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Financial Impact Of Deadline Trades: Pacific

Last week’s trade deadline was a dizzying affair, with 39 players and 17 teams involved in a dozen trades, including a trio of three-team transactions. The day had wide-ranging effects on the salary structures of those 17 teams, and we’ll examine the aftermath for each of them in this multipart series.

Four of the deadline’s 12 trades involved Pacific Division teams, and the Suns were part of three of them, as we detail today. The salary figures listed below denote this season’s salaries, though we’ll also discuss salary for future seasons.

Phoenix Suns

In: ($17,121,160)

Out: ($19,205,456)

Perhaps no team defined the 2015 trade deadline quite like the Suns. They dealt the deadline’s most prominent player, Goran Dragic, and among the 10 players going back and forth from Phoenix, more than a quarter of the players who changed places leaguewide that day, five of them were point guards. The moves the Suns made carried their requisite share of the day’s confusion, too. They started the day with a team salary of $61,848,216, more than $1MM beneath the $63.065MM cap. Their team salary at day’s end was $59,763,920, even farther under the cap. However, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders reports (Twitter link), they actually wound up over the cap and created a $5.5MM trade exception.

What that means is that at some point last Thursday, the Suns crossed over the cap. So, it appears either or both of the trades in which the team added money to its payroll were processed before the Dragic deal, the one in which the Suns cut salary. Either the three-teamer with the Bucks and Sixers or the Isaiah ThomasMarcus Thornton swap would have done the trick, since they both added a greater amount of net salary than the Suns had in cap room. That meant those trades had to conform to salary-matching rules, and in the case of the Thomas-Thornton deal, the Suns took in less than 150% plus $100K of what they gave up, making the trade kosher. However, the incoming salary in the Bucks-Sixers three teamer, which brought Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall to Phoenix, exceeded that 150% plus $100K cushion. The minimum-salary exception that was so helpful for other teams at the deadline once more came into play, since the Suns were able to absorb Marshall into that, meaning his $915,243 didn’t have to count as incoming salary. Knight’s salary is within 150% plus $100K of the sum of the salaries for Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee, so the trade works.

That leaves the matter of the Dragic trade, which the Suns evidently pulled off as an over-the-cap team. Essentially, they split the deal into two separate exchanges. They matched salaries with Zoran Dragic and Danny Granger, as Granger’s salary is within that 150% plus $100K range of Zoran’s. The trade-within-a-trade of Goran Dragic for John Salmons involves a $5.5MM difference between their salaries. New Orleans didn’t need to worry about that difference because it didn’t have anything to do with Goran’s salary. The same was true of Miami and Salmons. Phoenix’s only obligation to match salaries involves keeping the incoming salary from exceeding the outgoing salary by too much, and not the other way around. When the outgoing salary exceeds the incoming salary, a capped-out team can reap a trade exception, and that’s how the Suns wound up with their $5.5MM exception.

That gives the Suns an asset for the start of the offseason, but that trade exception might not last until its expiration date next February. It disappears if the Suns open cap space this summer, and Phoenix afforded itself a greater opportunity to do so with last week’s trades. The Suns cleared $12,390,773 from next year’s payroll, not counting the $7.5MM player option Goran has been planning to decline, and replaced it with contracts that end after this season Granger’s $2,170,465 player option. Granger’s reps and the team have reportedly talked about the idea of a buyout, and there’s a chance that he would decline the player option, or reduce its value, as part of such a deal. Entirely eliminating the salary in the option year would mean the Suns had traded for five players without contracts that extend beyond this season, a rare feat. The team has already cut ties with Salmons and Marshall, each of whom the Suns waived immediately upon their acquisition. Phoenix surely would have sought to re-sign Dragic this summer, so adding his salary to the eight-figure amount that the trades cut from next year’s books would serve as further demonstration of just how drastically the team altered its payroll for next season. The Suns have only about $41MM in commitments for 2015/16, more than enough against a projected $68MM salary cap to dangle a max offer in front of a marquee free agent whom they’d like to lure to the Valley of the Sun.

Sacramento Kings

In: ($4,625,000)

Out: ($2,077,000)

The capped-out Kings were able to receive a player making more than double the amount of salary coming to the player they sent out thanks to the remnants of one of their two deadline trades from last year. The Kings shipped Marcus Thornton (yes, the same Thornton for whom the Suns traded this year) to the Nets for Jason Terry and Reggie Evans a year ago. Evans is still with Sacramento, but the Kings traded Terry to Houston in the offseason, creating a trade exception worth Terry’s $5,850,313 salary in the process. It was the largest of the five trade exceptions the Kings possessed at the trade deadline, and the only one valuable enough to absorb Miller’s salary in this year’s trade. The Kings took advantage, and that in turn allowed Sacramento to send out Sessions’ salary by itself, which begets a new trade exception worth the $2,077,000 that Sessions makes. The Terry exception still exists, though it’s reduced to $1,225,313.

Sacramento upped its salary for this season, but next season’s payroll went in the other direction, since Sessions has a guaranteed salary of more than $2.17MM for 2015/16 while Miller’s contract expires this summer. The Kings have about $53.1MM in commitments for next season in the wake of the trade, and with the salary cap projected to come in around $68MM, $2.17MM could make a significant difference if Sacramento elects to open cap room and chase some attractive free agent targets. That $53.1MM figure is somewhat skewed considering that money is going to only seven players, necessitating another $2,625,465, at least, in cap holds. Plus, opening cap space would mean waving goodbye to those trade exceptions. Still, the money that the trade saves the Kings for next year gives the team a few more options to explore during the July Moratorium, when they’ll be able to negotiate with free agents without committing one way or another to the idea of opening cap space.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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