Celtics trade season guide: What Brad Stevens can do to upgrade roster for title push

The Celtics jumped to the NBA’s best record for the first two months of the season, but they received a recall against the Warriors on Saturday night that they still have vulnerable parts of the list. With Brad Stevens and his front office focus on maximizing the team’s title chances in the coming months and beyond, this week becomes an important step in this process with the unofficial start of the trading season starting on December 15th.

Stevens has been very active in his first year in charge of Boston’s front office in 2021-22, completing four mid-season deals that have helped set the Celtics up for a surprise run at the NBA Finals. A year later, Boston’s core looks stronger than ever, but there are plenty of important questions on the sidelines that Stevens will need to consider as he puts the finishing touches on this team in the weeks ahead.

So what realistically can and can’t Stevens do when the trade season starts on Thursday? Let’s take a look at some of the options available to him over the next two months:

Why is the start of the commercial season on December 15 anyway?

This is the date most free agents signed this offseason are eligible to be distributed in the league year. As of Thursday, 74 free agents who were inked in offers this offseason are eligible to be moved. Since training camp, there have been no trades due to the blocking of players who could not be moved in the league. Now, most teams don’t have any restrictions on moving talents.

Which new Celtics players are now eligible for distribution from December 15?

Six new players are now eligible to be processed by Boston after signing with Boston this offseason. A few of those names won’t go anywhere (for now) as Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet and Blake Griffin are all playing on team-friendly minimum offers while serving as key players in the bench rotation. the team with Rob Williams still on the sidelines.

The biggest names to watch when it comes to players newly eligible to receive are a few players at the bottom of the list (Noah Vonleh, Justin Jackson) and injured forward Danilo Gallinari. Vonleh and Jackson are strictly in depth at this point and their full salaries are not guaranteed for the year until Jan. 10. Meanwhile, the rehabilitated Gallinari could serve as an important player for salary-matching purposes if Boston finds a good candidate for a player they want to add to the rotation to earn mid-tier money.

Are there any Celtics that cannot be given away?

Technically, no. Al Horford just signed a two-year extension with the Celtics earlier this month, but the deal does not affect his commercial eligibility.

What other tools do the Celtics have to make a trade?

The team still holds six trade exceptions created over the past year, but there are only two notable ones that will be useful in any potential deal:

  • $6.9 million (Juancho Hernangomez trade, expires 1/19/23)
  • $5.9 million (Dennis Schroder trade, expires 2/10/23)

The Celtics also got a disabled player exception for Danilo Gallinari worth $3.2 million. They can use it to trade for a player whose contract is expiring or sign a player in the free agency buyout market this year to a one-year contract. In all likelihood, it will be the latter option if they choose to use it, as few players in the trading market make less than $3.2 million.

The other important thing to note with all of these options is that the Celtics currently have about $25 million more than the luxury tax with their current roster. Any extra money the team adds to the roster will cost upwards of five dollars in tax penalties, which will be a consideration in one form or another for any talent the Boston brass are seeking.

List exchange options

At times, it’s been hard to find fault with one of the NBA’s deepest teams this season, especially before Rob Williams made his return later this month. However, Boston’s defensive struggles against the Warriors on Saturday night served as a reminder that some extra mobile depth with size could be an area to target behind Williams and Al Horford. Blake Griffin and Luke Kornet have served as backup centers admirably this year, but their defensive limitations could be a concern if they’re forced to act in the playoffs. Whether Boston has the wherewithal to acquire a player to fill that mold with one of its trade exceptions or some other tool remains to be seen.

Logically, the other two areas of the roster that could be upgraded are at the end of Boston’s bench. Noah Vonleh and Justin Jackson are playing on unsecured deals so they can be cut without a salary penalty before Jan. 10. Signing a player on the buyout market or using a TPE to upgrade either are options Stevens could consider to further bolster Boston’s depth.

The other joker in play here is also with reserve guard Payton Pritchard. The point guard was a key part of Boston’s rotation last year in their run to the NBA Finals, but he’s been the odd man out this season after Malcolm Brogdon was added in an offseason trade. The Celtics could obviously keep Pritchard for depth and insurance purposes since he still has one year left on his rookie contract. On the other hand, finding an upgrade to another domain on the list might become easier if Pritchard is made available in said agreement. Gallinari’s contract ($7m) will also come in handy for salary matching, but overall it’s a negative for a player coming out of a torn ACL (Gallinari has a player option next year) .

All things considered, the Celtics are in a position where they don’t belong, but that won’t stop the team’s brass from looking on the sidelines over the next two months to build the best possible contender ahead of the playoffs.

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