By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — If you’re one of the many Celtics fans hoping that Danny Ainge cashes in that massive TPE at the trade deadline, proceed at your own caution. Ainge made it crystal clear on Thursday morning that his preference is to use that exception this offseason.

“That’s for sure. I’ve always felt that,” Ainge told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich. “We’re hard-capped. Using the full thing on one player would be less likely, but it’s not impossible.

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“We are still looking at different ways to trade, not just with the trade exception,” he added. “But the trade exception certainly gives us more flexibility to pull off some trades that we may not otherwise be able to do.”

Given Boston’s cap situation, the traded player exception that the team received after Gordon Hayward’s offseason departure is currently worth around $20 million. If Ainge waits to use it this summer, it balloons up to $28.5 million.

Unfortunately, waiting until this summer won’t provide any help to the current Celtics, who sit at 19-17 on the season and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They need to do something at the deadline to give this team a little jolt, but it doesn’t sound like it will be an impact player by way of the TPE. And waiting to use it would just add more pressure come this summer, when teams could take advantage of the fact that it will expire and the Celtics would be left with nothing.

Now, there are a few ways to take Ainge’s proclamation on Thursday. We’re not saying that maybe Ainge is telling a little white lie, but this is the season of untruths in the NBA. This could be his way of using the media to show other execs around the league that he’s not as desperate as they may think. He did add a “you never know” later on in the interview when asked again about using the TPE.

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The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported Wednesday that executives around the league expect Ainge to work out a deal with the Sacramento Kings for forward Harrison Barnes, who would be an ideal candidate to add via the TPE. Perhaps Thursday’s statement is Ainge’s way of putting some more pressure on the Kings — or a way to drive down the price for Barnes.

On the flip side, this could just be his way of lessening the shock/vitriol when he doesn’t use the TPE at the deadline. Not that Boston fans aren’t used to Ainge sitting on his hands at the deadline — he hasn’t made an in-season move in six years — but this year has felt different for a number of reasons. The Celtics’ depth is horrendous, and the expectation all season has been that Ainge would make some kind of impact move with that monster exception. That exception has always been his golden ticket to do so, despite his limited trade assets.

He’ll still try to make the most of those limited assets to help this team — just maybe not the TPE.

“We will do a deal if we think it makes our team better,” Ainge said. “We are not going to do a deal that is too expensive and a band aid, or will jeopardize anything to do with our young core at this moment.”

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Even with Ainge pouring a bucket of cold water on some TPE dreams, we’re going to hear a boatload of rumors over the next two weeks. And usually with Ainge, it’s the move(s) we don’t hear about that he ends up pulling the trigger on. We won’t know his true intentions with the exception until 3:01 p.m. on March 25. Staff