Friday, May 26, 2006

GM For a Day

First and foremost, thanks to all of you for the emails checking on The WAD Dad. He’s doing very well. The ticker is still a little out of whack, but it’s nothing major. In fact, he told me to shut the hell up twice last night, so he’s clearly feeling 100%. Also, thanks to Fite and Fish for stepping in yesterday and keeping things moving along here at The WAD. And yes, Fite again wins the caption contest. I’m not sure which one of his entries took the prize, but you can just randomly pick any one of his 17! Okay, with all the gratitude out of the way, let’s move on to the business of the day.

The NBA held its annual draft lottery on Tuesday night, and for the first time in its twenty one year history, I wasn’t watching. Seriously, I am a HUGE fan of the draft lottery. Even in the years I was estranged from the NBA (1999 – 2004) I always loved the suspense, the anticipation, and the very real possibility that David Stern would rig the Lottery each year. Well, this year, I was tied up with the family stuff so I couldn’t watch the proceedings, but at least with the Knicks not owning the rights to their lottery pick, I knew I wouldn’t miss the greatest conspiracy since the allegedly frozen envelope that later became Patrick Ewing. At any rate, with a diluted draft this year (after all, with the new age limit, and with the influx of all the great high school players into the league over the past few years, the quality of eligible college players is…well…not so good!), the only real suspense was where the Hawks would end up. Fortunately for me, Shalls was still awake when I called close to midnight to get the run down of the Heat/Pistons Game 1 and the Lottery. Unfortunately, he informed me that the Hawks actually fell one position to number 5. After lamenting the fact that the Hawks can’t catch a break, Shalls and I, as only the two of us can, embarked on an hour long conversation of what this meant for the Hawks. More specifically, we batted around about twenty possible trade scenarios because, well, let’s not kid each other…nothing good can come of the Hawks actually drafting a player with that 5th pick. Let’s just say that has J.J. Reddick written all over it!

Well, ultimately, Shalls and I decided that it was too hard to figure it all out at 12:30 on a Wednesday morning, so we tabled the discussion. Needless to say, however, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. After running countless scenarios and running them against the requirements under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), I’ve finally come up with a plan. Actually, I’m not sure I’d go as far as to call it a plan, maybe just a proposal. Before giving you the details, I do want to lay out several rules from the CBA that you may not be aware of:

1) There is a thing called the Traded Player Exception. The nuts and bolts of this is that in a trade, a team that is over the cap can only take back 125% + $100,000 of the salary that they trade away. So, think of it like this: If a team is over the cap and they trade away a player making $10 million the next season, the maximum salary they can receive in return for him $12.6 million.

2) The salary cap is determined by a formula that involves a percentage of what is called the League’s Basketball Related Income (“BRI”). If you want a definition of the BRI, google it. This past season, the cap was $49.5 million or 49.5% of the BRI. This coming season, it’s set to be 51% of the BRI, so we are going to assume a slight increase in the BRI and assume this year’s salary cap will be around $52 million.

3) When you trade a draft pick, it’s “trade value” for the purposes of salary matching is $0. If, however, you draft a player, and then you trade that player, his salary for salary matching purposes is the minimum salary set by the CBA for his draft position. In other words, if the Hawks draft a player at #5 and then trade him, his salary will be calculated at $2.6 million, his minimum salary for next season under the CBA. If, however, they trade the pick before the draft, the pick has no salary for matching purposes.

4) When orchestrating a trade, one team is allowed to give up to $3 million cash to the other team, but this amount doesn’t count for the purposes of salary matching.

5) Don’t be misled by the term “salary cap”. When a team is attempting to re-sign its own free agents (and in limited cases, other team’s free agents), there are a myriad of exceptions (i.e. The Larry Bird Exception, The Early Bird Exception, The Non-Bird Exception, The Mid-level Salary Exception) that allow a team to sign free agents while exceeding the salary cap. And, it’s also important to note that if a team exceeds the salary cap, it is not really penalized (except for possibly hamstringing itself in future free agent markets) until it exceeds the luxury tax level. This, again, is a figure based off the BRI. This past year, this figure was just shy of $62 million. Or, about half of the Knicks’ payroll. God Bless Isiah.

6) Finally, you need to know that making a trade in the NBA is slightly less complicated and convoluted than nuclear power. The Collective Bargaining agreement is hundreds of pages long, and for every rule there are at least 20 exceptions, so I’m not claiming to be an expert. While I think I’ve got a pretty decent grasp on things, there is a chance that I’m missing something in the CBA that would stand in the way of my grand proposal, so if you spot a problem, don’t be shy about letting me know. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that this proposal assumes a perfect world. In other words, this assumes that the other teams involved would go for these deals, and that Billy Knight is actually interested in making the Hawks better. Admittedly, two very big assumptions.

So, here we go. Here’s my grand proposal, which consists of 2 transactions:

Deal #1

Step One: The Hawks sign Al Harrington to a max contract. Under the CBA, a max salary for the ’06 – ’07 season for a guy at Harrington’s experience level is $14.4 million. Now, this signing will be done under the sign and trade exception of the CBA which allows a team to sign a free agent and trade him as long as the contract guarantees that he will be traded within 48 hours of signing the deal. This is the only circumstance under which a team can sign a free agent and then trade him before December 15 of the following season. And, it’s worth noting that you can only do this with your own free agent. In other words, no other team could agree to sign and trade Al Harrington. Okay, that’s too much information. Moving on…

Step Two: The Hawks send Harrington, Josh Childress, and the #5 pick to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. So, the Hawks will be giving up $17.26 million in salary ($14.4 million for Harrington, $2.86 million for Childress, and $0 for the draft pick), and the Wolves will be giving up $20 million for Garnett in ’06 – ’07. At this point, because of the way the CBA accounts for exceptions (trust me, this is waaaaaayyyyy too complicated to get into…just take my word for it), the Hawks will actually be over the cap. If not, they will be close, but they won’t even be close to the luxury tax line. However, because they are taking on well less than 125% + $100,000 of the salary they are taking on, they will be well within the traded player exception. As for the Wolves, by the time they sign the draft pick, they will still be over the cap (since they were over the cap to begin with, they don’t have special accounting for exceptions…again, just take my word for it), but since the total salary they are taking on, $19.86 million ($17.26 for Childress and Harrington + $2.6 for the draft pick) is less than they are giving up, they are within the traded player exception.

Okay, so that’s transaction #1. Now:

Deal #2

The Hawks send Josh Smith and $3 million in cash to the Blazers for Sebastian Telfair. (Listen, I know this is a stretch since the Blazers have like five Josh Smiths, but I’m trying make magic happen!) So, the Hawks will be sending Smith’s $1.46 million in salary to the Blazers in exchange for Telfair’s $1.8 million (remember, the $3 million cash doesn’t count for anything). Again, because of the accounting for exceptions, the Hawks are going to be over the cap, so they have to use an exception. Fortunately, they will be taking on only 123% of the salary they are sending away, so the traded player exception will get the job done. As for the Blazers, they are way over the cap in pure salary alone (remember, the accounting for exceptions doesn’t matter for them), so they are going to have to also use the traded player exception, which of course they can, because they are actually taking on less salary than they are giving up.

Okay, so where does this leave us? Well, if my proposal some how came to fruition, The Hawks roster would look like this:

Kevin Garnett ($20 million)
Sebastian Telfair ($1.8 million)
Joe Johnson ($12 million)
Marvin Williams ($4.175 million)
Zaza Pachulia ($4 million)
Esteban Batista ($664,000)
John Edwards ($1.1 million)
Donta Smith ($745,000) (if they exercise their option)

So, that’s an eight man roster at a total salary of approximately $44.5 million. Since the accounting for all the remaining exceptions will most likely push them over the cap for accounting purposes, the Hawks will ultimately have to take advantage of one of the myriad of exceptions (i.e. Bird, Non-Bird, Early Bird, Ugly Bird, Dirty Bird, Lady Bird, etc..) that would allow them to exceed the cap to fill out the 12 man roster with their own free agents like Royal Ivey, Tyron Lue ( I can’t believe I just wrote that!), and Salim Stoudamire. Or they could even make use of the mid level exception to go out and sign a guy like Jaron Collins to serve as a back up center? Or maybe there is somebody out there that is actually a decent player that would qualify.

At the end of the day, forget about all the exceptions…this shit is so confusing that it is amazing that any deals ever get done…here’s the take away of my grand proposal:

With a starting five of Sebastian Telfair, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Zaza you’ve got the Phoenix Suns of the Eastern conference. Sure, you still don’t have a true center, but you’ve got an electric backcourt, a potential phenom at the three, a Hall of Famer at the four, and a 22 year old center that averaged 12 & 8 in his first year as a starter. Guess what? You might have the best starting five in the Eastern Conference. Find a way to plug some holes off the bench, and you might have a team that is capable of playing into June.

At the end of the day, the odds of this, or anything similar to this happening, are probably somewhere close to 1 in 1,000,000, but you can’t blame a guy for dreaming. Plus, speculating on what your team should in the off-season is just another reason why the NBA is Faaaaaannnnnnnnnnntastic!

Now that I’ve probably put you all to sleep, I’ll shut and wish you all a happy Memorial Day Weekend. I’ll be back on Tuesday. Go Clips! What? They actually did blow that series? Unbelievable.