The first in-season trade by Brad Stevens as Celtics president of basketball operations was a bit of a puzzling one at first glance. Boston traded for a pair of players in PJ Dozier and Bol Bol who won’t see an NBA court for the foreseeable future.

Dozier, 25, tore his ACL in late November, ending his season after just 18 games. Meanwhile, Bol underwent foot surgery this week that will sideline him for the next 8-12 weeks. That puts the 22-year-old on a timeline to return to action right as Boston is gearing up for the postseason, not exactly the best time to get a close look at a young player who is set to become a free agent this offseason.

So why exactly did the Celtics decide to acquire a pair of bodies who won’t be able to help them this season? It all comes down to money and flexibility.

Juancho Hernangomez is earning $7 million this season and the final year of his contract next year is unguaranteed, which essentially makes him an expiring contract. With the power forward out of Boston’s rotation all year long, dumping his deal for two players who earn a combined $4 million nets Boston $3 million in savings. If the Celtics desire, they could also open up a new traded player exception worth $7 million with this deal by taking the salaries of Dozier and Bol into their current trade exceptions.

Boston waived Jabari Parker earlier this month to open up a 15th roster spot, and that opening will come in handy here to take in Bol and Dozier without waiving another player. In the meantime, the Celtics have begun their descent below the NBA luxury tax threshold, which league sources tell MassLive is expected to be a priority for the team in absence of a blockbuster deal.

Boston is about $1.5 million above the tax line now after the Hernangomez trade when factoring in that Jaylen Brown’s potential bonus for making an All-Star game and playing 65 games are unlikely to hit this year ($1.5 million). That small amount is something that Stevens should easily be able to move ahead of Feb. 10 without compromising any other potential objectives in the coming weeks.

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Last trade deadline, the Celtics were burned at the last minute before the trade deadline when they needed to dump significant money to get under the tax line after acquiring Evan Fournier. That resulted in the team giving away two useful players, Daniel Theis and Javonte Green, to the Bulls for no return (and sending cash with them to help cover their salaries. Tuesday’s trade is a preemptive strike from forcing Stevens into a similar predicament ahead of next month’s deadline if he finds a deal he wants to make that adds salary.

The easiest path for Boston to get below the luxury tax now will be simply dealing one of its minimum-level players (Bol, Dozier, Bruno Fernando) to a team with some cash. There are numerous teams around the league that would be willing to be a dumping ground for a move of that sort.

There’s also the possibility that a bigger trade involving veteran names or young reserves could achieve the same objective. However, the priority in any of those deals won’t simply be dumping money for Boston, as getting value for the player in talent or future picks will factor in more as well.

Whether or not Bol or Dozier will even last in Boston beyond a few weeks remains to be seen as more moves are made. The Celtics will have Bird Rights on Dozier, but it’s unclear if the former Maine Red Claws guard will be ready to play at the start of next season as he recovers from a torn ACL. Dozier probably won’t get more than the veteran’s minimum next season, anyway, so those Bird Rights don’t hold meaningful value at this point. Bol will likely just be a minimum-level player upon hitting free agency as well.

The bottom line here? The Celtics were able to dump some money and gain some flexibility without giving up any draft capital, and that’s a win for Brad Stevens in his first in-season trade. Far tougher decisions loom in the next few weeks as choices are made about the team’s supporting cast, but the Celtics got off on the right foot in what could be a busy deadline for the franchise.


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