If you’re looking for a guiding principle as you try to decipher what teams might do at the upcoming NBA trade deadline, let me offer you this one: Follow the money.
It’s more true this year than almost any other, as we enter the trade deadline with an unprecedented 10 teams in the luxury tax (Boston, Brooklyn, Dallas, Denver, Golden State, LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Phoenix.) That’s not all: Three other teams (Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans) aren’t in the tax this year but somehow, some way, have already put themselves over the line for next year.
Unfortunately, these situations don’t always generate the sexiest of trades. But it does generate a low background hum of deal-making as tax teams look to position their books in the best way possible. That doesn’t necessarily result in Kyrie-level blockbusters, but let’s nerd out for a minute on some of the trade action likely to go under the radar.
If they’re looking to dump money, our 13 teams that are either in this year’s tax or next year’s will only have a few likely trade partners. San Antonio, obviously, is $22 million below the salary cap following Tuesday’s trade for Dewayne Dedmon and also began the week nearly $8 million below the salary floor; since that latter figure is pro-rated over the course of the season, San Antonio would have to trade for roughly $20 million in contracts this week to hit the floor. Taking on that money is essentially free for them — teams below the floor must distribute the shortfall to the players on their roster, so they’re paying either way — which strongly incentivizes the Spurs to grab whatever assets they can in return for renting $20 million in cap space they aren’t using and isn’t costing them anything.
The only other teams below the cap are Indiana, Memphis, Detroit and Orlando, but in those cases, it’s a borderline irrelevant distinction since they are practically at the cap line. Indiana is the exception, with $10.7 million remaining in room even after recently signing Myles Turner to a renegotiate-and-extend.
Large trade exceptions are another way to dump salary; the only non-taxpaying teams with exceptions worth more than $5 million whose use would not put them in the tax are Detroit ($5.3 million), Oklahoma City ($10.2 million), Utah ($9.8 million) and Toronto ($5.2 million).
And finally, minimum contracts can go virtually anywhere.
With that as the backdrop, let’s take a look at some of the money machinations that we’re likely to see in the next 48 hours:
By far the most interesting team is Phoenix, which will have a new owner very soon. Is Mat Ishbia an all-in, firehose-spending fanboy, a conservative cheapskate or something in between? We’re about to find out. The Suns are $18 million over the tax line and facing a $35 million tax penalty. They have Jae Crowder’s $10 million salary just chilling, obviously, but also have some other movable money.