Large expiring contracts were valuable assets just a few years ago.
It was Kwame Brown’s $9 million expiring contract that enabled the Los Angeles Lakers to acquire Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008, along with the draft rights to 48th pick Marc Gasol.
Teams have since gotten more sophisticated, taking advantage of non/partially-guaranteed contracts, trade exceptions and cap room to facilitate trades.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a vital trade asset in the non-guaranteed $10.5 million contract of Brendan Haywood. The Boston Celtics possess a $12.9 million trade exception for Rajon Rondo.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers have been using cap space to take on unwanted guaranteed players for a price — draft picks.
The following list represents the top trade chip contracts in the NBA this summer:
1) Brendan Haywood ($10.5 million) — Cavaliers — Depending on their luxury-tax position, Cleveland can bring in a player making $13-15.5 million in salary in return for Haywood. The team acquiring the veteran center would presumably cut him, clearing significant money off their books this summer.
2) Caron Butler ($4.5 million), Anthony Tolliver ($3 million) and Shawne Williams ($1.4 million) — Detroit Pistons — The trio combine to make $8.9 million in waivable salary, less Tolliver’s $400k guarantee.
3) Wilson Chandler ($7.2 million) and Randy Foye ($3.1 million) — Denver Nuggets. Together, Chandler and Foye will earn $10.3 million, but only Chandler has any guaranteed salary ($2 million).
4) Ben Gordon ($4.5 million) and Luke Ridnour ($2.8 million) — Orlando Magic — Orlando can send out Gordon and Ridnour ($7.3 million non-guaranteed) to bring back over $11 million in salary.
5) Jamal Crawford ($5.7 million) and Matt Barnes ($3.5 million) — Los Angeles Clippers — The Clippers don’t have many trade assets. Their veteran duo will make $9.2 million together with a combined $2.5 million guaranteed.
6) Chris Kaman ($5.0 million) — Portland Trail Blazers — Only $1 million of Kaman’s contract is guaranteed.
7) Trevor Booker ($4.8 million) — Utah Jazz — Booker has just $250k locked in.
8) For the forward thinking general managers, the following contracts are fully guaranteed for 2015-16 but have non/partial-guarantees for 2016-17: Martell Webster, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair (Washington Wizards) combine to make $12.5 million of non-guaranteed salary; Ersan Ilyasova’s $8.4 million (Milwaukee Bucks) is only $400k guaranteed; Jarrett Jack’s $6.3 million (Brooklyn Nets) is promised just $500k; Jason Thompson’s $6.8 million (Sacramento Kings) has a $2.7 million guarantee; Boris Diaw’s $7 million (San Antonio Spurs) only promises him $3 million; Anthony Morrow’s $3.5 million (Oklahoma City Thunder) is non-guaranteed; P.J. Tucker’s $5.3 million (Phoenix Suns) is only locked in for $1.5 million; and Shaun Livingston’s $5.8 million (Golden State Warriors) has a $3 million guarantee. Additionally, Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack are $5.7 million of non-guaranteed salary together for the Atlanta Hawks in 2016-17.
9) Jordan Hill ($9 million) — Lakers — Hill has a team option, which must be taken before the end of June if the Lakers find a trade partner. Hill is essentially a traditional expiring contract, but one the Lakers can drop off their books if they don’t line up a deal by July.
10) A number of players are going into the final years of their deals but are fully guaranteed: Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson ($24.9 million); Washington’s Nene ($13 million); Portland’s Nicolas Batum ($12.2 million); Boston’s Gerald Wallace ($10.1 million); Denver’s Danilo Gallinari ($11.6 million); and Milwaukee Bucks’ O.J. Mayo ($8 million), among others.
A number of veterans have player options this season including LeBron James, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, David West and many others. By choosing to opt into their deals before July, they would then have traditional expiring contracts — although some won’t come within miles of the trade block.
In addition to the Celtics’ $12.9 million Rondo trade exception (TPE), they also have one for $7.7 million (Tayshaun Prince). The Nuggets own an $11.3 million TPE for JaVale McGee and a $7.5 million TPE for Arron Afflalo.
The Minnesota Timberwolves still have $6.3 million left in their Kevin Love TPE. The New York Knicks have a $6.0 million TPE for J.R. Smith and the Suns have a $5.5 million TPE for Goran Dragic.
A number of teams have exceptions smaller than $5 million, like the Wizards’ $4.6 million TPE for Andre Miller.
If a team falls below the salary cap, they lose their trade exceptions.
Finally, a franchise can simply absorb a player via their cap room, like the Sixers so often do. A third of the league could have sizable cap space this summer.
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