What the Celtics can do with their NBA record-breaking $28.5 million traded player exception

Ben Rohrbach
·5 min read

By trading Gordon Hayward’s new four-year, $120 million contract to the Charlotte Hornets, the Boston Celtics have created the largest traded player exception (TPE) in NBA history, a useful asset going forward.

The TPE is equal in value to Hayward’s reported first-year salary of $28.5 million and can be used to acquire a player or players who make up to that amount plus $100,000. It is essentially a loophole to circumvent the salary cap’s constraints, allowing Boston to trade for a player’s contract without matching salary in return. The Celtics can also apply that $28.5 million or a portion thereof to claiming a player’s contract off waivers.

The sign-and-trade transaction, along with the addition of Tristan Thompson for the non-taxpayer’s midlevel exception, bars the Celtics from exceeding $138.9 million in player salaries during the 2020-21 season. The signings of Thompson and Jeff Teague will bring Boston’s payroll roughly $21.8 million shy of the hard cap. Without additional moves, the Celtics can only add a player or players who fit into that $21.8 million figure.

TPEs generally expire one year after the original transaction, although the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the NBA calendar may prevent this one from lasting into next November. Either way, the Celtics can use the TPE at any point from now through the first few weeks of 2021 free agency, when the salary cap resets and they can use the full value of the exception. Boston can send out additional salary to apply the full value of the TPE now, but no amount of outgoing salaries allow the Celtics to exceed $28.6 million in return.

So, how will Boston’s president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, implement his latest acquisition?

Bradley Beal is not walking through that door

Celtics fans quickly wondered whether Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal might fit into the mix. Those hopes were dashed when Hayward’s first-year salary came in just under Beal’s $28.7 million salary in 2020-21. (Besides, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has refused to entertain offers for the star guard.)

Rudy Gobert and the All-Stars making less than $28.6 million

Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. (Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. (Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

So, Boston’s search for another potentially disgruntled star will have to start elsewhere. Only 33 players will make more than Hayward in 2020-21, 16 of whom were among the league’s 25 All-Stars last season. The All-Stars who would fit into Boston’s TPE: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Brandon Ingram, Rudy Gobert, Bam Adebayo, Donovan Mitchell, Domantas Sabonis and Trae Young. Much would have to happen for the Celtics to acquire any of those players with their newest asset, but it is at least financially possible.

Gobert is probably the only player on that list who could become available. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year’s relationship with Mitchell is icy, and he will be an unrestricted free agent next year. A package including Thompson’s salary plus picks would allow the Celtics to absorb Gobert’s contract into the TPE.

Victor Oladipo and other potentially available former All-Stars

Victor Oladipo is reportedly keen on leaving the Indiana Pacers in 2021. (Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Victor Oladipo is reportedly keen on leaving the Indiana Pacers in 2021. (Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Several former All-Stars could also fit into the TPE. Among them is Al Horford, who could be had for a song from the Oklahoma City Thunder, but having watched his decline over the year since they last refused to pay him $27.5 million, the Celtics are probably not keen on a reunion. DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo, both reportedly unhappy on their current teams, are also among the logistical possibilities for Boston’s TPE.

Oladipo is the best of those possibilities. He will make $21 million this coming season, and the Celtics could fit him onto the roster without sending out any salary in return. Of course, the Pacers may want more than draft picks for a 28-year-old two-time All-Star, even if the oft-injured guard can still just walk in free agency.

Buddy Hield and the next tier of possible trade targets

On the next tier of earners, Buddy Hield will make $24.9 million this season and does not sound super happy to be on the Sacramento Kings. Likewise, the Orlando Magic have reportedly been active in trade discussions, increasing the odds that Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier or Terrence Ross could be on the table.

None of these names outside Oladipo is wildly exciting, nor are most potential sign-and-trade options in 2021 free agency. That likely means the Celtics will look to parcel the TPE among several players over the course of this season. Beyond longer-term trade targets, Boston can claim anyone who might be placed on waivers. Depending on where their teams stand in February, names like Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Redick and Derrick Rose could hit the market. Again, not the sexiest of options, but it is far better to have the means to add helpful pieces for a potential playoff run than to lose Hayward for nothing.

The available star no one saw coming

And there is always a player who enters the fray that nobody saw coming. What if Jrue Holiday, who the Celtics sought in a reported trade offer earlier this month, does not enjoy his stay with the Milwaukee Bucks? He can opt out of $26.3 million in 2021. Or the Celtics could let the TPE pass without a big splash. That would be fitting, given all the woulda, shoulda, coulda deals Ainge has almost made over the years.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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