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.
Our focus today is the Southwest Division, where two teams each made a pair of trades, with both the Rockets and Pelicans making use of some intriguing salary cap wrinkles to get their deals done. The salary figures listed below denote this season’s salaries, though we’ll also discuss salary for future seasons.
The Rockets were less than $1MM shy of the luxury tax line as the deadline approached, so saving nearly $2MM for this season provides flexibility. Still, it’s unlikely that comes into play, since Houston is limiting to doling out the prorated minimum salary and already has 15 players on fully guaranteed contracts. There’s a small savings involved in unloading Isaiah Canaan‘s contract for Pablo Prigioni‘s, since next year’s partially guaranteed salary for Prigioni is less than that for Canaan, but both are guaranteed less than $1MM.
New York’s willingness to use its Raymond Felton trade exception to absorb Alexey Shved was key for Houston. That allows the Rockets to create a trade exception of their own worth the difference between Shved’s and Prigioni’s salaries, which comes to $1,619,096. Houston also benefits from the utility of the minimum-salary exception, which allows the Rockets to use it to absorb K.J. McDaniels‘ salary and create a trade exception worth the full value of Canaan’s $816,482 minimum-salary deal. Neither of the two new trade exceptions for Houston has the power of the $8MM-plus Jeremy Lin exception the Rockets used to make the Corey Brewer trade work in December, but they can still help the team down the road.
New Orleans Pelicans
- Norris Cole ($2,038,206)
- Shawne Williams ($1,227,985)
- Ish Smith ($861,405)
- Justin Hamilton ($816,482)
- John Salmons ($2,000,000)
The usefulness of the minimum-salary exception was rarely on display as much as it was on deadline day for New Orleans. It’s a deceptively powerful weapon that allowed the capped-out Pelicans, who possessed only a single trade exception worth $507,336, to take on four players who combine to make nearly $5MM and give up only a single player making $2MM. Teams may use the minimum-salary exception a theoretically unlimited number of times, and the Pelicans employed it thrice in their pair of trades last week, absorbing Shawne Williams, Justin Hamilton and Ish Smith, all of whom make the minimum, without having to match salaries. The only matching that came into play happened with the exchange of John Salmons, who makes $2MM, for Norris Cole, who makes only slightly more, well within the matching range of 150% plus $100K.
New Orleans received assists from Detroit and Philadelphia when the Pelicans waived Williams and Smith shortly after the deadline. The Pistons claimed Williams and the Sixers did the same with Smith, wiping their respective salaries off the New Orleans books. That leaves the Pelicans with a team salary of less than $1MM more than they had before deadline day.
Salmons was on an expiring contract, and the same is true for Cole and Hamilton, so there’s no long-term salary consequence if the Pelicans don’t want one. However, New Orleans can dictate where Cole and Hamilton play next season since, unlike Salmons, they’re set for restricted free agency. Retaining the right to match offers would require the Pelicans to make a qualifying offer of just over $1.147MM for Hamilton, but the uptick in minutes that the Pelicans are giving Cole makes it more likely he triggers the starter criteria and lifts the value of his qualifying offer from $3,036,927 to $4,433,683. The larger qualifying offer would make it more likely that the Pelicans decline to tender the offer and allow him to hit unrestricted free agency. So, his quest to log 1,986 total minutes this season or start 41 games is an intriguing storyline down the stretch in New Orleans. He’s at 1,226 minutes and 23 starts so far with 25 games left on the Pelicans’ schedule.
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.