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As we outlined in detail last month, the salary-matching rules that apply this season to a club whose team salary is over either tax apron are only temporary.
Rather than immediately implement all the new restrictions that will affect over-the-apron teams in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement at once, the NBA is gradually rolling them out. Most of those new rules will take effect once the 2023/24 season is over.
That slow rollout of the new trade rules is working out well for many of the teams with the league’s highest payrolls in ’23/24. Several deals completed this offseason, including major recent moves like the Bucks‘ acquisition of Damian Lillard and the Celtics‘ trade for Jrue Holiday, have only be possible because the new restrictions on apron teams have yet to be enacted.
Here’s a breakdown of the upcoming rule changes that would have impacted certain deals in recent months:
The biggest trade-related change coming next offseason for teams over the second tax apron relates to salary aggregation — the act of combing the outgoing cap hits of two or more players in order to match an incoming player’s salary.
This is how the Bucks matched Lillard’s incoming cap charge, which exceeds $45MM. Milwaukee aggregated Holiday ($36.86MM) and Grayson Allen ($8.93MM) in order to meet the league’s salary-matching rules. The Celtics took a similar approach when they landed Holiday, aggregating Malcolm Brogdon ($22.5MM) and Robert Williams ($11.57MM) to ensure they’d included enough outgoing salary.
Neither of those structures would have been possible next offseason, when a team whose salary is over the second apron will be prohibited from aggregating salaries in a trade. If that had been the case this summer, Milwaukee wouldn’t have been able to acquire Lillard without trading Giannis Antetokounmpo. In other words, that deal wouldn’t have been possible.
While teams over the second tax apron won’t be able to aggregate player salaries in a trade beginning next summer, teams over either tax apron will face even more restrictive salary-matching rules.
They’ll be unable to take back more salary than they send out in a trade.
This offseason, teams over either tax apron have been permitted to take back up to 110% of their outgoing salary. For example, when the Celtics acquired Holiday, the combined salaries of Brogdon and Williams ($34.07MM) fell a little short of Holiday’s $36.86MM cap hit. But the Celtics were permitted to take back up to 110% of their outgoing figure, which was more than enough to cover Holiday’s salary.
That won’t be possible next year. In fact, if this salary-matching rule and the new rule preventing second-apron teams from aggregating salaries had been effect this year, there literally would have been no way for the Celtics to acquire Holiday, whose salary is higher than anyone else’s on Boston’s roster.
Even if they had sent out Kristaps Porzingis, who was formerly their highest-paid player, the C’s only would’ve been able to take back up to $36,016,200, the amount of Porzingis’ cap hit — that wouldn’t have been enough for Holiday. And Boston wouldn’t have been able to aggregate another player’s salary with Porzingis’ in order to reach Holiday’s figure.
Teams over the second tax apron are, by definition, not shy about spending their money, but beginning next summer, they won’t be permitted to add cash as a sweetener to complete a deal.
So the $5.7MM in cash that San Antonio received from the Suns in the Cameron Payne trade in July, which will cover most of Payne’s $6.5MM salary for 2023/24? Phoenix was allowed to send that money this year, but it won’t be an option for any team over the second apron once the ’23/24 season ends.
This rule won’t put as many constraints on teams above the second apron as the first two we discussed, but it will take one more tool away from those clubs when they try to negotiate trades.
When a team creates a trade exception in one deal, it can use that exception in a subsequent deal in order to acquire a player whose salary fits in the exception without sending out another outgoing salary.
Beginning after the 2023/24 regular season ends though, teams over either tax apron won’t be allowed to use a trade exception that they generated in a prior year. For the purposes of this rule, the “prior year” is defined as the end of one regular season to the end of the following regular season.
That means that a team whose salary is over the first or second apron at the end of the 2023/24 season will essentially lose any trade exception generated in a prior deal. A team could still generate a trade exception in June and then use it to accommodate a separate move in July, but a trade exception created at February’s deadline would be off the table in the offseason.
Who would’ve been affected by this rule if it were in effect this summer? Well, the Clippers acquired Kenyon Martin Jr. from Houston using a traded player exception that they generated in February when they sent Reggie Jackson to Charlotte. That $2.13MM TPE was just big enough to absorb Martin’s $1.93MM salary.
If all of the new CBA’s trade rules had been implemented this offseason, the Clippers would’ve lost access to that Jackson TPE and would have had to send out a player making at least $1.93MM in order to acquire Martin.