WALTHAM, Mass. -- In this era of instant gratification, what's immediately available to the Boston Celtics after a blockbuster swap with the Brooklyn Nets will do little to excite a fan base reluctant to endure this transition process after six consecutive years of contender status. But this deal was built around future assets and not just the three first-round draft picks (2014, '16, '18) and a chance to swap first-round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft.
The Celtics acquired a $10.3 million trade exception as part of the Nets swap. That's an insanely valuable asset for a team that could put itself in position to vault back to contender status -- and remain there -- if it makes the right steps moving forward.
What is a trade exception? If you don't want to drown in legalese, you can read Larry Coon's detailed explanation in his indispensable NBA Salary Cap FAQ. But trade exceptions essentially give teams a one-year window in which to complete a trade by acquiring the difference in salary sent out.
The creative wizards in the Celtics' front office -- a group helmed by president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, assistant general manager Mike Zarren and director of player personnel Austin Ainge -- were able to structure the Nets deal in such a way that a trade exception was generated for the difference in salaries between Paul Pierce ($15.3 million) and Keith Bogans ($5 million). Understanding exactly how that happened and why it works is enough to make you go cross-eyed. The bottom line is that Boston now has the ability to absorb $10.3 million worth of salary so long as it does so within a one-year window that started with Friday's official consummation of the trade.
At the moment, the trade exception is of little use (though it could potentially be divided into smaller chunks to facilitate a more minor move). By receiving Bogans via sign-and-trade, the Celtics are hard-capped this season, meaning they cannot exceed the luxury tax apron ($75.75 million) at any point during the 2013-14 campaign.
After waiving Kris Joseph on Monday, the Celtics have 14 signed players (including one non-guaranteed deal in Shavlik Randolph) for a total current salary commitment of roughly $71.5 million. The Celtics plan to add more salary, but also desire to stay below the luxury tax threshold of $71.75 million, which could further aid their future efforts by keeping them away from looming repeater rates. There's more roster shuffling ahead this summer.
But by clearing additional cap clog, the Celtics have potential to stomp on the rebuilding accelerator pedal in a year's time, particularly if a young core is nurtured this season. Boston owns two first-round picks next June (its own and Brooklyn's), which will allow it to add to its growing cluster of low-cost bodies. If the Celtics can shed additional salary and have the trade exception at their disposal, there's the potential to add impact bodies (or generate more picks by taking on a bad contract), that could give Boston an extra push through the muddy transition state.
Of course, this puts a little pressure on Boston's front office. The trade exception will expire on July 12, 2014, meaning it has to be used soon after the moratorium lifts next summer. But the sign-and-trade options it affords could bring in a star-caliber player. Just check out NBA Reference's player contract register and examine potential options in the $10 million range for the 2014-15 season (or pick two $5 million bodies). If another team desires to shed salary and head into its own rebuild mode by moving on from a star player, Boston can absorb that talent.
Which means that while fans might have struggled to muster enthusiasm for Monday's introductions, next summer could lead to much glitzier reveals. Instant gratification is what all fans desire, but the Celtics are all about future assets at the moment, and this trade exception could aid this overhaul process.