Over a month ago, the NBA granted the Celtics request for a Disabled Player Exception following Gordon Hayward’s leg injury on opening night. Upon the granting of the DPE, rampant speculation abounded as to how Danny Ainge could and should use this new roster building tool. Some of it made sense, some of it was wild, and some was even completely illegal.
Now, over a month later, Boston still has the DPE and Ainge hasn’t made a move towards using it. As a matter of fact, there hasn’t even been any credible reporting that the Celtics have been close to using the DPE. In this day and age, where we get antsy if there isn’t a trade or signing made every few weeks, having this $8.4 million exception just sitting there is almost torture for Boston fans.
With all of that said, it is time to check in with where things stand with the DPE. This article will attempt to answer some of the most common questions asked across the internet as it relates to Boston’s use of the DPE. The link above explains all the rules around using the DPE. It is highly encouraged you read it through before diving into the below topics. On to the questions!
If the Celtics use the DPE, can Gordon Hayward still come back this season?
Yes. A very common misperception is that if Boston uses the DPE it bars Hayward from returning this season. When the NBA grants a team a DPE, it simply means that the injured player is “substantially more unlikely than not to return before June 15th of that season”.
Should the player prove to be a quick healer, then the team got lucky. Given their considerable long term investment in Hayward, it is unlikely the Celtics will push him to return a day before he’s ready. Especially not to take advantage of having added an additional player with an unexpected exception.
But… if Hayward taps into some of Wolverine’s regeneration powers and is ready to go later this year, Boston will happily move forward with him and the player they added via the DPE.
Does the DPE prorate like some other exceptions do?
No. The DPE stays whole. This is because the DPE is generally granted to be used as a tool to replace a player who carried a large salary. The Non-Taxpayer Exception, as an example, does prorate beginning on January 10th of each season. This is because that is a tool to add a player to a roster, versus replacing a player, which is what the DPE is designed to do.
By leaving the DPE whole, it allows a team to use it in a trade to take in the maximum amount of money allowed, in Boston’s case this amounts to just over $8.5 million (the DPE amount of approximately $8.4 million plus $100,000 per trade rules). This as opposed to penalizing the team by reducing the DPE in value like some of the other exceptions do.
Was there a recent deadline that impacted some strategy around using the DPE?
Yes. There was speculation that Boston might use the DPE to sign a player for the full $8.4 million amount and then turn around and use that player as part of salary matching in a future trade. For example, if the Celtics had signed Player X for the DPE and paired him with Marcus Morris, who makes $5 million, Boston could have traded for a player making just over $18 million dollars under the NBA’s trade rules.
Alas, the time for that has come and gone. When you sign a free agent, you can’t trade that player until the latter of three months after the signing or until December 15th of that season. The December 15th date is designed around offseason signings, while the three months is to make sure teams aren’t signing and immediately flipping free agents in-season.
As we are now in late November, the earliest the Celtics could trade any player they sign would be late February, which is well after the NBA Trade Deadline, which falls on 2/8/18 this season. In order for the Celtics to have been able to flip a free agent, they would have had to sign that player no later than 11/8/17.
This means that if Boston goes the free agent route with the DPE, they are likely signing that player for the remainder of this season.
What about trading for a player? Can the Celtics then flip him in another deal?
Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: Still yes, but time is kind of running out.
Remember in the last question when we said the Celtics could combine the DPE salary amount with Morris to bring in a player who makes over $18 million in a trade? The same is true if Boston acquires the player with the DPE via trade, but with one notable difference.
When a team uses an exception (of which the DPE counts) to acquire a player via trade, that player cannot be aggregated with other players in another deal for two months. It is more commonly said that you can’t trade a player you acquired in a previous trade with other players for two months if you were over the cap when you acquired the original player. That is a slight misstatement, but close enough for almost all practical purposes.
For the Celtics, that date is right around the corner. If they use the DPE to trade for a player, and want to use that player in a subsequent trade to stack salaries together, they need to get a move on. As stated above, the NBA Trade Deadline is 2/8/18 this year, about a week or two earlier than usual. That means Boston would have to complete the first trade, using the DPE, no later than 12/8/17, in order to be able to flip that player combined with other players.
What if Boston wanted to trade for a player with the DPE and trade him again by himself?
Not an issue. You can always turn around and trade a player by himself almost immediately. We saw the Celtics do this with guys like Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright and Austin Rivers, when Ainge went on an epic trade spree in the 2014-15 season.
For a fuller picture, if Boston went this route, they could acquire a player using the DPE and then turn around and trade that player by himself the next day for a player making just over $13 million.
When does the DPE expire?
The DPE itself doesn’t expire until 3/10/18. That means the Celtics still have over three months until the cutoff date. Obviously, to use it in a trade, they have the deadlines covered above. But to sign a player, they have an additional month past the trade deadline.
So…what is Ainge waiting for? Why did he get the DPE if he’s not using it?
Patience Grasshopper. We all love trades and signings and roster moves. And, quite frankly, that open roster spot the Celtics have looks like an eyesore to many. But Ainge is as calculating as they come. He’ll wait until deadlines come and make his play, or he’ll let the deadline slide by in favor of whatever is next. He’s not going to be forced into using the DPE just to use it.
Some of have suggested that the Celtics will wait until the trade deadline, see what players shake loose that fit in the DPE slot and make a move then. Or they could wait until after the trade deadline and let it carry over into buyout season. Every year several veterans go untraded and then work a buyout to join a playoff contender. By having the full $8.4 million DPE, Boston would easily have the most money to offer of any playoff team. That alone could land them a player who might otherwise choose to go elsewhere.
Overall, keep an eye on 12/8/17 (the deadline to acquire a player via trade and then aggregate him in another deal) and 2/8/18 (trade deadline day). Beyond that, the next milestone comes on 3/10/18. If Boston hasn’t used the DPE by then it is gone forever. Smart money says Ainge won’t let that happen, but how and when he uses it remains a very open question.