Over the course of the past few seasons, the Boston Celtics’ roster has changed dramatically. Players like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Al Horford, and others have come and gone (and come back again), but the core players have remained the same.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart have been the staples of the Celtics’ roster for the past five years. And this past year, they finally broke through and made the NBA Finals. But it wasn’t always guaranteed to go that way.
Dan Favale of Bleacher Report recently wrote an article that detailed every team’s biggest ‘what if’ moment. For the Celtics, that moment was not trading for Anthony Davis back in 2019. He had Alex Kungu break things down.
“Though nothing was ever official, there was an understanding that all or at least Tatum plus one of the two [Brown or Smart] would be involved in any Davis trade [when Boston was legally allowed to make one],” Kungu wrote. “Fast forward three years, and Kyrie has left but struggled with staying on the court. Hayward has been similarly plagued with injuries. And Davis, though he won a ring in his first year with L.A., has endured durability issues as well.”
If the Celtics had traded Tatum and one of Brown or Smart, their franchise would look completely different today. And based on the injuries Kungu outlined, Boston would more than likely be a lot worse of a position.
Kungu also noted that, at the time of Davis’ trade request, the Celtics were essentially forced to pick between two timelines.
Celtics Forced to Choose Timelines
When Davis requested a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, Irving and Gordon Hayward were leading the way in Boston, while Tatum, Brown, and Smart were the younger group preparing to lead the team into the future. The Celtics had a decision to make.
“At the time of AD’s trade request, the Celtics were toeing the line between two timelines. On one side, they had Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, who were a versatile trio that with the acquisition of Davis would give them the necessary star talent to compete for a title,” wrote Kungu. “On the other side, they had Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, a young, talented group with a proven ability to play winning basketball but still a few years away from being relied on to compete for a title.”
Fast forward a few years later, and Tatum, Brown, and Smart have proven that they are fully capable of being relied on to compete for a title. In fact, they’ve made it to the Eastern Conference Finals more times than Irving and Davis combined, and the only times Hayward and Horford have made it that far has been with Boston’s star trio.
With Kungu’s final thought, he imagined a world where the Celtics made the deal for Davis.
What if Boston Made the Trade?
If the Celtics had made the trade, they would have been dealing with the antics of Irving and the constant injuries to Hayward and Davis, all while their former young core was thriving elsewhere.
“For a second, imagine a world where Boston would have to watch Smart develop into a floor general DPOY-caliber point guard, Jaylen turn into an All-Star and Tatum a top-10 player, all while they hitched their wagons to injury-riddled veterans who either couldn’t stay on the court or were already plotting their way out of town.
“God Bless Rich Paul and the Klutch Sports organization,” said Kungu.
It’s safe to say that the Celtics are much better off having not made the trade.