The last few days have been rough for Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics.
By no fault of their effort, the Celtics still failed a measuring-stick test Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, a game that reportedly had one Warriors player wondering aloud whether Gordon Hayward was holding back Boston.
Then, as Monday morning rolled around, Anthony Davis — long the object of Ainge’s hoops desires — requested a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans.
That Davis finally is available should be music to Ainge’s ears, but it’s not the best timing for the Celtics president of operations. Most importantly, the Celtics simply cannot trade for Davis until the season is over, at least not unless they trade All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. The NBA’s “Rose Rule” ultimately prohibits the C’s from having the current contracts of both Irving and Davis on the same team at the same time.
So that’s not good.
Adding to that frustration is the fact the Los Angeles Lakers — also considered one of the top suitors for Davis — now get a headstart. The NBA trade deadline is a little more than a week away. So if the Celtics and Lakers truly are the top contenders to land Davis in a trade, LA essentially has a 10-day window in which to potentially engage in trade talks with the Pelicans. Sure, the Celtics could talk to New Orleans about Davis in the same timeframe, but considering they essentially can’t do anything, that has to be seen as an advantage for the Lakers.
There’s also the connection between Davis and Lakers star LeBron James, as the two share an agent, while James openly tampered with the situation earlier this season.
“(The) Lakers have been determined to acquire Davis in a deal, league sources said,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote Monday morning.
Los Angeles also has no shortage of young talent, which it could offer in a potential trade for Davis.
Boston has to hope the Pelicans take the patient route with Davis. Despite his request, there’s nothing that says they have to trade him before the deadline, and if there’s any sort of loyalty to the only NBA team he’s known, Davis should at least be understanding of the fact that New Orleans would benefit most by letting this situation reach the offseason. Even if it makes Davis unhappy, it’s not like there’s much for the Pelicans to lose at this point.
But even if the Celtics are able to withstand the next week and a half and Davis stays in New Orleans, it’s far from a sure thing he’ll wear green when the 2019-20 season rolls around. A few months ago, it was hard to argue that anyone could offer a better package of players and draft picks than the Celtics in a potential trade for Davis. But there also was the assumption the Celtics would again be one of the best teams in basketball for the entire 2018-19 season.
Well, we’re almost to February, and that simply hasn’t been the case. After one historically awful Game 7 shooting performance kept the Irving- and Hayward-less Celtics from reaching the NBA Finals, the entire thing has struggled to jell. Budding young stars (and enticing trade chips) Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum haven’t progressed in the way many expected. Perhaps the ongoing lineup shuffle and myriad injuries has kept them from finding the groove they hit last spring. Hayward has been a downright liability at times, possibly eradicating any trade value he might possess, if that was even a road Boston would consider taking. Even a player like Terry Rozier has failed to truly impress in his relatively limited opportunities so far.
The silver lining is that the Celtics still have more valuable draft ammunition than the Lakers or any other team, trade chips that will be enticing for a rebuilder like New Orleans. And maybe any concerns about the Celtics’ young stars can be assuaged by reasoning that there are just too many moving pieces for them to find their way. Even trading for Davis might not be enough, as he can become a free agent after next season, potentially making it difficult to pull the trigger without long-term assurances from the big man.
It wouldn’t be wise to rule out Davis as a possibility for the Celtics just yet, and Lakers fans might want to hold off on ordering those custom “DAVIS” jerseys — for now. But the Celtics have to at least be a little concerned about what has long seemed like their best path in returning to the NBA’s promised land.