At 3-1 through four games, and with 12 of their next 19 games coming at home, the Celtics are in good position to quell the early concerns about the Ime Udoka drama and plow forward with Joe Mazzulla as their head coach. They’ve gotten good performances—from (mostly) newcomers like Noah Vonleh, Blake Griffin, Sam Hauser and Malcolm Brogdon—to show how this team can be different from last year’s NBA runners-up.
But that does not mean they’re sitting on their laurels. The Celtics are also looking to fill holes in the frontcourt and on the wings with two important weapons to do so—traded player exceptions worth $6.9 million (from the Juan Hernangomez deal) and $5.9 million (from the Dennis Schroder deal), as multiple league sources told Heavy Sports.
“It is clear that they’re asking about big guys but they’re asking about wings, too, poking around,” one league executive told Heavy Sports. “They’re taking the temperature on what might be out there, who might get released or bought out, who they might have to give up a pick, a first-rounder, a second-rounder, to get. It is early so no one is giving up on players now but when you get to late December and January, seems like they want to be in a good spot to make a call on what to do then.”
Depth on the Wing Is a Celtics Concern
The trade exceptions allow the Celtics to bring back single players who fit into the salary slots of those exceptions, though the exceptions have expiration dates—one year after the original deals were made. The Hernangomez exception runs up on January 19, and the Schroder exception expires on February 10.
The Celtics have a handful of smaller exceptions available—four between $1.7 million and $2.1 million—but those likely will not be used because Boston could simply sign players for veteran minimums rather than trade for them.
What is interesting about the Celtics’ approach on the Hernangomez-Schroder TPEs is that the team is still uncertain about its depth on the wings. Heading into the year, it appeared that the front court depth would be a concern for Boston, with Al Horford’s age (36) and Robert Williams’ ongoing knee troubles which will keep him out at least until December. But the Celtics have liked what they’ve seen from big men Noah Vonleh, Sam Hauser and Blake Griffin so far.
Winslow, Holiday possible Celtics Options?
As of now, the Celtics’ two stars are wing players Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. But there is precious little behind them in terms of depth. If Brown or Tatum were out for extended periods, the Celtics could go with a three-guard look of Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Brogdon, but that would leave the team at a serious size disadvantage. As of now, reserve Justin Jackson is the only natural small forward who could fill in for Brown or Tatum.
There could be wing options to consider. The Blazers have been off to a good start, with long-desired Justise Winslow playing a role, but he would fit nicely into Boston’s rotation if the Blazers falter and look to rebuild. The same can be said for Justin Holiday of the Hawks. Torrey Craig of the Suns is another little-used option for the TPE.
One of the problems, of course, is that the Celtics are $25 million over the luxury tax and using even $5 million of the TPE could cost the team about $24 million. That is a sobering reality–$24 million for Justin Holiday is an awful lot. But the fact that Boston is at least doing due diligence on using the exception is a sign that ownership is willing to pay to win.