With the Anthony Davis and Kristaps Porzingis bombshells rocking the NBA this week, teams are cautiously turning their eye toward the Boston Celtics to see if there is any fallout that affects Kyrie Irving's future.
In recent days, teams, players and agents have been discussing the possibility that free-agent-to-be Irving might not be as committed to the Celtics as he has stated publicly, multiple sources told ESPN. And on Friday in New York, Irving was asked if his mindset has changed regarding re-signing with Boston: "Ask me July 1." He says he's going to do what's best for his career.
Davis' camp has let it be known he doesn't consider the Celtics a long-term home because he doesn't believe Irving plans to re-sign with the Celtics next season, sources said. The New York Knicks' stunning salary-dump trade that moved out Porzingis on Thursday cleared enough salary-cap space for the team to chase both Kevin Durant and Irving in free agency.
The Celtics haven't changed their feelings on Irving, and they consider him part of their long-term core; and Irving hasn't informed the team that his feelings have changed, multiple sources said. In general, the Celtics have a reputation as a measured and strategic organization.
With trade demands flying and the high pressure of trade season, it is possible this is simply a disinformation campaign. Davis, for example, is incentivized to remove the Celtics as a bidder for him so he can achieve his preference and be sent to the Los Angeles Lakers. Irving and Davis, however, are friends and communicate regularly.
Nonetheless, there is no mistaking how this information has spread throughout the league despite Irving's strong statements to the contrary. In October, Irving committed to staying with the Celtics long term in front of thousands of fans at a team event. He backed that up with a Nike commercial shot at TD Garden in which he said he wanted to have his number in the rafters.
Things have changed somewhat in Boston since October, however. Irving has quarreled with several of the Celtics' young players at times. Gordon Hayward's recovery from a broken ankle has been more sluggish than expected. And the Celtics have underperformed; they are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, known as Trader Danny for his willingness to make sweeping moves at any time, has to analyze the situation and make a read on how the team should proceed. There is a delicate scenario with the Celtics juggling several high-stakes situations.
The Celtics are currently precluded from trading for Davis because they've already traded for Irving, and teams are forbidden from trading for two players with designated player contracts. That restriction will expire on July 1 when Irving is projected to become a free agent. But with that fact in the way, the Celtics reached out to the New Orleans Pelicans this week and told them they'd be willing to discuss all players on their roster in a Davis trade that could be made after the season when Irving is expected to become a free agent, sources said.
It remains the Celtics' preference to trade for Davis in June, around the draft, and then re-sign Irving in July, locking both in as their cornerstones for the future. But if Irving's commitment isn't rock solid, things get complicated.
The Celtics might feel they need to execute a Davis trade to secure Irving's commitment. But for Boston to make a massive trade offer for Davis, it might first need to have Irving's commitment to re-signing. It's a chicken-and-egg scenario.
This could be one hope for the Lakers -- that the Pelicans believe the Celtics might never get the chance to make their best offer, and at least consider what the Lakers might offer now.
As Ainge contemplates that, there's another matter that remains on the Celtics' trade board. If the Celtics were to get skittish enough to trade Irving before the trade deadline, it would free them to make a Davis trade now.
Boston is investigating the asking price of a few intriguing young players around the league, perhaps with an eye on acquiring more of New Orleans' preferred trade chips, sources tell ESPN. That could simply be due diligence or the groundwork for something big in the near future.
Currently, the Pelicans don't intend to trade Davis to the Lakers, sources told ESPN, and they rejected a Knicks offer of a package centered on Porzingis before he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. It seems New Orleans might be content to wait on Boston to be able to make an offer, but that offer wouldn't have to wait until summer if Irving was moved.
The Celtics have won seven of their past eight games. Irving is having, by most accounts, the best regular season of his career. Despite the record, the Celtics are starting to look like the potent contender they were predicted to be at the start of the season.
There are reasons for them to proceed as normal, stick to their plan and trust Irving's word. But the past few days have destabilized situations across the league, and the Celtics are in the center of that storm.
ESPN's Jackie MacMullan and Zach Lowe contributed to this story.