a key piece if they land Davis in a trade. Irving and Davis would form a dynamic duo. And if second-year forward Jayson Tatum isn’t involved in a trade, he would be a young, developing third star to complement them.
Trading for Davis is a tricky proposition because he can become a free agent in 2020. Teams would like to know if he’ll re-sign with them before throwing away major assets in a trade.
Davis, for his part, would also like an idea of what a team’s future holds for him before committing to re-signing.
Without Irving’s commitment beyond this season, it is difficult to deal for Davis. Davis won’t give assurances to re-signing in Boston without Irving, and Irving could explore his options and could perhaps leave Boston if he feels they can’t land Davis and give him a second star teammate.
It’s a Catch-22.
Furthermore, if there is a chance Irving bolts in the offseason, the Celtics might want to reconsider trading for Davis. Without Irving in tow, there’s little chance Davis would stay long, and the Celtics might prefer to keep their assets.
There were lofty expectations for the Celtics coming into the season, both for this year and the future. They were supposed to seamlessly integrate Irving and Gordon Hayward into their mix of young players and challenge for 60 wins and a title. Then, after the season, they were supposed to swing a trade for Davis with their bevy of assets and be a contender for the foreseeable future.
However, things have not totally gone according to plan. The Celtics’ young players have struggled to adapt to smaller roles with Irving and Hayward back in the mix. Hayward, coming off a gruesome ankle injury, has not looked like the No. 2 star to Irving that many expected. Al Horford, the glue of the entire team, has looked slightly older and creakier. Add up all those small losses, and they become something bigger.
The Celtics stand at a solid, but not dominant 34-19. They’ve played better lately and could still contend for the Eastern Conference, particularly with no one team emerging from the pack (the Milwaukee Bucks have been the best team, but are still just five games ahead of the third-place Celtics).
But Davis’ trade request has suddenly changed the trajectory for the Celtics. Suddenly, Irving’s future is in doubt, and the once heralded supporting cast looks a little flimsier than expected.
Every rival team must be hoping Davis gets traded before Thursday’s trade deadline to prevent the Celtics from even making an offer to the Pelicans this offseason.
For the Celtics, that would be a near worst-case scenario, as it would destroy Plan A for building a contender and affect their backup plans, too.