Boston last offseason acquired an NBA-record $28.5 million Traded Player Exception (TPE) thanks to its sign-and-trade with the Hornets that landed Gordon Hayward in Charlotte. Since then, there has been rampant speculation over when, and on whom, the Celtics could use the TPE.
The trade exception stuff can get a bit confusing, and we don’t want to bog you down with NBA salary cap/luxury tax jargon. All you really need to know is the TPE gives the Celtics an extra $28.5 million of cap space to work with until it expires on the anniversary of the Hayward deal.
Teams are not limited to using their trade exceptions on acquiring a single player. Boston could use the $28.5 million to sign/trade for multiple players, rather than using it all on one high-priced acquisition. So, they could use a portion of the TPE to execute that rumored Aaron Gordon-Evan Fournier deal, and still have some money to work with next offseason.
Danny Ainge thus far has indicated he likely will wait until the summer to use the TPE. But, with rumors connecting Boston to both Gordon and Atlanta Hawks big man John Collins, it’s fair to wonder whether the Celtics will use the exception before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
But should they use the TPE before the deadline? (And by “use,” we mean really use it — not just a couple million.)
Let’s get into it.
The Case For
This might sound like a cop out, but if the Celtics think they’ve found the right deal, they totally should use it.
(Whether a trade centered around Gordon or Collins would be the “right” deal is a conversation for another column. But, for now and for the sake of argument, let’s say trading Marcus Smart for Gordon and Fournier is a good play.)
In that scenario, the Celtics could enter next offseason as a far more attractive destination to NBA players unhappy in their current environment. Sure, it doesn’t look like many high-end players will be available via trade or free agency this summer, but that could change overnight. The NBA is crazy.
The Celtics would have to free up cap space to add another star player, but that could be accomplished simply by letting Fournier walk in free agency. It’s entirely possible that Boston could have Gordon, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen and Kemba Walker on its roster and still have over $20 million to work with.
But forget about all that for the moment. There’s no guarantee the Celtics will find a better option this offseason than they will ahead of the deadline. Most, if not all, of the players set to hit free agency this summer are not realistic targets for Boston. Kawhi Leonard, for example, is not opting out and joining the Celtics.
Plus, if the Celtics wait until the summer, trade partners will know Ainge is desperate and could drive a harder bargain. Boston already would have a really hard time swinging a trade for a max-level player without including Tatum or Brown.
So, use it now. Take a swing.
The Case Against
There’s something to be said for not making a move simply for the sake of making one.
The Celtics indeed might have better options available this summer, especially if they aren’t that high on Gordon or Collins. Perhaps Ainge can work some magic and find the perfect move for a team that, for all its talent, is spinning its wheels.
If the Celtics find a trade before the deadline that seriously improves their long-term prospects, that’s one thing. But it’s hard to imagine they’ll find anything before Thursday that will improve their fortunes this season. If you’ve watched Brad Stevens’s team the last couple months, you it is a flawed group that probably has no shot in the playoffs, if it even qualifies for the postseason.
Ultimately, Ainge and the rest of the Celtics front office might want to accept the fact that this season is beyond fixing. Wait until the summer and overhaul the roster.