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The Steve Blake trade is really confusing

Even a trade that appears basic can be much more complicated than it seems. We show how the Warriors' acquisition of Steve Blake actually required a lot of CBA logistics to be completed. And you wonder why so many rumored trades don't happen.

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The Golden State Warriors' previous attempt to fix their backup point guard problem saw them ship out Toney Douglas and bring in Jordan Crawford. Unsatisfied with the results of that, they sought again to fix it with another deal, reportedly acquiring Steve Blake from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for little-used MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore.

The trade is simple on the surface, but relies upon some collective bargaining agreement rules that are confusing and not fully understood. The deal is intricate in its operation and requires a precise breakdown to understand how it works. Even the most minor trades, as we'll see, can be so very complicated.

Golden State entered this week with two significant Traded Player Exceptions (TPEs), acquired in their offseason deal with the Utah Jazz. These are from the $9,835,920 remaining on the Richard Jefferson exception, and the $4 million exception for Brandon Rush. Conveniently -- and certainly not coincidentally -- Blake is earning exactly $4 million this season. It is immediately apparent how Golden State can acquire Blake: by incorporating his salary into the Rush TPE.

However, absorbing Blake in this manner without sending out any salary in return would put the Warriors $1,711,221 over the luxury tax line. And as the Lakers will tell you, you don't pay tax for Steve Blake. Therefore, as the two most redundant players on the roster, Brooks's $1,210,080 and Bazemore's $788,872 (which counts as $884,293 in luxury tax calculations to whichever team he is on) must be sent out to help the Warriors achieve this aim.

On the surface, this is prohibited by the inclusion of Brooks. A fairly well-known rule states that players acquired by trade cannot be traded again for two months after their initial acquisition unless traded on their own, which Brooks seemingly isn't here. Having been acquired in the aforementioned Crawford trade on January 15, it appears Brooks cannot be traded again alongside Bazemore in this way.

This rule, however, is often misunderstood. Specifically, it actually states that players cannot be traded within two months of acquisition if their salary is being aggregated with that of another. It is a common misconception that players privy to this rule cannot be dealt in multi-player trades. In actuality they can, as long as the trade is structured as separate, parallel trades in which the relevant player's salary is not aggregated. Because of the Warriors's use of a TPE to absorb Blake, Brooks's salary is not being used in this way, and thus he is able to be sent out in the trade despite the presence of Bazemore.

Because it is big enough to absorb Blake's deal, the use of the Rush TPE also allows Golden State to create two new TPE's equal to Brooks' and Bazemore's salaries. They can do this because each team is able to structure the trade in the way which suits them best, even if said structure is different to how other parties do it. There can be multiple ways to conduct the same trade, and this is evident and important in the creation and usage of TPEs.


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This confusing process is best illustrated by way of example. Suppose team A has an $8 million player X, a $5 million TPE and a $3 million TPE, while team B (conveniently!) has a $5 million player Y and a $3 million player Z. Suppose players Y and Z from team B are traded for the $8 million player X from team A alone.

From team B's perspective, the deal is simply players Y and Z and their $8 million aggregated salary in exchange for player X from team A. However, team A can structure the deal so that player Y is absorbed by the $5 million TPE and player Z by the $3 million TPE, thereby allowing them to send out player X for no incomming salary, thereby creating a fresh $8 million TPE for player X. It is perfectly permissible to structure the trade in this way despite it being different to the structure used by the other party, as long as the structure for each party satifies the CBA. And the rule whereby all parties to a trade must give up something in the deal is satisfied by the fact that player X is traded.

Essentially, the trade is both one big deal and three parallel smaller ones at the same time. The need to trade something for something is satisfied in the overall deal and thus does not need to be satisfied in each parallel smaller one.

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Confusing though it may be, this use of structure is vital in trade machinations, including this one. From the Lakers' point of view, this deal can be structured so that Blake's outgoing $4 million is swapped for Brooks's incoming $1,210,080. This created a TPE for them equal to the difference between the two player's salaries ($2,789,920). They then absorb Bazemore via the minimum salary exception (which can be used to both sign and trade for players earning the minimum salary for one or two seasons, despite being much better known for the former), so that his arrival need not cut into the newly-created TPE amount.  The Lakers then have one year to use that TPE, should they wish to.

From Golden State's point of view, Blake is absorbed via the $4 million Rush TPE, while both Brooks and Bazemore are sent out for no returning salary. The only returning salary, Blake, was absorbed by the TPE; thereby new TPE's are created equal to their salaries.

Both sides' structures, then, satisfy the CBA. The overall deal sees both teams trade something in accordance with the "no something for nothing" rule, and at no point is Brooks's salary aggregated with another, thereby making his inclusion permissible. And both sides somehow dodge some luxury-tax payments in the process.

It's not an easy concept to understand, but it is more commonplace than you'd think. Luckily, Steve Blake is on hand to show us how.