Many Dallas Mavericks fans and the NBA in general love to play the role of fantasy general manager, trying to figure out what they think a team or player might do in free agency and other times when teams can try to change and improve their list. But it’s not easy and often fans misunderstand what’s possible under the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA, as of now).
So we’re introducing ABC Corner, where I’ll try to dive into complex ABC topics in stand-alone articles from time to time when the situation calls for it. This will usually be in response to conversations and questions I see from Mavericks fans on social media. I am sent a lot of questions from fans trying to imagine ways to improve the team composition. Sometimes I can answer these questions quickly with a short answer.
MLE taxpayer. About 3 years 20 million in total
— MavsCBA (@CBAMavs) May 15, 2022
Other times the answer is so convoluted that I may choose to (a) oversimplify the answer to fit into a tweet, (b) ignore the question entirely, or (c) answer in a long thread. I will not include examples.
For questions that require a long answer, I really appreciate the MavsMoneyBall platform to dive a little deeper. I addressed some of these types of questions in my SpotifyLive with Kirk.
Now let’s move on to the question that is by far the most asked of me. These are in fact two questions that are deeply linked.
- “Can the Mavericks sign and trade Jalen Brunson for (contracted productive player)?”
- “Can the Mavericks sign and trade for (free agent I love)?”
I’m grouping them together because it’s very likely that people are just trying to figure out how signs and exchanges work with either of these questions. Personally, I think Brunson has done pretty well this postseason and I want the Mavericks to just re-sign him, but that’s not why you’re here.
Put the F in the FAQ
Whenever a report or rumor comes out about a 2022 free agent, I will definitely get some tags or DMs to find out if the Mats can acquire them. Here are two examples.
Mo Bamba is ‘likely’ to leave Orlando in free agency, per @JakeLFischer
“The idea of incorporating Smith or Holmgren into the Orlando rebuild has raised an expectation among league personnel that Bamba, a restricted free agent this summer, is likely to leave the franchise.” pic.twitter.com/1wWb0cEIXk
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) May 20, 2022
So for my own sanity I will now just link this column when people ask.
Jalen Brunson is a player who has his fair share of “keep at all costs” fans and a vocal group of “he’s the best big money next to Luka, so sign him and trade him” non-fans. And with the addition of the Spencer Dinwiddie, the conversation about Brunson has grown stronger.
i’m actually NOT trying to convince you one way or another. I’m 100% sure you’ll be able to find this lively conversation in the comments to this article. I just prefer to inform you of the rules that put in place the legal safeguards for all of these signed and exchanged Brunson conversations.
1.) Can the Mavericks trade Jalen Brunson in a Sign-and-Trade away this offseason?
Yes, but it’s complicated.
There is a Base Year Remuneration (BYC) because Brunson is ending a contract that pays him very little compared to the contract he is about to sign. This roadblock concerns a confusing part of the ABC’s trading rules.
If a player signs a contract with more than a 20% increase using bird rights, his OUTGOING salary in a sign-and-trade will only count whichever is greater between (a) his previous year’s salary or (b) ) 50% of the first year. of his new contract.
This brings us to BUSINESS MATHEMATICS. It is very important and difficult to understand, but the exchanges are organized SEPARATELY from each team’s point of view. So you need to check if the trade is working from the perspective of each team involved in the trade.
The BYC The issue means that on the Mavericks side, Brunson will only match 50% of the first year’s salary in his new contract.
Let’s say he signs for $20 million in the first year. That means the trade math for Dallas is that he only counts for $10 million outbound. As a taxpayer team, that means the Mavs could only receive $12.6 million ($10 million times 1.25 + $100,000).
The team receiving Brunson at $20 million counts his actual salary in their trade calculations. The fact that they are getting a signed and traded player means they will be a non-tax team. Trade rules allow a non-tax team to receive Brunson’s hypnotic $20 million salary if they send in at least $15 million.
So BYC means trading Brunson in a simple straight trade wouldn’t work for either team.
So BYC means trading Brunson in a simple straight trade wouldn’t work for either team.
So the easiest way to make it work is to include a third team to absorb (using cap space or a traded player exception) a small contract from the team receiving Brunson. This is an example of what it would look like.
Since the calculations from each team’s perspective must be balanced, Brunson’s BYC issues will require a bit of trade gymnastics to complete a trade as I just demonstrated. Brunson’s 50% payout problem CAN be overcome if you make the trade large enough. Let’s look at a fake Brunson for Gobert trade.
Receiving troubled free agents from signing and trading
We are going to get into the different question is what is called the Hard Cap. Three elements trigger the Hard Cap:
- Use of your semester exception
- Using the Mid-Level Full Exception
- Receive a free agent in a sign-and-trade deal
The hard cap figure is estimated to be about $6.6 million more than the luxury tax line. The difference between the tax line and the tax apron will increase if the ceiling finalized in July is higher. Similarly, the difference between the tax line and the tax apron will decrease a little if the ceiling stabilizes lower. These are the current salary cap, tax line and projected tax apron figures for 2022-23.
Maverick Salary Calculations for Capping Purposes
Including all of our signed players and the salary of 26th overall, the Mavs are already above the tax apron. When calculating team salary for hard cap purposes, you should assume that your players have reached all of their probable and unlikely incentives. Thus, Maxi Kleber and Spencer Dinwiddie combine to count $350,001 more than their current cap charges. These unlikely incentives do not count towards the cap, but should not be counted as you cannot exceed the Hard Cap with any incentive. You can see it in my Mavericks summary sheet below.
Can we use Bird Rights or the Taxpayer MLE to exceed the Hard Cap?
NOPE, there is no reason why you are allowed to go over the tax apron after triggering the hard cap. It’s called a Hard Cap to mean it’s inflexible. This is why we need to include the probable and unlikely incentives for Kleber and Dinwiddie. So if the Mavericks made a nod and traded and were just below the tax apron, they couldn’t use any amount of the $6.39 million MLE from the taxpayer that put them above.
This brings us to the second related question I mentioned earlier
2. What should happen IF the Mavericks trade for Lavine or DeAndre Ayton or Mo Bamba or Robinson or any other free agent?
That means the Mavericks would have to cut their salary before or during the signing and trade to fall below the projected $155,664,791 million, including all incentives. Since we’re slightly over without including Brunson, you should pre-empty players and/or have a very lopsided trade to end up under the apron after all is said and done. Here’s a fictional attempt to stay under the cap while trying to keep Brunson and acquire Zach Lavine.
This trade should clear other hurdles like Lavine’s BYC and the fact that this package, even with 2 unprotected future 1sts, would be easily turned down by Chicago, but I wanted to show the results of breaking the cap. The Mavericks cannot do the above additions and subtractions without first clearing MORE THAN $25,482,695 in salary. I show salaries that could do this here.
So it worked, but the Mavericks are left with just 12 players and no room to sign more. And they lost the ability to use the MLE. And how can you even throw away Bertans and Bullock without trading other very positive assets? Sure, Bullock is a good deal, but Bertans isn’t.
The other idea is to use Brunson in the trade for Ayton or Lavine or any other free agent. This may solve the problem halfway, but as you trade Brunson, his salary will need to be matched in return. Therefore, a good salary would still have to be drained to go under the Hard Cap.
Dumping salary will be expensive
One thing I really hate is when people easily explain that another team will take a future second or two to absorb a player like Bertans. This offseason, there are really only 5 cap space teams with a TOTAL of 123 million cap space. Do you think the Mavericks buying 16 million to absorb Bertans will cost a small asset or two? This will be a ceiling space SELLERS market. And even Oklahoma City is no longer the dumping ground they once were. They won’t even be a cap space team!
My opinion and my prognosis
I don’t think the Mavericks will acquire a free agent via sign-and-trade. Also, I think the Mavericks are just going to do the obvious and re-sign Brunson by outbidding the other teams. Here is a list of Cap Space teams currently projected according to Sportac.
Here are the teams that should have enough cap space to sign Brunson outright:
- Orlando Magic ($27.5 million)
- Detroit Pistons ($27.4 million)
- Indiana Pacers ($25.7 million)
- San Antonio Spurs ($22.8 million)
- Portland Trail Blazers ($19.6 million)
They should NOT play a game like they lost Tyson Chandler. Being distracted by the possibly accessible shiny object.
And the good thing about keeping Brunson is that he’s currently 25! Even on a 5 year contract, he would be at his best all the time. And for those aspiring to trade Brunson now, re-signing and trading him down the line takes away his issues from BYC.
I can’t wait to see what happens when free agency opens. Hope to see the Mavericks retain Jalen Brunson for the foreseeable future.