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 trade 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. You can read more about NBA trade exceptions here and see each individual Celtic player's contract situation here.
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.
Read about my previous Trade Exception Targets here:
Next up in the Trade Exception Target series is Oklahoma City Thunder guard George Hill. The savvy veteran is 34 years old, and playing on a rebuilding Thunder team, so he’s a prime trade candidate for this year’s NBA Trade Deadline. Hill is set to make $9,590,602 for the 2020-2021 season, and is also under contract next season for $10,047,297. If Hill wasn’t under contract next season, he’d be a prime buy-out candidate, though he will likely be traded to get something of value for the pick-hoarding Thunder.
Jerome Miron. USA Today Sports.
This season, Hill has averaged 12-3-2 on 51-39-84 shooting splits in 14 games. Hill has started all 14 games he has played for the Thunder, and averages around 26 minutes per game. The Thunder are in 11th place in the Western Conference at 8-10, and are built around 22-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, so they’re not looking to contend this season. They have a number of veteran players on their roster beyond Hill, including Trevor Ariza and old friend Al Horford, but at this point, Hill is the most appealing of the bunch.
While never a star, Hill has long been a productive player for a number of contenders. He was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2008, where he played with Tim Duncan under Gregg Popovich. He was then traded to the Indiana Pacers for what became Kawhi Leonard, where he played alongside Paul George as the Pacers twice made the Eastern Conference Finals. He then played for the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings, until he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where played in the 2018 NBA Finals and was swept by the Warriors. Hill also played two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, and made the playoffs both years, including another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019. He’s been on multiple contending teams, and he is an established veteran in the NBA.
At this point in his career, Hill is best suited for a bench position on a contender. He’s a 38% career three-point-shooter, and has provided sound defense at the guard position for years. Intelligent 3-and-D players are highly sought after commodities for contenders, and you can never have enough. Hill is still a capable scorer, as evidenced by his 22 points on 9-12 shooting on January 24th and his 21 point debut for the Thunder on December 26th. In a complementary role, Hill could provide some fantastic playoff moments to help a contender as he chases an NBA championship.
Regarding the Celtics, I believe that Hill is a suitable candidate for their trade exception. He would only take up a portion of it (roughly $9.5 million of the maximum $21 million), meaning that the Celtics could potentially use the rest of the exception to address other areas of need. Guard is admittedly not one of the Celtics’ greatest areas of need, but if you’ve watched any games this season, you know that the Celtics’ guard rotation has been ravaged by injuries. Kemba Walker, Payton Pritchard, Marcus Smart, Romeo Langford, and Carson Edwards all have missed time this year, leaving the only constants in the guard rotation to be two-way player Tremont Waters and Jeff Teague (yikes). Hill would provide a consistent veteran presence off the Celtics’ bench, something that Jeff Teague was supposed to do. Hill would fit in well with Brad Steven’s style of play, as a complementary ball handler that can play effectively as a spot-up shooter.
If I were Danny Ainge, I would definitely be monitoring the Thunder’s asking price for George Hill. If it’s steep, I’ll probably stay away, as there are better options available and greater areas of need, and Romeo Langford may yet provide some help for the Celtics once he’s back. The number of Celtic guard injuries does concern me, especially Kemba’s knee, and George Hill would alleviate some of these concerns. Consider him a security blanket option. It would be enticing to acquire Hill, and then use the rest of the exception on a wing or a big, but it would also mean that some players currently on the Celtics roster would need to be waived or traded. For these reasons, Hill isn’t my first choice, but if the Celtics’ guard injuries continue, he may become a necessary one.