I’ll start off with the harsh truth you don’t want to hear: Even with Irving, the 2017-18 Celtics weren’t good enough to win the NBA championship. They’re presently 18th in offensive rating, according to NBA.com, and though they’re first in defensive rating, they’ve also regressed on that end, ranking eighth in their last 15 games — still good, but not something that’ll carry them to the title — behind the likes of the lottery-bound Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons.
Additionally, three weeks ago, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge revealed that Irving would require knee surgery at one point or another.
“He has some surgery that may need to happen,” Ainge told 98.5 The Sports Hub. “But maybe not this summer. Maybe the following summer or maybe the summer after that. I think that he could probably do it any time he wanted, but I’m not sure that it’s needed at this moment.”
Going under the knife now benefits both Irving and the Celtics.
It’s not clear if the surgery Irving is about to undergo — to remove two screws in his left knee leftover from a 2015 surgery — is the same procedure Ainge was referring to, but it’s safe to assume that Irving and the Celtics will spend the four- or five-month recovery period fully addressing the health of the star point guard‘s knee. (Irving also denied a January report that he’d threatened to undergo surgery to leverage a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers.)
Doing so now means he should be completely recovered by the start of the 2018-19 campaign, coinciding with the return of fellow All-Star Gordon Hayward, to create a formidable offensive duo on the perimeter that could elevate the team to contender status — a much rosier scenario than that of Irving’s delaying the required procedures, then needing them when Hayward is actually healthy, once again dashing championship aspirations.
Being back to full health in 2018-19 could also greatly affect Irving’s pocketbook — he has the option to hit free agency after next year (or play on his current deal for one more year), so proof that he’s still the player he’s been for the last half decade would be more than enough assurance for prospective bidders for his services.
Without Irving, the Celtics’ expected playoff performance in 2018 will take a step back, but with Irving’s knee healthy next year, he and the team will be able to take two steps forward.