- J.A. Adande, NBA
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The NBA sought a collective bargaining agreement that would limit player movement and in the process got a system that makes it easier to move players.
If you love trades, you'll love the new rules. Incoming and outgoing salaries don't need to match as closely. The obscure base-year compensation rule that left many trade ideas as far from reality as a concept car at an auto show is almost gone. And even the luxury-tax teams are free to join the sign-and-trade party -- at least for the next two years.
The luxury-tax teams are precisely who you would expect to be the most active in this newly loosened free-agent market. The proposed system all but gives them a mandate: Go for it now, while you still can participate in sign-and-trade deals and before the luxury tax penalties get stiffer, at a potentially lower threshold. So it makes sense for the Lakers and Spurs and Celtics to push in all their chips, no matter the cost, and hold off on using the amnesty clause to get out of the luxury tax until a couple of years down the line.
What this proposed set of rules -- which still need to be ratified by the owners and players -- would do is make the NBA more fun for all of us amateur general managers. You're less likely to see the dreaded red "This Trade Failed" rejection when you run your ideas through the ESPN.com Trade Machine. (Before you wear out your mouse button, be warned the new proposal needs to be finalized before the Trade Machine can be updated with the new rules).
Best of all, we can get back to judging real trades based on statistics instead of salaries. So many moves were payroll-related that I didn't even bother to analyze the production of the players; instead I went straight to the spreadsheets to see the financial motivations behind the deals. With the amnesty clause allowing teams to clear their bad contracts off the salary cap, we won't see as many trades executed strictly for the sake of landing expiring contracts that can translate into cleared cap space. No more Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown.
It doesn't mean the end of adding players to the configuration to get a deal done, though. For example, if the Lakers wanted to send Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to the Magic for Dwight Howard, it would require additional players in order to get the salaries in line because Howard doesn't make quite enough to offset Bynum's and Odom's salaries. But we have seen the last of players getting traded for salary cap purposes, only to be waived and re-sign with their old team for the rest of the season. In the new deal, waived players are not allowed to re-sign with their old teams until one year after the trade or the July 1 expiration of their contract, whichever comes first. Call it the Z Clause, since we all remember Zydrunas Ilgauskas going back to Cleveland after he was sent to Washington in the Antawn Jamison trade, then waived by the Wizards.
Unfortunately, the new proposal does not allow for teams to use the amnesty clause on a player who has been acquired in a trade; it's only applicable to contracts that are currently on the books. I would have liked to see teams that don't have a pressing need use the amnesty clause rewarded for their spending discretion and be in position to pick up cheap talent in exchange for taking expensive contracts off the hands of teams that had already used their amnesty clause.
Meanwhile, there are provisions that don't allow the big spenders to fully participate in this expanded trade market. One of the new toys that tax teams don't get to try out is the looser traded player exception that allows teams above the salary cap to take back the lesser of 150 percent of the salaries being traded plus $100,000, or 100 percent plus $5 million. Previously, teams were limited to receiving 125 percent plus $100,000 of the traded players' salary.
So let's say the Suns wanted to send Steve Nash back to Dallas and Shawn Marion back to Phoenix, the team that drafted him. Nash can't be enthralled with the prospect of sticking around for the final year of his contract or coming back to a team that, at best, has a shot at making the playoffs. Phoenix could let him rejoin his buddy Dirk Nowitzki and go for a ring with the defending champions. He'd also complete the circle, teaming with Jason Kidd again after Kidd mentored him in his rookie year in Phoenix. Dallas might need the point guard depth with free agent J.J. Barea a strong candidate to win the Tyronn Lue Award for biggest raise earned by a secondary player during the NBA Finals. And if the Mavericks re-sign Caron Butler, they won't need Marion as much.
Phoenix, meanwhile, could use a versatile small forward like Marion, especially because Grant Hill is a free agent and Vince Carter will be as soon as the Suns decline the $18 million final-year option on his contract. The Suns were 34-14 (.708) when they sent Marion to Miami as part of the Shaquille O'Neal trade in February 2008. They finished 21-13 that season and have had a winning percentage of .575 ever since. That's not all about Marion, and Marion isn't all he was four seasons ago, but he showed in the Finals that he can still be a matchup advantage and contribute to a winning team.
Whether you like that trade idea or not, the point is it can be done, straight up. It wouldn't work under the old rules because Nash's salary of $11,689,062 would not fall within 125 percent of Marion's salary plus $100,000 ($10,128,061). But 150 percent of Marion's salary plus $100,000 is $12,133,673, which would allow the Mavericks to make the deal (as long as they did it before any free-agent signings put them above the luxury tax).
Another option now available to the Suns would be trading Nash to the Atlanta Hawks for Al Horford (the deal would have to wait until after Jan. 15). Any team could use an All-Star big man like Horford. And how about Nash joining the perpetually point guard-deficient Hawks to throw alley-oops to Josh Smith? (And, um Smith swatting away any opponents who get past Nash and into the paint?) Or Nash driving and kicking to Joe Johnson the way he used to in Phoenix? It could happen, with only Nash and Horford having to change jerseys. It wouldn't be so easy under the old rules. Because Horford's salary jumped more than 20 percent (to $12 million) this season and he would have been considered a base-year compensation player and his value for trade purposes would have been only 50 percent of his salary, or $6 million, not nearly enough to compensate for Nash. Now that rule has been wiped out, so this deal could be done.
These are just two examples, based on one player on one team. Go ahead, let your imagination run wild. All of a sudden, your ideas are no longer so far-fetched.
Under the new rules, you can expect there to be a lot more trades in the NBA.