Like so many other NBA fans, I spent the entire morning leading up to the noon Pacific NBA Trade Deadline on Thursday glued to my Twitter feed. This despite the fact that the NCAA Tournament had gotten started in earnest that same day and normally I would have been fully immersed in March Madness.
The noon deadline came and went with nothing involving the Clippers, but trades already in the pipeline often get announced after the deadline has passed. Indeed, some time around 12:30, mixed in with lots of tweets about a big trade sending Nene from Denver to Washington, suddenly there was news that Nick Young was a Clipper. This was especially shocking given that the LA Times beat writer Brad Turner had already tweeted that the Clippers were going to "stand pat" and make do with the existing roster.
Nick Young! Wow! What did they give up? Scouring tweets, it said they'd given up Brian Cook. What? That contract was dead weight -- you can't get Nick Young for Brian Cook; you'd have to give someone something just to take Brian Cook of your hands. I must be missing something. Brian Cook and a pick. Ah ha. Wow, that must have been a good pick to get the Wizards to take Brian Cook AND to get Nick Young back. I mean, all the Clippers really wanted was a shooting guard with size -- Young isn't Ray Allen, but he is more or less exactly the kind of player the Clippers were desperate to acquire. Did they give up the 2014 first round pick? That would suck, since so many first rounders had departed recently, but maybe it was worth it.
In the new social media age we get information in real time, but we also get incomplete and sometimes incorrect information. (My favorite trade deadline example of that was when the Lakers-Rockets deal was first reported as Jordan Hill and a first rounder for Derek Fisher instead of Hill for Fisher and a first rounder -- my head almost exploded trying to figure out what Houston was doing on that one during the couple minutes before it got straightened out.) So over time Young for Cook became Young for Cook and a pick became Young for Cook and a second rounder became Young for Cook and a second rounder in 2015. And when the dust settled, it all seemed too good to be true. How could the Clippers possibly get a player they actually wanted, while getting rid of the salary of a player they didn't want, all for the cost of a second round pick three years hence? Here's how.
Many of you no doubt heard Neil Olshey during the broadcast of Thursday night's game saying that the Wizards needed a third party to get involved in their trade for Nene. Looking at the numbers and inferring from what has been said, here's what must have happened.
The Wizards and Nuggets were both willing to do a basic swap of the veteran Nene for the youngster McGee -- the Nuggets would receive a talented youngster while getting out of a contract they regretted signing, the Wizards would get an established and productive big man in place of the mercurial McGee. But NBA rules preclude trades where the salaries are that far apart (Nene $13MM, McGee $2.5MM) -- the Wizards can't just increase their payroll by more than $10MM that way. Ronny Turiaf's $4.4MM expiring deal helped get the salaries closer, but it wasn't enough. They needed at least another $2MM to $3MM in salary to make the trade work from the Wizards side (since they were the team taking in the extra salary).
Essentially, Young was the only player on the roster with a salary that would make the trade work and who they were willing and able to move. It's not as if they were going to include this year's first round pick Jan Vesely, and no one was going to take Andray Blatche and the $26MM left on his deal. So the only way the trade would work for the Wizards was if Young was involved.
Why didn't they just send Young to Denver as part of the deal? Two reasons. First of all, Denver probably didn't want him. Already taking back two players for one, the Nuggets roster would swell to the league maximum 15, meaning that someone would have to be waived to make room for Young and Turiaf -- and the Nuggets this season seem to like their deep team (except for Nene, I guess). Besides, the Nuggets, unlike the Clippers, are awash in big wings like Arron Afflalo, Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer. They didn't need Young and probably wouldn't keep Young, so why should they take on his salary?
So the teams needed a third team as a landing place Young. Unfortunately, they also needed for Young to be interested in that team because Young had to agree to waive his Bird right's for any trade to take place. Here's why. The NBA CBA actually stipulates that a player on a one year contract (which Young is) cannot retain his Bird right's if he is traded. I'm not completely clear on the rationale for such a rule, but it is no doubt closing a perceived loophole where a team wants to acquire a player over the salary cap, and because they can't sign him outright, they allow his original team to sign him to a one year deal, then acquire him via trade and go over the cap to re-sign him going forward.
Because any player on a one year contract who is traded forfeits his Bird right's in this manner, that player actually has veto power over trades -- this is why Devean George was able to nullify the blockbuster trade that would have sent Jason Kidd from New Jersey to Dallas four years ago (the trade was resurrected a few days later with Keith Van Horn playing the part of George and banking an unexpected payday). If Nick Young was going to be the part that made the McGee-Nene trade work, he had to agree to it.
And Young, an L.A. native who was born in Reseda and starred at Cleveland High and USC, wanted to go to the Clippers.
So it's a coup for the Clippers, and makes Neil Olshey look like a genius, but in many ways the Clippers were simply found themselves in a perfect storm of circumstances. The Wizards wanted Nene, and had to send Young somewhere in order to get him. Young was essentially the only piece that could make the trade work. And he had the power, only because he was on a one year deal, to dictate his destination. The fact that Young's $3.7MM salary fit so snugly into the Clipper's $3.9MM trade exception just proves that it was all meant to be.