Boston Celtics

By Ty Anderson,

One championship and just under 15,000 minutes into his NBA career, I cannot fight anybody on the notion that Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has more than earned his opportunity to explore any and all options in free agency. Irving is one of the game’s most dominating guards (and in the era of the guard, no less), looks like a straight-up wizard with the ball in his hands, and at 26 years old is entering the prime of his playing career.

It would be downright foolish of No. 11 not to see what’s out there when he (obviously) opts out of his contract next summer.

Now, before you freak out, there’s nothing that says Irving is unhappy with his situation in Boston and wants out like it’s a Cleveland locker room. Kyrie has consistently expressed his excitement for the future of next year’s team, which will certainly be bolstered by the return of Gordon Hayward and another year of development from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

At the same time, however, there’s not a single quote — not one! — that gives you confidence that he stays in Boston.

Irving has instead annoyingly swiveled around questions about his future — specifically when it comes to questions about his future in Boston on a new long-term deal with the Celtics — like its a G-League fill-in guard asked to handle him in a Game 7. He even at one point made it known that he would prefer to limit questions on his future in Boston.

He’s instead taking it as ‘being in the present.’ (That doesn’t explain why the hyperaware Irving gave a detailed answer to New York basketball writers as to how he will handle free agents pitches in 2019, but I suppose that’s a topic for another day.)

That may work for the reality-based world and mindset of Kyrie.

But it goes without saying that Celtics president Danny Ainge and the rest of the organization could use some sort of real answer from Irving’s camp — even a ‘maybe’ will do, really — when it comes to the potential of a long-term future in Boston.

Because it plays a factor in everything the Celtics do or consider doing this summer and next season.

A big one, too.

In the ‘present day,’ Irving’s future decision plays a factor in the C’s willingness to spend on restricted free agent Marcus Smart. If they know that Irving is destined to take his talents elsewhere next summer, there’s no doubt that Ainge can stomach paying Smart closer to what the mercurial guard and self-described Celtic heartbeat believes he’s worth. Especially because it keeps his point guard depth in somewhat solid shape moving forward between Smart and Terry Rozier. It also plays a factor both now and later in Boston’s potential trade pursuit of a premier trade block talent such as the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, or maybe even Ainge’s multi-year wet dream featuring New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (paying Smart a little more may actually help Ainge and the Celtics here, should The Brow finally want out of his situation with the Pelicans and demand a trade).

But this whole thing really begins and ends with the fact that we’re talking about the coldest NBA exec breathing.

Ainge is the man that traded Isaiah Thomas two months after the 5-foot-9 guard donated his hip to the Celtics’ slim and ultimately unsuccessful hopes for a 2017 NBA championship. This is the same executive that wasted no time in trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett two years before it was too late, and willingly put himself through the agony of a rebuild instead of trying to patchwork the Celtics into contention in the twilight of The Big Two. And even when Ainge finally used his Brooklyn picks to luck into the No. 1 overall selection in 2017, he recognized a way that could make the team better while gaining additional value, so he quickly traded the selection to Philadelphia and still got the best player in the class in Jayson Tatum.

So if Irving wants to leave Boston in 2019, Ainge would happily make that happen before then. And he’d make the return count.

General manager Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

General manager Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Depending on who you talk to, the Celtics have reportedly talked to the Spurs about a potential Irving-for-Leonard swap. That’s the kind of deal that would appease both sides, you would think, as short-term plans centered around selling a new talent on staying beyond just the single year he would be contractually obligated to fulfill. (It’s no secret that Leonard wants to go to his hometown of Los Angeles in 2019, so he’s a more direct version of the Kyrie-Knicks rumors that have dominated the summer.)

But this isn’t even explored if Irving delivered better (read as: even somewhat reassuring) answers to future-based questions.

Of course, the caveat is that those are just answers that Irving has delivered with microphones in front of his face. What Ainge and Irving talk about behind closed doors could be something totally different and more than reassuring. This is almost expected, as Irving has insisted that he and the Celtics have an open dialogue about the team and its future. It’s impossible to imagine that those discussions do not center around the 6-foot-3 Irving’s involvement in said future.

But the Knicks threat — and with Kyrie and Jimmy Butler reportedly wanting to team up — feels beyond real. In fact, Butler and Irving landing with the Knicks next summer is entirely possible, and it wouldn’t be Kyrie going to a ‘bad situation,’ but rather another Big Three with Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis. Irving has effusively praised Porzingis’ play over the years, too, and even let it slip that he would love to play with him at some point.

It’s a scary enough situation that Ainge and the Celtics could — and if they believe there’s legitimacy to it, should — feel legitimate pressure to get something in exchange for Irving while they still can. Or see the writing on the wall, at least.

And if there’s a front office person that won’t be left at the altar, it’s Ainge.

Which is to say that Irving will most definitely play a part in the Green’s quest for Banner 18 in 2019. Whether it’s on the roster or as a trade chip, however, is up to Irving.

All it takes is an answer. Of some sort.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.