The Oklahoma City Thunder holds the 21st pick in the 2014 draft. That pick is the final piece of the James Harden trade package. To recap, the still hotly-debated trade sent Harden, Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook to the Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, a first-round pick that became Steven Adams, a second-round pick that became Spanish prospect Alex Abrines, and the aforementioned upcoming first-round pick. If you’ve paid any attention to ESPN personality and Harden trade critic Bill Simmons, you already know this.
In reality, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti can get a little something more out of that trade if he so desires. The Thunder still sits on one more asset created by trading Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Martin agreed to a contract with the Timberwolves in July 2013 after one season in Oklahoma City. The Timberwolves could have cleared room under the salary cap and signed Martin outright, but doing so would have hampered the Wolves’ ability to pursue other free agents. Instead, the Thunder and Timberwolves agreed to a sign-and-trade involving Martin and expanded the deal to include the Milwaukee Bucks. Oklahoma City included an undisclosed amount of cash in the trade and received only the rights to a 30-something Polish player named Szymon Szewczyk, a 2003 draftee currently playing for Pallacanestro Virtus Roma of the Italian League. Don’t expect to own an authentic Thunder jersey with Szewczyk’s name on the back. Ever.
The Thunder didn’t make that trade because they love stockpiling draft rights to players that will never play a NBA minute (Georgios Printezis, acquired when Eric Maynor was traded to Portland, also isn’t walking through that door). The trade was made because it created a “trade exception” for the Thunder. Trade exceptions are created when a single player is traded out and the team takes back less salary in return (though many larger multi-player trades are massaged by teams into micro deals in order to create trade exceptions). In this case, the Thunder signed Martin to a new deal starting at $6.5 million and traded him to Minnesota in exchange for $0 in salary, creating a $6.5 million trade exception (there is also a $100,000 buffer, making the exception actually worth $6.6 million). Trade exceptions are valid for one year after the date of the trade.
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To get technical, the Martin trade is an example of a non-simultaneous trade. Think of it this way: The Thunder traded Martin, but have up to one year to acquire his replacement via trade.
What the Thunder can do with this exception: They can trade almost nothing in exchange for one or more players making up to $6.6 million. Or perhaps stated best, they do not have to send out matching salaries to complete a trade, as you would normally see with other teams over the salary cap. The player can be under an existing contract or can be acquired as part of a sign-and-trade transaction.
What the Thunder cannot do with this exception: They cannot aggregate the salary of a player with the exception. For example, the Thunder can’t combine this $6.6 million exception with a $9 million player and acquire a player making $15 million. The trade exception also cannot be used to sign free agents.
This exception expires on July 11, 2014. That’s one day after the end of the NBA’s annual July moratorium. Because every team’s luxury tax status is locked in place as of the last game of the regular season, the Thunder can tap into this exception before June 30 and not trigger the luxury tax this season. They can also negotiate a trade after July 1 and complete it after the moratorium ends instead.
There’s no guarantee that the Thunder will use all or even part of this exception. Historically, far more trade exceptions go unused than used. For example, the Thunder once had a trade exception worth $2.4 million via the Maynor trade, but it was allowed to expire.
Working in the Thunder’s favor is the fact that the salary cap and luxury tax line will be higher next season than anticipated. That extra breathing room might put this exception in play as the team re-tools for next season.
Jon Hamm is a NewsOK contributor, a life-long Oklahoma resident and contributor to www.dailythunder.com.
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