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Clearing up Celtics cap/CBA questions

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Why can’t Boston trade for Anthony Davis? How can the Warriors sign DeMarcus Cousins?

2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational - Vanderbilt v Butler Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the NBA Players Association is complex and, quite frankly, confusing. There are are a lot of rules that both teams and players must abide by. This sometimes creates situations where the average NBA fan is left dumbfounded as to why or why not a certain transaction isn’t allowed or isn’t happening.

Good news! We are help clear up some of the most commonly asked Celtics-related questions. These questions come via comments on blog posts, Twitter, email or occasionally in line to enter a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. No exaggeration, that did happen!

On to the questions!

Anthony Davis

  • Q: I keep hearing the Celtics can’t trade for Anthony Davis because they have Kyrie Irving. Is this true? If so, why?

A: It is true. The CBA prevents a team from having two players on the same roster that were acquired via trade that had previously signed a contract extension under what is called the 5th Year 30% Max criteria. This criteria is commonly referred to as the “Rose Rule”, as Derrick Rose was the first place to make use of it.

How does this impact the Celtics? Boston acquired Kyrie Irving via trade last summer (if you don’t know that, you have a lot of reading and catching up to do!) and he had previously signed that contract as an extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers using the Rose Rule (I’m using Rose Rule because it’s shorter to type!). Anthony Davis also used the Rose Rule to sign his contract extension with the New Orleans Pelicans. As the Celtics would need to acquire Davis via trade, they are not allowed to do because both he and Irving signed using the Rose Rule and both would have been acquired via trade.

  • Q: But neither Kyrie or AD actually met the criteria for the Rose Rule! Doesn’t this mean Boston can trade for AD?

A: Unfortunately, no. Actually qualifying doesn’t matter. What matters is that it was the mechanism they were signed under. So the restriction still remains in place.

  • Q: Fine. Whatever! So, when can Boston trade for AD?

A: As soon as Kyrie Irving is no longer under his current contract. That means next summer, 2019, the restriction is removed. This is provided Kyrie Irving opts out of his current deal as expected. Boston could also trade for Anthony Davis right now, provided Irving was shipped out in that deal, or in another deal before the Celtics acquired Davis.

DeMarcus Cousins

  • Q: I heard the Celtics were interested in signing DeMarcus Cousins before he went to the Warriors. How? You guys told me they don’t have cap space!

A: Boston would have signed Cousins by using what is called an exception. NBA teams have a variety of exceptions available to them. If a team is over the cap, but under the luxury tax, they have the biggest exception available: The Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. This is commonly referred to as the Full MLE. For 2018-19, it is approximately $8.5 million in value. It can be used on one player or split among several players for contract up to four years in length. (More on that last part in another question!)

If teams are over the cap and over the luxury tax, they have the second biggest exception: The Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. This is commonly referred to as the Mini MLE. The value of this exception is $5.3 million for 2018-19. It can also be used on one player or split among many players. The difference is that it can only be used for contracts up to three years in length.

If a team is over the cap, but under the luxury tax apron (approximately $6 million above the tax line), they also have the Bi-Annual Exception or BAE. This is worth $3.4 million for 2018-19. The BAE can also be given to one player or split among multiple players, but it can only be used for contracts up to two years in length. In addition, teams can only use the BAE every other season. And using the BAE subjects a team to being hard capped at the luxury tax apron.

Lastly, teams that are under the cap have the Room Exception. The Room Exception is for $4.4 million 2018-19. It can also be used on one or split among multiple players. And contracts under the Room Exception can only be for two years. Essentially, the Room Exception is to give teams who clear cap space an extra tool to use after they’ve used up that cap space.

  • Q: The Warriors have a billion dollars in salaries and are paying a ton of luxury tax. How did they sign DeMarcus Cousins?

A: Golden State signed Cousins by using what is called an exception. NBA teams...wait! We just explained all of this! The Warriors gave Cousins the entirety of the Taxpayer MLE. It doesn’t matter that they were over the cap or tax. They just added to ownership’s bill at the end of the year to bring in Cousins.

The Hard Cap and the Luxury Tax

  • Q: People keep saying the Celtics have to watch out for the hard cap. What does this mean?

A: We wrote pretty extensively on the hard cap already. The really quick primer is that if the Celtics use an $5.3 million or more of the Non-Taxpayer MLE, they’ll be subjected to the hard cap. That makes it tricky to fit in all your signings and to make trades later. Read the linked article above for more details.

  • Q: It’s bad if the Celtics are a tax team this year right? Doesn’t it mean problems down the line?

A: For teams that exceed the tax for three out of four seasons, the NBA has a more punitive repeater tax. Read the linked article for much more detail, but this isn’t the problem many make it out to be. Boston wouldn’t have to pay the repeater tax for several years and the roster will change a lot by then.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and Rose Rule extensions

  • Q: I want to go back to this whole deal about only having two Rose Rule guys at once. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are awesome and only getting better. Isn’t this going to cost Boston one of them?

A: Nope. That restriction is only when you acquire players via trade that signed under the Rose Rule. Teams aren’t penalized for being awesome at drafting great talents. If Tatum and Brown prove worthy of signing for the Rose Rule, there won’t be any problems.

Kyrie Irving and signing an extension right now

  • Q: Why isn’t Kyrie signing an extension right now? I heard he can. Should I be worried?

A: Not really. It isn’t beneficial for Kyrie to sign an extension right now. He’d have to give up a considerable amount of money to do so. Kyrie can only get 120% of his current salary if he signs an extension right now. That means in 2019-20, he’d get about $26 million or so. If he opts out and signs a new max contract, he’ll get over $32 million. That’s $6 million in just first year salary alone.

Also, don’t take it to mean Kyrie doesn’t want to be in Boston or isn’t willing to sacrifice for the team. He gave up some money in his last extension and he’s said nothing but positive things about the Celtics. And Boston can offer him the most money as a free agent, which always means something.

No-trade Clauses for Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes

  • Q: Is it true that if Marcus Smart signs his qualifying offer that he has a no-trade clause? And Aron Baynes already has one?

A: Yes, it is true. Any player playing on a one-year deal that can have Early Bird or Bird Rights at the end, has an implied no-trade clause. This is because that player loses the Early Bird or Bird Rights if they are traded. In the case of Smart, if he signs the qualifying offer, or really any one-year deal with Boston, he’ll have Bird Rights after this season. Baynes, assuming he opts out of the second year, will have Early Bird Rights. This means both players have implied NTCs.

Aron Baynes’ new contract

  • Q: I heard Aron Baynes took a little less in his new deal. Why?

A: He’s a great guy and a team player? That is snarky, but it is kind of true. Baynes is reportedly signing using his Non-Bird Rights, which means he potentially left a little money on the table. But by taking the most he could using Non-Bird Rights, he left the entirety of the $8.6 million Non-Taxpayer MLE open for the Celtics to use on free agents. That could be big for adding new talent, or for retaining a guy like Jabari Bird.

A new deal for Jabari Bird

  • Q: Jabari Bird! I love that guy! Why aren’t the Celtics signing him to a new deal? Why not something that is four years long like what Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye got?

A: There are a couple of reasons Bird hasn’t been re-signed just yet. First is that he’s a restricted free agent. This means that there is no rush to get anything done, unless some other team comes with an offer. Bird is far enough down on priority lists, that Boston has time.

As for contract length: teams are limited to signing players for just two years when they use the Minimum Exception. This is why Daniel Theis was signed for just two years last year. Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye are both on contracts that pay the equivalent to the minimum salary, but were signed using cap space. When teams use cap space, or an exception, they can give players longer deals. It is likely Boston is hoping to reserve part of the Non-Taxpayer MLE to give Bird a contract longer than a year or two. There are also roster considerations and making sure they give Brad Stevens a balanced team. Again, there is no rush to get a deal done with Bird right now, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t eventually coming.