Richard Hamilton is going to be traded before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. This is a virtual certainty. The question is where will he go and when, not if.
The reasoning is simple: the Chicago Bulls have no interest in paying the luxury tax, especially this season. As of right now, the Bulls are a little under $4 million over the luxury tax threshold. However, the tax is calculated based on the team salary at the end of the year, rather than the beginning. Therefore, if Rip’s $5 million salary is traded at the deadline for no more than about $1 million worth of salary in return, the Bulls won’t have to pay anything. This also makes them eligible to receive a share of the money that is paid toward the luxury tax.
We’ve touched on the issues at hand in trading Rip before. Essentially, the candidates need to have enough cap space or a trade exception large enough to absorb Rip’s salary, since there’s no way the Bulls take back enough to make the trade work normally.
This brings us to a new candidate that hasn’t been previously discussed: the Denver Nuggets.
Apparently, the Nuggets might possibly have some use for Hamilton — this is all based on speculation, nobody has confirmed anything and the deal wouldn’t ever happen anyway for reasons I’m about to get into — and the Bulls could use Denver’s backup center Timofey Mozgov — yes, that Mozgov — who has fallen out of favor with George Karl in Denver.
Here’s the problem with such a deal: a one-for-one trade doesn’t work on its own. Mozgov’s approximately $3 million salary can’t be dealt for Hamilton’s $5 million deal because the Bulls are over the tax line and $5 million is more than 125 percent of $3 million.
“Oh,” you say, “but doesn’t Denver have a massive trade exception from the Nene deal? And doesn’t Chicago have one from trading Kyle Korver? They could do it that way, right?”
Well, yes, attentive strawman, they do. Denver has an active $13 million trade exception that expires after the deadline that they could use if they wanted. But they won’t. The Nuggets have been clear this season that the team salary is right where they want it, so it’s hard to see them agreeing to take on another $2 million in salary. Besides that, the Nuggets are actually just fine on the wing. It’s up front where they need depth.
Also, Mozgov really isn’t that good. So there’s that, too.