It’s so hard to keep track of all the moving parts in Danny Ainge’s rebuilding plan. There are so many picks with so many protections from so many teams. Players have come and gone. And, the thing that most people aren’t talking about, is how the Celtics structure just about every trade to get themselves a “traded player exception”.
If you know what a TPE is, then you can skip this paragraph. If you don’t, it’s essentially a hole the size of an outgoing player’s salary that the team has one year to use to absorb a player making that much money or less. Tayshaun Prince was just traded away, and the deal was structured to give the Celtics a $7.7 million TPE. They have one year from the date of the trade to use it if they want to acquire a player who makes that or less. They can’t combine it with another TPE to bring in a player who makes more, but they can split it up to use on players who make less. If they don’t use it within a year, it goes away.
The Celtics can create all these TPE’s (they currently have 10, ranging from $152,757 to $12.9 million) because teams can structure trades however they want as long as it’s legal under the collective bargaining agreement. The Celtics and Pistons don’t have to submit the same trade the same way. As long as each team has the same moving parts, each team can submit the trade in a fashion that suits them best. The Celtics have chosen to structure most of their deals, essentially, as a combination of smaller deals that allows them to create the TPE.
This is all very important to this discussion of the trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (oh, and Jason Terry) to Brooklyn because it allowed the Celtics to get Isaiah Thomas for nothing.
We know that Pierce, Garnett, and Terry were sent to Brooklyn for Keith Bogans, Marshon Brooks, and Kris Humprhies. The Celtics also got three first round draft picks and the right to swap spots with Brooklyn in 2017. They also created a $10.3 million TPE, which Ainge likes to have around just in case some team somewhere is desperate to dump a salary.
Enter LeBron James.
When LeBron decided he wanted to sign in Cleveland, the Cavaliers needed to start shedding salary, and they needed help doing so. The Nets and Celtics were willing to help, but the Nets also wanted to do a little shedding themselves. The Celtics were set up nicely with that trade exception to handle the request. They acquired Marcus Thornton from Brooklyn, whose salary fit nicely into that TPE. They also got Tyler Zeller and the Cavs first round pick in 2016. The Celtics also sent out a 2nd round pick that is protected to the 55th selection, which means if the Celtics’ 2nd round pick this year comes sooner than 55 (which it will unless they go on the most miraculous playoff run ever), the Celtics get to keep the pick.
On Thursday, the Celtics sent out the player they acquired simply by filling a hole created by the original Pierce/KG trade, and the pick they got from Cleveland, for Isaiah Thomas.
Poof. None of their originally drafted or signed assets were involved. None of their own draft picks are actually going anywhere. Just the salary dump and a meaningless pick. The Celtics now have Tyler Zeller and Isaiah Thomas to show for it.
But wait, there’s more.
Did you know the Pierce/KG trade also has a connection to the Rondo trade?
Keith Bogans, who was acquired in that deal, was sent Cleveland for a bunch of players we don’t remember. Except one of those players was Dwight Powell… who was then attached to Rondo and sent to Dallas for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and picks.
Confusing? That’s ok, I made a chart for you (click on it to enlarge):
There are still assets left to be used to add to this. We still can’t judge just how much of a fleecing this trade was until this ball stops rolling. But here is the recap of what the Celtics now have because of the trade, and subsequent moves involving the pieces acquired in the deal.
Players: Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Zeller, Jae Crowder, James Young (drafted with Brooklyn’s 2014 1st round pick)
Picks: Brooklyn’s 2016, 2018 unprotected first rounders. Right to switch spots with Brooklyn in 2017. Minnesota 1st round pick (via Phoenix) (top 12 protected in 2015/16, becomes 2 2nd’s in 2017). Dallas 1st round pick (protected for selections 1-3 and 15-30 in 2015, 1-7 in 2016, 1-7 in 2017, 1-7 in 2018, 1-7 in 2019 and 1-7 in 2020 and unprotected in 2021). Philadelphia 1st round pick in 2015 (lottery protected, becomes 2nd round picks in 2015, 2016). Washington’s 2015 2nd round pick (Humphries trade.. protected for selections 31-49. If it falls in that range, Wizards keep the pick)
Trade Exceptions: $285,815 (Bogans, expires 9/25/15), $152,757 (Anthony, expires 10/19/15), $12,909,090 (Rondo, expires 12/18/15), $507,336 (Powell, expires $507,336), $500,000 (Wright, expires, 1/9/16, partially used to acquire Jonas Jerebko), $625,280 (Nelson, expires 1/13/16). $1,336,394 (Thornton, expires 2/19/16).
This cascade of moves all came from that single drop of water that was the decision to trade Paul Pierce. As sad as it was to see him go, and to take Kevin Garnett with him (oh, yeah, and Jason Terry), it touched off a series of events that is STILL paying dividends. They have four young players, in all likelihood four more first round picks and a couple of seconds, and seven different trade exceptions that the Celtics can use to take on salary in future trades.
It’s an amazing set of circumstances and proof that Ainge and the Celtics front office have mastered the collective bargaining agreement. If they can hit on a couple of those picks, or flip them in a trade for a star player, then we’ll ultimately end up with one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.