Free agency in the National Basketball Association doesn’t officially start until the evening of June 30, and yet quite a few movements have already been marked as done — or, at least, as good as done. Among them are the departures of Celtics linchpins Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, the willingness (desire, even) of top management to keep them notwithstanding. Due to an unfortunate confluence of events, a campaign that was looked upon with loads of promise this time last year instead wound up dealing tons of disappointment. Dysfunction reared its ugly head, thus making divorce all but a foregone conclusion.
The operative phrase, to be sure, is “all but.” Despite the seeming certainty of the exits, the fact that there is still time on the clock underscores the possibility of the status quo being perpetuated. And as unlikely as it may seem, pro hoops annals are littered with enough occurrences of the improbable to keep it in play. Never mind that Irving has long been sending signals that he would rather be donning anything other than green and white, and that Horford, by extension, figures to latch on to a better opportunity to chase a ring without sacrificing optimal earning capacity.
Creditably, the Celtics are operating with the worst in mind, and have thereby made draft-day deals designed to provide them with cap room to go after a high-profile free agent, not to mention the flexibility to trade high-potential assets for proven talent. The flipside is that, regardless of outcome, they’re left to scramble and rework their best-laid plans. Their multi-year project to acquire Anthony Davis fell by the wayside, and chemistry issues stunted their aptitude to be greater than the sum of their parts.
In this regard, not a few quarters have pegged the Celtics to be better off accepting the inevitable. After all, it’s not as if they’re rebuilding from scratch. They remain competitive, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown headlining a youthful base boasting of enviable skill sets. On the other hand, they’re not about playoff appearances. Ultimately, they’re about championships. And names on the rise won’t cut it. Stars will, and they’ve got a grand total of one — assuming Gordon Hayward even gets to regain his pre-injury form.
In any case, the Celtics will keep plodding on. Tough times are ahead, but Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens will make sure they’re in the best possible position to contend for the hardware. Are Irving and Horford gone? The answer will come on June 30. No matter what, however, they’ll continue to forge ahead. Which, in the final analysis, is all that matters.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing the Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.