When the Boston Celtics first executed the Grant Williams sign-and-trade, they received a $6.2 million trade exception, but there were some caveats upon first getting that TPE. It was around that time that the Celtics had crossed the NBA’s first tax apron but were trying to avoid the second tax apron at all costs.
While they could still use the exception in full, they would cross the league’s second tax apron if they acquired a player expensive enough. At the time, it wasn’t worth the harsh restrictions that would come their way for a big who would have been fourth on the Celtics’ frontcourt depth chart.
But then, the Jrue Holiday trade happened.
How the Jrue Holiday trade changed the Boston Celtics’ plans
During Holiday’s press conference, owner Wyc Grousbeck left nothing up for interpretation when he said point-blank that the Celtics would be over the second tax apron for the foreseeable future. Also, with Robert Williams III now gone, the Celtics’ frontcourt rotation coming into the season will be Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Luke Kornet, and Neemias Queta. While that rotation as a whole doesn’t quite scream “Yikes,” it’s far from a sure thing, but the Celtics clearly believe in it.
Joe Mazzulla said the Boston Celtics will “heavily rely” on Kornet this season, per CelticsBlog’s Jack Simone. On familiarity alone, the Green Kornet deserves a fair shot at being the Celtics’ third big, but at the present time, knowing he’s the next man up in the Celtics’ rotation in case one of Horford or Porzingis goes down will make fans understandably grit their teeth a little.
So, with luxury tax restrictions no longer a concern, and after their frontcourt depth took a last-minute hit with the season around the corner, the Celtics now have free reign with the Grant Williams TPE to use it on another frontcourt piece should Kornet not be up to the task as the Celtics’ third big. Who could they target with the trade exception if that’s the case? Let’s look at some options
Andre Drummond – Chicago Bulls – $3.36 million
The Celtics have registered interest in Drummond in the past. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski listed them as a suitor after he was waived by the Cavaliers in 2021. Of course, that was under the Danny Ainge regime, and it was after the team had traded Daniel Theis. Maybe Stevens sees it differently, but even if Drummond’s all-star days are very much in the rearview mirror, he still holds plenty of appeal as a third big.
Drummond has always put up gaudy rebounding numbers, even as he’s been reduced to a backup. In 12 minutes a game with the Bulls during the 2022-23 season, Drummond averaged 6.6 rebounds per Basketball-Reference. For all his faults, Drummond has a nose for the boards. If the Celtics are looking for cheap rebounding more than anything, Drummond is their guy, no questions asked.
The one issue, though, is Drummond’s reputation for being an empty-calories player. Go over his entire career, and you’ll see that his teams have never gotten out of the first round. He has shown that he can help a good team, like when he was Joel Embiid’s backup with the Sixers for a time, but that ended mid-season when he was traded to the Nets, who were later swept in the first round by yours truly. If he were to come to the Celtics to spell Porzingis and Horford, he shouldn’t be able to do too much damage.
Drummond could potentially be available if the Bulls decide either that they’re starting from scratch or if it’s best to move on from him.
Otto Porter Jr. – Toronto Raptors – $6.3 million
For those who don’t know, teams with trade exceptions can acquire players worth up to $100K more than the TPE they have. Because the Williams TPE is $6.2 million, the Celtics can acquire Porter from their division rival. However, whether the Raptors want to help the Celtics is anyone’s guess.
If they do, Porter is the perfect TPE acquisition for the Celtics on paper. At 6’8” with a 7’1” wingspan, Porter can be a stretch big on a winning team, much like he was when he won a title with the Warriors in 2022. Porter thrived playing as a hybrid power forward/center for the Warriors, and they benefited from his size combined with his shooting – 39% career shooter from distance, per Basketball-Reference – that helped them win their fourth title in the Steph Curry era.
But sadly, Porter’s one season of relatively clean health appeared to be a flash in the span. Outside of his lone year in the Bay Area, Porter has played 50 regular season games total since the 2019-20 season. Not a typo. The Celtics know all about acquiring players with injury histories, and Porter would come with the most risks out of anyone Brad Stevens has ever acquired.
Another conundrum is that no one knows what in the hell the Raptors are doing. They have a promising prospect in Scottie Barnes but have a roster built to win now. They let Fred VanVleet walk much as they did with Kyle Lowry, yet paid good money to keep Jakob Poeltl. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby could potentially jump ship this summer. No one knows exactly what the plan is, but if Porter becomes available, his potential as a fit is as compelling as the risk of acquiring him is frightening.
Mike Muscala – Washington Wizards – $3.5 million
Anyone who’s a novice with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement knows the Boston Celtics can’t re-acquire Muscala for a year unless he’s traded to another team. Luckily for them, logic would say that Muscala isn’t long for Washington, seeing as they are starting a new chapter in their franchise by going younger. In that case, there’s not much need for someone like him. Of course, for the Celtics to get him back, he would have to be traded elsewhere, so getting him back to Boston would require quite a chain reaction.
There doesn’t need to be much elaboration on why the Boston Celtics should go after Muscala because, well, they already did that. They got rid of him in the first place only to match salaries in the Porzingis trade and nothing more. He probably would still be a Celtic if that hadn’t been required.
However, regarding whether Muscala is better than Kornet is in the eye of the beholder. Muscala’s not the shot-blocker Kornet is, but he gives them another center who can space the floor. Better yet, he’s a center with the green light when he’s open from three-point land. If anything, were he to be brought back, he would simply give the Celtics more match-up versatility. On some nights, Kornet would be better, and Muscala would be better on others.
In an interview with CLNS Media’s Bobby Manning, Muscala made it clear that he enjoyed his time in Boston despite being as brief as it was. It’s safe to say that he wouldn’t have much issue if he shipped up to the Boston Celtics again.
Dwight Powell – Dallas Mavericks – $4 million
This writer talked about what former Celtics Brad Stevens could acquire a little while back. Technically, Powell fits that bill since he started his career with the Celtics in 2014, even if it was for only a month or so.
On the surface, there’s not much special about Powell. He’s not a floor-spacer. He’s not a shot-blocker. He’s an okay rebounder. He is your run-of-the-mill second unit big when you look at his numbers. However, if you have watched Powell, you can see why the Mavericks have trusted him since his second year in the NBA. The guy brings energy to the floor every minute he’s playing. Powell is always reliable if you want someone who runs the floors, finishes pick-and-rolls, and flushes down lobs. The guy treats every play like it’s his last.
So why would the Mavericks get rid of him? Well, it seems curious that the Mavericks put an emphasis on shoring up their frontcourt depth when they brought in Williams, Richaun Holmes, Derrick Jones Jr., and Markieff Morris. Factoring Maxi Kleber into the mix, and that’s a lot of guys to divide minutes up in the frontcourt. Powell may very well stay put, but if he’s the odd man out, the Cs could use his energy. Plus, as an added bonus, he has familiarity with Porzingis.
At the present time, the Celtics won’t be desperately searching for a big better than Kornet because they have yet to see what he looks like with his promotion in the rotation. For now, they trust him but don’t be surprised if he has a shelf life. If that shelf life proves to be short, don’t be surprised if the Boston Celtics look quickly into utilizing that TPE.