The Boston Celtics made their move on February 7, or rather, they made *a* move when they acquired Xavier Tillman from the Memphis Grizzlies. While Tillman likely won't make his debut until February 9 against the Wizards at the earliest, the biggest headline may not necessarily be that the Celtics addressed their frontcourt needs but that acquiring him didn't get in the way of their other avenues to improve themselves.
For the record, that's not to take away from the Celtics adding Tillman to the squad. Boston received plenty of skepticism regarding their frontcourt depth after they traded Robert Williams III to Portland and couldn't re-sign Blake Griffin. Luke Kornet has taken his role as Boston's third big and run with it, and Neemias Queta's shown enough promise that he's become an unexpected fan favorite. Even so, the foundation of the Celtics' frontcourt felt flimsy despite having Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford in their arsenal. Tillman brings another facet to the Celtics' frontcourt. He's not the best athlete, but his defensive IQ is nothing to sneeze at, which should prove useful when the postseason comes around.
Back to the trade itself, there was initial belief that the Celtics acquired Tillman using part of the $6.2 million. Grant Williams trade exception. Doing so would have filled up the C's last roster spot and eaten into what is perhaps their best trade asset at the moment. However, Yahoo Sports' Jake Fischer was the first to confirm that Boston exchanged Stevens for Tillman, meaning the Celtics still have it in full and that they still have one available roster spot.
The Celtics wouldn't do something like this unless they had something else up their sleeve. While, of course, reeling in a big fish knowing the C's cap situation was never in the cards, there's a lot of potential for several moves on the Celtics' end.
Instead of reeling off a bunch of players that the Celtics could target, which MassLive's Brian Robb already did in full detail the other day, here are a few quirks about the trade market right now that make one inquisitive about what Boston could do. However, the way to start this off is to bring up a February 6 report from Fischer where he reported two players who were linked to the Celtics.
"Boston will likely be limited to adding pieces through its $6.25 million traded-player exception with which the Celtics could bring on a veteran target such as Otto Porter Jr., sources said. Another name on Boston’s radar: Nets guard Lonnie Walker, who’s generated a wealth of interest from playoff teams while playing well on a minimum contract, sources said."
Say the smoke is real about both Porter and Walker. Legally, the Celtics could orchestrate a three-way deal between them, the Raptors, and the Nets where the Cs could get Porter ( and Walker from their respective teams, and the Raptors and Nets could come away with nothing. That's because of the two trade exceptions between Grant Williams ($6.2 million TPE) and Justin Jackson (Veteran's minimum exception of $1.8 million). Whether they are in the same deal or two separate deals, there is a scenario where the Boston Celtics can end up with both of them seamlessly.
Then again, for the Celtics to do that, they would also have to create another roster spot since they only have one available. While they could waive one of their end-of-the-bench players like Svi Mykhailiuk or Dalano Banton, they could also combine them, along with the likes of Kornet, Jordan Walsh, and/or Oshae Brissett, to get another potential bench upgrade. Another reported trade target for the Celtics is Delon Wright, per HoopsHype's Michael Scotto. Combining four of those five deals would be enough to get Wright and open up more spots that would let Porter and Walker in. Plus, it opens up the possibility of adding some buyout guys.
One last little wrinkle about the Celtics' Grant Williams TPE and the CBA
At $6.2 million, the Celtics are legally allowed to acquire players who make up to $100K more than the exception, which explains why acquiring Porter is feasible. However, for that same reason, the Celtics can't re-acquire someone like Danilo Gallinari - who they can legally acquire - using the exception because he makes $6.8 million. Here's a funny wrinkle though. If the Celtics acquired Porter, they can re-route him to Detroit to acquire Gallinari completely legally.
Gallinari is only hypothetical in this scenario, but the point is that while the Celtics may very well acquire Otto Porter, they may not do it because they require his services. Outside of his miraculous title season with the Warriors in 2022, Porter has been more of a poster boy for bad injury luck than Gordon Hayward. In the last two years combined, he's played 23 games. What he brings to the court is hypothetical until he proves otherwise. For that reason, the Celtics might be better off seeing who they can match salary-wise in exchange for him. That's his value right now as an asset.
So, hypothetically, the Celtics could come away from the trade deadline with Lonnie Walker, Delon Wright, and Danilo Gallinari despite the limited resources at their disposal. It may sound impossible, but this is is Brad Stevens we're talking about here,
I fully acknowledge that this goes above and beyond the term "overthinking," but that's the fun of the NBA Trade Deadline. Plus, Stevens has always done something since taking over as GM. In 2022, he revamped the bench. In 2023, he acquired frontcourt depth and spacing. It's very possible he only comes away with Tillman when the deadline passes, but there have been quite a few hints that he will aspire to do more.
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