Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The Boston Celtics remain “cautiously optimistic” about keeping Kyrie Irving past this season, though “the events of the past week—Irving’s comments, New York opening up a second maximum salary slot—have shaken them,” according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.com.
Lowe added that “Boston is always confident. That is [Danny] Ainge’s default mindset. The league at large is much less confident, but it is hard to say who knows what, and with what level of reliability.”
Irving’s future with Boston seemed secure in October, when he publicly said he planned to re-sign with the Celtics after this season. But Irving—either tired of being asked about free agency or having changed his tune—told reporters last week to “Ask me July 1″ about free agency, per A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to do what’s best for my career. I spent the last eight years trying to do what everyone else wanted me to do—managers, other personnel—and I don’t owe anybody s–t. I still have confidence in Boston and what they can promise for the future and what we have in terms of pieces. That’s what excited me at the beginning of the season.”
Those comments raised eyebrows in Boston, as have Irving’s words throughout the season. He critiqued the team’s young players and later told reporters he called LeBron James and apologized for how he acted while the pair were in Cleveland.
But perhaps more concerning for the Celtics was that the Knicks cleared a second max-salary slot in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, leaving open the possibility that Irving and another star player—Kevin Durant? Jimmy Butler?—could go to the Knicks this offseason.
Plus, the Knicks may be the one team that could top Boston’s best offer for Anthony Davis. If the Knicks win the 2019 draft lottery—and thus win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes—that pick would become arguably more valuable than any asset Boston could dangle, even Jayson Tatum.
Add in potential pieces such as Kevin Knox and/or Dennis Smith Jr., and the Knicks could become the front-runner to land Davis (who has made it clear he doesn’t want to end up in Boston). That would almost immediately transform them into a free-agent destination and could entice Irving to the Big Apple.
But the Knicks won’t be the only team with salary-cap space this summer. The Los Angeles Lakers and James could make a push for Irving. So could the Los Angeles Clippers. With a bit of maneuvering, the Brooklyn Nets could have two max slots and could sell Irving on being the face of the franchise in a hip market.
The sharks are circling, and while Irving could decide the Celtics are the right fit this summer, it wouldn’t be surprising if he left. The balance of power in the NBA might hinge on where he signs, and the Celtics can’t do much besides make their case and wait.