A Boston Celtics trade deadline primer

A rundown of what the Celtics can do before and after February 8 and the many things they can’t.

Trade season is upon us, the first under the suffocating new regime of the 2023 collective bargaining agreement. Despite the draconian anti-Celtics bias of the new CBA, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing the Celtics can do, but we’ve got some new restrictions to wrestle with as we enter the deadline.

First, we’ll start with a rundown of the trade rules generally (including the new rules), then a discussion of the Celtics’ tradeable assets, and finally a few types of players they could target.

Like Shrek (or an onion), the NBA’s CBA and the rules around trading have layers; seemingly endless amounts of them, but let’s start with the basics. The NBA’s salary cap is a soft cap. In other words, you can go over it (I apologize in advance for the colossal number of times I’m about to say “in other words” in this article). In the Celtics’ case, they are roughly a cool $51.3 million over the cap this season (per Spotrac.com, and really everything in this article per the heroes at Spotrac).

This matters for a few reasons that we will discuss later, but as it specifically relates to trades, being over the cap limits how you can structure deals. In simple terms, teams over the cap have to match the amount of the outgoing salaries (players they are trading) with the incoming salaries (players they are trading for).

It’s not a dollar-for-dollar match, however. Otherwise, it would be basically impossible to trade because you’d be limited to players that have the exact dollar amount of the player you are trading away. Instead, the general rule, and the rule under the previous CBA, is that teams could take back up to 125% of their outgoing salary. Unfortunately, the new CBA has amended this for teams over a certain salary threshold. That threshold is what’s affectionately known as the first apron.

The CBA is designed so that the more amount of money you spend, the more punitive the restrictions. The first threshold is obviously the cap itself. Once you get beyond the soft cap ($136 million). you can’t sign free agents without using an exception. Then you hit the luxury tax threshold ($165 million) where you have to pay the league for each dollar above the tax line. Then you hit the first apron ($172 million) and then the second apron ($183 million). At both aprons, different restrictions apply. We don’t have to worry about which apron each restriction applies because the Celtics are already well past the second apron with total salaries equaling about $187 million, which means every restriction applies.

The most important apron restriction for trade purposes is that the Cs can’t take back 125% of outgoing salary. Instead, they’re limited to 110% (which falls to 100% after July 1st this offseason and will stay at that level into the future).

Let’s look at a simple example. This is blasphemy, but let’s pretend the Celtics are trading Sam Hauser. He makes $1.9 million dollars this year. With Sam’s money outgoing, the Celtics can receive a player making around $2.1 million in a trade. Easy peasy.

Now that we’ve got the basics, let’s take a look at the Celtics tradeable assets.

You’ll notice that you can actually cobble together a pretty decent amount of money if you combine a few of the end-of-the-bench guys. If you put JD Walsh, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Lamar Stevens together, you can total roughly $5.16 million of tradeable salary, which means we can take back a player making roughly $5.676 million. Let’s keep that number in mind for section 3.

Before we move on, we need to address the PPP: the Payton Pritchard Problem. Because Pritchard received a rookie extension this offseason, his contract is referred to as a Poison Pill Contract. That sounds way cooler than it is. Long story short, unlike in the Sam Hauser example, Pritchard’s salary counts differently for the Celtics than the team that is receiving him in a trade. His salary to the Celtics is $4 million outgoing, but for the team receiving him, it is $6.8 million incoming (the average of his current salary and all the extension years). It is very tricky to trade Pritchard, but not impossible. It’s made considerably easier to a team with cap space because they can just absorb the extra money and send back the Celtics a player making up to $4.4 million. If you’re lost, that’s ok. The main takeaway is that Pritchard is far less likely to move because of this than some of the other bench players.



Gideon Canice

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