Robin Lopez trade hits snag due to CBA rules

Editor’s Note: I have since learned that I misunderstood a CBA rule. Please consult this post for the end result of this trade’s hold up.

Nothing is ever easy.

While Suns, Hornets and Wolves fans were already envisioning how the pieces of the proposed three-way trade involving Robin Lopez and Wes Johnson would fit their organizations, the teams had yet to find a way to make the trade comply with league salary cap rules.

I discussed the deal this afternoon with Jason Calmes from Hornets 247 and frankly neither of us could figure out a way for the teams to make it legal with the parts being discussed. However, I figured the professional cap analysts might see something that us amateur capologists missed.

Turns out we may have been right.

The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro reported Wednesday night that “significant issues” are preventing the deal from being pushed to completion. The teams have agreed to principle to the trade that would include the Suns receiving a lottery-protected Memphis first-rounder from Minnesota, yet as Coro put it “the largest remaining issue is making the trade oblige with rules to get league approval.”

Tonight PBO Lon Babby told a group of Suns fans that the deal is 50/50, as an agreement remains but consummating the trade within the guidelines of the rules is the problem, per Coro.

Here is the issue as I see it.

First off, as we have reported a couple times on this site, a player cannot be reacquired by a team until the following July 1 after being dealt. That means Brad Miller’s contract can only be traded to Phoenix in this arrangement because Minnesota dealt him to New Orleans earlier this month.

According to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, a team cannot deal a player “for two months after receiving the player in trade, if the trade aggregates the player’s salary with the salaries of other player” if the team is over the salary cap, which New Orleans now is and would still be as the result of this trade, per Calmes.

My thought then was why don’t they split this up and have the Suns acquire Miller for Warrick, which is legal, and then consummate the rest of the pieces as a separate trade.

Unfortunately, the Hornets need to take back both Warrick and Lopez in the same deal that aggregates the salaries of Miller and Jerome Dyson for it to be legal on their side. Non-tax paying teams that are over the cap, which New Orleans is, can take back 150 percent of what they send out plus $100K, per Coon’s FAQ. Miller is essentially needed for the very purpose of being able to absorb the $9.3 million they would take back in Warrick and Lopez via the 150 percent rule so taking him out would would still make this incarnation of the deal illegal.

If only Dyson were included in a deal for Lopez (and the teams did the aforementioned Miller/Warrick swap),  the Hornets would not be able to give Lopez a contract anywhere close to the the $5 mil a year being reported. New Orleans does not have a cap filler replacement for Miller to slot into this deal either.

If the sides cannot figure things out, the ramifications would be felt by the Wolves and Andrei Kirilenko, who reportedly have agreed on a two-year, $20 mil deal. Minnesota needed to cut Johnson’s salary to clear cap space for AK47.

Coro speculated that if the deal falls through Lopez would sign with the Suns for the $4 mil qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next season. This was always my preferred means of keeping Lopez as I have been against any long-term deal for him but would be pleased to keep him for one year for cheap when we already know one team is very interested in acquiring him.

Based on Calmes’ figures, the Hornets do not have enough cap space to offer that three-year, $15.3 million deal via restricted free agency without the help of a trade.

ESPN previously reported that a four-team deal that would have placed Lopez in New Orleans has already fallen apart, so it’s certainly possible this deal will be expanded if this iteration does not work out.

But based on my understanding of the salary cap rules and with the limited pieces at the teams’ disposal, it’s hard to see how these general managers will keep the deal cap legal in its current form.

UPDATED: Potential solutions

First off, thanks to reader Ryan for bringing up the point that the Suns could just try to make this a two-team trade with Minnesota. The Wolves are now desperate to clear cap space to sign Kirilenko so they might be willing to give up the Memphis pick and Johnson for a protected second … or perhaps even more.

The Suns are in a good spot here because not many teams are in position to do a money deal like Phoenix potentially is, plus the team could use Johnson depth-wise. This would work under the cap for the Suns only if they renounce Lopez’s rights (which they won’t do) or sign him to the $4 mil qualifying offer. That would put them at about $57.5 mil in salaries for this season and the same place for the future as they were under the original version of the trade.

I think this would be a fantastic use of their extra cap space while maintaining future flexibility and retaining Lopez to potentially flip after Dec. 15 for yet another asset. In the meantime the Suns would have a quality backup center while Frye is out. The key here is Lopez would have to sign the qualifying offer first, and as a guy who originally wanted $7 mil a season on a long-term deal, he won’t necessarily be willing to do so.

By my math, this deal would work if Minnesota traded Johnson and the first for Al-Farouq Aminu and the two seconds (satisfied by 150 percent rule) from New Orleans. They could then deal Johnson and the pick for Lopez and Miller for Warrick (or vice versa). I’m not sure if that would clear enough cap space for Minnesota to sign AK, and if it doesn’t obviously this idea is moot.

This concept also would work if the Suns dealt Telfair instead of Warrick. The Suns would trade a re-signed Lopez and Telfair to the Hornets, the Hornets would trade Miller (by himself) to the Suns as well as a second-rounder to the Wolves, and the Wolves would send Johnson and the pick to the Suns. The Suns would be able to absorb the extra salary into cap space (although that would be about it for their 2012 cap room), the Hornets could do it via the 150 percent rule and the Wolves would be under the cap. Of course, I’m not sure why the Suns would do a deal like that but they could.

If the Suns waive P.J. Tucker, they could do the originally reported deal as is just without Warrick (Suns get Johnson/Miller/first, Hornets get Lopez, Minny gets two seconds) since Miller would not be aggregated with anybody else’s salary in this iteration. Again, without Warrick included I don’t see how this makes sense for Phoenix.

Calmes suggested an even more realistic possibility. If the Hornets trade Xavier Henry to a fourth team with minimal cap space or a satisfactory trade exception for a second-rounder (they originally acquired him for a second), they could take back Warrick’s salary while leaving the rest of the current deal intact aside from Miller and Lopez, who would then be traded for each other in a separate deal. The teams would need to execute the Lopez/Miller trade first to clear Robin’s cap hold and give the Suns the room to make the other deal, after which they would still have almost $3.5 mil of cap room remaining.

At this point it’s up to one of the teams to compromise in some way by moving another asset. Which organization wants this most?

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