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NBA Lockout: Eventual Deal Should Add Extra Flexibility In Free Agency, Trade Market

There will someday be a deal to end the NBA lockout. Certainly not tomorrow, probably not this week, perhaps not this calendar year. But someday. And when it comes, Chris Sheridan reports it will likely include a few reforms that should add flexibility in free agency and the trade market. Both of those items should help the Sacramento Kings in the immediate, but one will not necessarily be positive for smaller markets in the future.

The two specific items that it seems agreement is reachable are a shrinking of the restricted free agency window and a loosening of trade rules as it pertains to salary.

In the old deal, teams have seven days to match offer sheets signed by their restricted free agents. An example: if the NBA started normally this season under the old collective bargaining agreement and Marcus Thornton (a restricted free agent) signed a four-year, $35 million offer sheet with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Kings would have seven days to decide whether to match it or not. If the Kings wanted to be tricky, they could wait the full seven days, do some other business, essentially hold the Wolves hostage and pick it up. (Otis Smith busted the Dallas Mavericks recently. Marcin Gortat had signed an offer sheet for the mid-level with the Mavs, and the Magic indicated they'd probably let him leave ... but didn't make a move. In the meantime, the Magic signed the Mavs' free agent Brandon Bass. At the RFA deadline, the Magic matched on Gortat. Ouch.)

Sheridan reports that the union and league have agreed to shrink the window from seven days to 3-4 days. That's good for a team like the Kings, whose best bet in adding free agents is to aim for young prospects who might be undervalued by the market. The Kings, of course, have cap space to spare. One of the prospects most likely to catch Sacramento's eye is Marc Gasol, a restricted free agent. There are a few others, like Thaddeus Young.

The other major tweak that seems like it's achievable whenever a deal gets done is loosening the matching salaries rule when it comes to trades. Right now, teams over the cap must receive no more than 125 percent plus $100,000 of the salaries they send out in a trade. That window will grow; the union wants it at 225 percent, and the league has been willing to move up to 150 percent, Sheridan reports.

That's not necessarily good in the long-term, as a larger trade window lets high-revenue teams/high-wealth owners take on more salary to get a prize. Another theoretical: say Dwight Howard comes up on the trade block. Say the Kings are above the cap after a summer of spending, and the Nets are also above the cap. Say the Nets are ready to offer Brook Lopez and the Kings are ready to offer DeMarcus Cousins, and that the Magic value Cousins slightly more than Lopez. Say Howard has expressed an equal willingness to sign with both the Nets and Kings long-term. (Work with me here.) Say that the trade rules are loosened and teams can now receive 200 percent of salary they send out. A Howard+Gilbert Arenas for Lopez and Travis Outlaw works, and so does Howard+Arenas for Cousins+John Salmons. The Magic still like the Kings' package better.

But Mikhail Prokhorov can afford to eat Arenas' salary, while the Maloofs cannot. The Kings would be fools to not pull the trigger in this highly theoretical, no-chance-of-happening example, but imagine trades with lesser stars, and bigger gulfs. Anything that allows high-revenue teams to eat more salary is exactly like a non-deterrent luxury tax: if the league thinks one is anti-competitive, they both are. This rule could disadvantage the Kings in the long-run. (But it will make the trade deadline more exciting!)