How The Rajon Rondo Trade Worked Financially

The Celtics, at least on the surface, didn’t reap a package for Rajon Rondo that at all resembles what the Timberwolves received for Kevin Love this past summer. Rondo, who’s two and a half years older and nine inches shorter than Love and is averaging only 8.3 points per game, isn’t quite the sort of player that Love had proven to be when Minnesota relinquished him, but the Celtics surely wanted more for him than Dallas gave up. Boston was reportedly seeking as many as three first-round picks for Rondo at times over the past year or so, but the C’s reaped only one, and the deal weakened their cap flexibility for next season, since Jameer Nelson holds a player option worth $2.855MM for 2015/16.

Still, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge deftly crafted a trade that allowed him to use as many as three trade exceptions to create a new $12,909,090 trade exception that instantly becomes the league’s largest. Ainge and his staff took Brandan Wright‘s $5MM salary into the $5,285,816 trade exception that they created in their Keith Bogans trade and Nelson’s $2.732MM salary for this season into the trade exception left over from the deal that sent Joel Anthony away, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders points out. They folded Jae Crowder‘s $915,243 salary into either the remainder of the Anthony exception or the $1,334,092 that was left over from the original $4.25MM exception they created when they gave up Kris Humphries in a sign-and-trade with the Wizards this past summer, Pincus also notes.

Its unclear which path they took with Crowder, since there are benefits to both. Using the Anthony exception for Crowder preserves the $1,334,092 still on the Humphries exception, a larger amount than they’d have if they used the Humphries exception and left the Anthony exception at $1.068MM. But that’s not much of a difference, and the Anthony exception expires nearly three months later than the Humphries one does. Whichever exception Crowder’s salary went into would be reduced to an amount that’s less than the full-season minimum salary for a rookie, making it largely unusable.

The Rondo trade also allows the Celtics to create a $507,336 exception for Dwight Powell. That exception, equivalent to the rookie minimum salary, is only slightly more useful than whatever remains of the exception that Crowder’s salary went into. It’s nonetheless difficult to rule out much when it comes to Ainge and the use of trade exceptions, as this deal demonstrates. The trades that created the Humphries, Anthony and Bogans exceptions all took place within the last five months. Those transactions seemed to matter little at the time, since none of them netted the Celtics a player who remains on the roster, but collectively they gave Ainge the ammunition needed to enhance the Rondo deal. By contrast, the Mavs didn’t possess any trade exceptions entering the deal, and they needed to use all of their outgoing salaries to make the matching math work so they could absorb Rondo’s salary.

The first-round pick headed from Dallas to Boston, which will probably end up coming in the latter half of the 2016 first-round, given the protections attached to it and the Mavs’ prospects for success, isn’t necessarily the best asset that the Celtics acquired in the deal. Instead, the Celtics can use their trade exception to acquire a player or group of players who make as much as $13,009,090, or $100K more than Rondo’s salary for this season, anytime between now and next December, without sending out matching salary in return. It’d be difficult for Boston to pull that off now, since the team is still about $7MM shy of the luxury tax line, but the Celtics will have more leeway come the offseason. Indeed, the Rondo trade gives the C’s a little more breathing room beneath the tax threshold for now, since they were only about $2MM shy of it prior to the deal.

There are no guarantees that teams will be able to use trade exceptions at all, much less to use them to net star players. Still, they give teams power to make maneuvers they otherwise couldn’t. For now, that’s the greatest benefit the Celtics have reaped from parting with their point guard.

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

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