Yes, the Celtics let the $17.1 million Evan Fournier traded-player exception expire last month, a surprise that left the team without a major chip it could have used to pick up a player to bolster the team’s depth, especially in the frontcourt. But have no fear: There are still two significant NBA TPEs in the back pocket of team president Brad Stevens, and he could yet use one of them during the season to add a player.
The first is from the Juan Hernangomez trade, and is worth $6.9 million with an expiration date of January 19. The second, from the Dennis Schroder trade, is worth $5.9 million and expires on February 10.
So, will the Celtics use either of them? Longtime Boston beat writer Steve Bulpett, now Heavy Sports’ NBA insider, gives an answer not a lot of Celtics fans want to hear—maybe. When asked if the TPEs could be a kind of break-glass-in-case-of-emergency asset, Bulpett agreed.
“That’s the exact analogy I would use,” he said in a video interview.
A Third Center Could Be on the TPE Menu
Under NBA rules, the Celtics could trade for a player who makes up to the value of either TPE (the two cannot be combined, though) or could take on a player who is being waived by another team, perhaps after a mega-deal like those that could move Donovan Mitchell out of Utah or Kevin Durant out of Brooklyn.
The Celtics need a third center, with the team looking to keep Robert Williams and Al Horford rested throughout the season. Can that problem be solved with a $6.9 million trade?
There will not be a lot of big guys on the market in that price range. Khem Birch of the Raptors could fit, but it is doubtful that Toronto—hoping to be a contender in the East this year—wants to do much to help the Celtics. Former Celtics forward Jeff Green, who plays a lot of center for the Nuggets these days, would be a candidate, too, as would reserves like Alex Len or Bismack Biyombo.
But the Celtics are not in a position of needing guys like that just yet. As it stands, Boston has 7-foot-2 big guy Luke Kornet on the roster, with two-way signee Mfiondu Kabengele possibly competing for a roster spot. The Celtics will have two other big guys—Bruno Caboclo and Noah Vonleh—competing on training-camp contracts in October.
Luke Kornet Is Option 1
It’s significant that Kornet’s contract is not guaranteed until January 10. That gives the Celtics about half a season to determine if he is up to the job of being the No. 3 center on the team. If not, Boston can waive him and either bring up Kabengele (if it does not do so earlier) or attempt to use the TPE to find that third big.
“It’s there if you need it,” Bulpett said. “The best thing for them would be not to need it at all. The important thing is, what the Celtics need is people who can make sure that Al Horford does not get used up during the regular season. Guys who can give you spot minutes here and there, enough so you can keep winning and keep playing well, at the level you want.
“Definitely for Al Horford but most likely as well for Rob Williams. He’s had his injury issues and you want to be careful with him. … You can’t be burning out an Al Horford, age 36. You’ve got to err on the side of caution because the important thing games are in the playoffs and you saw how fatigue can enter into this.”