- One of the biggest mysteries of the NBA offseason is what Kyrie Irving will decide to do in free agency.
- The Boston Celtics disappointed this season, and after Irving backtracked on a preseason commitment to re-sign with the Celtics, some think he will head elsewhere this summer.
- Irving’s decision will not only impact the Celtics’ decision on trades and future contracts, it could affect how other teams operate this summer in what’s gearing up to be a league-altering offseason.
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The Boston Celtics flamed out of the playoffs in ugly fashion on Wednesday, falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the second round.
Now, after a disappointing season that saw them come up much shorter than the 60-win and NBA Finals contention that many expected, they head into an offseason with a massive question: what will Kyrie Irving do?
Irving invited some of the rampant speculation about his future that is coming his way. After saying at a season-ticket-holders event in October that he planned on re-signing with the Celtics, he backtracked in February, telling reporters to ask him about his future on July 1, saying he doesn’t “owe anybody s—.”
It suddenly opened a door that seemed shut. The Celtics had been openly struggling with camaraderie when Irving made those comments, yet few thought he was a true flight risk.
The Celtics’ plan going forward now revolves around whether they can convince Irving to stay in Boston.
What does Kyrie Irving want?
ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his podcast, “The Lowe Post,” on Wednesday that some league executives have floated the theory that Irving has “concocted” the appearance of unhappiness to set the stage for his exit in free agency. Perhaps Irving’s public comments about struggling with leadership, his distaste for the media, and his wafflings on personal growth were ways to set a foundation to leave the Celtics.
It seems far-fetched, but it’s a sign that few really know what’s going on with Irving and what he wants.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, who was a guest on the podcast, said she believes Irving is stream-of-consciousness thinker and talker. Some think Irving’s mind could already be made up, but MacMullan believes Irving may not yet know what he wants to do.
There are a broad range of possibilities. Irving’s current situation is a good one. He’s the clear-cut No. 1 star on a historic franchise that has improving, young talent and the assets to make the team better.
Yet, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, some around the NBA believe Irving and the Celtics are heading for a split.
Irving’s comments throughout the season (particularly when he made a point to note that he called LeBron James to apologise for bristling at his leadership attempts wth the Cleveland Cavaliers) raised questions about what he wants on a team.
Rumours have suggested Irving could team up with Kevin Durant somewhere, with the New York Knicks frequently mentioned. Of late, the Brooklyn Nets have become the betting favourite to land Irving. One league source told Business Insider that the Nets might be more appealing to Irving.
Some even think the Los Angeles Lakers could be a destination, if Irving wants to reunite with James.
These options don’t just put the Celtics in a bind, they raise questions for other teams.
Will Irving be happy to share the spotlight with another star? He is friends with Durant, and he seemed to suggest this season he doesn’t want to be a No. 1 option. Then again, he also requested to leave the Cavaliers in 2017 because he was tired of playing second fiddle to James.
There will be constant speculation about what Irving wants this summer, and questions may not be answered until he officially makes a decision.
The ripple effects of Irving’s decision
The Celtics may be stuck in limbo unless Irving makes a decision before July 1.
The Celtics have been considered the frontrunners to land Anthony Davis in a trade, and they scored a victory back in February when the New Orleans Pelicans held onto Davis beyond the trade deadline, allowing the Celtics to get in on the action this offseason (they were prevented from trading for Davis this year due to an obscure NBA rule about “designated” contracts, which Davis and Irving both have).
Trading for Davis would likely cost the Celtics several of their young players and future draft picks. It may only be worthwhile if they knew Irving was on board.
The problem is, the Celtics may not have until July 1 to figure that out.
When the NBA draft order is decided, the Pelicans will likely hear trade offers from teams with top picks in the draft. If the Knicks, for example, land the No. 1 pick, they could offer it to the Pelicans, who would in essence be getting Zion Williamson, an excellent chip to build around in the wake of Davis.
As Lowe said on his podcast, Davis may not be on the Pelicans after the draft, which comes several days before Irving’s free agency. Unless Irving gives the Celtics a commitment before free agency begins, it may be difficult for them to try to trade for Davis.
There are other decisions that hinge on Irving. Celtics big man Al Horford has a $US30 million player option to decide on this summer. If he turns it down, he’ll be a free agent. For Horford, at 32, this could be his chance to sign a longer deal, worth more money, but less in average annual salary. Yet if Irving leaves, Horford may want consider his options, as it would be tough to consider the Celtics a championship contender without the star point guard.
Celtics backup point guard Terry Rozier struggled coming off the bench behind Irving this year. A restricted free agent, most assume Rozier will head to another team this offseason. Yet if Irving leaves, the Celtics may want to retain Rozier to be their starter next year.
What if Irving decides to stay in Boston? Would his decision affect Durant, who might want to team up with Irving somewhere?
If Irving stays but Davis is dealt to another team, the Celtics may have to explore other avenues of improving, as it doesn’t seem viable to simply bring this same Celtics team back for another year.
Kevin Durant’s free agency has the chance to alter the league entirely. He could leave the Golden State Warriors and break up a super-team or shift the balance of power wherever he lands.
Irving’s free agency may be second to Durant in terms of its impact. This offseason has the chance to alter the league, and Irving’s decision will shape it.
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