By Chris Bernucca
I would prefer not to bring politics into basketball, but I have to wonder if John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell somehow sneaked into the recent NBA labor negotiations and presented the amnesty clause as another one of their magical job-creating proposals.
Those proposals always seem to start with legislation that assures companies and individuals who already have lots of money will either (a) keep all of their money or (b) be given more money. And they always seem to reduce or eliminate programs that would give people without lots of money the possibility of having lots of money.
And that’s what the proposed NBA amnesty clause sounds like.
Last week, John Canzano of the Oregonian reported that most owners would like a shiny, new version of the amnesty clause first used to save them from themselves in 2005.
The 2005 model only provided amnesty from the luxury tax. Teams still had to pay the released player and count his salary against their cap, which limited their financial flexibility, no matter how much money they were saving by avoiding the tax.
This year’s model may have a new standard feature. While the player still has to be paid, his salary will not count against the cap.
You know who it helps? The rich.
It helps teams who are rewarded for a past poor decision with a chance for a do-over. Good-bye, Luke Walton. Hello, Caron Butler.
It helps the rich players who become amnesty cuts, but who still will draw their unjustified salaries while having the freedom to sign a veteran’s minimum deal with a championship contender. You think Rashard Lewis might accept less minutes and shots to play for the Heat?
You know who it hurts? The poor.
It hurts the poor teams, many of whom use the luxury tax threshold as a hard and fast ceiling and don’t have any need for amnesty. The Memphis Grizzlies are trying to figure out how to keep Marc Gasol, not how to get rid of him.
It hurts the poor players already on teams, whose roster spots and playing time are jeopardized by a sudden glut of available good-but-not-great players. Low Williams’ burn would definitely be impacted if Gilbert Arenas wound up in Philadelphia.
It hurts the poor players on the free agent market, who don’t appear nearly as needed now that a veteran with better skills is available at the same price, or even cheaper. Reggie Evans is a nice inexpensive piece for your bench, but not when you can have Elton Brand for the same price.
The report did not have all the particulars of the amnesty clause, which is kind of important, because there are somewhat obvious ways to manipulate it and create additional roster flexibility.
Does a team have to be over the luxury tax in order to release a player? If not, then the Washington Wizards could release Lewis, renounce Yi Jianlian and Josh Howard and free up nearly $40 million in cap room – and change their team in a hurry.
More significantly: Can a team be prevented from re-signing a player it releases? If not, then the San Antonio Spurs could amnesty Tim Duncan (wink, wink), re-sign him to the veteran’s minimum and use the net $20 million cap space to sign a free agent that could help them make one more championship run – someone like Tyson Chandler.
Would the NBA would allow that?
Below is our team-by-team rundown of amnesty candidates, with a few pithy remarks.
HAWKS: The kneejerk response is to dump Joe Johnson, who is owed $107 million over the next five years. But with Johnson gone, the cap savings would have to go toward re-signing Jamal Crawford. A better idea might be dumping Kirk Hinrich’s $8 million and turning over the reins to Jeff Teague.
CELTICS: Not much flexibility here with $56 million committed to the Awesome Foursome. Jermaine O’Neal has one year at $6.2 million but might be needed with the retirement of Shaquille O’Neal, the departure of Nenad Krstic and the free agency of Glen Davis. When JO comes off the cap in 2012, that money likely will go to retaining Jeff Green.
BOBCATS: Even with every deal they make driven by dollars, they still have some candidates. They could really slash and burn by dumping recently acquired Corey Maggette (2 years, $21 million). One-dimensional Matt Carroll has two years and $7.4 million. Or they could cut loose of DeSegana Diop (2 years, $14.2 million) to create eventual playing time for Bismack Biyombo, who may be the next DeSegana Diop.
BULLS: Although Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng both are overpaid, the Bulls are positioned pretty well over the next five years. The drafting of Jimmy Butler could make Kyle Korver (2 years, $10M) or Ronnie Brewer (2 years, $9M) expendable, but they still have value as trade chips.
CAVALIERS: Baron Davis and his $28 million over the next two years is a bit much for a “mentor.” What’s he gonna do – teach Kyrie Irving how to eat?
MAVERICKS: The champs have an ideal candidate in Haywood’s five years and $45 million, which would allow them to retain key pieces Chandler and J.J. Barea.
NUGGETS: They will have to overpay to keep Nene but have the means to do so, because no one under contract is making more than Andre Miller’s $7.8 million, most of their key pieces are still on their rookie deals and half their rotation is playing in China this season. But they could be real players in free agency if they chose to dump Al Harrington’s $28 million over the next four years.
PISTONS: Now that John Kuester is gone, it’s time for Richard Hamilton and his $25.3 million over two years to be shown the door as well. Ben Gordon (3 years, $37.2M) and Charlie Villanueva (3 years, $24M) are lucky they are young enough to still fit into a rebuilding module.
WARRIORS: Dumping Charlie Bell ($4.1M) would clear rotation room for incoming rookie Klay Thompson. Or they could make a run at Nene or Chandler after turning loose Andris Biedrins (3 years, $27M), who is always hurt or in foul trouble.
ROCKETS: Maybe GM Darryl Morey hired Kevin McHale to play the low post. Even at 54 years old, he would be more effective than Hasheem Thabeet ($5.1M), who might be spared as the only center on the roster. With Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic still under contract, Least Improved Player Jonny Flynn ($3.4M) looks like a spare part, too.
PACERS: After Danny Granger, who is either a cornerstone or a huge trade chip, the only player making more than $3 million is James Posey ($6.9M), who coincidentally plays the same position as Granger and 2010 pick Paul George. See ya.
CLIPPERS: Yes, true low-post centers are tough to come by. But if the Clippers get rid of Chris Kaman’s $12.2 million, they clear the paint for jumping jacks Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and can get into the big man grab bag of Chandler, Nene, Gasol or Sam Dalembert. Ryan Gomes (2 years, $8M) could be set free instead.
LAKERS: The Lakers contend for championships, so Lamar Odom’s $8.9 million is a non-starter, even with a team payroll approaching $100 million. However, fourth-string small forward Walton (2 years, $13.7M) certainly fits the bill.
GRIZZLIES: Given that their surprising playoff run featured zero points from Rudy Gay, his $69 million over the next four years may look mighty tempting to owner Michael Heisley - especially since Zach Randolph was promised that Gasol would be re-signed. But Gay has much more value as a trade chip. They’re positioned very well.
HEAT: Mike Miller has four years and $24 million remaining, which is a big chunk of change for a player as fragile as a Ming vase. Wouldn’t Shane Battier (long-term) or Grant Hill (short-term) fill this role more cheaply and effectively?
BUCKS: Too bad Michael Redd is no longer on the payroll. With Ersan Ilyasova headed back to Turkey, the Bucks need to hold onto Drew Gooden (4 years, $26M). A possibility is Beno Udrih (2 years, $15M), who would not be unemployed for very long.
TIMBERWOLVES: Lotsa mismatched parts here that will remind Rick Adelman of his glory days in Golden State. Most teams don’t need three lumbering, limited big men, so take your pick among Darko Milicic (3 years, $15.7M), Brad Miller (2 years, $9.8M) or Nikola Pekovic (2 years, $8.9M). The arrival of Derrick Williams could make Martell Webster ($5.2M) an option as well.
NETS: Travis Outlaw is the prime suspect with $28 million due over the next four years. This team has much bigger problems, like taking up residence in Brooklyn without Deron Williams or Brook Lopez.
HORNETS: Their hands are tied. They have five players under contract, and two of them are Chris Paul and caddie/buddy Jarrett Jack (2 years, $10.8M). If they pull the trigger on either Emeka Okafor (3 years, $40.5M) or Trevor Ariza (3 years, $22M), Paul is as good as gone, too.
KNICKS: Between Donnie Walsh’s housecleaning and Mike D’Antoni’s short rotation, the Knicks need almost everyone they have. But they certainly could dump Renaldo Balkman (2 years, $3.3M), which gets them close to another max player next summer.
THUNDER: They have no unrestricted free agents and a future payroll that has room to pay Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. They also have the childish Nate Robinson ($4.5M), who may have value at the trading deadline.
MAGIC: Jason Richardson is a free agent, so they could rebuild in a hurry if they bite the bullet, deal Dwight Howard and amnesty Gilbert Arenas (3 years, $62M). And after they finish bulldozing the whole thing, they are still stuck with fading Hedo Turkoglu (3 years, $34.2M).
SIXERS: The new owners inherit a payroll below the luxury tax, so letting go of Brand (2 years, $36.2M) isn’t as obvious as it seems. A better choice would be the fading Andres Nocioni’s $6.6 million.
SUNS: The no-brainer is Josh Childress (4 years, $27M), who somehow got the mid-level exception because he was a Greek League All-Star. As much as people like to point to Lewis as the poster child for the lockout, the Childress deal is just as bad. It is Outlaw vs. Childress for the worst.
TRAIL BLAZERS: The Oregonian had it right with Brandon Roy (3 years, $49M), whose knees aren’t going to last three years. His departure will clear minutes for emerging youngsters Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum – and cap room to keep them competitive.
KINGS: Restricted free agent Marcus Thornton’s strong finish to last season turns John Salmons (3 years, $24.1M) or Francisco Garcia (2 years, $11.9M) into prime suspects. Our choice would be Cisco, who plays only one position.
SPURS: ”Hey, Tim, lemme run this idea pas- oh, wait, never mind.” But the Spurs could let go of Richard Jefferson (3 years, $30.5M), who is still overpriced even after taking a pay cut.
RAPTORS: They are well under the salary cap, so there is no sense of urgency. Leandro Barbosa ($7.6M) and Linas Kleiza (2 years, $9.2M), who both have international wanderlust, are possibilities.
JAZZ: The recent arrivals of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter place the bull’s-eye on Mehmet Okur, whose steep decline and $10.9 million for this season make him their No. 1 candidate.
WIZARDS: With two years left at more than $46 million and a lot of mileage that began to take a toll last season, Lewis seems to be an ideal candidate. His salary represents about half of the current payroll of the Wizards, whose cap is extremely flexible right now.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear every Thursday.