The entire world knows Danny Ainge has to do something to improve the Celts roster at next month's trade deadline. He pretty much said so yesterday when he took pretty much all the responsibility for why his team is playing like complete ass for the last month. Even a blind person can see that the Celts stink out loud right now.
While we've been down this road before only to see Ainge do nothing, it's important to remember the context around those previous seasons. A lot of people will reference the disaster 2018-19 season. We all remember it. Ainge was killed for not moving guys like Terry Rozier or Mook at a time where there was too many mouths to feed. But remember, at the time we had no idea if Kyrie's knee would hold up and the roster needed that point guard insurance. Just last year there were people who wanted Ainge to trade players plus 3 first round picks for Davis Bertans at the deadline (despite WSH clearly never really having him available), and he's been pretty brutal since signing his massive $80M dollar deal.
The point is, this season's roster is different. There is still a similar need in terms of point guard insurance due to Kemba's knee, but there really isn't anyone that Ainge should be hell bent on saving outside of maybe Payton Pritchard, and even that's not a guarantee. He made his bed and now he has to deal with the reality that the supporting cast isn't good enough.
There's a lot of talk about using the Hayward TPE, but the more I think about it the less and less I think that's likely. Certainly when it comes to using the whole thing. You have to think of the type of players that fit that salary range and the teams they play for. Everyone is still pretty much in it. Really the only team that should be blowing it up is the Magic, and the popular name you'll hear is Nikola Vucevic. I just don't know why the Magic would unload their best player unless they feel like he's going to fuck up their lottery odds. Even then, they have all the leverage in negotiations. That means Ainge is going to have to overpay. Why shouldn't the Magic ask for like Smart, all the young players they want and then a shit ton of picks? So I'm going to assume something like that is off the table.
But that doesn't mean this team doesn't have tools to improve. You just have to limit your expectations as a fan in terms of what might actually be possible. Don't get bent out of shape when guys like Harrison Barnes aren't on this roster, because they won't even be available. There are still ways to address needs while not dipping into the Hayward TPE. It may not be the sexy blockbuster trade you want, but remember, the Hayward TPE number goes up if they wait until the offseason to use it. That opens up a lot more doors on the player or players they can use with it.
Let's start with the Kanter TPE. It comes in at around $4M. If you susbcribe to the theory that this bench roster needs point guard depth/wing depth/back up big depth, there are certainly low cost options that would be upgrades. You'll need a roster spot to bring in anyone, but that's fine by me. I can find 1-2 guys without a problem. So what could those names look like?
How about someone like Josh Hart.
We know the Pelicans are always looking to stack draft capital. At 6-5 you can play Hart basically at the 2 or the 3 coming off your bench. He's an upgrade over pretty much every available option currently on the roster, and he makes just $3.4M this year. He's also only 25 years old. With the Pelicans being 11-15, maybe they'd be open to something. We know Ainge will have to overpay, so maybe you throw a late 1st in the mix to make it worth it for the Pelicans. Do we really care about an end of the 1st round pick if it can bring in a young player that can help?
On the season, Hart is putting up 8/7/2 on 44/34% splits with 1.3 3PM. He already comes off the bench so he's used to that role. He gives you the position versatility Brad and Ainge love, and he shouldn't be too expensive to the point where you don't have to touch the Hayward TPE.
I feel the same way about someone like Trey Burke.
Now he might be less available since the Mavs are starting to turn things around, but I'm just looking at teams that might be sellers at the deadline for their fringe players. At 13-15, the Mavs might be that team. Burke would come in and instantly be a billion times better backup point guard option than Teague, and he makes just $3.3M this year. That fits into the Kanter TPE, is already used to coming off the bench and is currently putting up 8/1.1/1.6 on 44/39% shooting wirth 1.3 3PM a year. He's a little older at 28, and the Mavs did just sign him to a 3/9M deal, but that third year is a player option. With Jalen Brunson on the roster and their new draft pick Tyrell Terry being the future, maybe someone like Burke becomes available.
I also wonder about someone like Devonte Graham.
You know, one of the guards better than Ben Simmons apparently. The Hornets have their backcourt of the future with Terry Rozier and LaMelo. By all accounts, Graham is having a big-time come down to earth season, and as a RFA the Hornets have a decision to make about his future. We've seen these two teams do plenty of deals already, and maybe a change of scenery is all Graham needs to get back to his 2019-20 version. This could be a prime guy where you could potentially buy a little low. He makes just $1.6M this year, so you technically wouldn't even have to dig into the Hayward TPE. If the Hornets have no interest in paying him moving forward, wouldn't you ask to see if maybe they'd be open to someone like Carsen and a first? He's younger, is locked in for more years before free agency and who knows maybe Hornets would realize that former Celtics seem to explode once they get to Charlotte.
If you want to move to the forward spot, things get a little pricier. Again, you need to look at low cost options on teams that might be rebuilding.
Like Danuel House and the Rockets for example.
The Rockets are rebuilding, we know this. House is actually having a bit of a down year compared to his breakout season last year. He makes just $3.7M so he fits into the Kanter TPE. He is that type of two way player that would fit the Celts system. At 11-16, the Rockets are most likely going to be listening. I know names like PJ Tucker or Eric Gordon are sexier, but you have to remember the cost to get those guys. I'm looking at potential fits that don't require Hayward TPE money. The Rockets need picks, so they can have em. House is only 27 so he does fit the timeline, and he has another guaranteed season after this one before he hits UFA in 2022. I'll give a late first for that. So long as the league doesn't go to a bubble again where you don't have to worry about him fucking someone, it does make some sense. He already comes off the bench, and who knows maybe given his down year it doesn't even cost a first round pick.
While it's certainly possible that Ainge could use both the Kanter TPE and part of the Hayward TPE this trade deadline, I still think that's too unrealistic. It's more likely that he just uses the Kanter TPE and then trades players for players in separate deals. This isn't even factoring in the buyout market because who knows who those players might be.
The point is, it's very very very very very important to temper your expectations and look at the big picture. There are ways Ainge can improve this team's depth without cutting into the biggest asset he has at his disposal. He also doesn't have to limit himself to one player with the Hayward TPE, but I can't get over the fact that anyone that's good that he would want to use it on, play for a team that won't be a seller. The sellers most likely have players that fit into the Kanter TPE, and I think that might be the best approach.
He just can't do nothing. He doesn't have to use the Hayward TPE, that's fine, but he has other tools at his disposal that can improve this team's depth. It certainly won't take much.