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CBAMavs Corner: Explaining all the Jalen Brunson sign-and-trade scenarios

If the Mavericks and Brunson can’t come to an agreement, parting ways and not losing him for nothing is difficult

Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Many Dallas Mavericks fans and NBA fans in general love playing the role of fantasy General Manager, trying to map out what they think a team or player could do in free agency and other periods when teams can try to change and improve their roster. But it’s not easy and often, fans misunderstand what is possible under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA, from here on out).

So we’re introducing CBA Corner, where I am going to try and dive into complex CBA topics in standalone articles from time to time when the situation calls for it. It will usually be in response to the conversations and questions I see from Mavericks fans on social media. I get sent a lot of questions on there from fans trying to imagine ways to improve the team’s roster. Sometimes I can answer these questions quickly with a short response.

Other times the answer is so complicated that I can choose to (a) over-simplify the answer to fit a tweet, (b) ignore the question entirely, or (c) answer in a long thread. I’m not going to embed any examples.

For questions that require a long form answer I really appreciate the MavsMoneyBall platform to dive a little deeper. I tackled some of these types of questions in my SpotifyLive with Kirk.

Now let’s get into the question I get asked by far the most. It’s actually two questions that are deeply connected.

  1. “Can the Mavericks sign-and-trade Jalen Brunson away for (productive under contract player)?”
  2. “Can the Mavericks sign-and-trade for (free agent I like)?”

I’m grouping these together because it’s very likely people are just trying to understand how sign-and-trades work with either of these questions. I personally think Brunson did quite well this postseason and I want the Mavericks to simply re-sign him but that’s not why you are here.

Putting the F in FAQ

Anytime a report or rumor comes out about a 2022 free agent I will certainly get a few tags or DMs about if the Mavs can acquire them. Here are two examples.

So for my own sanity I will now just link this column when people ask.

Jalen Brunson is a player that has his fair share of “keep at all costs” fans and a vocal group of “he isn’t the best big money fit next to Luka so sign-and-trade him” non-fans. And with the addition of the Spencer Dinwiddie the conversation about Brunson has gotten louder.

I’m actually NOT trying to convince you one way or the other. I’m 100% sure you will be able to find that lively conversation in the comments of this very post. I’d rather just inform you of the rules that set-up the legal guardrails for all these sign-and-trade 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 Compensation (BYC) problem because Brunson is ending a contract that paid him very little compared to the contract he’s about to sign. This roadblock relates to a confusing part of the CBA trade rules.

If a player signs a contract with more than a 20% raise using bird rights then his OUTGOING salary in a sign-and-trade will only count the higher of (a) his previous year salary or (b) 50% of the first year of his new contract.

This brings us to TRADE MATH. This is very important and difficult to understand, but trades are organized SEPARETLY from each teams perspective. So you have to check if the trade works from the perspective of each team involved in the trade.

The BYC problem means that on the Mavericks-side trading Brunson will only equal 50% of the first year salary in his new contract.

Let’s imagine he signs for $20 million in the first year. That means the trade math for Dallas is that he counts for only $10 million outgoing. As a taxpaying team that means the Mavs could only receive back $12.6 million ($10 million times 1.25 + $100,000).

The team receiving Brunson at $20 million counts his actual salary in their trade math. Them receiving a sign-and-traded player means they’ll most likely be a non-tax team. The trade rules allow a non-tax team to receive Brunson’s hypnotical $20 million salary if they send out at least $15 million.

So BYC means trading Brunson in a simple direct trade wouldn’t work for one of the teams.

So BYC means trading Brunson in a simple direct trade wouldn’t work for one of the teams.

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 that would look like.

Since the math from every team’s perspective has to balance, Brunson’s BYC issues will require a bit of trade gymnastics to complete a trade like I just demonstrated. The issue of Brunson’s 50% outgoing salary CAN be overcome if you make the trade big enough. Let’s look at a fake Brunson for Gobert trade.

Receiving Free Agents in Sign-and-Trade Difficulties

We’ll get into the different issue is what is called the Hard Cap. Three things trigger the Hard Cap:

  • Using your Bi-Annual Exception
  • Using the Full Mid-Level Exception
  • Receiving a free agent in a sign-and-trade transaction

The hard cap figure is projected around $6.6 million more than the Luxury tax line. The difference between the Tax Line and the Tax Apron will increase if the finalized cap figure in July is higher. Likewise, the difference between the Tax Line and Tax Apron will decrease a bit if the Cap settles lower. These are the current projected Salary Cap, Tax Line, and Tax Apron figures for 2022-23.

Mavericks Salary calculations for Hard cap purposes

Including all our signed players and the salary of the 26th overall pic, the Mavs are already over the Tax Apron. When calculating team salary for the purposes of the hard cap, you have to assume your players hit all their likely and unlikely incentives. So Maxi Kleber and Spencer Dinwiddie combine to count $350,001 more than their current cap charges. These unlikely incentives don’t count towards the cap, but haven’t to be considered because you can’t go over the Hard Cap with any incentive. You can see that in my Mavericks Cap Sheet below.

Can we use Bird Rights or the Taxpayer MLE to go over the Hard Cap?

NO, there are zero reasons you are allowed to go over the Tax Apron after you trigger the Hard Cap. It is called a Hard Cap in order to convey that it is inflexible. This is the reason we have to include the likely and unlikely incentives for Kleber and Dinwiddie. So if the Mavericks made a sign-and-trade and were right below the Tax Apron they wouldn’t be able to use any amount of the $6.39 million Taxpayer MLE that would put them over.

This brings us to the second, related question I mentioned earlier

2. What would need to happen IF the Mavericks trade for Lavine or DeAndre Ayton or Mo Bamba or Robinson or any other free agent?

This means the Mavericks would need to reduce their salary before or during the sign-and trade to end up below the projected $155,664,791 million amount including all incentives. Since we are slightly over without including Brunson you’d have to pre-dump players and/or have a very imbalanced trade to end up below the apron after all is said and done. Here’s a fictional try at staying under the hard cap while trying to keep Brunson and acquire Zach Lavine.

This trade would have to clear other hurdles like Lavine’s BYC and the fact that this package even with 2 future unprotected 1sts would easily be declined by Chicago, but I wanted to show the results of getting under the hard cap. The Mavericks can’t make the above additions and subtractions without first clearing OVER $25,482,695 in salary. I show the salaries that could do this here.

So that worked, but the Mavericks end up with only 10 players and no room to sign more. And they lost the ability to use the MLE. And how does one even dump Bertans and Bullock without trading other very positive assets? Sure Bullock is a good contract but Bertans is not.

The other idea is to use Brunson in the trade for Ayton or Lavine or any other free agent. This can solve the problem half way but as you trade Brunson his salary will have to be matched in return. Therefore, it would still require a good salary to be dumped to get under the Hard Cap.

Dumping Salary will be expensive

One thing I really hate is when people just easily explain away that another team will take one or two future 2nds to absorb a player like Bertans. This offseason there are really only 5 cap space teams with a TOTAL of 123 million in cap space. You think the Mavericks buying 16 million of that to absorb Bertans will cost a small asset or two? This will be a cap space SELLERS market. And even Oklahoma City is no longer the dump zone they have been. They won’t even be a cap space team!

My Opinion and Prediction

I don’t think the Mavericks will acquire any free agent via a sign-and-trade. Also, I think the Mavericks will just do the obvious and re-sign Brunson by out bidding the other teams. Here is a list of the currently projected Cap Space teams according to Sportac.

These are the teams projected to have enough Cap Space to outright sign Brunson:

  • 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 the way they lost Tyson Chandler. Being distracted by the possibly attainable shiny object.

And the good thing about keeping Brunson is that he’s currently 25! Even on a 5 year contract he’d be during his best prime the entire time. And for those who long to trade Brunson now, re-signing him and trading him down the line takes away his BYC problems.

I look forward to seeing what happens when free agency opens. I hope to see that the Mavericks have retained Jalen Brunson for the foreseeable future.