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The Celtics may wait to use the TPE this summer (and that would be a mistake)

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Make a move this year, Danny.

Denver Nuggets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

As you may have seen reported (constantly), the Celtics are in possession of a Traded Player Exception (TPE) from the Gordon Hayward sign and trade. In fact, it is the largest of its kind at $28.5M. They can use that to bring back players without sending back matching salary in return but they have to use it by the end of next summer or it expires.

I’ve been working under the assumption that the team would do everything they can to use at least part of the TPE (it can be split up in pieces) this season to address some very evident holes on the roster. While that is still on the table as an option, some comments from both Wyc Grousbeck and Danny Ainge hedged a bit on that possibility.

via NBC Sports

“We are under a cap situation,” Grousbeck told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger & Mazz. “We are hard-capped at the moment and literally can’t spend more than ($138 million), which is why that TPE is probably going to be more useful — maybe we can use part of it within the hard cap at the trade deadline and if it’s available to us and we want to do it, we’ll do it if the right deal is there. Otherwise, it’s something we will look more to the offseason for.”

Wyc is right about being hard capped, but that only limits the amount of the TPE you can use this season. Our own Keith Smith explains:

When the Celtics used the entirety of the Non-Taxpayer Midlevel Exception to sign Tristan Thompson, they became hard capped. Teams become hard capped by doing any one of three things: using an amount of the Non-Taxpayer MLE that is equal to or greater than the Taxpayer MLE, using any part of the Bi-Annual Exception or acquiring a player via sign and trade.

As it stands right now, the Celtics are roughly $19.6 million under the Tax Apron, which is where a team is hard capped. If Boston sent no money out in a trade (meaning only draft picks), they’d only be able to use about $19.6 million of the Hayward TPE. If they sent a player, and some salary, out, the amount of the TPE they can use goes up accordingly.

It’s important to note that the hard cap designation is for the 2020-21 season only. Once the league year rolls over to 2021-22, everything is reset and Boston won’t be hard capped.

To sum it up: Ainge can use all of the TPE right now, but he’d have to send some salary out in a deal. That’s probably happening anyway. If he waits until the offseason, he can use the entirety of the TPE without sending any salary out.

Danny Ainge added his own comments in order to clarify Wyc’s.

“The timing is important. We would use that trade exception if the right deal came along,” Ainge said. “But I think what Wyc is probably saying is, because we’ve talked about this a lot internally, is that the most likely scenario of a deal that we would want would come along is in the offseason as opposed to the here and now.

“Doesn’t mean we couldn’t use portions of (the TPE) at this point, but that might prevent something bigger in the offseason.”

I get that Danny would not want to reveal too many of his cards. In fact, it would be foolish of him to say that he’s under some sort of mandate to use it this year or hint that he’s in a desperate need to use it. That’s just bad negotiating and poor leverage.

I also understand that you can’t force a deal that isn’t there. If the “right” deal isn’t available, it only makes sense to wait and see what turns up in the summer.

I just hope that he’s taking a very, very long look at using it this year and looking under every available rock to find the right deal. In addition to the very real needs the team has right now and not wanting to waste a year of prime Tatum and Brown, it just makes sense from a roster building perspective.

Most of the guys that would be available in the offseason are also guys that are probably available right now (for the right price). If it takes overpaying a bit (with draft capital or players heading out) in order to get a deal done now and not in the offseason, I’m in favor of that.

Chris Forsberg agrees:

Yes, the market of available players could be a bit more robust, albeit at a time when numerous deep-pocketed suitors — including teams with far more alluring draft assets and young players — could be desperate for impact additions. Yes, the Celtics could be less hindered by cap constraints, at least if they don’t take back a player via sign-and-trade, which would hard cap them yet again and immediately thin the number of available additions.

We’ve seen Danny Ainge kick the can down the road because the right deal didn’t materialize when he wanted it to. As a result, his draft assets became players and they are now largely devalued.

So, don’t wait for the ideal deal, Danny. Make a good deal sooner rather than wait for a slightly better deal later.