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Sam Hauser’s slump could force the Celtics to explore trade options for additional depth

Weighing the pros and cons of a potential TPE addition in light of Hauser’s recent struggles.

Orlando Magic (95) Vs. Boston Celtics (92) At TD Garden Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

With the NBA trade deadline now less than a month away, the Boston Celtics should be exploring options. Considering they have the best record in the league, that may be as simple as taking stock of their roster and preparing for the buyout market. However, with a few TPEs at their disposal, there could be room for additions, especially considering the recent play of one key rotational player.

Sam Hauser began the season on fire, shooting a ridiculous clip from three and immediately earning a spot in the rotation. Head coach Joe Mazuzlla was asked about what Hauser did to receive such consistent playing time, and his answer was simple:

“Not miss.”

Well, unfortunately for Hauser, he’s been missing a bit more regularly as of late. From the beginning of the season through the end of November, Hauser shot 47.9% from distance on 4.4 attempts per game. Since then, he’s shot just 28.8% on 3.2 attempts.

Hauser has been able to maintain his spot in the rotation due to his hustle and surprisingly adequate defense (as outlined by CelticsBlog’s Neil Iyer), but neither of those attributes is why the Celtics employ him. He’s paid to shoot, and if he’s not doing that at a high level, it could lead to some changes in the coming weeks.

Boston inked Hauser to a steal-of-a-contract this past summer - three years, roughly $6 million. The 25-year-old sharpshooter developed with the Maine Celtics last season before earning a call-up amid the team’s attempt to fill roster spots before the postseason. Giving up on a player like Hauser, especially on such a great contract, would be unwise, but that doesn’t mean the Celtics can’t get more help.

His shooting is at the forefront of what Hauser brings to the table, but he also provided the Celtics with crucial wing depth. Behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the team lacks any real help at the wing outside of Hauser. Grant Williams is capable of playing down, and their three point guards - Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon - are all capable of playing up, but it’s not a perfect fit.

In the Celtics’ January 14 win over the Charlotte Hornets, Mazzulla even experimented with Justin Jackson after just a 5-minute stint by Hauser in the first half. He started the fourth quarter, playing some of his first non-garbage time minutes of the season. It may not seem like much, but with him being one of the only other wings on the roster, it could be a sign that Hauser is slowly falling out of favor for the time being.

Celtics insider Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston speculated as much in a January 15 piece, noting the potential need for Brad Stevens to examine potential trade options.

“All of which makes you wonder if Stevens will think a little harder about a potential move to add a big wing before February’s trade deadline. Hauser can aid his own case with a January surge but his court time is eroding and it appears he has to re-earn Mazzulla’s trust.”

The Celtics have a myriad of TPEs at their disposal, but only a couple of them are worth much in terms of adding a usable asset. The bigger of the two significant TPEs is from the Juancho Hernangomez trade and clocks in at roughly $6.9 million via Spotrac. However, that TPE expires on January 19. The second extends through this year’s trade deadline - the Dennis Schroder TPE, worth around $5.89 million. Boston could absorb a deal for 100% of the TPE plus $100,000.

Trading Noah Vonleh to the San Antonio Spurs opened up a roster spot for the Celtics, meaning they could add a player via one of the TPEs without having to give up a player in the deal. Boston would have to be willing to eat the tax hit, however.

But if Boston ownership is willing to bite that bullet, and Stevens believes the move would elevate their title chances, it could be worth it. There are some players around the league who could give the Celtics another option at the wing position for a price that fits into one of the TPEs.

For the larger of the two, there is a fairly small window of players that wouldn’t also fit into the smaller TPE, meaning Boston likely isn’t in a rush to get a deal done in the immediate future. Among those in that small category are Cody Martin ($7 million), Justin Holiday ($6.29 million), Rui Hachimura (6.26 million), and Rudy Gay ($6.18 million). Including non-wings, players such as Jaxson Hayes ($6.8 million) and Khem Birch ($6.66 million) could make sense.

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Most players, however, would be digestible under either of the two TPEs, and the options become a bit more extensive. A few players still on rookie contracts could make sense if their current team has no intention of extending them. Cam Reddish, PJ Washington ($5.8 million; less likely), and Mattisse Thybulle ($4.38 million) could fall under that category.

There are also a few veteran wings who the Celtics could target for depth purposes, but it seems unlikely that any would receive significant minutes over Hauser, which may defeat the purpose - Garrett Temple ($5.15 million) and Derrick Jones Jr. ($3.2 million) are good examples.

All that being said, there are a few legitimately intriguing options Boston could consider. The Detroit Pistons have expressed an openness to trading Saddiq Bey ($2.96 million), although his value is likely a bit rich for Boston’s blood. A deal would almost certainly have to include a first-round pick.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In a similar vein, the Indiana Pacers have reportedly considered moving on from Chis Duarte ($3.94 million). He’s in just the second year of his rookie contract, so he would be under team control for two years past this season. However, Duarte has struggled mightily in terms of efficiency this year, shooting just 33.1% from the field and 29.2% from deep.

As for a potential veteran addition, Torrey Craig ($5.12 million) could be a perfect fit in Boston. He’s having a career year with the Phoenix Suns, so he may not be available, but things could change. If Phoenix makes a long-awaited Jae Crowder trade for an upgrade at the power forward position, Craig’s salary could be included, meaning Boston would potentially have the chance to get involved as a third team.

All-in-all, the Celtics would probably rather see Hauser regain his top-notch form instead of turning to the trade market. They developed him internally, he’s on a great contract, and when he’s in form, he’s shown the ability to be one of the better shooters in the NBA.

However, if the aim is to win a championship this season (which it clearly is), waiting on Hauser to find his footing again may not be good enough. At the very least, the Celtics could be forced to look at potential trade options at the wing position.

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