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Somehow, despite a full slate of injuries ranging from sore to shattered ankles and concussions, the Boston Celtics sit atop the league's standings.
What looked like a lost season has morphed into the squad looking like the second or third-best team in the league, putting the organization in a most unexpected position regarding the Disabled Player Exception (DPE) the team was granted after Gordon Hayward's injury. For those who aren't aware, the exception gives the team a single season, one-time allotment of $8.5 million in salary that can be added to the team without it counting against the cap. 

That's not enough to sign a star in most scenarios, but sometimes one shakes loose in the course of the season with a buyout, which is why Danny Ainge didn't run out and just sign the best free agent on the market, or simply try to trade for guys whose contracts (no more than one season remaining) would qualify under the deal. Truth be told, there's simply not a lot of guys who'd fit both what Boston needs to stay in the contention picture and the DPE's unique criteria, especially considering the resource - while only for one year - has the potential to facilitate a longer-term deal should both parties be happy with the signing.
For example, there's plenty of veteran options out there who'd be great locker-room presences (Vince Carter and Marco Bellini come to mind) but while both could certainly add some valuable minutes in rotation, they won't be winning any games for anyone (or at least shouldn't be expected to) at the stage of their careers they are now in, and have little (Bellini) to no (Carter) potential as longer-term pickups.

There is also plenty of talent out there on rookie-scale contracts who would fit the bill, but most worth signing would require substantial assets to get the deal done, and with so much season left in front and so few obvious candidate, it makes sense to see what Boston has in its deep rotation - last night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers showed some potential from the deeper end of the rotation with Hayward being out for the season, Al Horford being out with another scary concussion and Jayson Tatum missing much of the game due to ankle soreness. Doing so will only increase their value (I love Guerschon Yabusele and Abdel Nader, but they'd be lucky to fetch a quality second until they prove themselves), and lessen the ask of potential mid-season trades.
There are rumblings about rookies looking for new homes, though, some of which we've covered for you. We're hearing former top pick Jahlil Okafor wants out of The Process, but that the front office can't let him walk for nothing. They don't seem to realize that by declining his option, they nuked what little leverage they had, and while Jah may prove redeemable in the right situation, it makes no sense to burn assets on a player who will likely get bought out, and has no guarantee to stay past this season - so wait on this one until next year/ a buyout before revisiting.

We're also hearing the Lakers aren't so keen on bringing back Julius Randle, and he's not so keen on sticking around even if they were, after being part of almost every trade rumor they've been connected to in the last year. While he's not a modern big, he's a high-energy guy with a knack for grabbing boards and scoring near the basket. That's worth the risk, but he's even further down the timeline Okafor is on, but still worth keeping tabs on. 
Another long-linked to Boston option going through a similar ordeal is Nerlens Noel. He's already run the course of Jahlil's timeline with the Philadelphia 76ers, only to duplicate it with the Dallas Mavericks. He may be disillusioned with contracts for non-shooting bigs, but by the time the season ends, he might be convinced of taking something closer to league-average in the future, a likely back-channel concern in need of addressing if Boston were to consider him. His defense and rebounding are worth going into the tax in future seasons if resigned...but not way into the the tax - this one's a long shot as such.

Alex Len is another young player who has been let down by the constrictive nature of the current cap environment, as well as the devaluation of non-shooting bigs. He's a solid rebounder, though, with moments of offensive flash and rim protection that suggest he might fit the team's timeline, roster and cap needs. The Phoenix Suns, however, may want to hang on to him, instead moving arguable starter Greg Monroe, who was added to the team in a trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this week. Monroe makes much more sense to move, as he'll likely net at a decent first-round pick or younger players of value. Monroe is not especially old at 27, but won't be under contract beyond this season, and almost certainly won't want to stay with the team anyway, so moving him seems near certain.

This is where Boston could get into the picture, should they deem it wise. They certainly don't have the assets to trade outright for Monroe's $17.8 million-dollar deal, but if Moose left half his contract on the board in a buyout, the Suns could free themselves of a player who will help them win more games than they likely would prefer without being on the hook for too much, and Greg would then be able to sign with the Celts without losing much if any money. There's not a lot of teams who could sign him for comparable money, and probably none that are realistic contenders, making Boston a likely if not preferred destination.
The question is - would he fit?

The short answer is...kind of. He is not a good fit for Brad Stevens' motion offense, and can't really play a four at all in that system. Greg has an undeserved bad rap as a defender, and it's mostly from playing out of position. He's much too slow to play the four in most systems, and the systems he can play power forward are going to be slow, lumbering units most modern teams will feast on offensively. But he can play a starting five on a defense-oriented squad, and, to most people's surprise, that's exactly what this year's team has become, pulling a second 180° turn in two seasons after losing Hayward.
He's also quite capable of acting as a sixth man in much the way Aron Baynes has been until last night, where he showed he is actually more nimble than many of us realized. While we can't expect that kind of night out of Aron on the regular, we could spark an intense battle for minutes between the two with Monroe on the lookout for one more big paycheck before his stock starts to seriously depreciate with age.

All these players look like good to great options given Boston's current and future aspirations and limits, but don't expect a decision for weeks or even months. More stars might lurch towards a buyout, and the specter of injury doesn't just haunt Boston. Do you have a preference among any of these guys? Let us know in the comments below, and if there's anyone who comes to mind we didn't include, let us know there as well.
For more stories by Justin, click here.

Justin Quinn 11/09/2017 12:13:00 PM Edit
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