Celtics

Danny Ainge on how the Celtics might use the trade exception following Gordon Hayward’s departure

"We'll have the ability to improve our team."

Danny Ainge James Harden.
Danny Ainge said the Celtics have no players they want to cut at this time. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

A few days after the Celtics received the largest trade exception ($28.5 million) in NBA history in the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets, President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge clarified that the Celtics aren’t going to do anything with that newly acquired cash right now.

“Let’s see how this season goes, where we are,” Ainge said Tuesday morning on Toucher & Rich. “We’ll have the ability to improve our team at the trade deadline, and next offseason if not.”

The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn described trade exceptions as “like trade coupons” and said the Celtics’ ability to get such a sizable amount back should help their odds to compete with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

Washburn said the Celtics have options for how they can use the exception before it expires next season – mentioning the trade deadline as a possible point to pounce. The exception will allow them to add to their roster without having to move any of their current players.

NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg pointed out that the Celtics may not want to splurge too much to ensure they don’t “exceed the tax apron” of $138 million. Forsberg – who said the Celtics “have motivation” to stay completely below the tax line of $132 million to make things easier when Jayson Tatum’s max extension kicks in – mentioned forwards Harrison Barnes and Aaron Gordon, among other options, as potential targets.

Ainge made it clear that electing to not get a player in return for Hayward helped open up the mid-level exception and allowed the Celtics to sign Tristan Thompson. He also pointed out that the plan is to build around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart going forward. Ainge said he “couldn’t be happier” about having Tatum and Brown as the franchise’s cornerstones.

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Later in the day, when Ainge spoke with reporters, he said he anticipated that Hayward might leave the Celtics. He noted that Hayward left, in part, because he wanted a larger role in an offense.

Ainge said the Celtics talked to “maybe three or four teams” about sign-and-trades with Hayward, including the Pacers. He said he’s grateful for Hayward’s contributions and dedication, noting that Hayward missed the birth of his son to be with the team in the bubble.

“Our No. 1 option was getting Gordon to come back,” Ainge told reporters. “And, so all the way to the end, we thought we were.”

He said the roster will likely look the way it does now to start the season, because there are no players the Celtics want to cut and they’re pleased with both their core and their depth.

Ainge also discussed the status of point guard Kemba Walker, who will miss the start of the season due to a lingering knee issue. He said Walker is on a program and seems to be in a “very good, happy spot.”

“Maybe we didn’t do him justice by bringing him back too fast in the bubble, being hurt and finding some urgency during the regular season,” Ainge said. “We don’t want to make that mistake, if it was a mistake, this time. I’m not blaming anybody. But it’s not a perfect science. It’s guesswork, and we’re trying to do the best with the information that we have and get him as strong and healthy as he can be so he can make it through the year.”

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Ainge also praised newly acquired veterans Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague, calling Thompson “mobile” and “a really good roller” and Teague as someone who “still has some juice” and can “bridge the gap” with Walker out.

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