Celtics Continually Linked to Former Slam Dunk Contest Runner-Up

Larry Nance Jr. listed as Celtics TPE target

Getty Larry Nance Jr. #24 of the Cleveland Cavaliers, wearing his dad's jersey, competes in the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest at Staples Center.

As appealing as impending free agents such as Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry may sound, the Boston Celtics‘ best chance of bolstering their roster this summer likely remains the Gordon Hayward trade exception. With retaining Evan Fournier looking to be atop Brad Stevens’ to-do list, the C’s will be limiting their flexibility in free agency. In return, look for the team to scour the NBA landscape for quality players to be had on the trade market — specifically those whose contracts fit under the $11 million remnants of the original $28.5 million exception.

Potential candidates to fill the niche include Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson and Bulls point guard Tomas Satoransky, both of whom have been linked to Boston on numerous occasions. However, it’s “long-rumored” target Larry Nance Jr. who continues to get the most pub as the “ideal” get for the Celtics.

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Multiple Celtics Insiders Float Nance as Celtics TPE Target

Nance’s $10.69 million salary for the 2021-22 season is certainly at the high-end of Boston’s TPE. Plus, making a move to acquire the former Slam Dunk contest runner-up would undoubtedly strip the Celtics of a hefty amount of future trade capital/building blocks. Yet, as Mass Live’s Brian Robb noted, Nance’s ever-improving game may make it worth taking a swing at the Cavaliers big man. 

A long-rumored target of the Celtics, Nance Jr. suffered through an injury-plagued 2020-21 campaign that limited him to 35 games for the Cavs. His expanded 3-point range (36 percent) and defensive versatility make him an appealing target for any team, making him an ideal stretch big option for Boston. The cost will be steep from Cleveland’s demands (at least a first-round pick and a young player with promise) but it could be worth the cost for the 28-year-old.

Robb, who dubbed Nance a “proven role player” in his prime and who also placed him among a short-list of “ideal targets” for the Celtics, isn’t alone in his assessment of the 28-year-old. NBC Sports Boston Chris Fosberg also highlighted Nance as a player the team could “fetch” on the trade market. The insider enlisted Nance atop his list of “10 trade targets for Celtics using Hayward TPE,” yet like Robb, was wary of Cleveland’s asking price.

Nance’s descending salary sneaks him into the mix and he’s exactly the sort of versatile big who really could have helped Boston last season. The difficulty here is that the Cavaliers would be seeking some combination of young talent and draft capital to part with Nance.

Nance Establishing Himself as a High-Quality Defender

The Celtics were previously reported to be among six teams eyeing Nance at the trade deadline back in March, per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor. Ultimately Nance stayed put in Ohio, completing one of the most well-rounded campaigns of his seven-year career, albeit not without a few hiccups.

Nance battled both illnesses — losing nearly 20 pounds in just one week — and injury (fractured thumb) this season, limiting him to just 35 games. Still, despite limited court time, the Wyoming product managed to flex his budding defensive prowess. He notched a 111.3 defensive rating per Stat Muse, while his career-best 1.7 steals per game would have tied for the third-highest average in the NBA had he played 70% of his team’s games.

His growth wasn’t only limited to the defensive end of the court. Nance also knocked down a career-high 36.0% of his attempts from 3-point range, marking the second consecutive year he’s topped 35.0%. Overall, the Akron native averaged 9.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists on the season.


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