Boston Celtics: Pump the brakes on the hype for their huge trade exception

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 01: General Manager Danny Ainge and Gordon Hayward
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 01: General Manager Danny Ainge and Gordon Hayward /
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Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

By offloading Gordon Hayward, the Boston Celtics created the largest trade exception in NBA history. Exciting, right? Here’s why it probably won’t matter.

Ahh, the Boston Celtics get to enter the puzzling world of NBA traded player exceptions (from here on referred to as trade exceptions or TPEs, to clear up any possible confusion).

Every season, multiple NBA franchises set themselves up with some form of hopeful asset-acquisition by offloading a player’s contract in return for little to zero assets, thus creating the ever-enchanting trade exception. Sounds somewhat confusing, sure, but the mechanism itself is far from the puzzling part:

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When NBA Team X trades Player X to NBA Team Y for diminished returns (usually a heavily-protected first-round pick or something of that nature), NBA Team X slashes Player X’s salary off of their books while simultaneously taking on far less (or most of the time, zero) salary from NBA Team Y. The unbalanced outgoing/incoming salaries are what create the trade exception, which inevitably equals the outgoing Player X’s salary for the upcoming season.

In the case of the Boston Celtics’ recent maneuver that sent Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets via sign-and-trade, the Celtics were able to create a $28.5 million trade exception—the largest in NBA history—to hopefully acquire an asset (or assets) with contracts equaling that whopping $28.5 million price tag. It seems straightforward enough, and at surface level, it even has the potential to be enormously beneficial; The ability to move on from a player and have your pick of the litter on the eventual trade market? On paper, these trade exceptions appear to be an extremely effective way to bolster a roster.

Unfortunately, however, many things on paper can be misleading.

For starters, as things currently stand, the Celtics are hard-capped thanks to signing Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague using the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception. Without any additional moves, this brings the Boston Celtics within $21.8 million of the hard cap, which cannot be exceeded for any reason.

So the Celtics do possess a $28.5 million TPE, but only $21.8 million of that is currently usable.