The revelation initially seemed innocent enough. Irving – who sometimes resisted LeBron’s leadership with the Cavaliers – realized how difficult it is to teach younger players. I’m not convinced Irving suddenly liked all LeBron’s tactics, but Irving seemed to now appreciate the enormity of LeBron’s challenge. If LeBron occasionally erred in leading Cleveland, it was more understandable to Irving now. Irving, by his own admission, occasionally erred in leading the Celtics.
Then, Anthony Davis requested a trade from the Pelicans.
Davis – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – wanted to join the Lakers. But Boston was positioned to make a better offer this offseason than Los Angeles before the trade deadline. The Celtics are prohibited from trading for Davis while Irving remains on his current contract, because both are designated rookie scale players.
So, the Celtics had to convince New Orleans to wait and that a great offer was coming. Meanwhile, the Lakers, Davis, Paul and LeBron wanted to convince New Orleans that something would derail Boston and that a better offer than Los Angeles’ wasn’t coming.
So, in the wake of Irving expressing more respect for LeBron, a rumor emerged about Irving signing with the Lakers this summer. Though that was somewhat debunked, the Knicks then traded Kristaps Porzingis to clear double-max cap space in the offseason. Suddenly, Irving-to-New York rumors were flying. Word even leaked Davis himself believed Irving might not re-sign with the Celtics. Of course Irving leaving Boston would make Davis less likely to re-sign in 2020 if traded there – a prospect that could lead the Celtics to offer New Orleans less for Davis.
The Celtics were annoyed by the story of Irving having eyes for New York, not because of Irving, but because they felt the story was planted by Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, in order to scare the Pelicans into thinking Boston would back off making a trade offer for Davis in July if Irving left.
“It was cheap and underhanded,” one source told SN.
No matter what disinformation campaign Paul waged, nobody ignited more talk of Irving leaving Boston than Irving himself. Asked a couple weeks ago about his commitment to the Celtics, Irving infamously said, “Ask me July 1.” That was a stark departure from his preseason declaration of intent to re-sign.
Irving doesn’t have to share his plan now. He’ll be a free agent this summer and can decide then. But he shared his plan already. That makes his recent demurring look particularly alarming for Boston.
With Davis, the Celtics won. The Pelicans kept him through the deadline, clearing the way for Boston to trade for him this summer. However, even if the Celtics trade for Davis, they’ll have to re-sign him in 2020. Leaking disdain for his agent probably won’t help.