Earlier this month, the one-year anniversary of the Dwight Howard trade came and went without a ton of fanfare. By that point, Howard, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bynum, the three biggest names in last August's four-team blockbuster, had already hit free agency and signed with teams other than the ones that acquired them a year ago.
Perhaps the most notable detail relating to the one-year anniversary of the four-team swap was that the Magic let a mammoth traded player exception expire. Created by breaking down their side of the trade into several parts, the Magic held a TPE worth $17,816,880, and had a year to use it. However, by the time the calendar turned to August 11th this year, Orlando still hadn't touched that exception.
The fact that the Magic didn't use the exception isn't a total surprise. Orlando continues to pay a significant amount for a team that's in full-fledged rebuilding mode, so using that TPE to take on even more salary wasn't really a viable option unless the deal involved landing a core asset. Still, occasionally these sizable trade exceptions will come in handy — the Lakers gained an $8.9MM TPE when they sent Lamar Odom to the Mavs, then used that exception to acquire Steve Nash the following offseason.
While Orlando's massive Howard trade exception has expired, there are still a handful of teams around the league that hold large TPEs, which could be difference-makers later this offseason, at the 2014 trade deadline, or even next summer. Using our complete list of TPEs, here's a breakdown of the current top five (expiration date in parentheses):
- Golden State Warriors: $11,046,000 (7/10/2014)
- Boston Celtics: $10,275,136 (7/12/2014)
- Denver Nuggets: $9,868,632 (7/10/2014)
- Memphis Grizzlies: $7,489,453 (1/30/2014)
- Oklahoma City Thunder: $6,500,000 (7/11/2014)
Because a team can't use cap space and carry a trade exception at the same time, it makes sense that these five clubs all have team salaries that easily exceed the $58.68MM cap. In fact, all five teams are carrying at least $66MM-ish in guaranteed salary, with the Celtics, Grizzlies, and Thunder all flirting with the luxury tax threshold.
Given these teams' proximity to the tax, it may be unrealistic to expect any of them to take on a significant contract using their TPEs during the 2013/14 season. Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility. Here's one hypothetical scenario that involves two of the teams with big TPEs:
Let's say Darrell Arthur of the Nuggets suffers a season-ending injury a couple months into the 2013/14 campaign (of course, I hope to see Arthur play a full 82-game slate, but this is just an example). If Denver remains in contention and a team like the Celtics falls out of the hunt, perhaps the Nuggets could bolster their frontcourt by sending Arthur to Boston in exchange for Brandon Bass.
The two players' salaries don't match up using standard trade rules, but Bass ($6.45MM) would fit into Denver's TPE, while Arthur ($3.23MM) would fit into Boston's. Both teams would have some TPE money left over, and would create new exceptions worth Arthur's salary (for Denver) and Bass' salary (for Boston). The Nuggets could add a rotation piece without going into the tax, while the C's could reduce costs, clear some long-term salary, and not have to worry about their place in the 2013/14 standings. Everybody wins.
As I noted, that situation is purely hypothetical. Nonetheless, it's one example of how these teams could utilize their sizable trade exceptions in the coming year. Like Orlando's $17.8MM TPE, most of these will probably expire without being used, but they're worth keeping an eye on all the same.
For a more in-depth explanation of how traded player exceptions work, be sure to check out our Hoops Rumors glossary entry.