By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s not often you do this in the star-driven NBA, I know, but I breathed a gigantic sigh of relief when Pelicans superstar and six-time All-Star Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers last weekend.
It’s not that Davis doesn’t fit the bill for the Celtics. He does. It’s not that he wouldn’t make the Celtics the definitive favorites in an East that could go through yet another talent drain if Kawhi Leonard awkwardly laughs his way out of Toronto. He would. And it’s not that he was not a piece that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge coveted for actual years. He was.
But getting Davis in Boston — once a dream scenario and the most realistic outcome during the Celtics’ multi-year asset load-up — became more and more like a nightmare.
Start with the obvious: Davis did everything he could to make it known that he didn’t really want to be in Boston.
Anthony Davis Sr. was the first one to breathe life into this idea, saying that he didn’t want his son to play for the Celtics because of the way they treated Isaiah Thomas after Thomas played through a career-altering hip injury. While written off as just a father’s wishes for his son, the word was that Davis Sr. was simply parroting what many in NBA circles have said about the Celtics. I’m not sure how many other NBA players Davis Sr. talks to, but we know he talks to his son, so that’s a start.
There was also story after story that indicated that Davis looked at Boston as a ‘rental’ option only, meaning he would only stay with the C’s for the 2019-20 season before becoming a free agent.
Davis’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, confirmed that just last week.
“If the Celtics traded for Anthony Davis, we would go there and we would abide by our contractual [obligations] and we would go into free agency in 2020,” Paul, who honestly might be one of the least likable people in all of sports, told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve stated that to them. But in the event that he decides to walk away and you give away assets? Don’t blame Rich Paul.”
(Is there anything worse than a person speaking in the third person?)
Ainge and the Celtics were probably confident that they could get Davis to rethink that decision and perhaps even commit to a long-term future in Boston, sure, but the Kyrie Irving Dilemma (more on that in a bit) the Celtics currently find themselves in showed how truly meaningless and fruitless such endeavors can be. Parting with real, tangible assets — some of which you would not want to move for Davis but would by all means have to, like Jayson Tatum — would only make the Celtics more desperate to keep Davis in town. It’s not a comfortable position to find yourself in, as every team ever can tell you.
And ah, yes, the Irving Dilemma.
Let’s be real: That sucked. It was awful. Being at the mercy of an NBA superstar in a contract year is true sports hell. It’s the worst. There’s nothing quite like having to just deal with anything and everything a bipolar superstar says and does because he plays in a league where talent attracts talent, and your team won’t be able to bring Player-Y and Player-Z to town because you had enough of Player-X being an unrelenting dick. It put the entire organization in a truly powerless state. And you could tell that the “will he or won’t he” of Irving’s contract situation in Boston weighed on the Celtics roster on and off the court throughout the 2018-19 season. It may have even derailed them when push came to shove, as Irving failed to back up his (exhausting) words in what was one of the worst individual performances you’ve ever seen in a five-game bow out to the Bucks.
Still, the Celtics have been left to basically beg Irving to come back to Boston because they know what his presence means to their franchise’s chances of winning another title. Again, this is sports hell.
Now imagine having to do that with an even better player, and one led by Rich Paul, in Davis? Y-U-C-K.
Assuming the worst — both in Irving leaving the Celtics as expected and with Tatum being part of a rental for Davis — Ainge’s move for Davis could have left the Celtics with a very real 2020 featuring no Irving, no Davis, and no Tatum. Factor in the draft picks (the Lakers sent four first-round picks, including the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, to the Pelicans), and that would have been Ainge throwing his entire future out the window for one single year for a player who did not want to be here.
Instead, the Celtics have put themselves in a situation where their own future is not decided by a megastar. Not one who has shown an interest in going everywhere but Boston while simultaneously wanting the C’s to make a move for Davis in Irving nor one who quit on his team last year (with the shirt to prove it) and didn’t want anything to do with Boston in Davis.
Their future is instead theirs and theirs alone.