The Evan Fournier $17.1 million traded player exception vaporized on Monday night, the Celtics unable to find a worthy use for it before the final buzzer.
This would be a pricklier subject if the Celtics hadn’t found an alternate means to add a $22.6 million player this offseason in Malcolm Brogdon. Already staring at a hefty tax bill while sitting roughly $20 million over the tax line with an incomplete roster, it felt unlikely the team would use even a modest chunk of the TPE before the clock struck midnight.
There will be some who quibble with wasting any asset that could fortify a championship-caliber roster. They will point to the insane spending by teams like the Warriors and Clippers to suggest that Boston can’t be frugal in an arms race.
But the reality is that the Celtics' roster was already at least 10 deep. The likelihood of finding a player on reasonable money who could crack the team’s rotation (and without stripping further assets) was never high in the aftermath of the Brogdon deal.
So how do the Celtics fill out the roster from here?
Still TPEs available
The Celtics still have a series of smaller traded player exceptions that might allow them to fortify their roster, whether that’s this summer or, more likely, before the trade deadline. That TPE list is now headlined by the $6.9 million Juancho Hernangomez TPE and a $5.9 million Dennis Schroder TPE.
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens stressed last week before the Fournier TPE expired that Boston had the green light to spend but it had to be the “right trade to be made.”
With only depth pieces needed to finish a roster that currently houses 12 players and a pair of two-way contracts, the Celtics still have that avenue to spend beyond a minimum contract. But it might be better for the team to get into the season and assess its needs before splurging, particularly with no easy avenue to shedding salary moving forward.
Adding a wing and a big?
Stevens suggested last week he’d like to add another big, at least before the team inked summer standout Mfiondu Kabengele to a two-way pact. Coach Ime Udoka hinted in Vegas that he’d like to add another wing player.
Boston can peruse what’s left in the free agency bargain bin or ponder what’s in house. Would it make sense to start the clock on 2021 second-round pick Juhann Begarin by signing him to the main squad? There’s a minor luxury tax break if Boston inks any of its recent draftees, which could also entice the team to promote JD Davison from his current two-way pact and simply fill that two-way spot.
Beyond adding a 13th player, it might be better for Boston to preserve roster space and limit immediate spending in case a need emerges during the season. Even by adding two more bodies, the Celtics would have one open roster spot to start the year.
Draft picks in focus
The Celtics traded away four second-round picks to generate both the Fournier TPE and its predecessor, the Gordon Hayward TPE.
One of the picks dealt to New York in the Fournier sign-and-trade was a 2022 second-rounder that was top-55 protected. The Celtics ended up generating the 53rd pick, preserved it, and selected Davison.
Boston’s 2023 and 2024 second-round draft picks will head to Charlotte (or Washington based on the Hornets’ subsequent dealing). The Celtics have acquired three 2023 second-round picks in other trades but one of them via the Magic is top-55 protected and unlikely to be conveyed.
Late second-round picks are rarely valuable but if you’re anyone who got hyped after watching Davison or Begarin last week -- or if you lived through the Isaiah Thomas era -- then you can’t suggest they are completely inconsequential.
Ultimately, it wasn’t a prohibitive cost for Boston to keep open the avenue for a big-splash move if something like the Brogdon deal had not materialized.
Hayward TPE lives on
While the Celtics didn’t technically use any of the Fournier TPE, the Hayward TPE lives on through Derrick White.
After using the bulk of the Hayward TPE to acquire Fournier, Boston used the remaining portion to add Josh Richardson last summer. Stevens then flipped Richardson to San Antonio as part of the White package at this year’s trade deadline.
If White is a key piece of a championship run moving forward, then the TPE preservation will have been valuable in fetching at least one contributor.
It’s rather hilarious how much time we spent over the past 600 days pondering the big-splash options the Hayward/Fournier TPEs could have landed, only for one of them to completely vaporize. Alas, there are no guarantees with TPEs. They can be super valuable (see: the Paul Pierce TPE leading to Thomas) and sometimes they vanish.
The Hernangomez and Schroder TPEs will allow the conversation to live on, just in a quieter way.