Kyrie Irving doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere—not after this season, and probably not after the next few seasons, either. “The future is very, very bright in Boston,” he told Rachel Nichols in an interview that aired Wednesday on ESPN’s The Jump. “Even if I ever try to think about that thought of going elsewhere, it would be like, ‘What are you thinking? We’re pretty f-ing good here.’”
Irving is only in his second season with Boston, but it could be the last one on his current contract; the 26-year-old has a $21.3 million player option for next season. Speculation had begun to mount that Irving could look for another destination next summer. But whether he opts out of his current contract or not, all signs point to him staying put with the Celtics. Considering Boston is the heavy favorite to come out of the East, and is stocked with assets to keep the window open for the foreseeable future, we don’t blame him.
But today is also a sad day for many a thirsty rebuilding franchise—particularly the Knicks, who made their intentions of chasing after Irving, who grew up in New Jersey, pretty clear. Jimmy Butler may also be a bit dismayed. Butler has made his intentions to get out of Minnesota known to just about every executive and fan in the league. Though The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported on Wednesday that Butler prefers a trade to the Heat, who wouldn’t have the flexibility to add another star teammate, his other favored options—the Clippers, Knicks, and Nets—have the cap space to sign or trade for Butler and also add a friend of his choosing in the summer of 2019. Irving, a close friend of Butler’s, would have made for a natural second target. Irving, however, shut down that conspiracy theory before it could ever gain any traction.
Across the country, Kevin Durant took a different approach than Irving. Durant, who also has an option for next season, could have committed to the Warriors long-term, or at least expressed a desire not to go anywhere, much like Klay Thompson did. Instead, Durant said he wanted to keep his “options open.”
“I could have easily signed a long-term deal,” he told reporters. “But I just wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me.”
Fair enough. But now Durant might get asked about his future once a week. Irving decided to put the question to bed before the season even started.
If Irving does indeed re-sign, this is a coup for Boston and a confirmation that their process has worked. Should they lock down Irving to a long-term deal after the season, they’ll have him, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown under contract through at least 2020. Al Horford also has a player option for next season. That’s basically their core. That is, if they want that to be their core. Danny Ainge has been known to sell high on players (see: Isaiah Thomas), and there’s no guarantee that Ainge wouldn’t cut bait on Irving if a top-10 player is available for the taking. As unlikely as that seems right now, a lot can change in a season. Irving missed 22 games last year because of injury, and 29 games in the 2015-16 season. There’s some risk to locking up Irving with a big contract.
But Irving is still one of the best point guards in the league when healthy. The more likely scenario is that the Celtics sell high on Terry Rozier, who shined in last season’s playoffs in Irving’s spot. If Rozier doesn’t come to terms on an extension before the October deadline, he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer. Even if there are no major injuries, there will be a market for Rozier (looking at you, Phoenix), and there’s a chance that’s where Ainge makes his killing this time around. So far, he hasn’t missed.