Boston Celtics officially waste the Gordon Hayward trade exemption

Evan Fournier #94 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Evan Fournier #94 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

While deals can’t be officially announced until August 6th, the NBA’s free agency period kicked off yesterday when teams were allowed to negotiate deals with free agents.

Deals came in quick and often for some teams; others not so much. Among the quietest teams in the league was the Boston Celtics.

For those who pay close attention to the Celtics, this should come as no surprise. The Celtics are strapped for cash at the moment, and will most likely continue to do their work through the trade market.

The Celtics have been active in the trade market, and appear likely to be building up cap space to try to lure in another star next offseason.

While Boston didn’t add anyone, they did lose a couple players on the opening day of free agency. Bench forward Semi Ojeleye signed a one year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, putting an end to his time in Boston. The bigger player who departed was Evan Fournier, who signed a four year, $78 million deal with the New York Knicks.

While it seemed increasingly unlikely Fournier was going to re-sign with the Celtics, his departure officially put an end to an almost year long saga known as the Gordon Hayward trade exemption. The Celtics were in prime position to add another star to pair with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but instead ended up with Josh Richardson, who was recently brought in through a trade with the Dallas Mavericks.

How did the Boston Celtics mess this up so badly?

For those who don’t remember, when Gordon Hayward signed with the Charlotte Hornets last offseason, the Boston Celtics were awarded a massive trade exemption that was worth around $28 million. It was set to expire before the new league year (hence why the Richardson deal was hastily announced), giving Boston ample time to find a player who’s contract fit the exemption.

As the Celtics struggles persisted last season, the front office became increasingly pressured into making a move to utilize the exemption. That led to the trade deadline acquisition of Fournier. Fournier’s deal was currently worth around $17 million, so he ended up taking up a huge chunk of the Hayward exception.

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This move was really only going to be worth it if Fournier re-signed with Boston, or they somehow ended up winning a championship because of it. The front office felt the pressure to make a move, and they ended up forcing a deal for Fournier that probably should have never happened.

Rather than save up and try to swing a deal for a star once the season ended, Boston panicked and ended up with a guy on an expiring contract. As a result, they just watched a huge piece of their Gordon Hayward trade exemption walk out the door for nothing when he signed with New York.

Now that’s not to say Boston should have re-signed him. Fournier struggled for most of his time in Boston. Admittedly he didn’t have the easiest go of it considering he spent as much time in COVID protocols as he did on the court, but there weren’t many reasons for Boston to re-sign Fournier when free agency opened.

Boston also just didn’t have the cap space to compete with the Knicks here. They are clearly trying to maximize their cap space for next season, and re-signing Fournier would have thrown a wrench in that plan before it could have even gotten started. Fournier also didn’t really justify the mammoth deal he got from New York during his time in Boston.

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Even after they moved for Fournier, Boston still had about $11 million left on the trade exemption, which ended up being used to acquire Richardson. Richardson isn’t a bad player, but he certainly isn’t Gordon Hayward. To end up with just Richardson as a result of the trade exemption is a massive disappointment.

After being armed with a $28 million trade exemption and tons of possibilities, the Boston Celtics botched it, and are trying to claw their way out of a sticky situation. They could have had an opportunity to add another star alongside Tatum and Brown, but now will have to wait until next offseason to even have a shot of accomplishing that goal. Here’s to hoping they don’t mess up that opportunity like they did this one.