This morning I took the Big Show crew to task for not having any idea about how the “idea” of the Paul Pierce to Portland for Nick Van Exel and the number three pick in the draft would work. Glenn Ordway didn’t believe that the Celtics would be able to then dump Van Exel and use his money to sign a premier free agent.

I received an email this afternoon from a prominent Boston sports media member essentially challenging me to put up or shut up on this deal. This person wanted me to prove what I was saying and show where I was getting the information. They even wanted me to get into the CBA and explain it to them. So here goes…

I erred slightly in my presentation of the idea this morning. (The mentioned media member is not aware of this, I am stating this on my own after doing some more research on the matter.) I had stated that the Celtics could decline the option on Van Exel after making the deal and that this would free up the money that would have been coming to Van Exel had the option been exercised. That was incorrect.

I was going along with what Chad Ford had stated at ESPN Insider:

Van Exel has a team option on his contract this year. That means the Celtics could trade for his $12.7 million contract, and essentially waive him without owing him a penny. In other words, the Celtics would get the draft pick and cut their cap by more than $13 million (Pierce makes a little more than Van Exel).

That was my first and biggest mistake. So in this piece here, I’m going to show how Ford was wrong, but that how the deal can still work.

Here’s how it would work and why it would work.

It seems that back in 2002, Van Exel was so eager to get out of Denver and over to Dallas that he waived salary protection on the final year of his contract – 2005-06 – making the salary that year non-guaranteed. This article by Marc Stein from February, 2004 on ESPN.com bears that out:

In fact, he helped facilitate his trade to Dallas in the spring of '02 by waiving salary protection on the final year of his contract. In effect, he forfeited nearly $12 million -- but it helped convince the Mavericks to make the deal with Denver.

Van Exel thus has only one season of guaranteed money left on his contract after this season. He has an option to terminate the contract this summer and become a free agent but admits that he probably can't afford to opt out, saying, "I gave up a lot of money already."

This fact is repeated in these entries on the web site of the Oregonian.

So what are the implications of this fact?

I tried to look at the actual documents of the Salary Cap, which are usually available at http://www.nbpa.com/. However I could not connect to the site. In lieu of that, I went to a site that is considered a good reference for those wishing the understand the Salary Cap and CBA in “plain english”. Notice question number 52 and the answer:

52. Do released players count against the cap?

Released (waived) players with guaranteed contracts continue to be included in the team salary. Players whose contracts are not guaranteed, including training camp invitees who do not make the opening day roster, are included in team salary in the amount they made while they were with the team.

It would appear from that statement that if the Celtics were to acquire Van Exel and then release him, the only amount that would count towards the cap is the amount that he was paid in the short time he was with the club, which if it was in the summer, wouldn’t seem to be anything. Ford, in his above comment on the item, neglected to mention that Van Exel’s contract is not guaranteed next year.

Since that money would not be on the books and against the cap, the Celtics would be under the cap and able to pursue a free agent.

It took me about 10 minutes to research that. I knew that the deal would work and that the Celtics would be able to use the money, but I mis-stated how they would be able to do it. The bigger point is that it took such a short time to research the issue and find the answer. I expected that highly paid sports commentators would be able to at least do the same.

What made this complicated was the fact that this situation is so unique. I can’t imagine that many NBA players at or close to the max have any part of their deals that are non-guaranteed. It just doesn’t seem logical. But since Van Exel wanted out of his deal so badly he gave up the guaranteed salary for next year.

Now, the media person did bring up a good point regarding Antoine Walker.

Walker is covered under the Larry Bird rule meaning that he represents 150% of his last year's contract on their current salary cap number which amounts to $21,937,500. They would be forced to either renounce him outright or re-sign him to a much lower figure before they could sign any of those premium free agents.

It would appear that Walker would need to be dealt with before the Celtics would be able to move on this.

But again…Danny Ainge has shot this idea down, so we’re all dealing in hypotheticals. Right?

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