We’re still more than two months away from the NBA’s trade deadline, but today represents an unofficial deadline set by the Rockets, who have planned all month to trade Omer Asik by December 19th. The fact that the date comes two months and one day before the February 20th deadline isn’t coincidental. As has been written on this site and many others over the last couple weeks, dealing Asik today (or even tomorrow) would allow the players involved in that trade to be flipped to another team without restriction on February 20th.
However, this rule is more detailed than it may seem on the surface. Here’s how Larry Coon describes it in his CBA FAQ:
“[A team cannot trade a player] for two months after receiving the player in trade, if the trade aggregates the player’s salary with the salaries of other players. However, the team is free to trade the player immediately, either by himself or without aggregating his salary with other salaries. This restriction applies only to teams over the salary cap.”
In unpacking this rule, the first point worth noting is that it applies only to over-the-cap teams. The vast majority of NBA clubs, including the Rockets, are currently over the cap, but if Houston had cap space, this restriction wouldn’t even be a concern.
Secondly, anyone involved in a hypothetical Asik deal today could be flipped in another trade immediately. As Coon writes, the player must either be traded by himself or without aggregating his salary with other salaries in the second deal. So if the Rockets were to acquire Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee for Asik, Houston could theoretically send Lee out in a one-for-one trade next week.
Most of these points have been made clear leading up to the Rockets’ self-imposed December 19th deadline, but there’s one more that’s a little blurry: While teams have to wait two months after acquiring a player to aggregate his salary with other salaries in a second trade, many multiplayer deals can be completed without that actually happening. For instance, when our own Chuck Myron broke down how the Rudy Gay trade between the Raptors and Kings worked under CBA rules, he explained that from the Raptors’ perspective, the seven-player blockbuster was actually split into two smaller, parallel trades:
- Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy for Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez
- Gay for John Salmons and Chuck Hayes.
In other words, even though Gay was traded to Sacramento along with two teammates, his salary wasn’t aggregated with anyone else’s salary to make the deal work. Only Gray’s and Acy’s salaries were combined together. So if we were to pretend the Raptors had acquired Gay less than two months before sending him to Sacramento, Toronto still would have been allowed to flip him to the Kings, since the deal circumvents the restrictions related to this particular rule.
Making trades prior to December 20th will give teams maximum flexibility on February 20th, and setting their own deadline likely gives the Rockets some peace of mind, knowing the Asik situation should have some closure this week. But if GM Daryl Morey is unsatisfied with the offers on the table for his center and doesn’t finalize a deal by tomorrow, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Morey and the Rockets would still have the opportunity to acquire and flip players prior to the February 20th deadline — those deals would simply have to be constructed in a specific way.