The Boston Celtics have a few decisions to make this year regarding their coveted TPE (Trade Player Exception) that they were granted in the Gordon Hayward deal. Despite having plenty of star power, the Celtics’ trade exception could be the final nudge to legitimate title contention. While Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker may be enough star power at full strength, the Celtics have a chance to add some extra help with their trade exception. So what is their next move?
Is A Boston Celtics Trade Coming Soon?
The 2021 Boston Celtics had a great deal of turnover this offseason, losing some key pieces, bringing in a few new faces, and promoting young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to more prominent roles. However, the team only recently incorporated Kemba Walker back into the fold, but are currently without some of their backcourt depth in Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard as they rehab from their lower-body injuries.
After completing a five-game win streak in January, the team has been going through ups and downs as the season reaches the first quarter of completion. The Celtics are in the midst of a five-game road trip, and they sit 2-1 after beating the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, but falling to the Sacramento Kings where the C’s were without Walker, Smart, and Pritchard. This loss especially upset some Celtics fans as the Twitter GMs raced to the keyboards calling for Danny Ainge’s job, uploading to the NBA Trade Machine, and creating hypothetical trade scenarios.
Will The Celtics Use The Coveted TPE?
The Celtics were granted the largest TPE of over $28 million when they sealed Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets, and now the pressure is on to use it to strengthen this team. What Boston cannot do is let the largest trade exception go to waste. If a Boston Celtics trade truly is imminent, then that free cap space will go a long way in bringing in some needed scoring help to support the Jays.
Asked on @Toucherandrich what Boston’s biggest need is with the trade exception, Danny Ainge picks “shooting with size.” Says team is looking for a complete player who can help defensive focus, too. Called traded deadline the sweet spot for likely using TPE.
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) February 4, 2021
Possible Trade Candidates
Danny Ainge addressed the TPE in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub on Toucher & Rich, where he identified the big need on the market as a big man with shooting ability who can also hold their own on the defensive end. A few names on the market come to mind, such as Harrison Barnes, who Celtics fans seem relatively keen on.
Barnes, 28, is averaging over 17 PPG on career-high shooting of 49.8% from the field and 41.3% from three. That type of production would translate nicely to Boston, where Barnes would continue to be a third or fourth option while still being able to maintain his steady averages. The Kings, despite having plenty of young talent, are stuck in limbo, and unloading Barnes to bring in more cost-effective players would allow them to keep building and adding to their young core of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton.
Another Boston Celtics trade target that the team has been linked to is Julius Randle. Randle is in the midst of an All-Star caliber season, so prying him from their division rival the New York Knicks may come at a higher cost. Randle is a cheaper option than Barnes, making just over $18 million a season, but it will ultimately come down to if New York wants to sell high on Randle or use him to round out their young group.
Before Ainge specifically labeled the team’s target need as a stretch big, the Celtics were in play for JJ Redick, but that may or may not still be a likely outcome. Redick is having perhaps the least productive season of his career, shooting just 30% from three, in an area that he has specialized his whole career. If the Boston Celtics trade exception is used on a 36-year-old Redick, what does that really add to the team’s chances of securing a title in the near future?
One name that feels the most realistic for a Boston Celtics trade is P.J. Tucker. At age 35, Tucker remains one of the more durable players in the league, capable of playing extensive minutes as his game is relatively low-impact for a small-ball big man. His ability to shoot from beyond the arc is something that the Celtics could use on the second-unit and has plenty of playoff experience that the other bench players do not have anywhere close to.
According to Houston Rockets executives, his market is extremely low, as in the organization is looking for a few second-round picks, so acquiring the veteran wing should not take much negotiating. Tucker could be a valuable weapon to any contender looking for some added help putting up a few more points.
No Need To Panic
Celtics fans are an interesting breed. Weird Boston Celtics Twitter likes to come to blows over a Tuesday night loss in January, making other users believe they just lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Sure, the team is struggling to find its footing with everyone slowly getting healthier over time, but it is going to require a little more patience. Fans can make up whatever Boston Celtics trade they want, but for the time being, they have to stick with what they have.
The Celtics superstar duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been electric to this point in the season, and it is highly likely we will see the two take part in the All-Star Game, with it being Brown’s first-time appearance a year after Tatum had his last season. At ages 22 and 24, respectively, Tatum and Brown have plenty of big-moment experience that has molded them into two headstrong and steady threats on both ends of the floor. The do-it-all wings have taken on a much larger role this year, and they’ve knocked it out of the park thus far.
The Celtics will shake themselves out of this funk, and in all likelihood, they will probably fall into another slump or two later in the year. It is a long regular season, but this is a team that is built for the postseason, as the organization continues to find their seven, eight, nine players they trust the most to rotate in a seven-game series.
With how young both Tatum and Brown are, and with how much playoff experience they have in their short careers to this point (45 playoff games for Tatum, 61 for Brown), the Celtics have legitimate title hopes now and for the next five, six, seven years, and it is likely they could have at least one successful campaign in that span of time. As far as 2021 is concerned, the Eastern Conference is as loaded as it has ever been.
The Celtics will be butting heads with the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers at the top of the East come playoff time. All four of those teams are a favorite to appear in the NBA Finals, but all four are on separate timelines. The Nets’ window is much shorter than the others, with Durant and Harden on the wrong side of 30, and the Bucks may have the most pressure on them after resigning Giannis this past offseason. They have their own past demons in the playoffs the last two years with back-to-back early eliminations. Philadelphia looks to be coming into their own, but they are still yet to prove that they can handle the playoff spotlight.
The Celtics’ core of Tatum, Brown, and Smart, among others, have been exponentially improving year after year, and while fans are often very impatient, the final product of this experiment is far beyond what the eye can see. There is reason to be hopeful and reason to be excited about the team’s future, whether it is this year, next year, or five years from now.
Maybe Ainge executes a season-altering Boston Celtics trade like the Miami Heat were able to last year that saw them reach the NBA Finals, or maybe he sticks to his guns and rides out with their main core. Regardless, fans will continue to put their trust in their organization to do what is right for the team, and it has gotten them this far, with two budding superstars under the age of 25 with All-NBA potential, and a team that has reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three out of the last four seasons.