Last Christmas Eve, the Houston Rockets traded Steve Francis and a 2009 second-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for a conditional 2011 second-round pick. I remember this trade specifically because I totally called it.
The deal was made to help Houston dodge the luxury tax. And it worked, because they did. By dumping Francis’s $2,634,480 salary onto the Grizzlies, the Rockets saved themselves that much again in luxury tax savings, as well as picking up a $2,911,756 rebate from not being a luxury tax payer. The amount of money they saved was more than enough to justify giving the Grizzlies the cash to pay Francis’s remaining salary for the remainder of the season, and by returning the Grizzlies’s 2009 pick to them – one which they had previous acquired in the draft night 2008 three-way trade that saw Memphis move up for Darrell Arthur – the Rockets found sufficient incentive for the Grizzlies to help them. For the Grizzlies, they were essentially given a free pick; they were given a player that they didn’t want, but also enough money to pay his salary without him ever turning up, and they got a 30s pick for their troubles. All they had to do was sacrifice some cap space that they weren’t going to use anyway.
(The 2011 pick is irrelevant; it is top 55 protected, and only for that season. So if Memphis finish in the bottom 25 of the NBA that year, which they will, then Houston gets nothing. The pick was only included because Memphis had to give up at least something, however arbitrary. Also, the pick Houston gave to Memphis to save this $5.6 million was the #36, which Memphis then used to draft Sam Young. Houston later bought the #32 from Washington for $2.5 million. So in a way, they traded a player on their inactive list in exchange for moving up four spots and gaining $3.1 million. Not bad work.)
I’m hereby suggesting something very similar for this season. Once again, Memphis finds itself without its second-round draft pick, and once again, the team that owns it is in the luxury tax territory. This time it’s the L.A. Lakers, who first received the pick in the much-underrated Pau Gasol deal. Also, after the Allen Iverson buyout, Memphis once again has the cap room to do something about that.
Both players in the deal are on expiring salaries; Morrison at $5,257,229, Hunter at $3,696,000. The Lakers currently have a a payroll of $91,341,066. It’s the highest in the league, and they don’t want it to be. After tax payments, that’s a payroll of basically $112 million. And even if you’re the defending world champions, favourites to repeat and totally not skint from all that revenue, $112 million is still a lot of money. They want the payroll to come down, and are offering up their entire Odom-less bench as a result. This deal helps with that; the Lakers would save on the difference in luxury tax payments between Hunter and Morrison’s salaries (approximately $1.6 million) as well as the difference between their remaining salaries this season (which gets smaller after every payday, but which is still over $1 million). All it would cost them is a young player that they probably wouldn’t use anyway, since they have no real room for young players at the moment. And they might even get some usage out of Hunter.
Similarly, Memphis’ MO is to build through the draft. That’s why they traded Pau for Marc and two first-round picks – which essentially became three after the follow-up Javaris Crittenton deal – and it’s why they used their cap space to acquire picks last year. They can’t compete financially in free agency, so they don’t try to; instead, they survive on draft picks and retreads, so any means for obtaining a decent draft pick has to be considered. And if swapping Steven Hunter for Adam Morrison could be a mechanism for getting someone like James Anderson next year, then that can’t be bad.
How much cash would L.A. include? Don’t know. It probably depends on Memphis’ opinion of Morrison. It might also depend on when the deal is made (the later it happens, the less L.A. saves). It might even be none. But the basic framework for a deal is there. Both teams get what they want while losing nothing they can really use. As a man doing an impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, it writes itself.
This isn’t a prediction. This is an idea. But if it’s an idea that happens, expect this last stanza to be deleted.