Celtics Trade Options: John Collins or the Hayward TPE

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Another year, another trade deadline where the Boston Celtics seem to be “interested” in every player. In the midst of constant rumors, Boston has stood pat at the deadline in recent years. Their last real in-season trade was all the way back in February 2015 when they acquired Isaiah Thomas. Now, the urge to make a mid-season move seems greater than ever. Boston stands in a tough spot with a lot of options. They have an underperforming roster with loads of money tied to its future. They also own the largest Traded Player Exception in NBA history thanks to Gordon Hayward. What it boils down to is the Celtics’ potential trade options are John Collins or the Hayward TPE.

The Potential Options

John Collins

After turning down a $90 million extension from the Atlanta Hawks earlier this year, Collins’ name has been thrown around a lot in trade discussions. He’s still on his rookie deal, but likely demands a massive contract come free agency. Trading for him now is a huge risk. What it comes down to for Boston is: how desperate they are? The Hawks have said the price for Collins would be steep. So…

Celtics trade for: John Collins

Hawks trade for: Romeo Langford/Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams, and at least one first-rounder.

Steep price indeed. If the Celtics decide to make an all-in push, this may be what it costs. The Hawks have currently won eight straight games, and Collins has been a key contributor during this stretch. The streak has catapulted Atlanta all the way up to the fourth seed in the East, albeit just three games above the 10th seed. If Atlanta is keen on contending and believes they can re-negotiate with Collins come the summer, he’s going nowhere. However, if they can get a haul for him and avoid losing him for nothing, that’d be in their best interest.

As for the Boston side of this coin, Collins is a great fit basketball-wise. The Celtics lack frontcourt depth and especially lack frontcourt scoring. The current double-big lineup has been incompatible, to say the least. Having a true four in the frontcourt instead of two centers could solve everything. Collins is young, athletic, and has decent range for a big man. The Celtics have had reported interest in him for weeks now. It’s just that the financials is what could keep Danny Ainge from pulling the trigger.

Collins actually fits into the other TPE the Celtics have when they made a trade to give up Enes Kanter. So a move here doesn’t infringe on the Hayward TPE. Boston would also acquire his bird rights in a trade, so they could in theory offer him the big deal he wants. The cost would be tremendous though. The cap hit the Celtics would endure would be high; so high they’d likely need to move Marcus Smart or Kemba Walker. That seems farfetched. Smart is the heart and soul of the team. Walker’s trade value may be so low that Boston decides it’s better to just hold on to him. Altogether, this move seems like a longshot. It only happens if the Celtics transition to win-now mode and Atlanta fears Collins walks. Fear not, however, as there’s still that Hayward TPE to use. Right?

The Hayward TPE

Boston has $28.5 million that they can take on as part of this Traded Player Exception. That means that outside of Andre Drummond (who makes $28.6 million) Boston can trade for almost any player on the market. However here’s the thing about the Hayward TPE. Boston doesn’t have to use it just yet if they don’t want to. The question to ask is this: do any of those players listed above make Boston a legitimate title contender? A team that can beat the likes of the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers in the East? I think the answer is no.

Now, would any of the aforementioned players at least make the Celtics a better team? Yes. They could use half of the TPE on someone like Harrison Barnes now, and save the rest for the offseason. Barnes has been most heavily linked to Boston and would offer them needed scoring and depth on the wing. Yet there’s an opportunity cost there that can’t go unnoticed.

Ainge has been no stranger to blockbuster offseason trades. Acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007. Swapping Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving in 2017. With increased financial flexibility in the offseason (the Celtics won’t be hard-capped like they are now), playing the waiting game with the TPE sounds more fruitful. Boston could look to acquire a proven star to complement its core, instead of mortgaging its future on a solid starter.

Decisions, Decisions

Expectations in Boston are always high, and Ainge’s lack of moves at times is maddening. Using the Kanter TPE on Collins is possible, but more so a dream than reality. Using the Hayward TPE now satisfies immediate team needs, but negates getting a big-name star.

I say: unless they can get Collins, Boston should stand pat. Again.

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