The Brooklyn Nets' self-inflicted monstrous luxury tax bill is well documented, but even they have their limits. Whether they fully embrace their limits is another story, though.
As evidenced in an earlier post, the Nets were due to pay $189,410,302 this season in player salary and luxury tax only. Their $102,211,009 payroll was so far in excess of the $71,748,000 luxury tax threshold that they were paying the very highest rates. Because of that, the minimum contract of Alan Anderson, which costs only $947,907 in salary, is nearly $4 million on the Nets' books after the tax amounts are applied.
No matter how rich and spendtastic you are, you don't want to waste money. The two very end players on the bench, Tyshawn Taylor and Tornike Shengelia, were pretty much that. Both are earning only sophomore minimum salary contracts of $788,872, yet neither was helping on the court, even in light of Deron Williams's persistent injuries and Shaun Livingston's lengthy usage at two guard. Both also have struggled badly in their D-League time this season, averaging 10.75 turnovers a game between them.
It's no surprise, then, that in a trade reported over the weekend, Taylor, plus enough cash to cover the remainder of his salary, will go to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a conditional pick that the Nets will never receive. Meanwhile, Shengelia will go to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for 2012 first round pick, Marquis Teague.
That second trade is where the problem lies for the Nets.
More on the trade
More on the trade
The trade makes plenty of sense for the Bulls. In trading Teague for Shengelia, the Bulls save themselves money and space under the luxury tax, both this year and next. Both amounts are small, but important. Before this deal, the Bulls were only $496,781 under the luxury tax, with only 13 players under contract, one of whom (Carter Martin) sees his 10 day contract expire Monday. Re-signing Martin or signing any free agent (even rookies and sophomores) for the remainder of the season will cost the Bulls $452,550 of that amount, leaving them perilously close to the tax with the barest bones of a roster. However, the trade of Teague for Shengelia offers a welcome $300,000 of further relief, allowing Chicago to fill out the roster more comfortably and use their extra roster spots to audition D-League talents down the stretch of the season.
Furthermore, Shengelia is an expiring contract, while Teague is guaranteed $1,120,920 next season. Removing that amount from the cap, and replacing it only with a roster charge of $507,336 for now gives the Bulls a not insignificant extra $600,000 in cap space next summer. In return, they also land Shengelia, a one-time bright prospect whose poor season this year has dimmed his star somewhat, but who nevertheless retains suitably diverse talents and a high enough skill level to be worthy of a half-season audition.
This, plus the positive financial ramifications, all for the loss of a guard who couldn't outplay 38-year-old Mike James. With a surely inevitable follow-up trade of Mike Dunleavy Jr. for an expiring contract and second-round pick to come, followed by an amnesty of Carlos Boozer, Chicago is clearing itself significant cap room while gaining some useful assets in the process.
The only bad part of the deal for Chicago — they received strikingly little for what should have been a very valuable first-round pick — was a problem before this deal, not because of it. Teague was already a sunk cost, a redundant cap hit, a mistake.
And it is one that the Nets have unnecessarily let them get away with removing.
The Nets had other options they could pursue. They did briefly look into a deal for John Lucas III of Utah, yet they also had options in the free agent and D-League markets. For example, Seth Curry just returned to the D-League after his stint with the Grizzlies. Even the man who thoroughly outplayed Teague with the Iowa Energy, Kalin Lucas, would have sufficed. Yet Teague, and his $1,120,920 guaranteed contract for next season, is the one Brooklyn chose.
It was clear what the Bulls were trying to do were exercising Teague's team option for the third year despite a nothing of a rookie season and a mediocre summer-league performance. Even though they doubted their investment, as evidenced by their attempts to trade him before the season started for a first-round pick (an amusing demand in light of this deal), they were trying to protect it. They even took to playing Teague, giving him a significant preseason audition, more significant regular season minutes and taking the rare (for the Bulls) step of using the D-League assignment route.
But Teague flunked the preseason audition, killing any potential deals in the process. And he struggled even further in the regular season, posting the third worst PER in the league of any player to have played more than 100 minutes. Even in the D-League, Kalin Lucas outplayed him, demonstrating the understanding of time and score that Teague lacked. Teague's opponents dare him to shoot, and he feels obliged to do so, yet he cannot make anyone pay. Defenses sag off him, preventing the drive, and he lacks the pick-and-roll or penetrate-and-kick games to be of much use in the halfcourt. Every time Teague catches the ball, he looks as though he has no idea what to do next. Teague's confidence is shot to pieces, a point guard who can neither score, shoot, drive or lead.
There is a chance of retribution. Despite his struggles in the NBA, the D-League, and even in college, Teague's high school career evidences there is a spark in the fire that needs a log thrown on it. Teague will now take his place behind quality point guards in Williams and Livingston who have a lot to teach him. He will join a veteran bench spearheaded by a coach not long removed from being one of the best point guards in NBA history, and has the reassurance that comes from a team under no obligation to take him on doing just that. They wanted him, and he will know it. Teague is young, only 20 years old at the position universally acknowledged to be the one that takes the longest to learn.