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How the Thunder Acquired Dion Waiters

How the Thunder Acquired Dion Waiters

Sam Presti has been the butt of jokes over the years with his habit of generating Traded Player Exceptions. In one particular case, this worked out well.

Traded Player Exceptions, or TPE’s for short, are salary cap tools that are created when a single player is traded and the team takes back less salary in return. For example, if a team trades a player making $5 million for a player making $2 million, the team also gets a $3 million TPE that can be used to acquire other players down the road. They are generated in almost every trade and can be valuable for teams that tend to operate above the cap.

Most TPE’s insignificant and expire after one year. Some large ones were created over the years – Cleveland once had one worth over $13 million and the Magic had one worth over $17 million – but those too went unspent.  Many misunderstand TPE’s as things a team must use, but in reality they are merely tools to have on hand in case a worthwhile deal presents itself.

When the Thunder allowed exceptions to expire from the Eric Maynor trade to Portland (worth over $2 million) and the Kevin Martin trade to Minnesota (worth $6.6 million), fans and pundits lit their torches and sharpened their pitchforks. Many saw it as another example of an unwillingness to spend money. In reality, no worthwhile deals became available to the Thunder.

When Thabo Sefolosha agreed to sign with the Atlanta Hawks in the summer of 2014, the Thunder intervened. Rather than lose him outright for nothing, the Thunder pursued a sign-and-trade with the Hawks. The problem is that the Hawks had no reason to cooperate. They had the cap room to just sign Sefolosha, and Sefolosha gained nothing by trying to get the two teams to do a trade. Why bother giving up anything just to appease the Thunder?

The Thunder weren’t interested in acquiring a current Hawks player or a draft pick. They wanted to engineer the trade solely to create a TPE, worth over $4 million in this case. The Thunder agreed to pay the Hawks $500,000 in order to get the Hawks to cooperate with a sign-and-trade. The Hawks had to give up something in the transaction to satisfy the league trade rules. Again, the Hawks had zero incentive to give up anything just to help the Thunder out.

Ultimately the two teams agreed to a deal. The Thunder would send Sefolosha, cash, and the draft rights to Giorgos Printezis to the Hawks, who would send the draft rights to Sofoklis Schortsanitis to the Thunder. Neither European player had a chance to play in the league. Both were merely trade chips, swapped for each other simply so the Hawks didn’t have to give up anything in this deal.

Fast-forward a few months to January 2015. The New York Knicks were trying to unload J.R. Smith and were willing to attach Iman Shumpert to get it done. The Cleveland Cavaliers wanted both and wanted a divorce from Dion Waiters. The Thunder had kept tabs on Waiters, who had a connection with assistant general manager Troy Weaver, and wanted in on the deal.

Thanks to the TPE created by negotiating Sefolosha’s trade to the Hawks, the Thunder could make it work. Waiters’ salary slid neatly into that exception. The Thunder agreed to send a protected first round pick to the Cavaliers and journeyman forward Lance Thomas to the Knicks in the trade.

It’s taken some time, but Waiters seems to have found a role with the Thunder. He’s developed into a valuable creator and defender off the bench. To complete the trade, the Thunder will surrender their first round pick this season, the 26th overall. Instead of adding another prospect to its existing pile, the Thunder added a player that has proven valuable in this season’s NBA title hopes.

It took several months to go from trading Sefolosha to acquiring Waiters. Just another example of how a team can be crafty in adding productive rotation players.

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