The Nets are $14.947 million under cap, second in the league to the Kings. Their goal is to have between $14 and 15 million in cap space going into the season and between $15 and 18 million next summer. They might trade for a power forward but are waiting to see how fast Derrick Favors advances.
Why hold on to cap space when there are good players out there who could help you? It's all about being ready to move quickly should the opportunity to acquire a star suddenly arise.
The reason is that every year, at the trade deadline and again on Draft Day, unhappy stars, even superstars, become available. Sometimes, the possibilities are obvious and well-publicized, like when Vince Carter or Jason Kidd, demanded trades from Toronto and New Jersey. Sometimes, they're not so obvious or well-publicized, like when Kidd and Carter were traded with little warning by Phoenix and New Jersey.
Preparing for that opportunity means having a menu of odd assets on hand because what most NBA teams receive for their unhappy star isn't another star, but a package drawn from that menu. History shows a combination platter of cap space or expiring contracts combined with draft picks, young players, cash and trade exceptions often satisfies the team looking to deal.
Nothing is more important that cap space. Large salaries can be swallowed up by cap space. The more you have, the more you can engineer a deal without matching salaries, without dealing in the arcane world of exceptions.
There have been a few exceptions to the rule. Sometimes stars are traded straight up for stars: Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury and Shaquille O’Neal for Shawn Marion. But If you look at recent trades of stars who wanted out and what their former team got in return, you'll see the pattern holds true: teams that have odd assets wind up with the star.
(Players with expiring contracts are marked with an asterisk)
--June 25, 2009: The Orlando Magic acquired Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson from the New Jersey Nets for Courtney Lee, Tony Battie* and Rafer Alston*. The Nets also acquired two trade exceptions, one for $1.23 million (which was used to acquire Chris Quinn) and the other for $3.73 million (which was used to acquire Kris Humphries).
--February 18, 2008: The Dallas Mavericks acquired Jason Kidd, Malik Allen*, and Antoine Wright* from the New Jersey Nets for Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop*, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, a signed and traded Keith Van Horn*, two future first round picks, and cash considerations believed to be $3 million. The Nets also received a $3.3 million trade exception (which was used to sign and trade Keyon Dooling).
--February 2, 2008: The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol and a 2010 second round draft pick from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown*, Javaris Crittenton, a signed and traded Aaron McKie*, the draft rights to the #48 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Marc Gasol, and two future first round picks.
--July 31, 2007: The Boston Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green*, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff*, Sebastian Telfair, the return to Minnesota of the future first round pick that was initially traded to Boston on January 26, 2006, and a future first round pick from Boston. Simultaneous with the trade, Kevin Garnett removed his ability to opt out after the 2007-2008 season and then signed a multi-year contract extension with the Boston Celtics which will begin in the 2009-2010 season.
--June 28, 2007: The Boston Celtics acquired Ray Allen and the draft rights to the #35 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Glen Davis, from the Seattle Supersonics for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, the draft rights to the #5 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Jeff Green, and the better of Boston's own 2008 second round pick and Portland's own 2008 second round pick
-- December 17, 2004: The New Jersey Nets acquired Vince Carter from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first-round draft picks.
--December 19, 2006: The Denver Nuggets acquired Allen Iverson and Ivan McFarlin* from the Philadelphia 76ers for Andre Miller, Joe Smith*, and two 2007 first round draft picks.
--July 15, 2004: The New Jersey Nets signed Kenyon Martin to a seven-year, $91 million contract with a $1.5 million signing bonus and a player option after the 6th season, then traded him to Denver for three future first round picks. The Nets also received a $5.2 million trade exception (which was used to acquire Marc Jackson after the Shareef Abdur Rahim deal fell apart.)
--July 14, 2004: The Los Angeles Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant*, and a future first round draft pick.
Couldn’t they do better? That’s often the question asked after a trade. Raptors fans asked it after the Carter trade and Grizzlies fans practically screamed it after the Gasol trade. Probably, but sometimes GM’s want rebuilding pieces more than big contracts. With their stars gone, GM's are faced with bad choices. It was reported that in the hours after ESPN broke the news of the first Carter trade, GM’s called Toronto claiming they could do better. While Rob Babcock lost his job as Raptor GM because of the trade (and some atrocious draft choices), the trade did eventually free up money so the Raptors could sign inexpensive European stars and re-sign Chris Bosh.
And sometimes those draft picks and draft rights work out as well. Marc Gasol isn't his brother, but he's pretty good. Jeff Green isn't Ray Allen, but he'll be around a lot longer. In the case of the Nets big superstar trades, it can be argued that Courtney Lee and Damion James were by-products of the Jason Kidd trade and of course Vince Carter was acquired primarily for two of the three draft choices picked up in the Kenyon Martin trade.
One other thing: of the nine trades mentioned above, five involved either Bobby Marks or Billy King. They know how it's done.