Monday, December 5, 2011

NBA Offseason Preview: Part I -- Amnesty Clause

Welcome back to sports relevance, Allan Houston! Shy of committing a major crime, this was the only way possible.
With the NBA offseason almost underway, I decided to do a full preview of what will/should happen. Thanks to the lockout, a lot of stuff will be crammed into a very short period of time. In a matter of weeks, there will be countless number of players either amnested, traded, signed, or some combination of the three.  In Part I, we'll look at how each team might use its amnesty clause. In Part II, we'll examine the free agent market and see who is and who isn't worth paying. Finally, in Part III, we'll examine the trade market and figure out some possible scenarios for various teams and players, with an obvious focus on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Thank goodness the NBA is back! Enjoy!


Imagine if you could take a big, giant Magic Eraser to all your financial problems. What would your life be like? That house you just paid too much for and the $1100/month mortgage? Gone. That nice SUV you stupidly financed for 72 months? No more. Maybe you splurged for a giant TV that you really couldn’t afford. Perhaps you spent a couple grand on furniture that you had no business buying. Or, maybe you went the more conventional route and maxed out three credits buying things you can’t even remember buying anymore. Yes, imagine that all those horrendous financial decision could simply go away, like that.

For those of us in the real word, this type of good fortune is, sadly, only imaginary. However, in the NBA, this scenario is very, very real.

Back in 2005, the NBA introduced a one-time amnesty clause in its new CBA. The amnesty clause would allow teams to release a player without his contract counting against the cap. If this sounds weird to you, that’s because it is. Basically, NBA owners/GM’s realized they had given out so many stupid contracts that they needed to finagle a way to help ease the burden of their own incompetence.

Here we are, just six short years later, and the amnesty clause is back. Once again, the league finds itself so overburdened by horrendous contracts that they feel the need to “hit the reset button” in a sense. What the purpose of this exercise is, I will never know. As I already mentioned, the league went down this path just six years ago and failed to learn its lesson then. Why should any of us think they have learned their lesson now? Guys like Drew Gooden are receiving giant contracts every single year, and it burns me that teams can just legislate themselves out of trouble. How is this fair to a team like Oklahoma City, who carefully managed their cap and gave themselves an apparent advantage going forward? Why should smart teams be subjected to an unfair “leveling of the playing field?”

Regardless of my problems with the amnesty clause, the fact is that it is a reality. Soon, teams will begin to identify players they deem too expensive for their value. Let’s see if we can figure out who those players will be…

First, we need to understand exactly how the amnesty clause works. Unlike last time, the amnesty clause does NOT have to be used this offseason. It can be used at any point during the current CBA, but can only be used on players already under contract when the current CBA went in effect. That means the Pacers can’t use their amnesty on Nene after they inevitably sign him to a stupid 4 year $60 million this offseason, followed by an even more inevitable weight gain/knee injury.

Also, the team will still be on the hook for paying the player’s contract. It just won’t count against the cap. This is meant only as a way for cap relief so that teams have an opportunity to quickly get their payrolls under control. Not that it will actually work that way…that’s just the operating theory.

(Note: A team may choose to keep an amnestied player’s contract on the cap for the first year so that the team can meet the minimum salary threshold of $49.3mil.)

Current Salary Cap: $58 million
Luxury Tax Threshold: $70 million
(Note: Team cap numbers may not be exact. Rookie contracts have not been signed yet, and those will impact the cap totals.)

Atlanta Hawks

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $66.5mil
Potential Candidates:  Joe Johnson ($18.04mil); Marvin Williams ($8.05mil)

Analysis:  The Hawks situation is extremely tricky right now thanks to the recently terminated sale of the team. Fact is, the franchise is not a huge money maker and exceeding the luxury tax threshold is simply not an option. What makes this even more complicated is the fact that the team seems to be stuck in “No-Man’s Land.” Good enough to win games and make the playoffs, but not good enough to actually compete for a championship. Atlanta needs to take real stock of where it’s at, and it might need to seriously consider using its amnesty on Joe Johnson. Johnson is set to earn over $107mil through the 2015-2016 season, and there’s almost no possibility that he comes anywhere near “earning” that type of cash.

Verdict:  Amnesty Marvin Williams – As crazy as Johnson’s contract is, his presence at least makes them a viable draw for a fan base that will quickly jump ship should things go south. Marvin Williams and his $24.9mil over 3 years, on the other hand, is nothing more than dead cap space at this point. As much as Atlanta doesn’t want to admit it, the selection of Williams at #2 (over Chris Paul AND Deron Williams!) was a monumentally stupid decision. Cutting bait now gets them close to the cap and safely away from the luxury tax.

Boston Celtics

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $64.38mil
Potential Candidates:  Jermaine O’Neal ($6.23)

Analysis:  Boston still has RFA Jeff Green to take care of, as well as a decision on UFA Glen Davis. At their current cap number, they’ll almost assuredly be well into luxury tax territory after Green is brought back (or dealt) and the rest of the roster is filled out.

Verdict:  Amnesty Jermaine O’Neal – They’re not going to amnesty any of the Big Three or Rondo, so this is a case of “use it or lose it.” While O’Neal could certainly prove valuable to Boston this year, the savings generated by dumping his contract is too much to pass up. Getting the cap number down to the $58mil range will give the C’s plenty of flexibility in dealing with Jeff Green and potentially using a full midlevel exception on someone to replace Glen Davis/Jermaine O’Neal/Shaq.

Charlotte Bobcats

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $47.63mil
Potential Candidates:  Corey Maggette ($10.26mil); Boris Diaw ($9mil); DeSagana Diop ($6.93mil)

Analysis:  Wow, has Michael Jordan made himself a mess or what?! Heck, I could have easily thrown Tyrus Thomas and Matt Carroll into the mix if there weren’t already an abundance of well compensated candidates to choose from! Charlotte is well under the cap at this point…unfortunately, their big plan for using that cap space is to bring back Kwame Brown at a severely inflated price. Guess Jordan is hoping for another amnesty clause three years from now.

Verdict:  Amnesty DeSagana Diop – Luxury tax isn’t a concern, so amnestying the least valuable of this group is the easy call. Diop is owed $14.3mil over the next two seasons and his production (20 points last season…total) certainly doesn’t warrant that type of money. Depending on how much they waste on Brown and other FA’s, Charlotte might need to keep Diop on the books this season.

Chicago Bulls

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $64.43mil
Potential Candidates:  Carlos Boozer ($13.5mil)

Analysis:  The Bulls are inching towards the tax threshold, but there really isn’t much wiggle room on their part. Joakim Noah’s and Luol Deng’s recent extensions effectively killed their cap space for the foreseeable future, but both are vital cogs in a potential championship team.

Verdict:  Amnesty Carlos Boozer – I’ve seen some people talk about it, but most “experts” agree that it would be stupid to bail on last season’s free agent prize. Count me in the minority, because I think Boozer is a huge waste for them. With Taj Gibson’s emergence last season, Boozer effectively became a “luxury item” for a team that badly needed help elsewhere. Help, as in someone who could make an open jump shot. Help, as in someone who could create their own offense and take pressure off of Derrick Rose. That, not a lack of inside play, submarined the Bulls against Miami in last year’s playoffs. By slashing Boozer’s $13.5mil off their books, the Bulls can open enough room to pursue someone like Jason Richardson. Sadly, NBA GM’s are far too stubborn to admit a free agent mistake of this magnitude. Too bad, Bulls fans!

Cleveland Cavaliers

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $55.62mil
Potential Candidates:  Antawn Jamison ($15.1mil); Baron Davis ($13.9mil)

Analysis:  Cleveland is at an interesting point in their “post-Lebron” development stage. After landing two potential franchise players in Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs must now decide if they want to take the patient approach to rebuilding, or if they want to artificially speed up the process through free agency, assuming all the risks of free agency with it. This latter is the method they took with Lebron, and we all know how the Larry Hughes era went for Cleveland.

Verdict:  Hold – The consensus is that Cleveland should use its amnesty on Baron Davis, but I disagree. Is there a risk he will quit on the team? Yes. Is there a chance he will show up to camp weighing over 400 lbs? Absolutely. But really, what is there to gain by cutting ties with him now? Is Cleveland going to be an instant contender if they use their new found cap space on Nene or David West? No! Remember, Cleveland can use its amnesty on Davis NEXT year, when the free agent class might be a bit stronger. Even better, Cleveland could get something in return for Antawn Jamison’s expiring contract (always a valuable item), and Baron’s amnesty-eligible contract! You don’t think a cash-strapped team would give an asset for the right to slash Baron’s $13.9mil off the books? I do. While most of the value lies in the off-the-floor stuff, I do think there are legitimate on-the-floor reasons to keep Baron. While Kryie Irving should start from Day 1, many questions remain about his health. Remember, he spent most of his college career watching from the sidelines. If Baron were to play as hard as he did last year (a big if) and both players stayed healthy, I could definitely see Cleveland giving teams problems in the backcourt. All in all, there are no real reasons to cut ties with Baron at this juncture. Cleveland made the mistake of taking shortcuts at the beginning of the Lebron-era. We’ll see if they learned their lesson.

Detroit Pistons

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $47.86mil
Potential Candidates:  Richard Hamilton ($12.5mil); Ben Gordon ($11.6mil); Charlie Villanueva ($7.5mil)

Analysis:  Joe Dumars has made an absolute mess of this situation and Detroit is poised to hit rock bottom this year. Fortunately, that’s a good thing in the NBA. Unfortunately, the last time Dumars made a franchise altering draft pick, he took Darko Milicic. Whoops! No matter who they amnesty, the onus will be on Dumars to not repeat his free agent mistakes. Flush with cap space, the temptation will certainly be there to splurge on a guy like David West. Instead, the Pistons would be better served keeping the amnestied salary on their books, making minor moves in free agency, and turning the team over to Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe. And losing 60 games…Detroit is back, baby!!!

Verdict:  Amnesty Richard Hamilton – I’d be tempted to say “hold” if the Rip Hamilton situation hadn’t gotten so toxic last year. He’s made it well known that he wants out of town, but Dumars has been unable to find any takers for the washed-up veteran. It’s best for both parties if they cut him loose.

Indiana Pacers

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $37.64mil
Potential Candidates:  James Posey ($7.6mil)

Analysis:  This decision will come down to how aggressive the Pacers are in free agency. Rumors are flying about regarding their potential interest in David West, Nene, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, and others. Frankly, I don’t see how dumping large piles of cash on any of their doorsteps is a good move. I’d ask if GM’s have learned their lesson by now, but I think we all know the answer. The real issue with the Pacers is that they lack a true franchise player. Granger is good, but he’s certainly not a #1. Beyond fixing that issue, all the Marc Gasol’s and Tyson Chandler’s in the world won’t help them.

Verdict:  Hold – Indiana has a ways to go to reach the salary floor, so opening up an additional $7.6mil makes little sense to me. Instead, the Pacers should use their combination of cap space and amnesty flexibility to acquire some assets on the cheap. Perhaps a team like Portland would be willing to move Brandon Roy and another contract to Indiana for Posey’s amnesty eligible contract and a pick? The Pacers would have a full year to see if Roy can still play thanks to the amnesty in their pocket. Perhaps that trade wouldn’t work, but something for Rudy Gay or Monta Ellis isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Either way, it’s a far more legit path to contention than locking up David West’s damaged knee for four years.

Miami Heat

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $65.58mil
Potential Candidates:  Mike Miller ($5.4mil); Udonis Haslem ($3.8mil); Chris Bosh ($16.0mil)

Analysis:  People have mentioned Chris Bosh’s name as a possibility, and I’d definitely be curious to know if Pat Riley was actually considering it. It makes absolutely no sense, but I can still dream, right?

Verdict:  Amnesty Mike Miller – Miller’s ineffectiveness last season, combined with his current injury woes, make him the obvious candidate. By wiping his 4 years and $24mil off the books, Miami gives themselves room under the tax threshold for the next few seasons, as well as a “do-over” on the MLE they wasted last season. Since they would be a non-tax paying team, they’d have use of the full MLE, giving them an opportunity to bring in a valuable role player like Shane Battier. And you wonder why I hate this new CBA…

Milwaukee Bucks

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $51.55mil
Potential Candidates:  Stephen Jackson ($9.3mil); Beno Udrih ($6.9mil); Drew Gooden ($6.2mil)

Analysis:  The use of Milwaukee’s amnesty will depend on how they view themselves. If they see themselves as a contender, then Stephen Jackson is most definitely off the board. Heck, even Drew Gooden at 4 years $26.3mil would likely be off the board. If not, then everyone is game.

Verdict: Hold – The Bucks are in the unfortunate position of being stuck in mediocrity. Even the amnesty of Stephen Jackson wouldn’t push them to the top of the lottery, so why be in a hurry to pull the trigger? Milwaukee could definitely compete for one of the last playoff spots in the East, and they already have a bit of cap flexibility to add a piece in the offseason. Again, there is NO REASON to load up on cap space for this free agent class, one of the worst in recent memory. In fact, if you’re Milwaukee, there’s NEVER a reason to load up on cap space! Nobody wants to play in Milwaukee! Their best bet is to see what happens this year, try to swing Jackson’s or Udrih’s contract next offseason (they expire after next season), and see if you can use your amnesty to reel in an asset. If not, then cut ties with Gooden and his remaining three years after the season.

New Jersey Nets

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $40.92mil
Potential Candidates:  Travis Outlaw ($7.0mil); Johan Petro ($3.3mil)

Analysis:  I won’t even pretend to know what is going to happen in New Jersey. With the uncertainty surrounding Deron Williams, the possible acquisition of Dwight Howard, and the impact of their move to Brooklyn; no team in the NBA is as unpredictable as the soon-to-be “Brooklyn Jay-Z’s.” All I know is that the events of this offseason will either make them a top level contender for the next decade or send them into oblivion for a similar time period. If they can make a deal for Howard and retain Williams, then they’re gold. If they splurge in free agency and fail to impress D-Will, then they’re screwed.

Verdict:  Hold – Travis Outlaw is the most obvious candidate, and it seems inevitable that he will be amnestied at one time or another. Still, I’m not sure what an additional $7mil in cap space accomplishes in the long term. Unless a Dwight Howard deal takes place, the Nets would be wise to pursue the Rudy Gay path. Perhaps including Outlaw’s amnesty-ready contract in the deal, along with some other assets, will convince the Grizzlies to part ways with their high-paid and somewhat expendable star. If nothing works out, then you can always amnesty the remaining 3 years and $21mil of Outlaw’s contract.

New York Knicks

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $60.61mil
Potential Candidates:  Renaldo Balkman ($1.7mil)

Analysis:  I’m not sure there is a real viable candidate for the Knicks to amnesty. I guess they could carve up some cap space by cutting Chauncey Billups and his $14.2mil, but there doesn’t seem to be a better replacement available on the free agent market.

Verdict:  Hold – Billups, Ronny Turiaf, and Bill Walker all have expiring contracts while Toney Douglas has a team option for next season. Their lack of trade assets is the biggest thing that hinders them this offseason, so wasting their one asset on $1.7mil of Renaldo Balkman’s money seems dumb. With just $43.6 mil committed to next season’s salaries, the Knicks will have much more flexibility to make moves, including taking a risk on a contract they can easily wipe from their books should things not work out. Worst case scenario; nothing materializes and the Knicks amnesty Balkman. You can do that now, or you can do that later. Doesn’t matter.

Orlando Magic

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $76.22mil
Potential Candidates:  Gilbert Arenas ($19.3mil); Hedo Turkoglu ($11.0mil)

Analysis:  If you want to understand why Dwight Howard is skipping town as fast as he can, take a look at the gem of a roster GM Otis Smith has constructed. $30.3mil of the team’s cap space will be devoted to Arenas and Turkoglu this season, while another $16.7mil will be devoted to J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, Quentin Richardson, and Chris Duhon. Well done!

Verdict:  Amnesty Gilbert Arenas – If the 2005 amnesty clause was called the “Allan Houston Rule,” then this iteration should be called the “Gilbert Arenas Rule.” Arenas is owed $62.4mil over the next three seasons, and Orlando can’t escape from his contract fast enough. Unfortunately, slicing nearly $20mil off their cap STILL doesn’t give them substantial cap space, leaving them stuck with a crappy roster and an unhappy superstar.

Philadelphia 76ers

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $54.12mil
Potential Candidates:  Elton Brand ($17.1mil); Andres Nocioni ($6.7mil)

Analysis:  The ‘Sixers are in serious flux, having sold the team during the lockout and having serious questions about the makeup of their roster. Trade winds have been blowing for two seasons over Andre Iguodala and the sense is that the current group has maxed out its ability. Sadly, the max was a 7 seed and a first round shellacking. At this point, a serious makeover is in order, and the amnesty clause couldn’t come at a better time. Even if Iguodala can’t be dealt, the team can carve substantial cap flexibility while also retaining the ‘up-and-coming’ Thaddeus Young.

Verdict:  Amnesty Elton Brand – Brand had a renaissance of sorts last season, but the two years and $35.2mil left on his deal are a giant albatross. Clearing that space will enable them to safely re-sign Young, while also giving them the flexibility to get an equitable return on Andre Iguodala.

Toronto Raptors

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $52.23mil
Potential Candidates:  Jose Calderon ($9.8mil); Amir Johnson ($5.5mil); Linas Kleiza ($4.6mil)

Analysis:  This roster is an absolute mess. The whole thing needs gutted and the team turned over to DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis. Unfortunately, the process of getting out of the mess will take far longer than it took to get in it. The three candidates listed above are all worthy amnesty candidates, while several more on the team could feasibly be considered as well. One of those would be former #1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, who disappointed in all kinds of ways last season. This, coming after a lucrative contract extension paying Bargnani  an average of $10.4mil/year through 2014-2015.

Verdict:  Hold – No current free agent will be able to turn around the Raptors flagging fortunes, and Chris Paul certainly isn’t looking to Toronto as a potential trade destination. Either way, cap space is essentially meaningless to a basketball team in Toronto. Not being mean, just telling the truth. Calderon is the best amnesty candidate, as his deal pays him another $10.6mil next season as well. Still, it would be foolish to waste the amnesty on one bad contract just to sign another. Hold onto the amnesty, see if you can make some deals to acquire assets, and use it when it benefits you the most.

Washington Wizards

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $40.79mil
Potential Candidates:  Rashard Lewis ($21.1mil)

Analysis:  The Wizards are in a surprisingly good position given their young talent (John Wall, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, JaVale McGee) and their cap flexibility. Much like with the Cavs, Washington will have to decide how they want to conduct the re-build. As I said before, diving headfirst into free agency is almost never the way to go. Thankfully, it sounds like the Wizards brass agrees.

Verdict:  Hold – I know it sounds crazy to not amnesty Lewis, but someone needs to give me a good reason to do it before I go along. Remember, Washington would likely have to keep him on their books anyways to meet the minimum salary threshold, so why not see if he’s got anything left in the tank? The rumor is that the Wizards are strongly considering this course of action, and I think they’d be very smart to do so. Once again, blowing wads of cash in free agency is not smart. Get another draft pick, see if you can spin some of your assets into something better (Rudy Gay?), and let the youngsters learn on the fly. Lewis’ contract is not fully guaranteed next season, making it a potentially valuable piece in the right trade. Also, having the amnesty gives them the flexibility to take on a giant contract should Washington receive a suitable asset in return.

Dallas Mavericks

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $61.72mil
Potential Candidates:  Brendan Haywood ($7.6mil); Corey Brewer ($2.5mil)

Analysis:  After basking in the glory of the 2011 NBA Championship, the Mavs are now faced with the harsh reality of NBA economics. Fact is, they’re in a real tough spot cap wise…and that doesn’t even factor in the need to bring back Tyson Chandler and/or J.J. Barea. The reality of the situation dictates that they’ll lose at least one. At this juncture, that “one” looks to be Tyson Chandler, who has already indicated he will “probably not be back with Dallas.” This complicates Dallas’ amnesty decision, as the most obvious candidate, Brendan Haywood, now becomes a vital cog in their rotation.

Verdict:  Hold – As tough as it is, Dallas is going to have to let Chandler walk. Even if they were to amnesty Haywood, re-signing both Chandler and Barea would definitely put them far north of the tax threshold. Chandler alone will definitely run $10+ per season! In hanging onto both Haywood and Barea, Dallas can mostly keep their core together while also staying under the tax. On the other hand, doing the reverse makes some sense as well. If Dallas feel confident enough in Roddy Beaubois to take over Barea’s role, then they could free up Haywood’s $7.6mil and hang onto Chandler. Screw it, I’m changing my mind! Dallas should amnesty Haywood and keep Chandler. Either way, someone is going to get a terrible contract. I’d rather it be Chandler, whom I feel has more long term viability, than Barea. Put it this way, would you rather face Chandler and Beaubois/Dominique Jones or Haywood and Barea. I thought so too.

Denver Nuggets

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $29.66mil
Potential Candidates:  Al Harrington ($6.3mil)

Analysis:  Thanks to the expiring deals of Nene, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith; the Nuggets are flush with all kinds of cap space. Unfortunately, Nene is probably the best of the free agents…not encouraging if you’re a Nuggets fan. With the need to spend approximately $20mil to reach the minimum salary threshold, it’s uncertain if Denver will use its amnesty just yet. Of course, spending that type of money might not be an issue depending on what they decide with their own free agents. Nene, Wilson Chandler (who can’t return from China until March), and Arron Afflalo are all in for big paydays. With the way Denver finished their season, it wouldn’t be surprising if they kept things together.

Verdict:  Hold – My personal belief is that Denver would be better off letting their players leave given the bloated contracts they’ll likely receive. Nene, specifically, is going to get paid for more than he is worth, and Denver simply isn’t going anywhere with their current core. With Wilson Chandler being tied up in China, they could perhaps get him at a good price. If that is the case, then they’d be best served hanging onto their amnesty and signing cap friendly deals to get them to the minimum salary. They’d likely lose a lot of games, but that’s fine. Bottoming out is far better than making the first round of the playoffs and losing.

Golden State Warriors

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $49.2mil
Potential Candidates:  David Lee ($11.6mil); Andris Biedrins ($9.0mil); Charlie Bell ($4.1mil)

Analysis:  Golden State spent big on David Lee last summer, hoping he would fill the inside void that prevented them from contending in years past. Unfortunately, Golden State forgot that Lee hasn’t played a lick of defense since trying to shield Matt Walsh from the jeers of SEC fans. Much like Chicago with Boozer, the question is whether GS can own up to their costly mistake.

Verdict:  Amnesty David Lee – Lee is a good player, and that’s exactly why GS needs to do this. He’s owed $68.73mil over the next five years, which is infinitely more than a player of his caliber is worth. Unfortunately, he’s probably good enough to help keep them on the fringes of playoff contention. Landing the 12th pick in the draft is no way to rebuild in the NBA. Given his contract, this is probably the only way to get out of this contract, and they’d be foolish not to do so.

Houston Rockets

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $48.38mil
Potential Candidates:  Hasheem Thabeet ($5.1mil)

Analysis:  As expected, the Rockets are in great position cap-wise. They have just one contract with more than two years remaining, and that contract is Luis Scola’s bargain of a deal. Thabeet is the only logical amnesty target here, but that decision will likely come down to whether Houston decides to be a major player in the free agent market. Rumor is that they will pursue Marc Gasol, but the Grizzlies have indicated they will match any offer. Given that, I doubt Houston breaks the bank for any of the other crappy free agents.

Verdict:  Hold – Thabeet was acquired to see if there was anything there and I expect them to do just that. They hold a team option on him for next season, so there’s minimal risk in taking a good, hard look. Once again, their best bet is to hold onto their amnesty and use it to help swing some kind of deal. Seems like this would be another good destination for Rudy Gay, and Houston likely has the right kind of assets to pull off such a deal.

Los Angeles Clippers

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $45.42mil
Potential Candidates:  Nobody

Analysis:  As weird as it sounds, the Clippers have one of the more enviable positions in the entire NBA.  Young, burgeoning stars (Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon), intriguing prospects (Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu), and strong veterans (Mo Williams, Chris Kaman, Randy Foye)…are we sure this isn’t the Lakers?

Verdict:  Hold – Nothing to see here. No one to amnesty. The Clips have the requisite cap room to bring back DeAndre Jordan, should the price be right, or make a major move should the opportunity present itself. Like Dwight Howard! (More on that in Part 3 of this preview)

Los Angeles Lakers

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $91.11mil
Potential Candidates:  Ron Artest ($6.8mil); Luke Walton ($5.7mil); Steve Blake ($4.0mil)

Analysis:  The Lakers are so far over the tax threshold that getting back under isn’t even a consideration. Still, with the more penalizing luxury tax, you can bet Jerry Buss will be anxious to wipe somebody off the books.

Verdict:  Amnesty Ron Artest – And that somebody is Metta World Peace. Metta will have to spread his World Peace elsewhere, because his skills have eroded too far to be a contributor…especially at the 3 years $21.8mil he’s still owed. Luke Walton would also be an excellent candidate, but his contract is a year less.

Memphis Grizzlies

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $55.23mil
Potential Candidates:  None

Analysis:  Chris Wallace has done an excellent job of adding talent to this roster, but he’s done a horrendous job of figuring out how to properly pay them. That nice looking $55.23mil cap number is about to be exploded once the Grizzlies re-up with Marc Gasol. Within a couple season, Memphis will be well north of the tax threshold, something they definitely can’t afford in that market.

Verdict:  Hold – Unless Memphis wants to amnesty Mike Conley, thereby risking the goodwill they just bought with their fans, there really isn’t much to be done here. I’ve mentioned Rudy Gay in several different fictional trade scenarios, and this is the reason why. Memphis WON’T pay the luxury tax, and they’ve already proven an ability to win without Gay. Why not deal a guy they so stupidly overpaid last offseason? Of course, this all won’t matter a year from now when Zach Randolph weighs 500 lbs thanks to the idiotic notion that the NBA should have fully guaranteed contracts!

Minnesota Timberwolves

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $48.54mil
Potential Candidates:  Martell Webster ($5.3mil); Luke Ridnour ($3.7mil)

Analysis:  Minnesota has cap room and they reportedly want to use it. The question is, who in their right mind wants to play in Minnesota?

Verdict:  Hold – A smart GM would avoid overpaying anyone in free agency, save the amnesty, let the young guys develop, and actively search for a deal during the season. Monta Ellis and Brandon Roy both make sense in this situation, and the combination of cap space, young assets, and the amnesty could put the T-Wolves in a tremendous spot going forward. That’s what a smart GM would do. What will David Kahn do? Waste the amnesty on Webster, throw boatloads of cash at Nick Young, and trade Kevin Love in midseason for .60cents on the dollar.

New Orleans Hornets

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $44.48mil
Potential Candidates:  Emeka Okafor ($12.5mil); Jarrett Jack ($5.0mil)

Analysis:  This decision all comes down to what happens with Chris Paul. If New Orleans believes they can convince him to stay long term, then they’ll keep this roster intact to ensure a “successful” season. If the situation with Paul deteriorates, as I expect, then they might be wise to cut ties with Okafor’s awful contract and begin the rebuilding process in earnest. After all, it would be a miracle of sorts if they could acquire a contract worse than Okafor’s in a Chris Paul trade.

Verdict:  Amnesty Emeka Okafor – Similar to the David Lee situation in that there is nothing to be gained/learned from keeping Okafor around. The fact is that Chris Paul is not going to be a Hornet next year, and they need to get the maximum amount of young players/draft picks possible RIGHT NOW. After that, they need to lose. A lot. It’s the only way to get better in the NBA. There’s one scenario that makes sense for them, and I’ll detail that in Part 3.

Oklahoma City Thunder

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $57.48mil
Potential Candidates:  Nate Robinson ($4.5mil)

Analysis:  As I mentioned before, the OKC Thunder have been a model team in terms of fiscal responsibility. They have the right players paid the right amount of money, and you’d be hard pressed to find one awful contract on that roster. The fact that they’re at the cap is indicative of the immense amount of talent on the roster, nothing more.

Verdict:  Amnesty Nate Robinson – Given their situation, there’s very little chance they’ll ever be in a position to have a decent amnesty contract on their roster. They don’t make a ton of trades, they’re very cautious about acquiring contracts, and they haven’t given a bad deal to any of their current players. Better to get some use of it and wipe $4.5mil off the books than hang onto a troublesome 11th man.

Phoenix Suns

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $65.83mil
Potential Candidates:  Josh Chilress ($6.0mil); Channing Frye ($5.6mil); Hakim Warrick ($4.3mil)

Analysis: Is it just me, or is it extremely ironic that all three candidates were signed last offseason. How dumb can these GM’s get?  (Note: Vince Carter’s non-fully guaranteed contract is reportedly being waived. This will wipe an additional $14.3mil off the books, giving them around $7.5mil in cap room.)

Verdict:  Amnesty Josh Childress – With Childress still owed $27mil over the next four years, this is a no-brainer. He wasn’t worth that money before he went to Europe, and he certainly isn’t worth that money now. Amazingly, this would give Phoenix $13.5mil of cap room. Which crappy three point shooting big guy would they waste it on this year?

Portland Trail Blazers

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $73.42mil
Potential Candidates:  Brandon Roy ($15.0mil)

Analysis:  There is a surprising amount of trouble in Portland, especially given the immense amount of talent on the roster. The biggest issue facing them at this moment is the odd lack of a GM. Considering that they’ve had the entire lockout to find someone, their plight is totally inexcusable. Going further, the way they simply discard talented GM’s like Kevin Pritchard is even more inexcusable. How they will handle the offseason is beyond me, but there are legitimate issues to deal with. First of all, will they be desperate to get under the tax line? Owner Paul Allen is one of the richest men in the world, so it would stand to reason that paying a few extra million in tax dollars wouldn’t be that big a deal. Second of all, what happens with Brandon Roy and Greg Oden? Both players were key cornerstones of a “future dynasty,” but injuries have derailed what could have been a dominant team. Are they really ready to cut ties with Roy, their franchise player? Will Oden sign his tender and give it one last go in Portland? No matter who they bring in as GM, they definitely have their work cut out for them.

Verdict:  Hold – They have to find some way, ANY WAY, of talking Paul Allen into ponying up the tax dollars, because bailing early on Brandon Roy would haunt this franchise almost as much as taking Oden over Durant. Roy’s small bursts of brilliance in the postseason give hope that he can return to form, and that’s about the only way this team can compete for a championship. If it doesn’t work out this year, then you can always amnesty him next season.

Sacramento Kings

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $30.24mil
Potential Candidates:  Francisco Garcia ($5.8mil)

Analysis:  The Kings are in a pretty good situation given their cap flexibility and the young talent on the roster…that is, of course, if you don’t count the fact that they don’t know where they’ll be playing next year, or whether their owners can afford to pay them, or whether they’ll exist in three seasons. Other than that!

Verdict:  Hold – They need to spend a lot of money to get to the minimum salary and cutting $5.8mil right now isn’t going to help. Besides, Garcia is a talented player that has been hampered by injury. There’s no downside to giving him another year, as they can always amnesty him next offseason if it doesn’t work out. Either way, the Kings are better off retaining as many assets as they can. Free agency isn’t going to work for them, as the franchise simply isn’t a big draw. Trading, however, is another matter. They have young assets and enough cap space to make something happen.

San Antonio Spurs

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $73.10mil
Potential Candidates:  Richard Jefferson ($9.3mil)

Analysis:  Peter Holt claims that the Spurs have lost money the last several seasons, and I actually tend to believe him. San Antonio isn’t the biggest market in the world, and paying the type of tax dollars he’s paid is certainly not a way to turn a profit. Once again, the Spurs find themselves staring at a hefty luxury tax bill. This time, however, there is an obvious way out…

Verdict:  Amnesty Richard Jefferson – Absolute no-brainer for the Spurs. After making a draft day deal for the rights to Kawhi Leonard, it became apparent that Jefferson was no longer in the Spurs plans. Slashing his $9.3mil from the books puts them comfortably below the tax range and gives them some flexibility going forward. Remember, Duncan’s $21.1mil comes off the books next season, and he’ll likely sign on for substantially less. It’s entirely possible that San Antonio could actually have some cap room as soon as next offseason.

Utah Jazz

2011-2012 Cap Number:  $57.02mil
Potential Candidates:  Mehmet Okur ($10.9mil); Raja Bell ($3.2mil)

Analysis:  Tough to say what Utah will look like this season. The loss of Boozer last offseason and the midseason trade of Deron Williams effectively ended their recent era of prosperity, and it appears as if Utah is fully committed to starting over with youth. Given that, using their amnesty on sizable veteran contract appears a given.

Verdict:  Amnesty Mehmet Okur:  Okur is definitely not the player he used to be, and his $10.9mil is all but untradeable, even as an expiring deal. Furthermore, Utah needs to clear up plenty of frontcourt time for rookie center Enes Kanter. In this respect, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actively sought a deal for Al Jefferson at some point, clearing the way for the Kanter-Favors frontcourt of the future.

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