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Sign-And-Trades Up Despite Limits In New CBA

One of the most prominent features of the new collective bargaining agreement is the stipulation that taxpaying teams may not acquire players via sign-and-trade. The rule is one of many changes from the old CBA that are being phased in, so this summer is the first with the new restriction. Ostensibly, limiting certain teams from receiving signed-and-traded players would lead to fewer sign-and-trade deals. That appears to be the case if you compare this year to last, but a broader look shows that, at least so far, more sign-and-trade transactions are taking place under the new CBA than when the old one was in place.

That's partly because of several nuances involved in the changes to sign-and-trades. The restriction applies only to clubs with team salaries above the tax apron — a line $4MM above the mark where the tax kicks in. So, not every team that pays the tax is barred from doing a sign-and-trade. The rule also applies only to teams that receive players via sign-and-trade, and not when a club uses a sign-and-trade to send a player elsewhere. So, for instance, the Nets, in record-high payroll territory, could still get something in return if another team wants to sign Jerry Stackhouse.

Teams above the tax apron, set this year at $75.748MM, can even receive players via sign-and-trade as long as they send out enough salary to take them under the apron. So, if the Heat, with more than $80MM in team salary, want to acquire a player via sign-and-trade, they could, as long as the other team in the deal agreed to take back a sizable contract or a bunch of smaller ones. Conversely, teams under the apron can't receive a player in a sign-and-trade deal if the transaction would put them over the apron. 

There are other limits to sign-and-trade deals that the new CBA sets forth. It used to be that sign-and-trades could take place year-round, but now they can only happen in the offseason. Players who ink sign-and-trade deals must also have finished the previous season on an NBA roster. That eliminates the sort of pact that saw Keith Van Horn signed-and-traded nearly two years after he set foot on an NBA court, just so the Mavs and Nets could make the salaries match up in the Jason Kidd deal. Also, starting this year, teams that use the taxpayer's mid-level exception can't acquire a player in a sign-and-trade.

Even with all these limitations, there have been 23 sign-and-trade deals since the new CBA took effect following the 2011 lockout. That's an average of 7.67 a year. There were 30 sign-and-trades during the six years of the most recent prior CBA, so the average number was five. There was even a year when just a single sign-and-trade took place, with Keyon Dooling going from the Magic to the Nets in a swap that didn't exactly make the same sort of headlines as the sign-and-trade that sent LeBron James from the Cavs to the Heat a couple years later.

We've only had one summer of the full restrictions that the new CBA sets forth, and the offseason isn't over yet, so the possibility of another sign-and-trade in 2013 exists. We don't know whether the recent uptick in sign-and-trades will continue, so it's probably too early for a definitive judgment. Still, it seems like this is one example of front offices taking more creative approaches to player movement, even as the rules are making it tougher for them.

Here's a breakdown of sign-and-trades from each year since 2005.

2013 — 8

2012 — 12

2011 — 3

2010 — 10

2009 — 3

2008 — 1

2007 — 3

2006 — 4

2005 — 9

*—Sign-and-trade took place during the season, which isn't allowed under the new CBA.

The RealGM transaction log and Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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