The James Harden blockbuster that delivered a third superstar to the Brooklyn Nets has left Celtics fans curious about how Boston can beef up its roster moving forward. And speculation about how the team might use the Gordon Hayward trade exception is naturally spiking.
The Celtics generated a $28.5 million exception after dealing Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets via sign and trade in November. Boston also has smaller trade exceptions from Vincent Poirier ($2.6 million) and Enes Kanter ($4.8 million) available as well.
So maybe it’s appropriate that, after three games were postponed this week, the Celtics resume action Friday night against the Orlando Magic -- a team with a few intriguing roster pieces.
The Magic should be sellers at the deadline. For all the talent they’ve got on their roster, they have two first-round playoff exits to show for it the past two seasons. Orlando hasn’t advanced past Round 1 since 2010.
With Jonathan Isaac out and Markelle Fultz lost to an ACL tear, the Magic’s ceiling seems to be fighting for a spot in the East play-in tournament. The team would likely be better off identifying core pieces and initiating a mini teardown in hopes of adding the sort of draft assets and cap space that might allow them to more quickly return to true contender status.
So which players on this Magic squad ought to intrigue Boston?
Now somehow in his seventh NBA season (he’s still only 25), Gordon hasn’t quite maximized his potential but he’d be an ideal fit on Boston’s roster.
He’d add some size (6-foot-8) and versatility to the frontcourt. He’s shooting a career-best 48.2 percent from the floor this season and his 3-point shot has been better after plummeting to just 30.8 percent last year. He can create for others, he can play center in smallball lineups, and he’d potentially thrive with so much attention on Boston’s stars.
He’s under contract for $18.1 million this season and that number actually dips to $16.4 million the following year. The Celtics could offer draft assets and cap relief to a team that’s paying $129 million this season to not be a legitimate contender.
The Celtics have an obvious need for wing depth and shooting. The 29-year-old Ross checks those boxes as he’s shooting 40 percent from deep this season (he always seems to scorch Boston, too).
The best part about Ross is that he’s under contract for three seasons at descending money ($13.5 million this year, $12.5 in 2022, and $11.5 in 2023). It’s the sort of manageable number that Boston could stomach while trying to stay out of the luxury tax this season.
It would also leave a sizable chunk of the Hayward TPE to use this summer if it could aid maneuvering (no sure thing give the cap bloat that will occur when Jayson Tatum’s extension kicks in).
If the Hayward sign-and-trade drama from the offseason showed us anything, it’s that the Celtics don’t likely want to spend big money on the center position (right, Myles Turner?)
Paying Tristan Thompson mid-level money is about as much as Boston might yearn to spend while crossing their fingers on Robert Williams' continued development. All this with uncertainty about how much they can do to retain Daniel Theis this summer. So Vucevic probably isn’t an option, but he does have the sort of floor-stretching ability that would really make Boston’s offense a juggernaut.
But it’s hard to envision the team paying $26 million given cap constraints and the priority on defense at the big-man spot.
Good size, good shooter. But his lingering free-agent status would seemingly make it untenable for a Celtics team that really needs to target players that can be complementary parts for multiple seasons given their inability to otherwise add impact talent.