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.
Today we’ll look at the Atlantic Division, where every team except the Raptors entered the deadline with a sub-.500 record, and every team except the Raptors took part in a trade. The salary figures listed here denote this season’s salaries, though we’ll also discuss salary for future seasons.
The Celtics went from a team salary that put them in danger of crossing the tax threshold as the season began to one that dipped below the $63.065MM salary cap after the deadline, demonstrating just how active Celtics president of basketball operation Danny Ainge was not just at the deadline but all season long. Boston is still technically over the cap, since Ainge has elected not to renounce his exceptions, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders notes (Twitter link), and a cupboard already bursting with trade exceptions got a little more crowded with last week’s deals.
The team acknowledged the creation of a $7.7MM trade exception when it formally announced the Tayshaun Prince trade. To be precise, that exception is worth the equivalent of Prince’s $7,707,865 salary. That means Boston used previously existing exceptions to take in Jerebko’s $4.5MM salary and Datome’s $1.75MM pay. Jerebko could have gone into the $12,909,090 Rajon Rondo exception or the $5MM Brandan Wright exception, and Pincus estimates that it went into Wright’s (Twitter link). Datome would have fit into either of those, although he and Jerebko wouldn’t have both fit within Wright’s exception. The Celtics also had a $2,439,840 Austin Rivers exception that would work for Datome, and that’s the one Pincus estimates that they used.
Ainge and company can create a smaller new exception worth the difference between the salaries for Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas, which comes to $1,336,394. They also had the option of sticking Thornton’s salary into the Rondo exception so that they could create a $7,238,606 exception for Thomas, but the release from the Celtics made no reference to that, and there’s a logical reason. The Celtics have only about $40.4MM in commitments for next season against a projected $68MM cap, motivation to officially open cap space and chase free agents. Doing so would wipe out all of their trade exceptions, rendering moot the value that could be gained by eating part of the massive Rondo exception to make new exceptions that expire at next year’s deadline instead of this coming December.
However, Pincus suggests the Celtics are unlikely to open that cap room this summer (Twitter link). That $40.4MM doesn’t include a cap hold for the C’s own pick or the one the Clippers owe them. It also doesn’t take into account anyone salary the team might acquire around draft time using its trade exceptions. Boston wouldn’t have to officially renounce its exceptions until after the July Moratorium, at which point many marquee free agents have often already made their decisions. Few stars clamor to join a team in a cold-weather city with no other discernible star on the roster, so Ainge may be better served staying above the cap and using his exceptions to scour the trade market, where players have less control over their destinations. His decision to take on Thomas for the expiring contract of Thornton and add nearly $6.913MM to next year’s commitments as a result is further hint that the Celtics won’t go under the cap this summer.
So, the Celtics would have had some motivation to have bitten into the Rondo exception last week to buy themselves a little extra time to make deals next season, but keeping that exception intact to see if they can shake loose a trade candidate with an eight-figure salary was probably too tempting.
The Nets gave up future cost certainty for a tax break this season and a fairly useful trade exception, but that exception isn’t quite as valuable as it might otherwise have been, thanks to Brooklyn’s recent success. The league considers it likely that Young will receive his $250K bonus for playing on a postseason team, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link). That’s because the Nets made the playoffs last season, even though they were a game out of the final postseason spot at Thursday’s deadline. That’s money that he certainly wouldn’t have seen if he’d stayed with the last-place Timberwolves. So, Young costs that much more to Brooklyn than he did to Minnesota, meaning the trade exception the Nets can reap from the difference between Garnett’s salary and Young’s is $2,339,131 instead of $2,589,131, as Pincus notes (Twitter link).
Brooklyn can still save that $250K from counting against its luxury tax payments if it misses the playoffs, but the Nets have already shrunk their tax bill considerably from the record amount of more than $90MM they paid for last season. The Garnett-for-Young trade figures to have saved the Nets almost $6MM in tax payments on top of the more than $2.3MM it saved them in raw salary. They’re now in position to pay only about $20MM in tax this season, though the final tax numbers won’t be known until season’s end.
Still, the Nets will almost assuredly pay some sort of tax this season, setting themselves up to pay the onerous repeater rate next season if they’re still a taxpayer at the end of 2015/16. Young’s early termination option will be worth nearly $10.222MM if he’s still on the roster and the Nets make the playoffs next year and $9.972MM if they miss. Either way, it would be a significant addition to an already stacked payroll. The Nets will have nearly $86MM in commitments if Young and Lopez opt in, and that would put the team over the projected $81MM tax line for next season.
Only GM Sam Hinkie‘s Sixers could make three trades that net $9,259,106 in additional payroll for this season and still wind up almost $4MM shy of the $56.759MM minimum team salary. That’s nonetheless where Philadelphia stood after the deadline, and while a few more moves like this weekend’s waiver claim of Ish Smith would help the team make it up to the salary floor, the Sixers are on track to miss that mark. There’s no real penalty, of course, since the only consequence is that the Sixers would have to distribute the difference between that amount and their team salary to their players, which would seem like a just reward for their patience amid the team’s rebuilding.
More significantly, Philadelphia took on an eight-figure salary commitment for next season with JaVale McGee on the books for $12MM in 2015/16, and no buyout deal on the way. Isaiah Canaan, the other player the Sixers traded for, has a partial guarantee of nearly $758K. Philadelphia parted with Michael Carter-Williams‘ rookie scale salary of close to $2.4MM for next season, bringing the total addition to next year’s payroll to $10,358,780. That means the Sixers have more than $53MM committed against a projected $68MM salary cap, and with as many as four first-round picks, Philadelphia won’t have tons of cap space like it did this year, when Hinkie used it to take on unwanted salary from other teams at the cost of draft picks and other future-focused assets.
New York Knicks
The Knicks had to use one of their existing trade exceptions to make their deal with the Rockets work, since Alexey Shved‘s salary exceeds the 125% plus $100K of Pablo Prigioni‘s that New York, as a taxpaying team, would otherwise be allowed to take in. The assumption here is that team president Phil Jackson and company took Shved into the $3,637,073 exception leftover from their offloading of Raymond Felton to the Mavs this past summer, rather than their $5,982,375 J.R. Smith trade exception. Going that route would virtually wipe out the Felton exception but allow the Knicks to retain the full value of their Smith exception, which is larger and expires later. However, it’s still uncertain just what direction New York went.
There’s a slight savings involved for next season, since Shved is on an expiring contract while Prigioni is due a $290K partial guarantee. However, that savings is muted if Jackson and company envision retaining Shved’s Bird rights, since he has a larger cap hold than Prigioni. The trade adds nearly $2.429MM to New York’s tax burden this season, and while owner James Dolan has never shown any skinflint tendencies, the Knicks could have saved a bundle more than that if they’d shed an amount of raw salary not far removed from the $1,619,096 they took on. Thanks in part to Amar’e Stoudemire‘s forfeiture of $2.5MM, as Pincus shows on the Knicks salary page at Basketball Insiders, New York entered the trade deadline with a team salary for tax purposes of close to $79.694MM, or only about $2.865MM away from going under the tax line. If the Knicks had shed that amount of salary, no Herculean task, they could have avoided paying the repeater rates next season in the event that they once more become taxpayers.
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.