In a financially motivated move, the Utah Jazz sent injured forward Matt Harpring and rookie guard Eric Maynor to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in exchange for the rights to 2002 draft pick Peter Fehse, according to multiple reports.
In making the deal, the Jazz slashed its luxury-tax obligation. When Carlos Boozer decided not to opt out of the final year of his contract, Utah was forced to go well over the tax limit to re-sign Paul Millsap. This deal eases some of that burden because the Jazz will not pay tax on Harpring’s 2009-10 salary of $6.5 million. Utah also saves about $1.7 million remaining on Harpring’s contract that would not be covered by insurance. The Jazz will have to replace Maynor on the roster at some point to get to the NBA minimum of 13 players, but will also save a little money by adding a lower-salaried player. The ultimate benefit to Utah will be at least $8.2 million and could come to as much as nearly $10 million if the Jazz makes use of the loophole in the rule that allows teams to play with 12 players for as long as two weeks at a time.
For the Thunder, the cost of adding Harpring and Maynor is much lower. Oklahoma City will be responsible for the remaining $1.7 million on Harpring’s deal not covered by insurance, which means effectively the Thunder bought Maynor for that cost. When first-round picks are sold, they usually go for $3 million, which is the most cash a team can include in any NBA trade. For example, that was the reported amount the L.A. Lakers got from New York in exchange for the 29th overall pick (used on Toney Douglas), nine picks after Utah drafted Maynor.
In making the deal, Thunder GM Sam Presti relied on the the team’s space under the salary cap. A close reading of Larry Coon‘s indispensable CBA FAQ reveals a hidden benefit to the deal. Because Oklahoma City is under the cap, it is not bound by the usual rules that prevent teams from packaging newly-acquired players in multiple-player deals for the next two months (a period that would ordinarily extend past the trade deadline at this point). So the Thunder is free to use Harpring’s expiring contract again. By the deadline insurance will cover nearly all of his remaining salary, an additional bonus to teams looking to save money.
Essentially, this is a win-win deal made possible by the two teams’ contrasting positions relative to the cap. For Utah, this is the culmination of a process the Portland Trail Blazers helped set in motion by extending an offer sheet to Millsap and forcing the Jazz to pay him market value despite the luxury-tax ramifications. As a result, Utah has to forfeit a useful young player and downgrades slightly in the short term from Maynor to Ronnie Price. In Oklahoma City’s case, this is the latest example of Presti using the team’s salary flexibility to add assets. Maynor has been a capable backup point guard for Utah as a rookie and gives the Thunder a long-term answer at the position behind starter Russell Westbrook. In Maynor’s limited minutes, his assist ratio is sixth in the league, trailing a group of the NBA’s best point guards (Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, former teammate Deron Williams and Jason Kidd).
The funny part of the deal is resurrecting the name of Fehse, drafted in the second round seven years ago when the team was still in Seattle. That was so long ago it was prior to my time working for the Sonics, when I was writing about the team on SonicsCentral.com and filed this story about the selection of Fehse. Suffice it to say he does not figure in the Jazz’s plans, but league rules require teams to get something back in the trade, which is why these rights are often passed around years after a player was drafted.