Van Horn latest to cash in on NBA's trade provisions
Posted: Tuesday February 19, 2008 3:23PM; Updated: Tuesday February 19, 2008 3:25PM
For most of us, Monday was Presidents Day. For Keith Van Horn, it was dead presidents day.
The 6-foot-10 forward, who hasn't played since the 2006 playoffs with the Mavericks, accepted an offer of $4.3 million just to be a pawn in the big Jason Kidd trade. All the 32-year-old Van Horn has to do in return is pull up those knee socks again and sit on the bench for a month with the Nets.
"It's like hitting the lottery," one longtime agent said.
"Only in America," echoed another agent.
Actually, only in the NBA.
While it might seem bizarre that a player would get paid anything -- let alone $4 million -- to just show up, it's really not that unusual in David Stern's league.
Just 2½ weeks ago, the Lakers signed Aaron McKie to a $750,000 deal and put him into the Pau Gasol trade even though McKie had not played all season and was actually working for the Sixers as a volunteer assistant coach. They did so because they needed McKie's contract to match up salaries so the trade with the Grizzlies would be legal under league rules.
McKie agreed to join the Grizzlies and has reported to the team, though he has not appeared in a game.
Power forward P.J. Brown (see sidebar, right) also has been mentioned as a possible candidate for such a deal with the Bulls, who still own his rights.
"It's been done before. There's nothing illegal about it," said one Eastern Conference GM who wished to remain anonymous. "I think the only question in this case is because Keith Van Horn hasn't played in a couple years."
But why do NBA teams need to use unofficially retired players in such deals?
Chalk it up to the league's quirky collective bargaining agreement. 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.
"The reason you don't see this in other sports is because they have different rules," the GM explained. "In baseball and football, you don't have to match up the salaries dollar for dollar."
In the Van Horn case, for example, the Mavs thought they had a deal with the Nets involving several players with expiring contracts. But one of those players, Devean George, scuttled it at the last minute by exercising a rare provision in his contract to veto the trade. With no other current players on its roster with expiring contracts, Dallas had no other option but to use Van Horn.
Dallas thus signed Van Horn to a one-year contract (actually it has to be at least two years, but only one has to be guaranteed) for the amount needed to make the deal match up, and put him in the trade with the other pieces to satisfy the Nets.
The trickiest part, as it turns out, was getting Van Horn to go along with it.
The former No. 2 overall pick, whose nine-year career included stops in New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York, Milwaukee and Dallas, was perfectly content in retirement with his wife and kids in Denver. He had turned down offers last season to play and seemed dead set against returning. It wasn't until this offer came along that he decided to change his mind.