Per this ESPN report, the Boston Celtics are having to make some hard roster choices now that Gordon Hayward has agreed to their 4 year, $128 million deal. The main sticking point: Boston can’t actually pay him that without making some roster moves that will almost certainly involve at least one of Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart. From the report:

The Celtics have to make a complicated series of moves to create enough space to sign Hayward to the full max. But because the salary cap did not rise as much as projected, they likely will have to trade one or more of those three players to sign Hayward. Sources told ESPN that Boston has discussed trade concepts involving Smart, Crowder and Bradley with at least half a dozen teams on Wednesday.

From a Nuggets perspective, all three are interesting options. Jae Crowder has the most years remaining on his deal (three, all under $8 million per season) and fills a position of need for Denver at small forward. Right now the Nuggets have Wilson Chandler there but he is only signed for one more guaranteed year (‘18-19 is a player option). He is also injury prone, and as our own Adam Mares recently pointed out on his Locked on Nuggets podcast he’s probably better at the 4 than the 3 at this point. Juancho Hernangomez is another combo forward but he had some defensive struggles last year as he adjusted to the NBA.

Crowder does not struggle defensively. He does struggle when he does not get enough credit from a home crowd, as when he complained earlier this year about Hayward getting some cheers from Celtics fans. He’s criminally underpaid, which Denver also likes. Now that Hayward will be joining Boston and they have young wing Jaylen Brown to get minutes from, Crowder may be crowded out despite being an outstanding player who fits how Boston plays.

Marcus Smart is more like Emmanuel Mudiay with good defensive chops, which would draw plenty of interest in Denver as well. His contract is up after the upcoming season but he’s eligible for an extension. He isn’t improving on the offensive end but his tenacity on defense would be a welcome sight against opposing ball-handlers.

Avery Bradley is the better mix of offensive and defensive skills in the backcourt. He too has just one year remaining and is eligible for an extension. He’s several million dollars more expensive than Smart this year, and doesn’t quite have Smart’s size or bull-strength either. He’s a tenacious defender who surprised several people by being off the All-Defense teams this season thanks to some injuries, however, and his three-point shooting percentage isn’t in the 20s, so he’s a better fit for Denver’s spacing offense.

Denver would likely have to find a third team to make a trade work, as they are packed to the rafters with players already and the Celtics are trying to cut salary – they won’t be taking expensive players back. The Celtics would rack up a huge luxury tax bill if they extended Bradley and Smart after this season so they were always likely to be traded if the right deal came along. That right deal won’t include Chandler or Barton going to Boston as they are expiring as well and don’t help keep costs down next year.

Denver has plenty of players on rookie-scale deals, however, and lots of veteran pieces that can be moved to rope in a third team (like Phoenix, for example). The clock is ticking, though; The Celtics have to get this done urgently to make all the pieces fit.

If there’s any reasonable way to pry one of those Boston defenders away – especially Crowder, who would fit beautifully next to Millsap defensively – the Nuggets have to take advantage.

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