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Why The Celtics Can’t Trade For Anthony Davis Until The Summer


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The Anthony Davis era in New Orleans is going to come to an end … eventually. The All-NBA big man has reportedly told the Pelicans that he wants to be traded to a team whose championship aspirations match his own, something that isn’t a huge surprise but is a brutal break for a franchise that hoped to retain his services by offering him a supermax contract this summer.

Now, we all get to sit and wait to see what happens. Presumably, there are two options: Either Davis will be moved by the Feb. 7 trade deadline, or everyone will see out this season and embark on a mad dash for the soon-to-be 26-year-old superstar once the offseason rolls around.

One thing we know with some amount of certainty is that the Boston Celtics are praying to every god you can imagine that the Pelicans choose that second option, as the team is unable to make a move for Davis until then. The Celtics’ collection of players and picks is viewed as unmatched compared to the rest of the league, but an issue exists: Boston is not able to trade for him this season.

Why? That’s because of something colloquially known as the Derrick Rose Rule, which was implemented in the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2011 and kept in the 2017 version of the CBA. This rule applies to a “Designated Rookie Scale Player,” with the contract detail called the “Designated Rookie Scale Player Exception.” Here is how the CBA defines these. We’ll make it read less like a bunch of lawyer speak in a moment:

(o) “Designated Rookie Scale Player” means a player with whom a Team has, pursuant to Article II, Section 7(d) and Article VII, Section 7(b), entered into a Designated Player Rookie Scale Extension. A Team may at any point in time, in respect of any current or future Salary Cap Year, have Salary included in its Team Salary in respect of a maximum of two (2) Designated Rookie Scale Players, provided that not more than one (1) of such Designated Rookie Scale Players may have been acquired by the Team by assignment. For purposes of the preceding sentence, if Salary in respect of a terminated Designated Rookie Scale Player Extension is stretched for Salary Cap purposes in accordance with Article VII, Section 7(d)(6), the Salary in respect of such terminated player’s Extension will not count towards the maximum of two (2) Designated Rookie Scale Players for any Salary Cap Year that was not covered by the term of the Extension.

(p) “Designated Rookie Scale Player Extension” means an Extension of a Rookie Scale Contract entered into between a Team and its Designated Rookie Scale Player that covers six (6) Seasons from the date the Extension is signed and provides for Salary for the first Salary Cap Year covered by the extended term equal to the player’s applicable Maximum Annual Salary under Article II, Section 7 (or, in the case of a First Round Pick who has satisfied or may satisfy the 5th Year 30% Max Criteria (as set forth in Article II, Section 7(a)(i)), provides for Salary for the first Salary Cap Year equal to twenty-five percent (25%) or thirty percent (30%) (or such other percentage between 25% and 30% as agreed upon by the Team and the player) of the Salary Cap in effect during the first Season of the extended term), with annual increases in Salary for each Salary Cap Year following the first Salary Cap Year of the extended term equal to eight percent (8%) of the Salary for the first Salary Cap Year covered by the extended term.

Now! This is a very legalese way of describing the circumstances surrounding how Davis was defined — a Designated Rookie Scale Player — at the time of his contract extension in 2015. You can head back up to the CBA and scroll down to page 57/58 of 598 if you’d like some more information, but because no one is going to do that let’s start a new paragraph and explain it in simpler terms.

The Rose Rule essentially says a young player can make up to 30 percent of a team’s salary cap space, as opposed to the usual 25 percent on their second contract, as long as they’ve been named league MVP or Defensive Player of the Year, or if they’ve made an All-NBA team twice. As Nicole Yang of Boston.com pointed out in November, the rules were slightly different when Davis and Celtics guard Kyrie Irving agreed to the deals they’re currently on, because at that time, you could be eligible for this if you made the All-Star team twice instead of winning Defensive Player of the Year (page 52 here, if you’d like to read it).

It’s a mechanism that exists so that teams can give really good young dudes more money, which is a positive. But Irving, who signed this type of deal in 2014 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, prevents Boston from making a move save for one extremely unlikely circumstance that we’ll get to in a second. Let’s head back to one line from that gigantic blockquoted section real quick, emphasis mine:

“Designated Rookie Scale Player” means a player with whom a Team has, pursuant to Article II, Section 7(d) and Article VII, Section 7(b), entered into a Designated Player Rookie Scale Extension. A Team may at any point in time, in respect of any current or future Salary Cap Year, have Salary included in its Team Salary in respect of a maximum of two (2) Designated Rookie Scale Players, provided that not more than one (1) of such Designated Rookie Scale Players may have been acquired by the Team by assignment.

While Irving and Davis would give them two players who signed these deals, a team can only trade for one such guy, and of course, that’s how the Celtics acquired Irving from Cleveland last offseason. Again, while Boston could toss together a killer package for Davis — something involving Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and something from their war chest of draft picks — they can’t do this right now.

Well, that’s not 100 percent accurate. If the Celtics decided to get absolutely insane, they could, theoretically, trade Irving to free up the space to acquire Davis within the limitations set by the CBA. This, of course, is completely ludicrous and I will livestream eating a hat on the Dime Instagram page if it happens.

As such, the Celtics’ plan revolves around getting to the summer, agreeing to a deal with the Pelicans in principle as soon as they possibly can, giving Irving the gigantic contract he’s going to command once he declines his player option and the new season begins on July 1, and focusing on getting Davis the max contract extension that he’ll want next summer. Unless, of course, someone beats the to the punch.

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