This season was supposed to be different for the Boston Celtics. After coming up short in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, while missing All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Boston was unable to outplay LeBron James and the Cavaliers to reach the NBA Finals. Now fully healthy, the Celtics find themselves in a 3-1 hole to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals wondering where it went wrong.
Attempting to claw their way back, Boston must win out to advance to the conference finals for the second straight year. However, their current problem has persisted all year long. A case of too many cooks in the kitchen, Irving’s ball-dominant style does not mesh with the collective styles of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Hayward.
Tatum and Brown showed enormous strides last season in Irving’s absence fueling the hype for what this team could have been at full strength. Boston didn’t get much of a chance to see that product play out in 2018, but it’s been a head-scratcher this season. The young duo of Brown and Tatum has taken a step back from their playoff successes, largely due to the decrease in opportunities per player.
Hayward, Brown and Tatum produce best when the offense moves the ball quickly and allows the defense to dictate which player is open for the shot. Irving on the other hand slows the pace to break down the defense and get to the rim. The collective result has initiated a national inquiry as to why Boston’s offense has suddenly become akin to Jekyll & Hyde.
Now one game from elimination, the microscope has been squarely placed on what will Irving do in free agency. Given the inability of Boston’s star players to effectively win together, it’s likely that Irving or a majority of Brown/Tatum/Hayward will be wearing a different uniform next season. Three teams have emerged as likely destinations for the star guard to play next season:
Boston Celtics: This must be a mistake, right? The entirety of this article has talked about Irving not being a fit with the Celtics personnel. However, there is a chance the playmaking point guard continues to suit up for the green and white. In this scenario, it would be likely that Danny Ainge and Boston’s front office hedge their bets of building a team around Kyrie and Anthony Davis. In order to accomplish this acquisition, it would likely cost Boston their talented young duo of Tatum and Brown, a package of first-round picks and Terry Rozier or another equivalent player. The Celtics would mortgage their long-term future for a roster meant to win now.
New York Knicks: There has been speculation about a talented duo forming in the Big Apple for months now. The major prize for the Knicks would be signing upcoming free agent Kevin Durant away from the Golden State Warriors. A close friendship with Durant has linked Irving to a possible move to New York as well. Couple with the potential for the #1 overall pick in next month’s draft, a trio of Durant/Irving and likely Zion Williamson would make for a star-studded and entertaining Knicks team. New York would shed some of their bigger contracts prior to these moves being possible.
Brooklyn Nets: A recent addition to the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes is the Brooklyn Nets. A successful season for New York’s ‘other’ team has sparked interest from top stars including Durant, Irving and Kawhi Leonard. Brooklyn heads into this offseason with ~$55 million in cap space and would be able to sign 1 of the 3 to a max contract. However, renouncing the restricted rights to first-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell and trading away Allen Crabbe’s contract can net them a second star to pair with them. If Brooklyn is confident they can land two of the NBA’s finest, it is of no consequence to let go of their current All-Star. The decision of Irving to Brooklyn will come down to which two, in the eyes of management, would best allow this team to take the next step.