February 19, 2008
Mysteries of the Universe Explained
To the left is Jason Kidd. Until recently, Kidd was the point guard for the New Jersey Nets. He's good enough at his job that he was voted to the All Star Team this year, despite his team's disappointing first-half performance. For some weeks now, the Nets have been on the verge of trading Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks for a handful of Dallas players. The original deal broke down because, as explained in the Dallas News, one of those Dallas players, Devean George, invoked his "Bird exception" contractual right to refuse to be traded (scroll down to the bottom of the article to see the Bird exception defined). Over his career, George has averaged 5.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists a game, so it came as some surprise to non-insiders that George was endowed with contractual rights to stop a blockbuster trade.
Below Kidd is the translucent Keith van Horn. Kidd is to van Horn as Derek Jeter is to Cal Ripken. Let me clarify for the non sports fans. Kidd is a basketball player. Van Horn is an ex-basketball player. He retired after the 2006 season. Teams have offered him significant salaries and he responded as did Bartleby. But van Horn has now agreed to be thrown into the Kidd deal under the terms of which he will be paid $4.3 million to sit on the New Jersey Nets bench for at least 30 days. After that, he is free to coat himself in sunblock (we hope) and move to Boca.
As Marty Burns explains on SI.com, all of this is made possible through the NBA's "quirky collective bargaining agreement." Since I don't really understand it all, I'll just quote what Burns says:
NBA rules require teams that are over the salary cap to match up salaries in trades. Sometimes it can be done with players on the roster. But there are cases when one of the teams doesn't want to take back any of the players on the other team's roster needed to make the deal work. Maybe the proposed players would be a poor fit in the locker room. Maybe they have multiyear contracts.
That's when a semiretired player, especially one with Bird Rights like Van Horn, can have enormous value. Because Van Horn never filed official retirement papers with the league and Dallas didn't renounce his rights, he remained the Mavs' property. Teams can go above the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents, and they can use players with Bird Rights in a sign-and-trade.
If I understand this correctly, the Nets preferred paying van Horn not to play to paying any other available Dallas player to play. Or perhaps, they are hoping to bundle van Horn with some other player so that they can land a more expensive player in another trade. Take Ben Wallace, please!
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