The Boston Celtics’ most valuable asset in the pursuit of talent this summer might just be the remainder of the Gordon Hayward trade exception.
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has roughly $11 million to play with after the Celtics used $17.5 million of the $28.5 million exception to add Evan Fournier at the 2021 trade deadline. The exception allows Boston to bring back a player earning up to $11 million — or split that money among multiple players — without having to send out matching salary.
Boston has a series of smaller trade exceptions, including a fresh $6.9 million exception generated from the Kemba Walker swap. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll focus on players earning between $7-11 million in 2021-22.
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Given the Celtics' limited ability to splurge on free agents — re-signing Fournier would likely push them into the tax and limit the team to the $6 million taxpayer midlevel exception — targeting under-contract talent below the $11 million mark could be important to beefing up this roster.
So, what can $11 million fetch you on the trade market?
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers ($10.7 million)
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.
Boston is limited in what it can splurge in future first-round picks if it wants to maintain maximum flexibility for pursuit of a legitimate third star. Cobbling together a package for Nance could trim an already thin collection of trade assets.
Kyle Anderson, Memphis Grizzlies ($9.9 million)
The 6-foot-9 Anderson checks a bunch of the boxes for what the Celtics would covet as a depth option. Even more intriguing: Anderson started his career in San Antonio where Ime Udoka was an assistant for the first four years of Anderson’s career.
Slo Mo is coming off his best season as a pro, averaging 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Entering the final year of his contract, Anderson’s price tag might not be as daunting as someone like Nance but likely would still require a small splurge to pry him out of Memphis.
Delon Wright, Sacramento Kings ($8.5 million)
The Kings acquired Wright at the trade deadline last season but have a bit of a glut at the guard spot. The Celtics would probably prefer to send Tristan Thompson if Sacramento is interested in a veteran big but Wright would be an ideal depth guard with size (6-foot-5) and an ability to create for himself and others.
Tomas Satoransky, Chicago Bulls ($10 million)
If the Bulls are in the market for a point guard upgrade like Lonzo Ball, then Satoransky might be available for little more than the cap relief the Celtics could offer. Boston would add a point guard with size who is a highly efficient scorer and a capable playmaker.
With the departure of Walker, there is an obvious need for additional ball-handling depth — even if Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Fournier all would potentially have the ball in their hands more next season.
George Hill, Philadelphia 76ers ($10 million)
Hill just turned 35 and probably isn’t worth the price tag, though he’s a dependable veteran with 139 games of playoff experience. Hill played 17.1 minutes per game for the Sixers in the postseason after being acquired at the trade deadline. Boston probably could find a cheaper vet at a minimum salary.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz ($9.7 million)
The Jazz have $107.5 million committed to five players and that’s before re-signing Mike Conley. The Celtics could absorb Favors’ contract — he also has a $10.1 million player option for the 2022-23 season — with hopes that the 30-year-old big man could fill their power forward void.
Favors still is a highly efficient scorer and solid rebounder. He played only sparingly for the Jazz in the postseason (13.2 minutes per game in 11 appearances).
Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns ($8.5 million)
Saric tore his ACL in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and could be sidelined for much of the 2021-22 season. Could the Celtics play the long game here? If Chris Paul picks up his $44.3 million player option, the Suns have $124.8 million committed to just nine players.
Boston could make a call to see if the Suns were willing to move Saric, who is under contract for $10.2 million in the 2022-23 season as well.
Maxi Kleber, Dallas Mavericks ($8.8 million)
Kleber is a floor-stretching big man who would fill the German void after Daniel Theis' departure. Alas, he’s a Mark Cuban favorite who might cost too much despite an up-and-down season last year.
JaMychal Green, Denver Nuggets ($7.6 million)
Nuggets have a hefty amount of money committed, especially after adding Aaron Gordon at last year’s deadline. If Green triggers his player option, Celtics could absorb the 31-year-old forward.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans ($10.2 million)
Look, we’re just saying it’s mathematically feasible. Luka Doncic, too.