Anthony Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, managed to scare the Boston Celtics away from a trade package many thought could have landed Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jayson Tatum was, by most accounts, the most coveted player by the Pelicans’ boss, David Griffin. Boston’s refusal to put him into a deal made Griffin’s choice fairly easy now that we see that haul they got for Davis. The Los Angeles Lakers dealt Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks to land Davis.

Boston General Manager Danny Ainge’s refusal to include Tatum is a clear signal that he took Paul’s threats seriously – that Davis will pursue free agency in 2020 – and wasn’t willing to push all his chips into the pot for a chance to convince Davis to stay. It’s also a sign that he thinks Tatum has the potential to be a top-line talent, and isn’t willing to lose a player like that for what would amount to nothing.

It also seems clear that Ainge believes Kyrie Irving is leaving. If Ainge believes Davis is a serious threat to be a one-year rental and landing him isn’t going to be enough to keep Irving around, then there’s no reason to give up Tatum.

This pursuit has always been about pairing Irving and Davis. Even at the trade deadline, when Ainge proclaimed the the Celtics and Irving essentially were engaged and the wedding was still on, the thinking was that landing Davis was the move that would cinch Irving’s return. By not seriously pursuing Davis, it shows that Ainge didn’t believe he’d have either player by next July.

Now the next big question for the Boston Celtics is Al Horford’s free agency. Horford enjoys Boston and by all accounts wants to stay with the Celtics. But losing Irving and not seeing another star join him in Boston could cause him to opt out of his upcoming $30 million for next season and find a new home.

If he does, Boston ultimately can clear about $28 million in cap room by renouncing all of their free agents, including Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker. That would leave them with 10 players, including three rookies from this year’s draft, meaning that $28 million would have to be spread out to fill a few roster spots. They could try to lure a restricted free agent, like a Malcolm Brogdon, with some of that money, but they’re not getting someone like Kawhi Leonard.

Boston also could bring back Horford by making him a long-term offer. If he returns, some combination of Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Horford and Aron Baynes likely would start with one of them playing the sixth-man role.

Ainge could create about $14 million in cap room if Horford’s deal begins somewhere in the $15 million range, which he could use to sign someone. But that also would require renouncing the rights to Morris, Rozier, Theis and Wanamaker.

Whether Ainge wants to do that or run it back with most of last year’s roster, and re-sign Morris and Rozier, it’s pretty clear the team’s future is now in Tatum’s hands. Tatum, Hayward and Brown are going to become the primary scoring options with Horford and Smart supporting that with their ability to facilitate.

Ainge will have to build a bench, but unless he makes a surprise move for someone like Bradley Beal, Boston’s youth is now its core.

This is the group Irving disparaged early last season. Their rocky relationship might be why Irving seems to be leaving and why they are the last men standing.

Ainge could have chosen a lot of different avenues along the way but settled on this one. By refusing to add Tatum to this deal, he’s valuing what Tatum can be over the next few years more than what Davis can be for one.

Depending on what Leonard does, the East could still be wide open and the Celtics still could field a competitive playoff team. But what they won’t be is the title contender anyone expected them to be.

That’s going to have to wait.

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