When the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets completed their Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade, it netted Boston a $28.5 million traded player exception, the largest such exception in NBA history. While they are unable to use the exception in its entirety, as they are hard-capped due to the addition of Tristan Thompson via the mid-level exception, Danny Ainge and Co. have nearly $20 million to work with.
And, as we creep closer to the March 25 trade deadline, the intrigue as to what the exception might be used for has only grown.
But who could the Celtics use the exception to acquire, realistically? Boston’s bench could improve, while Ainge himself has stressed the need to upgrade on the wing and down low. But who would be the right fit for the team as currently constructed?
J.J. Redick, New Orleans Pelicans
Redick has long been a strong shooter. 15th and 17th in NBA history, respectively, in three-pointers made (1916) and three-point percentage (41.5 percent), any team could make use of Redick’s gravity on the perimeter.
That said, he’s struggled mightily to start the year. Redick has converted just 34 percent of his shots from deep, while he’s taken just 4.9 three-point attempts per game, his fewest since the 2011-12 season. If he would like to help any contender, let alone the Celtics, Redick must turn his season around.
Provided he can, Redick would prove an immediate upgrade to Boston’s bench, both as a shooter and spacer that would aid Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker mightily on offense. Redick could also serve as a mentor and potential guide to some of the Celtics’ younger guards, namely Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith, both of whom could serve in a similar role to Redick down the road in their respective careers.
There would be some drawbacks, such as Redick’s defense. Never a strong defender, the opposition would surely zone in on Redick during his time on the floor. Of course, Boston’s group of versatile defenders should be able to mask his issues for the most part, but is that a burden Ainge and the team want to take on? Does Redick’s potential impact outweigh what he might give away on defense?
As far as actual acquisitions go, Redick, on the final year of his deal, should be one of the easier players to acquire. With an expiring contract, the team wouldn’t have to make a long-term commitment to the 36-year-old, nor would Boston have to send much back to New Orleans in any deal.
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic
Another offensive-oriented option, the Celtics won’t be the only team looking to add the oft-rumored about Fournier.
Averaging 17.8 points per game, the 6-foot-7 guard might be exactly what Ainge is looking for. Whether a starter or bench contributor, Fournier can create his own shot and should alleviate some pressure on the aforementioned trio of Brown, Tatum and Walker. Likewise, though not to the extent of Redick, the career 37.5 percent three-point shooter would aid in the Celtics’ ability to operate inside the arc.
A reduced role, while it may come with reduced output, might be good for Fournier as well. Forced into a primary role with Magic, Fournier would operate significantly lower on the pecking order in Boston. And, while that may sound like a negative, it would allow him easier assignments on either end of the court and would afford Fournier the opportunity to focus solely on his own game, to maximize what he does with the touches he’s given as opposed to the entire team’s. Boston might even consider an extension for the 28-year-old, were he to perform well.
But, like Redick, Fournier’s defense may keep him out of the running.
For much of his career, Fournier has been abused on defense. Orlando’s two most recent postseason series, versus the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, have shown as much; though not entirely his fault, Fournier was a constant target as the Magic lost both series in five games. Despite the potential offensive upgrade, Ainge had best look elsewhere if the goal is for Boston to stay airtight on defense.
Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
The former high lottery selection has taken considerable flack throughout his career. But Barnes has turned into quite the well-rounded forward and would be a positive addition for almost any team.
Better yet for Boston, Barnes should come relatively cheap given his production.
Through 23 games, Barnes is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. A career 37.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Barnes has improved his shot beyond the arc considerably, knocking down 4.5 three-point attempts per game at a 41.7 percent clip. Barnes has kept the basketball safe, as well, as he’s turned it over just 1.5 times per game.
Beyond his offense, Barnes’ versatility would give Boston another chess piece on the defensive end. The 6-foot-8, 225 pound forward has the size and strength to bump with power forwards and, in a pinch, centers, while Barnes’ has maintained the athleticism to keep up with the smaller wings on the perimeter.
He isn’t the “sexy” addition and the near $39 million he’s due in the next two seasons may be tough to swallow, but Barnes would undoubtedly push the team closer to an NBA title. The Kings may be reluctant to move him, as the 12-11 squad has surged recently and could certainly contend for a spot in the postseason.
Barnes might cost the Celtics a bit more than some of the other options on this list. But should Ainge have the opportunity to add him, he should probably take it.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Currently sidelined for four-to-six weeks with a left ankle sprain, Gordon is averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. The former Arizona Wildcat is also shooting 42.7 percent from the field and a career-best 36.9 percent from beyond the arc on 4.4 attempts per game.
And, while he may be the most expensive add, that development might make Gordon the perfect option for Boston. He’s not Draymond Green — although his 4.2 assists per game is a career-high — but, unburned on offense, Gordon could focus on working in the flow of the offense, setting screens, making the right pass to the open man or simply knocking down his shot from deep and drawing out the defense to clear space for Brown, Tatum and Walker to do their thing.
Defensively, Gordon’s size would place him snug in the center of Boston’s system, both figuratively and literally, as his 6-foot-9, 220-pound frame should root him firmly in the paint against the typical backdown big man while his 7-foot wingspan would deter would-be cutters from floating toward the basket.
Only 25 and under contract for next season, a Gordon addition would also make sense in regards to the Celtics’ timeline alongside Brown and Tatum.
Honorable Mention: Al Horford, Oklahoma City Thunder
While he played heavy minutes at power forward with the Philadelphia 76ers, Horford is back primarily as a center with the Thunder.
And he has flourished.
Of course, we know what Horford would be capable of in Boston; in three seasons under Stevens’ watch, he played some of the best basketball of his career, was a deadeye shooter from deep and looked to be one of the best big men in the league, if not a bit underrated. And, while his 13.7 points per game isn’t the flashiest stat in the world, his 43.2 percent shooting from deep on more than five attempts per game would add a spark to Boston’s so far so-so offense.
And, while he may not be the defender he once was, Horford is still versatile enough to make an impact on that end of the court, whether serving as an anchor in the paint, rotating on the perimeter or in the pick-and-roll.
So, why is Horford simply an honorable mention? Well, Boston may not have to use the exception to acquire him.
Owed more than $50 million through the 2022-23 season, few teams, if any, are likely to give up anything of value for the 34-year-old. And, barring an expected surge into the postseason by Oklahoma City, both parties are likely to seek a buyout.
Would a potential Horford addition make sense for Boston? For sure. That said, it’s unlikely that his presence would preclude another addition via the exception.
The Celtics’ roster is incomplete, but they are fortunate enough to have Hayward’s traded player exception to work with. If Ainge can make the right move, if he can further fortify the roster around the impressive core that is Brown, Tatum and Walker, it just might push Boston over the top and into a title.