As the Celtics drop in the standings following their trade of Rajon Rondo, questions about the return the franchise received for their former star point guard remain.
To recap, Boston’s compensation in the deal consisted of three players (Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson) along with a Dallas protected future first-round pick, a 2016 second-round pick and a $12.9 million trade exception.
That last item has been the subject of some confusion for mathematically-inclined Celtics fans: How exactly did the Celtics manage to get a trade exception for the full value of Rondo’s salary ($12.9 million) while taking back three players in the deal whose salaries added up to $8.7 million?
The answer is a bit complicated, but what the Celtics front office pulled off in the trade is becoming more common in deals across the NBA these days. It’s important to understand how the team did it and what it allows them to do moving forward.
When a team trades a player in the NBA, it can make a move in one of two ways. The first is a simple straight up deal: player A for player B. The second way of trading, what the Celtics accomplished with Rondo, is more complex. It can be described as separate parallel trades within a bigger multi-player trade.
Trade exceptions are formed when a franchise trades one player and take back less salary than they send away in the deal. As NBA CBA expert Larry Coon explains, teams don’t get a trade exception when they send players together, although it’s often possible to reconfigure a multiplayer trade as separate, parallel single-player trades in order to gain trade exceptions. You can also use previously created trade exceptions in any one trade to help you create a new one in the same transaction. That’s exactly what happened in the Rondo deal.
To start the process, the Celtics have stockpiled a number of trade exceptions over the last year in a variety of different trades. Boston was granted a $3.8 million exception when they traded away Joel Anthony to the Detroit Pistons this preseason. The Celtics also created a $5.3 million exception when they signed-and-traded Kris Humphries to the Washington Wizards over the summer for virtually nothing (just a protected second-round pick).
In the Rondo trade, the Celtics used both of those earlier acquired exceptions to absorb the incoming salaries of Wright ($5 million), Nelson ($2.7 million) and Crowder ($915,000). Here’s the breakdown of how that occurred:
The salaries of Nelson and Crowder ($3.6 million combined) were taken in with the Anthony exception ($3.7 million)
The salary of Wright ($5 million) was absorbed by the Humphries exception ($5.3 million).
Using these exceptions on the players in the deal allowed the Celtics to create a brand new exception by league trade rules for Rondo’s salary, since technically they were not accepting any new salaries directly in return for Rondo. Boston’s front office lined up the deal so the team essentially traded Rondo for a first-round pick, while the other players were acquired in parallel deals (via the trade exceptions).
This sizable $12.9 million exception should continue to be one of the biggest assets the Celtics received in the deal. It’s even bigger than the $10.3 million dollar trade exception the team acquired in the Pierce/KG trade with Brooklyn back in June 2013.
Boston used that exception this past summer to help clear salary cap room for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team trade with the Brooklyn Nets. By taking on the hefty salary of Marcus Thornton ($8.5 million) without sending any players out, the Celtics were also able to acquire Tyler Zeller and a 2016 protected first-round pick from Cleveland.
This time around, look for the Celtics to do something a bit more exciting with their newly created exception, perhaps signing-and-trading for a promising young player to help replace Rondo in free agency.