As the NBA season progresses and the NBA trade deadline approaches, the Celtics’ trade exception increases in importance. For this series, I’m going to break down some of the possible trade targets for the Celtics’ massive Gordon Hayward trade exception, and how I think these players would fit in Boston.
The Celtics’ obtained the record-setting $28.5 million trade exception when they completed the sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets for Gordon Hayward. They also possess a $5 million exception from Enes Kanter and a $2.5 million exception from Vincent Poirier, but for the sake of this series, I’ll focus on targets for the $28.5 million exception.
The rules and intricacies of an NBA trade exception are slightly complex, but a basic explanation is that the Celtics can take in $28.5 million in player salary without trading any players, they only have to use the exception. The Celtics will have 365 days from the date the trade was finalized (November 29, 2020) to use the exception, so while they technically don’t have to use the exception until next offseason, for the sake of the Trade Exception Target Series, I’m going to imagine that they’ll use it during this season. Trade exceptions cannot be combined with other trade exceptions or player salaries, but they can be coupled with team picks (see the Warriors’ offseason for Kelly Oubre). The Celtics do not have to use the entire exception in one trade, so they can separate the exception to acquire multiple players in multiple trades, or absorb more than one player as long as their combined salaries equal or are less than $28.5 million.
One added intricacy of the Celtics’ exception is that they cannot exceed the NBA’s hard tax apron of $138 million, and may also want to stay under the $132 million luxury tax this season to avoid future repeater penalties. The Celtics currently have roughly $117 million in player payroll, so the most they can absorb is $21 million, or $15 million if they want to avoid the luxury tax.
Elsa. Getty Images.
First up in the Trade Exception Target Series is Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon. The 4th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Gordon has not lived up to his draft status, and is most known for his NBA Dunk Contest showdowns with Zach Lavine. The 6’ 9’’ Gordon is set to make $18,136,364 in the 2020-2021 season, and is also under contract next season for $16,409,091. Gordon is still only 25 years old, and has arguably been mismanaged throughout his entire career with the Magic.
Gordon’s stats don’t jump off the page like his dunk highlights, and his scoring average has decreased in the past couple of seasons, but I would again attribute this to mismanagement by the Magic. In 17 games this season, Gordon is averaging 14-7-4 on 43-36-61 shooting splits in just under 30 minutes per game. The Magic have been hurt by season ending injuries to both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac, and are currently 9th in the Eastern Conference at 8-11. Even while he recovers from a torn ACL, Isaac seems to be the future at the 4-position for the Magic as a future Defensive Player of the Year Candidate, and the Magic just drafted power forward Chuma Okeke with the 16th pick in this year’s draft. Gordon is a player who has been in trade rumors for years, and it appears like this year could finally be the year he is traded.
Aaron Gordon careers statistics. Courtesy of basketball-reference.com
The Orlando Magic have seen Gordon transition into a better ball distributor this season after Fultz’s injury, and Gordon’s assist numbers reflect this. Gordon will likely never be a high volume scorer, but he’s a rangy, athletic, do-it-all wing, which is very valuable in the modern NBA. His athleticism extends to the defensive end, where he can easily switch and effectively cover multiple positions. The Magic understand the value in this, and will likely have multiple suitors vying for Gordon’s skills at the trade deadline.
Regarding the Celtics, Aaron Gordon has been discussed all season as a player that the Celtics should target with their exception. After Gordon Hayward’s departure, the Celtics have been thin on the wing, so why not trade out one Gordon for another? As previously mentioned, Aaron Gordon has an $18 million contract for this season, so it would put the Celtics into the luxury tax, which they may not be willing to go into this year. However, I would argue that Gordon is the perfect player for the Celtics to go into the luxury tax for, as he not only is exactly what they need, but he is also signed at a moderate contract beyond this season. To obtain Gordon the Celtics likely will need to include at least a first round pick along with their trade exception, and as it stands, they only have their own picks to offer. It may seem like a steep price, but keep in mind that the Magic will have multiple suitors for Gordon, and young athletic wings that can defend multiple positions and shoot the three-ball aren’t cheap in today’s NBA.
Jonathan Daniel. Getty Images.
If I’m Danny Ainge, I would aggressively pursue Aaron Gordon in a trade. I’d assume that Coach Brad Stevens would also be on board, as he loves multi-positional defenders who can effectively shoot the three. The prospect of having a Walker-Brown-Tatum-Gordon-Theis starting lineup is exciting, as the wing positions of Brown, Tatum, and Gordon would terrorize on defense while also providing some amazing highlights on offense. Furthermore, Gordon should provide a boost to the Celtics’ defense, which safe to say has been rather abysmal this season. Paired up with fellow 2014 draftee Marcus Smart, Gordon and Smart would be a great defensive pairing for the next few seasons.
The Celtics clearly aren’t deep enough to win a championship as constructed, and Aaron Gordon fills a lot of the Celtics’ needs. He’s a complementary scorer, that can provide some high-energy plays, and sound defense. He’s around the same age as Tatum, Brown, and Smart, so he fits the Celtics’ timeline. In my opinion, the Celtics should absolutely be in on Aaron Gordon, even if it means that they are giving up a first-round pick. In all likelihood, the Celtics will be drafting in the 20’s in the first-round for the near future, and Gordon provides more right now than almost all rookie players immediately can. I hope that Aaron Gordon is at the top of the Celtics’ trade exception target list, because he’s definitely at the top of mine.