The Celtics have a $10.3M traded player exception (what does that mean?)

Darren McCollester

I was told there would be no math.

Note: nearly identical article to this one was posted almost exactly a year ago on this site. I thought now would be a good time to re-post it and add to it.  I have taken the liberty of updating some key information based on the passage of one years's time but the basic information is still true.  In short, I've plagiarized myself, but that's ok, I give myself permission.

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When the Celtics completed The Trade sending Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, according to Chris Forsberg, they created a $10.3 million "traded player exception."

This could end up being a very useful tool but it isn't the most straightforward thing in the world. I've gotten quite a few questions about what exactly it means. So I'll do my best to explain what it is we've got and the limitations on it.

Basically this traded player exception occurs when complex trades happen and one team ends up sending out more salary than it takes back in return. It is more complex than that, but feel free to consult Larry Coon for a better explanation of how these things are created. The important thing is that we've got one to use now.

Essentially the Celtics can now take back a player making up to $10.3M and not have to send any contracts in return (assuming they make additional moves to stay under the "apron" - but I'll get to that in a minute). So if a team wanted to ditch a player for cap room, we can make that happen.

Or if we wanted to add a free agent but don't have the cap to offer him a deal outright, we could work out a sign-and-trade deal with the player's former team and they wouldn't have to take back any salary to help make it happen. They could get a draft pick or some kind of compensation just for accommodating the transaction.

Really there's a ton of different ways that Ainge could use this flexible tool to make a bigtime upgrade to the roster.

So what's the catch? There's always a catch, right? There are restrictions.

  • You can only use the traded player exception (TPE) for one year. So they have till July 12, 2014 to use it or lose it.
  • You can't combine the TPE with players to bring back higher paid players. So we couldn't get a max guy by adding someone like Brandon Bass to the deal. It doesn't work that way. You can only use it by itself (or with picks).
  • Here's the real kicker: Because of the Bogans sign-and-trade the Celtics are "hard capped" - which means they weren't allowed to exceed the Luxury Tax "apron" of $75.75M even if they wanted to.
  • That hard cap restriction is released when the Free Agency period begins officially.  Teams can talk to free agents now, but can't sign anyone on the dotted line until July 10.
  • The upshot: The C's have between July 10 and July 12 to use the exception.

Ok great, so how do we use this thing now?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Take back bad contracts in order to make a simultaneous deal work.  Say the Timberwolves decide to blow things up instead of the sideways moves that have been their reported preference.  They would want to dump a big salary like Kevin Martin's. He's owed $21M over the next 3 years.  You can't directly combine the TPE with the players we'd need to land Kevin Love, but you could do two simultaneous trades.  One would be Martin for the TPE (and maybe some draft consideration).  The other trade would be some kind of bundle of assets for Kevin Love.  They happen at the same time and aren't officially part of the same deal but basically it works like it is.  (Note: the commish stepped in and stopped the Celtics from doing something similar with the Doc Rivers deal last year, but that was because it was a coach and player deal, which has different rules).

2. Get more players that the Timberwolves would want.  If the Wolves really want players that can contribute now, the Celtics will have to get creative to get those players.  Boston probably can't get Klay Thompson, but if they can land someone else pretty decent by using our TPE and a draft pick or two, then that player could be re-routed to Minnesota in the Love deal.  For example, if the Bulls got a verbal commitment from Melo, they would need to clear cap space in a hurry.  If they wanted to dump Taj Gibson for picks, we could add him to a Love deal.

3. Speaking of which, we can help any team looking to shed money quickly.  Basically, any team that lands Melo and needs to free up the money to get him under wraps, can dump salary on the Celtics for the TPE and send us some assets along with it.  Say Melo picked Houston and needed to be rid of Jeremy Lin in a hurry.  He goes to the Celtics with a pick or two and he comes off our books next summer.

UPDATE: Late breaking news last night indicated that LeBron James was encouraging the Cavs to open up max contract space in the event that he decides to sign there. This is exactly the kind of situation I'm talking about. Details here:

How LeBron James' agent has given Cavaliers hope of King's homecoming - Yahoo Sports

The Cavaliers have found a landing spot for Jack and his $6.2 million annual salary in the Brooklyn Nets, but only if the Cavs can find a third team to take on Brooklyn's Marcus Thornton, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Cleveland is offering Thornton and future draft considerations as incentive to absorb his $8.7 million expiring contract, sources said. The Cavaliers need to unload more contracts and have made 2013 first-round pick Sergey Karasev, among others, available in deals, sources said.

Would you take Thronton and picks for the TPE?  I'm guessing that Ainge has at least discussed this in the last day or so.

4. Free Agent sign-and-trades.  I mentioned this above and wanted to add Gordon Hayward as an example, but if the Cavs are really willing to give him a 4 year, $63M max deal starting at $14M, then this trade exception would be useless in terms of getting in the bidding.  If his asking price is closer to 10M a year, or at least starting around there, then we might have a chance.  In theory, if the Jazz (regardless of their bluster) didn't want to match a deal for Hayward, then we could send them a pick or two for the right to get Hayward.  Other names to keep an eye on would be Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Hill (though neither would command nearly as much as the full $10.5M of the TPE.

5. Do nothing, let it expire.  Just because the Celtics have this tool to use doesn't mean that they have to use it.  They don't need to commit long term money, potentially wasting cap space that they could use next season.  If nothing good makes sense, they let the exception expire and that's that.

(There are probably plenty more ideas out there that I haven't thought of yet, but you can be sure that Danny and his cap-wiz Mike Zarren have thought of dozens more.)

So if you have your eyes on fireworks, keep an eye on July 10th through the 12th.  That might just be the sweet spot that the Celtics need.

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