When the New Orleans Pelicans traded for DeMarcus Cousins, the deal was reported in total: Cousins and Omri Casspi for Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans 2017 first round pick, and the Sixers 2017 second round pick. However, if the NBA Trade Machine is to be believed, two transactions occurred. New Orleans arranged the trade as Evans and Galloway (just over $15 million in outgoing salary) for Cousins and Casspi (under $20 million in incoming salary) then Hield as a completely separate transaction where the Pelicans received a $3.5 million trade exception.
Trade exceptions are odd little NBA CBA quirks. They are not actual salary, yet for purposes of staying above or below the salary cap they are counted as if they are salary. What this means is the Pelicans have $3.5 million "on the books" counting against their potential cap space for the next 12 months. The Hield TPE (traded player exception) will expire near the trade deadline in 2018 if it is not used.
Exceptions can be renounced, though, giving New Orleans the option of forgoing this minor asset if necessary. Bird rights, too, can be renounced. This all ties into the decision to waive Omri Casspi. He is a serviceable NBA small forward, something New Orleans has desired for many years, yet when the Pelicans waived Casspi, they lost his bird rights. Holding onto him does not require his bird rights to be held, but provides the opportunity to do so. If a better opportunity to utilize cap space presented itself this summer, renouncing Casspi's bird rights would be easily done and even more readily defended.
Should the Pelicans choose to operate under the salary cap this summer, many small assets like bird rights to Dante Cunningham along with the Hield TPE will be on the chopping block. Casspi's bird rights are now forever lost. A trade exception cannot be aggregated in trade, so the Hield TPE could only be used to receive a player making $3.5 million or less. That limits its usefulness to rookie contracts and small contracts near the old room exception. Yet, it is another small asset New Orleans will need to part with should they operate substantially beneath the salary cap.
The cap position New Orleans finds itself in is the sum of years of transactions. Years of mistakes and successes have culminated in a roster that will be perilously thin around Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. This goes beyond the cost of acquiring a legitimate second star beside Anthony Davis.
The very inclusion of Omri Casspi and Langston Galloway in the trade was unnecessary to make salaries work. Was this a request by New Orleans or Sacramento? If it was the Kings, then it was worth Cousins. Yet, Galloway's limited run in Sacramento thus far combined with his larger cap figure next season and their sheer depth at shooting guard (Hield, rookie Malachi Richardson, plus pending rookie euro-import Bogdan Bogdanovic) suggest New Orleans drove the Galloway/Casspi addition. Was it Casspi, or potential cap space (Galloway holds a player option over $5 million this summer) that the Pelicans sought? Perhaps both if we are most charitable.
With Casspi now waived, the inclusion of he and Galloway functions as a salary dump even if that was not the initial intention. New Orleans removed their most threatening (which is different than best or most effective) three point threat and the $5.4 million he could have opted into this summer off their rolls. Galloway is a local product (Baton Rouge) and has been candid about the draw of coming home. He is also just 25 years old, a passable defender, and the most willing shooter the Pelicans had under contract.
There is no Hield trade exception without the inclusion of Galloway. A 25 year old shooter was possibly sacrificed to attain that exception and Casspi (plus Casspi's bird rights). Casspi's bird rights are also now on the cutting room floor, having logged just 24 minutes in a Pelicans uniform. Should the Hield TPE also be sacrificed for cap space, the only net benefits received by the Casspi/Galloway inclusion will be those 24 minutes played by Boogie’s buddy and $5.4 million in cap room.
Let’s hope the Pelicans have a great plan to utilize it.