When Gordon Hayward decided to leave the Celtics and sign a four-year, $120 million deal with the Hornets, there was some concern that yet another Boston star had departed with the team receiving nothing in return.
But all along the Celtics were working to facilitate a sign-and-trade that would at least net them something. On Sunday, the team agreed to send its 2023 and 2024 second-round picks to the Hornets in exchange for a heavily protected second-round pick and a substantial trade exception that is expected to be worth approximately $28 million as part of a sign-and-trade involving Hayward. It is expected to be the largest trade exception in league history.
Initially, it was believed the Hornets would have interest in a sign-and-trade so they would not have to waive and stretch forward Nicolas Batum’s $27 million salary over the next three seasons, creating a $9 million cap hit each year. But the Hornets decided to waive Batum on Sunday anyway.
Still, the sign-and-trade allows them to grab draft assets from the Celtics that they otherwise would not have received if Hayward had signed outright. The Celtics, who had eight second-round picks over the next five years, received a trade exception that does not cost Charlotte anything.
The exception could be quite useful in reshaping this Boston roster that does not have any older veterans on expiring contracts to use in trades. Without an exception, the Celtics would be unable to acquire a high-salary player in a trade without shipping out a similar amount of salary, and that would necessitate breaking up their core group.
Typically, trade exceptions expire after one year, but this one could be erased a bit earlier due to the league’s murky calendar, according to league source. Nevertheless, it is expected to be valid through several weeks of free agency next offseason, giving Boston plenty of opportunities to cash it in. The majority of trade exceptions expire without being used.
The exception can be broken into parts. If, for example, the Celtics used the Hayward exception to acquire a player making $20 million, they would still have an $8 million exception remaining. Boston acquired two much smaller exceptions this month when it traded Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier, but exceptions cannot be combined for a single player. Trade exceptions also cannot be combined with players in a deal.
The Celtics’ signings of center Tristan Thompson and point guard Jeff Teague should now be finalized in short order. Thompson on Saturday posted a picture on Instagram of himself on a private jet with a caption of an arrow pointing to a shamrock emoji, indicating that he was Boston bound.
With its roster nearing completion, the Celtics will now quickly move forward with the upcoming season. Individual workouts are scheduled to begin at the Auerbach Center on Tuesday, followed by group workouts next Sunday. The Celtics will play preseason games against the 76ers on Dec. 15 and the Nets on Dec. 18 before opening the regular season the following week.