Players the Boston Celtics Should Target With Their Disabled Player Exception

The Boston Celtics suffered a huge loss earlier this season with Gordon Hayward’s injury, but they’re getting some help from the NBA. The league has granted the Celtics a $8.4 million disabled player exception for Hayward’s injury. This allows the Celtics the flexibility to improve the roster.

Without Hayward, the Celtics are left without their top wing on the roster. He provides scoring and rebounding, the Celtics two biggest needs in the offseason. The scoring and rebounding have been made up by increased roles for Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but the Celtics could use another player on the roster. Whether that player can shoot, rebound, or both, Danny Ainge has no reason to not use this exception. 

With pending free agents on the roster, Ainge would use the money to acquire an expiring contract or sign a free agent to a one-year deal. Let’s take a look at who the Celtics should target.

Ersan Ilyasova, Atlanta Hawks

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Ersan Ilyasova is the ultimate buy-low option. He started the season extremely slow and is out for the next week or two with a bruised knee. At 1-7 and Ilyasova’s contract expiring, there’s a good chance he’s moved at the deadline. 

Ilyasova would provide the Celtics something they are missing from last seasons team. Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko provided the Celtics bench shooting in their front court and both are no longer in Boston. Trading for Ilyasova would put a bench shooting forward back on the roster. 

If Ainge was to target Ilyasova, it’d take over a month before making a deal. Ilyasova has little trade value, and needs to prove he’s worth adding to a contending roster. Since the Hawks only average 9.5 three-pointers made per game, Ilyasova will get plenty of playing time when he returns from injury to increase his value. Ainge wouldn’t lose more than a few second-round picks to acquire Ilyasova. 

Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers

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Danny Ainge is known for targeting players he likes, and he’s liked Jahlil Okafor since his days at Duke. Coming out of Duke, Okafor was one of the top prospects in the draft. He didn’t live up to the hype and is about to make his way out of Philadelphia.

If Okafor gets bought out, the Celtics are in a great position to sign him. He’d be joining a contending team with a coach who’s known for getting the best out of his players. The only problem is he’d be fighting for minutes with Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis. Okafor will need to play defense if he wants to play center for Brad Stevens. 

The 76ers are more likely to trade Okafor to get some value in return. With the consistent headaches surrounding Okafor, it won’t take much to acquire him. The only difficult part for Ainge is the Celtics are division rivals with the 76ers. Luckily, the Celtics have enough picks to get this deal done. 

Marco Belinelli, Atlanta Hawks

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With a need for a bench shooter, there aren’t many better in the NBA than Marco Belinelli. He’s continued that role with the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s on pace to break his own scoring record. Belinelli is averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting a ridiculous 48.9 percent from three. The Celtics are middle of the pack from three, averaging a 14th best 36.2 percent. 

The Celtics currently have four guards on the roster and none of them are spot-up shooters. With Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris and Daniel Theis in the second unit, Belinelli would provide a huge offensive boost. Ainge would have to move a late first-round pick to get a deal done. He’s shown in the past he doesn’t like to move those for an expiring deal, but Belinelli is worth it. 

Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks

Photo: Jerome Miron, Jerome Miron

Nerlens Noel went through almost an entire offseason expecting a long-term contract from the Dallas Mavericks. After over a month and a half of negotiating, he signed a one year, $4.1 million qualifying offer with the Mavericks. Not reaching a long-term deal leaves a bad taste in Noel and his agents mouth.  

To make things worse, Noel isn’t off to a great start this season. He’s averaging 6.9 points in 19.1 minutes per game. Both are career lows.

If his minutes stay low and friction increases between Noel and the front office, they may be stuck moving on from Noel. He’s on an extremely team-friendly contract, so most NBA teams have the cap space to add Noel to their roster. The Celtics have expressed interest in Noel before the Philadelphia 76ers sent him to Dallas. Noel provides elite shot blocking and rebounding, which is why Ainge has always had interest. Horford’s all-around game and Noel’s paint presence would make a perfect front court match. If the Celtics want to contend in the Eastern Conference, they need to keep adding toughness into their front court. Losing a first, or two, is a guarantee to get Noel. 

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