Danny Ainge effectively was sitting on a gold mine. Now, he could be tasked with going back to the drawing board.
Everything seemed to be perfectly set up for the Celtics, who featured arguably the most talented roster from top to bottom over the past two seasons. Not to mention, Boston was sitting on a number of coveted future assets, highlighted by a bevy of first-round picks. But seemingly in the blink of an eye, the Celtics’ future has shifted from incredibly bright to greatly uncertain.
Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both appear bound for new homes, and the club owns pick Nos. 14, 20 and 22 in Thursday’s draft which is shaping up to be fairly top-heavy. With this in mind, Jalen Rose believes Ainge squandered his opportunity to turn in a winning lottery ticket.
“I remember this time last year when we first started this show I was talking about all of the assets that Danny Ainge had — in the locker room and first-round picks,” Rose said Wednesday on ESPN’s “Get Up!” “I was like, ‘If I was playing poker, I would cash ’em in.’ I think he held too long. You can’t top what they did without Gordon Hayward, who was coming off a major injury, and then you add an All-NBA player in Kyrie, who’s thrust into a leadership role and has already won a championship and isn’t committed to you long term. You know you’re going to keep Brad (Stevens). Al Horford is their most important player over the last couple of years: second in points, first in rebounds, first in assists, first in blocks on their team. So now you lose him as well, you’re going to lose (Marcus) Morris, probably, up front. So it’s gonna be a new-look Celtics that should get younger.”
One has to imagine Ainge was holding onto his wealth of assets in hopes of making a real run at Anthony Davis, who reportedly was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. Boston might have been better off missing out on Davis anyway, as all reports pointed to the star big man not re-signing with the C’s next summer had he been traded to the green. If Ainge executed a blockbuster for Davis, which likely would’ve required parting ways with Jayson Tatum, the Celtics president of basketball operations eventually could have found himself in a worse situation than he’s currently dealing with.
Irving’s and Horford’s expected departures also could open a new door for Ainge, who will have more salary cap space to work with if both stars sign elsewhere. While Boston isn’t among the league’s most appealing destinations for superstars, marquee free agents could be appealed by the opportunity to play alongside two of the league’s brightest up-and-comers in Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Boston might not be a legitimate title contender in the 2019-20 campaign, but that could change in the not-so-distant future.
Sure, Ainge might have “held too long” in an effort to win now as well as build toward the future. But the panic button in Boston probably doesn’t need to be pressed just yet.
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