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:
Next up in the Trade Exception Target series is Kevin Huerter. The Atlanta Hawks drafted Huerter with the 19th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s only 22 years old, and is listed as a 6’7” shooting guard, who came into the league as a great three-point shooter. In his three years with the Hawks, he has played as the team’s starting shooting guard, alongside fellow 2018 draftee Trae Young. In 20 games this season, Huerter is averaging 11-4-3 on 41-39-75 shooting splits in roughly 31 minutes per game.
This season, Huerter has only started 9 of the 20 games he has played, and the Hawks could look to trade him at this year’s NBA Trade Deadline. Huerter’s name was floated around in trade rumors leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft, and while the Hawks decided to keep him then, they might decide to move on from him now. The Hawks made a number of big moves when they signed Bogdan Bogdanović to a 4-year / $72,000,000 contract and Danilo Gallinari to a 3-year / $61,425,000 contract this offseason. While Bogdanović and Gallinari have only played in 18 total games this season, the Hawks have a lot of money tied up to these two players for the foreseeable future. The Hawks are a young team that is about to become very expensive, as forward John Collins will be a restricted free agent this summer, and Trae Young will also be eligible for a max extension. Having a lot of good young players is a good thing until you can’t pay them all, so Huerter may be the odd man out.
Jacob Kupferman. AP Photo.
Huerter profiled as a three-point shooter coming into the league, and thus far he has lived up to that expectation. In three seasons, he’s averaged 38% from three on roughly five attempts per game. After a promising rookie season where he made the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, Huerter only improved in his second season. In his third season with the Hawks, Huerter is averaging statistically less points, rebounds, and assists while shooting a lower eFG% this year. The Hawks are deeper than they were last season, but a third-year drop-off can’t be what they hoped for from Huerter, especially as extended playing time has opened up for him due to injuries.
While not a great defender, Huerter is smart and capable enough to make a sound play on the defensive end. What he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for by being in the right spot and recognizing plays. He has thrived as a secondary ball-handler while playing with Trae Young, and his effectiveness as a shooter makes him a valuable player on the offensive end. Huerter does sometimes make the highlight play or flashy dunk, and he has a great stop-and-go floater game. Huerter is someone who knows how to beat his defender, and while I wouldn’t say he’s quick or shifty, he is fun to watch.
Huerter is under contract for next season with a cap-hit of $4.25 million, which is a cheap price to pay for a quality young player. The Hawks would undoubtedly be selling low on Huerter if they opt to trade him at the deadline, but their front office may be hesitant to pay every player currently rostered. The Hawks could decide to push for a playoff spot this season, and take some more time to decide who they extend. However, they would undoubtedly be selling even lower on Huerter if they decide to trade him at next year’s deadline, so the pressure is on for a decision to be made.
For the Celtics, I would definitely recommend they target Kevin Huerter. I don’t think it’s a given that he is traded this year, especially if the Hawks continue to be hit by injuries, but Huerter is an intriguing talent. He would come cheaply in terms of the exception, as he only makes roughly $2.8 million this year, so the Celtics could technically use their Enes Kanter trade exception on him. They would almost certainly have to include a pick with the exception to get Huerter, unless the Hawks are absolutely desperate to offload him. This is still an avenue I would pursue if I were Danny Ainge, as Huerter gives the Celtics a young player that can help the team win right now.
Huerter could start alongside Kemba Walker at shooting guard, or he could be a valuable player off of the Celtics’ bench. The Celtics bench has been better than expected thus far, but Huerter could provide a consistent scoring presence that they currently lack. Huerter is only 22 years old, so he’d fit in with the rest of the Celtics’ core players in terms of age. Huerter’s prograss stagnated as the Hawks brought in more veteran players this offseason, and he could flourish in a new environment. If the Celtics acquire Huerter, they’d have an opportunity to evaluate a young player that could become a part of their future. I envision Huerter as playing the role Aaron Nesmith isn’t ready to play. The Celtics need shooting and consistent scoring off the bench, and Huerter would supply both of these things. If the Hawks decide to move from Huerter, “Trader Danny” better get on the phone.