Danny Ainge thought he’d built his Celtics roster to contend for years to come, but free agency is going to force Boston to rebuild.
The Celtics entered the season with dreams of winning an NBA title. Instead, they limped to a pedestrian 49-33 regular season record and the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for coach Brad Stevens, the team’s offseason is shaping up to be an even bigger disappointment with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford’s expected departure.
It wasn’t long ago when the Celtics front office was hard at work trying to amass a tempting trade package to entice the Pelicans to send Anthony Davis to Boston. Signing Irving to a new contract was a fundamental part of that plan. According to Shams Charania, the chances of Irving re-signing with the Celtics are dwindling by the day.
Irving isn’t the only All-Star who looks set to search for greener pastures this summer. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports negotiations between the Celtics and Horford have broken down. The two sides entered discussions about a new deal, but “the gulf” between the two sides is now seen as too vast to bridge. In other words, Horford seems set to sign a three or four-year deal somewhere else.
The Irving departure will push Terry Rozier back into the spotlight. He is now much more likely to sign a new deal of his own to keep him with the Celtics. Stevens and his coaching staff will need Rozier to revert to the form that made him such an effective player two seasons ago. He will almost certainly serve as Irving’s direct replacement.
Finding someone who can soak up Horford’s minutes in the frontcourt may be more challenging. Unless second-year pro Robert Williams takes a massive leap after his nondescript rookie season then the Celtics may be forced to fill their center void in free agency. The options available in Boston’s price range certainly aren’t overly enticing.
The good news for Boston fans is they still have an exciting young duo with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. That, coupled with significant draft assets moving forward put the Celtics in position to remain competitive now and build for the future at the same time. Irving and Horford leaving won’t leave Ainge’s cupboard bare, but he does have a lot of work to do to get this franchise back on a championship trajectory.