Annoyingly, the vile Boston Celtics might get what they wanted after all. While the draft lottery ended in the most frustrating fashion for every team involved except New Orleans, the Boston brain trust had to be ecstatic to see the main Anthony Davis trade asset (Zion Williamson) off the board. Though some of their presumed competitors still have attractive trade packages, Boston can still offer the Pelicans the most attractive deal.
Due to NBA’s “Rose Rule,” which stipulates that a team can only have one player with a Rose Rule contract extension on the books at a time, and because Kyrie Irving currently eats up the Celtics’ Rose Rule spot, the Celtics had to wait for this summer for any Davis trade. With the Lakers pushing aggressively for a trade before the deadline earlier in the season, there was a chance that Boston would miss out on Davis before even getting to make an offer for him.
Now, though, if the Celtics can convince Irving to opt out of his contract and re-sign a different one that isn’t of the Rose Rule variety, they can at last pursue a Davis trade in earnest. The Celtics’ proposed trade package would likely center on Jayson Tatum, and would be beefed up with a buttload of draft picks, including Boston’s three first-rounders this year, slotted in at 14, 20, and 22. It might not be the perfect deal, but with the most exciting young player in the NBA right in their grasp on draft night, the Pelicans might consider the Celtics’ proposal too good to pass up.
This would still be a risky play for the Celtics. Davis has all but said that his main priority is to become a Laker, and therein lies the first problem with this potential plan of Boston’s. Since The Brow’s contract expires at the end of next season, the Celtics would ideally like to have a backroom guarantee that Davis would re-sign with them for the long term before going all in with the assets they’ve spent years meticulously compiling. Davis’s dad, Anthony Davis, Sr., has been pretty open about his son’s reluctance to play in Boston, and every whiff of information coming out of Davis’s camp during the season had a stiff “Lakers or bust” breeze behind it. Trading for Davis only to see him skip town after a single year would be a huge blow for a team that has been biding its time for years to be in the position to nab a superstar like this. The Raptors made a similar gamble last year in trading for Kawhi Leonard, and while it has worked out so far, it will look less wise if Toronto fails to win the title this year only to see Leonard sign elsewhere in the summer.
And hey, what about Irving? The weirdest player in the league has not tipped his hand about his plans for next season, though his outward misery and his teammates’ apparent hatred of playing with him could lead him in several different directions. He could opt out and form like Voltron in New York with Kevin Durant, as has been rumored for months now. He could also opt out and rejoin LeBron James in Los Angeles—something that becomes even more appealing if the Lakers do get Davis, essentially recreating the 2016 Cavs but with Davis in place of Kevin Love. (Irving could also opt in like an asshole and demolish Boston’s plans for Davis; this would be glorious if it happened, but sadly will not.)
Or Irving could opt out and re-sign with Boston, perhaps on a short term deal, to see if he can be part of the drive to convince Davis that Boston is the place to be. Though Irving has a history with injuries, he’s in high enough demand to try to leverage a 1-and-1 deal (giving him another opt out next summer) in order to see how the Davis experiment works. That would be terrifying for Boston, but also might be the team’s best chance at true title contention.
No one expected the Pelicans to actually jump from 7th to 1st and be in position to pick Zion, but now that it’s happened, the Anthony Davis saga becomes much weirder and less predictable. That is great news for the Celtics; if the Lakers had won the first pick, or if the Knicks had put away decades of misery to win the lottery, Davis’s next location would be easier to guess, and it almost certainly would not feature him wearing green next fall.
That said, in spite of the Pelicans’ hope that they can convince Davis to stay and mentor Zion, it does seem likely that we’ll see The Brow moving at some point in the next two months. Boston holds the strongest hand, but now must decide whether it’s worth going all-in with. Fuck this up, and they could send themselves back to the dregs of the Eastern Conference far sooner than anyone expected.