The Boston Celtics need a little more offensive firepower after the offseason departure of Gordon Hayward, in addition to All-Star point guard Kemba Walker being unable to play at the start of the 2020-21 NBA season due to injury.
The C's don't have the same treasure chest of draft picks compared to recent years. They don't own any future first-round picks from other teams. However, the Celtics still have plenty of quality assets to use in the trade market to acquire another excellent player.
One of them is the $28.5 million trade exception created from the Hayward sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets. It's the largest trade exception in league history and makes it easier for Boston to acquire a player with a high salary.
Which players could the Celtics target with their massive TPE?
In his latest newsletter, Marc Stein of the New York Times laid out eight fearless predictions for the 2020-21 season, which started Tuesday night. One of these predictions was, "At least three of the following five players will be traded this season in addition to Harden: LaMarcus Aldridge, Aaron Gordon, Buddy Hield, Zach LaVine and Kevin Love. Maybe even all five."
Stein singled out two of these players as potential fits for the C's using the TPE.
"Both Aldridge and Gordon are interesting candidates with their shorter remaining contracts to slot in Boston’s $28.5 million trade exception, which the Celtics (depending on their willingness to run up their luxury-tax bill) can use to add absorb a huge salary in a trade," Stein wrote.
Gordon is only 25 years old and has two more years left on his contract. The Orlando Magic forward averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season. He averaged a career-high 17.6 points per game in the 2017-18 season. Gordon is one of the most athletic players in the league. His age also puts him on the same timeline as Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Gordon isn't a great shooter, though. He's never hit on 35 percent or more of his 3-point attempts in any one season. He's also just an average free throw shooter. Gordon has a lot of talent and physical ability, but he hasn't had a breakout season yet. Perhaps a change of scenery and an excellent coach in Brad Stevens could unlock Gordon's true potential.
Aldridge is another good option for the Celtics. The Spurs are no longer contenders for the Western Conference title, and with Aldridge in the final year of his contract, trading the veteran power forward for a package of draft picks and/or young players makes a lot of sense for San Antonio.
He's not a long-term option as a 35-year-old veteran, but Aldridge is still an All-Star caliber player. He averaged 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season, while shooting just under 50 percent from the floor. Aldridge would give the Celtics much-needed depth and scoring at the power forward/center position. He also has 72 games of playoff experience.
The Celtics don't need to use the TPE immediately. Team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge can wait and see how the team performs over the first few months of the season before figuring out which positions he wants to bolster. But the C's definitely need to add something before the trade deadline, especially if Walker's knee doesn't improve.