Boston Celtics: Should Danny Ainge seriously consider trading his superstar?

NBA Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
NBA Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics have exceeded expectations without Kyrie Irving. Is it time for Danny Ainge to seriously consider trading him?

Danny Ainge has made a name for himself as a savvy general manager. It all started in 2013, when Ainge absolutely fleeced the Brooklyn Nets, trading Kevin Garnett and Celtic legend Paul Pierce to the Nets in exchange for (what would turn out to be) the 17th pick in 2014, the third in 2016, and the first overall selection in 2017 in what is widely regarded as the worst trade in NBA history (if you’re the Nets, of course.)

Ainge went on to turn two of those picks into Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, affectionately known as The Jay’s around Boston. While both picks (as well as taking Terry Rozier 15th overall in 2015) were widely questioned (in the case of the Rozier pick, read: outright panned), they have paid massive dividends for the Celtics in this years postseason.

Tatum has led the team in scoring, dropping 18.6 points per game in these playoffs, and adding nearly four boards and five assists, while Brown and Rozier have both averaged 17.4 PPG in the series. Combine this with the consistency of Al Horford, and the Celtics have a plain stupid four players averaging more than 17 points in the postseason.

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To put that in perspective, LeBron James is the only player averaging more than 15 for the Cavaliers; and while the Warriors have three players averaging more than 20, they only have four players averaging double digits. The Celtics have six.

It’s worth noting the obvious at this point. Not only have the Celtics found six double-digit playoff scorers who many GMs believed to be the rough, not the diamonds; they have achieved this without their two superstars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Not only have their “fill-in” guys taken down two teams as underdogs in Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but they’ve also now gotten off to a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals after eviscerating James’s Cavs in Game 1.

This puts Ainge in a unique position, and one that every GM in the league would kill to be in. Two months ago, had you suggested the Celtics would not only play in the Eastern Conference Finals, but dominate the opening game against James, and have a conceivable option to trade Irving, you would’ve been institutionalized. And yet, here we are.

In an off-season that will no doubt be dominated by the ongoing saga that is Kawhi Leonard’s status as a San Antonio Spur, the Celtics have suddenly been thrust into a rumor mill that involves a swap of Irving and Leonard. While, at first suggestion, shrugged off as a manufactured storyline by many (myself included) the idea is looking more and more tempting, especially with the emergence of Rozier as a top scoring option.

Is it time that Ainge seriously consider this once laughable notion? In a word: yes.

Kyrie Irving left the Cavaliers, a team many believed needed him to succeed, to watch them reach the conference finals without him. Irving was sidelined by injury to watch his Celtics do the same.

There is no doubt Irving is a top player in the NBA, just as there is little doubt Leonard has grown tired of his digs in San Antonio. What once seemed outrageous now seems to be almost an inevitability. After all, Ainge and the Celtics have never shied away from dealing away their stars (see the opening paragraph.)

If the Celtics were to go through with trading Irving, they would risk becoming dangerously thin at guard, with Rozier and Marcus Smart each poised to cash-in on their playoff performances (Smart hits restricted free-agency this summer, Rozier in 2019.) However, if the Celtics are all-in on their youth, and believe they’re ready to not only topple the King in the East, but compete with the NBA’s Death Squad in Golden State, adding Leonard could be too tempting to pass up.

Consider the Celtics finished the regular season with the top defensive rating in the NBA. Consider again that Irving has been lamented for his lack of defensive prowess. Consider again that Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and three-time All-Defensive First Team. Then imagine Leonard in an offense with a legitimate wing scorer in Hayward, a low-post option and stretch-big  in Horford, and absurdly athletic youth in Tatum and Brown; forgoing even a mention of Rozier.

Ainge has an opportunity to create his own version of the Death Lineup in Boston this summer. A starting five of Rozier, Tatum, Hayward, Leonard, and Horford – five players who are all as capable of finishing at the rim as they are at burying three-pointers – would undoubtedly strike fear in the hearts of the Eastern Conference.

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Did I mention Jaylen Brown would be their sixth man?

Ainge is no stranger to making moves that shake the floor of the Association. He is no stranger to receiving criticism for his front office decisions. This would be no different, but if Ainge has the audacity to trade his superstar, it may result in hanging yet another banner from the rafters at TD Garden.