Celtics trade exception options, dealing into first round? Four things to watch for during Boston’s draft night

The Celtics enter the 2022 NBA Draft holding just one second-round pick for the second straight season. It will be a long wait before Boston makes their only selection of the night with the No. 53 overall pick after the team traded away its first-round selection as part of the package that landed Derrick White at the trade deadline. Despite holding what on paper will be a relatively inconsequential pick, it could be a very eventful night for Boston’s front office on a variety of fronts. Let’s take a closer look at what to watch for and how moves around the league could impact Brad Stevens’ plans.

1. Will Boston use any of their trade exceptions? Draft night is generally one of the biggest days on the league calendar when it comes to player movement. The Celtics still hold three substantial trade exceptions, including the Evan Fournier TPE which is worth $17.2 million and expires in the middle of next month. Boston also holds a pair of smaller exceptions for Juancho Hernangomez ($6.9 million) and Dennis Schroder ($5.9 million). Boston is highly unlikely to use any of these trade exceptions to land a free agent via a sign-and-trade due to hard cap limitations such a move would trigger. Therefore, trading for a player under contract already is the best path to using these exceptions and the Celtics could seize some opportunity on this front on draft night with plenty of movement across the league. Boston’s also dealing with a time deadline with the most impactful exception (Fournier) so pouncing on a potential fit now could help the team better prioritize their free agent needs. There’s no direct pressure for Boston to use these tonight but the sense of urgency to take action will only grow with them in the coming weeks.

2. How badly does Boston want a first-round pick? Last year was the first time since 2009 that the Celtics did not use a first-round pick. While Boston’s roster was pretty crowded with youth last year, a good amount of that logjam has been cleared out when it comes to guaranteed contracts. The Celtics will have a spot or two for young talent on their roster that could help fill a need and finding cost-controlled talent will be a priority in the future for this group as the team’s payroll grows in the coming years. With other teams potentially looking to move a late first-round pick for more flexibility, the Celtics reportedly have been in the hunt to snag a pick at the tail end of the first round. Boston has limited draft assets at their disposal so it will be fascinating to see where Boston is willing to sacrifice a bench contributor (Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams Aaron Nesmith) in such a deal. For a guy like Williams, the Celtics would probably want more than just a first-round pick coming back.

3. Will the Celtics try to dump some excess bench salary? Boston is already looking at a significant luxury tax bill this offseason without taking into account the possibility of adding more salary with sizable trade exceptions. That could lead the front office to explore different ways on draft night to try to trim down some salary in order to create more flexibility in adding trade or free agent targets. Daniel Theis ($27 million over the next three years) is a candidate to be moved for a cheaper replacement although Boston would likely have to sweeten the deal to dump his salary. If the team isn’t convinced Aaron Nesmith can play his way into the rotation, the team could try to move him now for an asset and avoid committing $5 million for the 2023-24 season. Grant Williams’ long-term future (free agent after next year) makes him a player to watch on this front as well if Boston isn’t interested in paying him a pricy deal starting in 2023.

4. Could the Celtics work their way in as a facilitator in a multi-team trade? Boston holds more trade exceptions than any team in the league on draft night and while most of them are for insignificant amounts, three could hold value for teams looking to deal. The Celtics will be in the market for upgrading talent first and foremost but taking on some unwanted salary in order to gain a future asset (which could lead to an upgrade elsewhere) is something Danny Ainge did masterfully during his tenure in Boston. Brad Stevens may try to follow his lead on Thursday night if he has his sights on a bigger fish and needs more resources for a convincing offer.