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How Three Celtics Trades Worked Financially

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge knows how to maximize trade exceptions. I examined that last month in the wake of the Rajon Rondo trade, in which Ainge and the Celtics used existing trade exceptions to facilitate the creation of a new one worth more than $12.9MM that’s the league’s largest. A couple of the three trades the Celtics swung this week presented opportunities to use that exception, but there were alternatives.

The Celtics had six trade exceptions at their disposal before Monday’s Jeff Green trade, including a new $5MM exception the team picked up when it shipped Brandan Wright to Phoenix on Friday. However, only two of those exceptions were large enough to absorb either of the players Boston took back in exchange for Green. The Rondo exception would have accommodated both Tayshaun Prince‘s salary of almost $7.708MM and Austin Rivers‘ pay of nearly $2.44MM, allowing the Celtics to create an exception equivalent to Green’s $9.2MM salary. That route had some intrigue. It would take up much of the Rondo exception, reducing it to $2,761,385. That amount, while not the powerful eight-figure exception that the Celtics originally created in the Rondo trade, would still be useful. A Green exception would be lucrative, if not quite as valuable as the Rondo exception would be if kept intact, and it would expire January 12th, 2016, whereas the Rondo exception runs out nearly a month earlier, on December 18th, 2015. Making an exception equivalent to Green’s salary would give the Celtics more time to work the phones after December 15th, 2015, the date when most players who’ll be signed this coming offseason will become eligible for inclusion in trades. It would also allow the C’s to wait until players hit waivers in advance of the leaguewide guarantee date next January 10th.

However, it appears as though the Celtics have left the Rondo exception alone. Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders reported the $625,280 exception the C’s created in the Jameer NelsonNate Robinson trade, which took place the day after the Green deal, but there’s been no word of a Green exception. That signals that the Celtics simply used salary matching to make the trade work. They were allowed to take in up to 150% of Green’s salary plus $100K, which would come to $13.9MM, and the total of Prince’s and Rivers’ salaries comes to less than $10.148MM, well within those bounds. The C’s wouldn’t end up with an exception, since they gave up less salary than they received in the exchange, but they wouldn’t use an exception, either.

The choices were simpler for the other teams in that deal, neither of which had an existing trade exception. The Grizzlies created a trade exception worth $3,146,068, the equivalent of Quincy Pondexter‘s salary, as Pincus reported. That’s because Prince’s salary was large enough by itself to accommodate the absorption of both Green and Russ Smith, since Green’s salary on top of the $507,336 that Smith makes comes to less than 150% of Prince’s salary plus $100K. That means Memphis and GM Chris Wallace could unload Pondexter to New Orleans by himself without having to match any salaries, and that gave rise to the trade exception.

The Pelicans had a similar scenario at play when they created their $507,336 trade exception, an asset that Pincus also reported. Pondexter’s salary was less than 150% of Rivers’ salary plus $100K, so that could stand as its own swap, leaving GM Dell Demps to send Smith’s salary to Memphis by itself.

The Celtics had another chance to use the Rondo and Wright exceptions in the swap that sent Nelson to the Nuggets for Robinson, but that wouldn’t have done much for them. Taking Robinson’s $2,106,720 salary into one of those exceptions would have reduced its value. The creation of a $2.732MM exception equivalent to the full value of Prince’s salary would essentially mean the Celtics had broken one larger exception into two smaller ones, both of which would add up to nearly the same amount as the lucrative one they had in the first place. Teams can’t combine trade exceptions when they pull off deals, so it would result in a net loss of flexibility. So, Ainge and the Celtics chose instead to match salaries, which resulted in a $625,280 trade exception worth the difference between Nelson’s salary and Robinson’s, as Pincus reported, since Boston gave up more salary than it received in the one-for-one exchange. Denver took back more than it relinquished, so the Nuggets couldn’t have created an exception unless they raided the $4.65MM exception they had just created in the Timofey Mozgov trade. GM Tim Connelly and company apparently passed on doing so, likely for the same reasons that the Celtics decided against using the Rondo or Wright exceptions to take in Robinson’s salary.

Ainge didn’t have to pour too much energy into coming up with a solution for the exceptions in his next trade, which was Thursday’s three-team deal that sent Rivers to the Clippers. Shavlik Randolph and Chris Douglas-Roberts are both on contracts their original teams signed using the minimum-salary exception, and the Celtics, too, get to use the minimum-salary exception to take them in. That leaves Boston’s existing trade exceptions untouched and allows them to make a new trade exception worth $2,439,840, the equivalent of Rivers’ salary. The Celtics are the only team coming away with a trade exception in this three-team affair with the Clippers and Suns. Phoenix is under the salary cap, so exceptions aren’t a factor. The Clippers didn’t have a trade exception large enough to absorb Rivers, the only player they acquired in the deal, so they had to match salaries to bring him in. The Clips are a taxpaying team, so they couldn’t take on more than 125% plus 100K of what they gave up. Rivers’ salary is greater than the cap hits for Bullock and Douglas-Roberts, but the difference is within those bounds, so the trade is kosher.

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