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.
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. You can read more about NBA trade exceptions here and see each Celtic player’s individual contract situation here.
Read about my previous Trade Exception Targets here:
The next entry in the Trade Exception Targets Series is a player that many analysts and fans have identified as a great fit for the Gordon Hayward Trade Exception. As the title reveals, that player is Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes. Barnes is 6’8” wing who is in the theoretical prime of his career at 28 years old. He’s quietly having one of the most complete seasons of his career for the Kings, and is averaging 17-6.5-3.5 in 36 minutes per game. His 3.5 assists is a career high, as is his field goal percentage (50%), three-point field goal percentage (42%) and his effective field goal percentage (58%).
The Kings have been more competitive than expected this season, as seen in their recent victory against the Celtics, and are currently positioned to play in the new play-in tournament as the Western Conference 9th seed. They have a number of young players, including star De’Aaron Fox, rookie Tyrese Haliburton, and sharpshooter Buddy Hield. The Kings also haven’t made the NBA Playoffs since 2006, which is the longest active playoff drought in the NBA. So why would the Kings want to trade Barnes away if he’s helping them make the playoffs this year?
Golden State Warriors.
For one, the Kings’ front office is not always known for making the most sound decisions, and Danny Ainge is known for fleecing teams in deals. Barnes won’t come cheap, but he doesn’t necessarily fit the Kings’ player timeline. He does provide them with veteran experience, but how highly the Kings value this is hard to say. The Kings signed Barnes to a four-year $85 million contract extension in the 2019 offseason, and Barnes is set to make a hefty $22,215,909 this season. However, his contract depreciates in value over the next two seasons, as he will make roughly $20 million in 2021-2022 and $18 million in 2022-2023. I’ve explained that the most the Celtics can use on Hayward Exception this season is around $21 million, and that this would also put them into the luxury tax, so this trade would require some financial finagling. Another player would have to be offloaded, and salary would have to be eaten in order for it to work, but Barnes is exactly the player the Celtics should be targeting with their exception.
Barnes won a NBA Championship with the Golden State Warriors, so he knows what it takes to win. He’s not a spectacular defender, but he’s more than capable, and Brad Stevens’ system typically brings out the best in players defensively. Barnes has excelled as a passer this season, as his 3.5 assists per game is 1.3 more per game than his previous career high. The Celtics pride themselves on deploying wings who are capable passers, as seen in the improved passing of both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. While not a perfect comparison, Barnes could fill the Gordon Hayward role of a secondary ball-handler/scorer, who can either excel alongside the Celtics’ star wings or thrive in a sixth man role.
If the Kings decide to move on from Barnes, it will definitely require compensation beyond the Trade Exception. The Celtics will need to include at least one first round pick in any deal for Barnes, but this shouldn’t be an issue. The Celtics should be drafting in the mid-to-late 20’s of the first round for the foreseeable future, and any player they take in this part of the first round is unlikely to provide an immediate impact like Barnes can. Obviously Boston is trying to win now, and they already have a number of established players along with a mix of young players they have recently drafted. They should be looking to capitalize on the Trade Exception before it expires, and find a player that can help them win now.
Danny Ainge recently said that the Celtics will look to use their exception on a “shooter with size,” and Barnes fits that profile. He’s a 38% career three-point shooter, and he can provide much needed size on the wing. Barnes played the first four seasons of his career on the Warriors, and hasn’t won much since then in his time on the Dallas Mavericks and the Kings. Boston would give Barnes an opportunity to experience a winning culture again, in a complementary role in which he can excel. For a player that is in the prime of their career, contributing to a championship contender after years of playing on conference bottom dwellers should be a welcomed opportunity.
Asked on @Toucherandrich what Boston’s biggest need is with the trade exception, Danny Ainge picks “shooting with size.” Says team is looking for a complete player who can help defensive focus, too. Called traded deadline the sweet spot for likely using TPE.
It’s not up to Barnes, but I believe that he’s a dream candidate for the Trade Exception. His contract is a large one, but he’s played up to it thus far, and it should only improve in value. The Celtics will basically be capped out for the next few seasons as the Jayson Tatum extension kicks in, so they’ll need to be creative in acquiring talent. Barnes is a winner, and I believe that he may be the best possible candidate for the Celtics to obtain with their exception at this year’s Trade Deadline.