With Kristaps Porzingis shipped off to Dallas and Anthony Davis in limbo between his current team and some hypothetical future team, the NBA’s attention has shifted over to the next potential domino: Kyrie Irving. Unlike Porzingis or Davis, Irving is the centerpiece of an actually good team, though Irving has been less than gruntled this season with the Celtics struggling under the weight of their own lofty expectations. His looming free agency that was supposed to be a non-issue is suddenly at the center of at least two teams’ plans, and it’s thrust him and the Celtics into an uncomfortable position.
This is not all tea-leaf reading, either. In October, Irving said, “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here.” That sounds pretty ironclad, but he spoke about his free agency this afternoon in New York (somehow, the Celtics are playing at the Garden tonight) and adopted a very different tone.
“I don’t owe anybody shit,” is a direct rebuttal to what Irving said in October, and as such, the rest of the NBA senses blood in the water. The Knicks’ decision to trade Kristaps Porzingis for cap space is hilariously moronic and risky, but it at least gives them the room to chase both Kevin Durant and Irving this summer. New York is destined to lose out on both in humiliating fashion and overpay Tobias Harris and Willie Cauley-Stein, because they are the Knicks, though there seems to be legit skepticism that Kyrie wants to go back to Boston.
ESPN reported yesterday that Anthony Davis and his representatives don’t see Boston as a serious destination in part because they think Irving will leave. The Knicks are clearly banking on that, and everyone interested in signing Irving will certainly be rooting for the Celtics to crash out of the playoffs. That said, ESPN reports today that Irving hasn’t told the Celtics he is planning to leave, and furthermore that Davis’s camp has an obvious incentive to push rumors about Irving’s unrest in Boston to try and get Davis to Los Angeles.
The Celtics are in a weird position here, where they can’t trade for Davis until the summer because of the structure of his and Irving’s contracts. To convince Davis to stick around for longer than a season, it seems they’ll need Irving on board, though it will be impossible to lock in both ahead of time. There is also a third scenario where Boston goes all-in on trading for Davis now, which could only happen if they also shipped out Irving. Given Danny Ainge’s history of proactivity on the trade market, it’s not impossible.
Irving’s upcoming free agency is officially a big deal now, in large part because he chose to loudly speaking up today and essentially take back what he said in October. No matter what he wants to say about “unwarranted commentary about his future,” he opened this can of worms himself.