Boston Celtics: The time for Danny Ainge to use the TPE has arrived

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images) /

As we approach the halfway mark of the 2020-21 NBA regular season, the Boston Celtics find themselves in quite a predicament. The Celts are currently two games below .500, with a 15-17 record. They possess one of the strongest rosters in the Eastern Conference but have been playing losing basketball pretty much all season long. With injury problems, and players not playing to the level that they have done in the past, it’s become pretty evident that additions are needed if this team is going to do anything this year. And that’s where the traded player exception (TPE) comes in.

After a humiliating 127-112 loss at the hands of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, on Wednesday night, the Celtics now sit in ninth position in the Eastern Conference standings. In a season with many crushing defeats, this was possibly the most infuriating. The Celtics looked the complete opposite to what they were on the defensive end for most of last season. Boston conceded 72 first-half points to the Hawks.

The Boston Celtics are in dire straits, and desperate actions are necessary

The Celtics had the fourth most efficient defense in the NBA last season, ranking 17th this season, and this performance showed why. The Hawks made a franchise-record 23 3-point shots as the Celtics’ perimeter defense showed out to be just as invisible as their inside defense.

There are plenty of holes still with this team. The team on paper looks great but has regressed massively since last season. The team did well to add Payton Pritchard in the late first round of last year’s draft. That’s solved the back-up point guard problem – but, with Kemba Walker, not the same off of his knee problems so far, hasn’t had the effect it could have.

Aaron Nesmith started slowly but is getting his minutes now, which is good for him early on in his career. The addition of Tristan Thompson in free agency has given the Celtics something else at the center spot. They have more rebounding than last season, but the rim protection problems are still obvious. Robert Williams is making a huge name for himself and should be getting more minutes – he’s the only real threat the Celtics have to opposition players at the rim.

Boston’s traded player exception (TPE) came from the trade that sent former NBA All-Star Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets. Hayward is a player who would most definitely make this current Celtics team better. The Celts haven’t done anything to replace what he meant to this team on both ends.

His passing abilities, mid-range scoring, and reliable defense are all assets that can’t just be ignored. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have done terrific in picking up the workload that the Hwayrd trade left behind. But, they can’t do everything by themselves. The Celtics need to use that TPE as soon as they can before this losing streak gets out of hand.

This TPE stands at $28.5 million, which the Celtics got as the eventual Hayward deal to Charlotte ended up being a sign-and-trade rather than just a free agency signing. Whilst the Celtics will find it perhaps impossibly hard to replace Hayward and his production which a player here, there are plenty of options that the Celts could look at to help to turn around this season.

It’s worth noting that because the Celtics are hard-capped, they can only use about $20 million of this TPE, if in fact they use it at all.

Plenty of names have been mentioned in rumours, from scorers like Harrison Barnes, Kelly Oubre Jr, and Davis Bertans. Nikola Vucevic is someone who’s been talked about, but this would really be the dream scenario with the production value he currently possesses. His salary of $26 million would fit this kind of deal, but would obviously require extensive draft capital. It would also require additional machinations because it exceeds the usable portion of their TPE.

There are many options for Danny Ainge and the front office to look at. The trade talk surrounding the Celtics has started to heat up, with Ainge saying that they’ve been close to making a move a couple of times. This is pretty close to being the same roster that made the Eastern Conference Finals last time out. There were improvements that needed to be made.

And even though some of them were, the Celtics are still miles off where they want to be, regressing thus far. The TPE, though, is a huge asset to have for a team that has been rebuilding to this point, where upcoming draft picks are starting to finally thin out. This Celtics team is built to win, they have a great roster, and they have this TPE to give them the piece that they’re looking for to turn this season around.

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