The NBA trade deadline is at 3 PM Eastern on Thursday, February 24. Between now and then, myriad NBA trade rumors of varying likelihood will litter the web, and unless you are a super hardcore NBA fanatic, you will likely wonder, "Hey. Is that even legal?"
It probably is; the NBA's governing document on trades has more loopholes than an Afghan rugmaking factory. But some trades are indeed impossible. Curious as to why? Here's a primer on the basic NBA trade rules.
* In most NBA trades, salaries have to match. There are exceptions will get into below, but the most basic and true rule about NBA trades is that salaries have to match. What does match mean? In the NBA, that means teams over the salary cap can receive no more than 125 percent plus $100,000 in current-season contracts compared to what they send out. So if a team sends a player making $10 million this season to another team, and both teams are over the cap, the first team can receive a maximum of $12.6 million in salary in return.
* Teams under the salary cap don't have to send equivalent salary in a trade. The Kings, for example, have a payroll of $44 million. The cap is $58 million. The Kings could make a trade for a player making up to $14 million without sending any salary back. The only teams currently under the cap by at least $2 million are the Clippers ($5 million), Cavaliers ($6 million), Timberwolves ($13 million) and Kings ($14 million).
* The main exception to this comes in the form of the traded player exception, also known as the trade exception. If a team has a traded player exception for $10 million, that team can trade it for a player making up to $10 million without sending any salary back. The Al Jefferson trade -- which involved the Jazz sending the Wolves only Kosta Koufos and draft picks -- was able to happen because of a trade exception. How does a team get a trade exception? By participating in an unbalanced trade. In the Jefferson example, the Jazz had participated in a sign-and-trade with the Bulls for Carlos Boozer. The Bulls were under the salary cap, and could have signed Boozer outright. But instead, they engaged Utah in a sign-and-trade, with the Bulls sending nothing of value back to the Jazz. The unbalanced trade created a trade exception for Utah worth the difference in salary going each direction. Utah then used that in an unbalanced trade to acquire Jefferson ... thus passing the exception to Minnesota. However, because Minnesota was under the cap by more than the value of the exception, it's moot. The Wolves can participate in an unbalanced trade because of their cap space without needing an exception. ShamSports has an updated list of all the trade exceptions teams currently hold.
* There is no limit as to how many teams can be involved in a trade. The largest trade ever included eight teams. But the salary rules apply to everyone. Teams will often include a third team that has a trade exception or cap space in order to facilitate a trade. As such, cap space can become an asset around the deadline.
* Draft picks have no salary value. Players on minimum-value contracts also have no salary value in trades.
* Teams are prevented from trading first-round picks in consecutive future years. For instance, the Knicks have traded their 2012 first-round pick to the Rockets. They cannot trade either their 2011 pick or their 2013 pick because either would result in the Knicks having traded two consecutive future first-round picks. On the flip side, because the Rockets now have two 2012 picks, they could trade their own 2011 and 2012 picks. Teams just must have at least one first-round pick every other year in future drafts. (The Knicks could trade their 2011 pick after the selection is made in June, because at that point the pick becomes a player.)
* Second-round draft picks have no such restrictions. You'd be surprised at how many second-round picks change hands.
* Only two players -- Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki -- have legit no-trade clauses. There are a number of other less important players who effectively have no-trade clauses; these are players who either signed a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent last offseason or are on a one-year deal with Bird rights at stake. Rarely do those players affect a larger trade; Devean George, who broke up the first attempt at a Jason Kidd-Mavericks deal in 2008, is the exception.
* Teams can include up to $3 million cash in any trade. You'll see cash considerations moving around when a team under the cap helps out a team above the luxury tax level by taking an unbalanced trade. The team over the tax line will send enough money to cover the player's remaining salary plus a little sweetener, assuming they don't send picks as sweeteners.
* Trades can be finalized right up until the 3 PM deadline. That means news of some deals won't break until 30-45 minutes after the deadline. So hang tight.