The moment the NBA and its players’ union made the amnesty clause a possible option for the next collective bargaining agreement, Rashard Lewis became the most likely candidate for the Wizards to waive.
Under the amnesty clause, teams would be allowed to waive any player, with pay, and have his salary exempt from the salary cap and the luxury tax. Lewis will be the second-highest paid player in the league next season, behind only Kobe Bryant, but has watched his production decline in each of his past three seasons.
On the surface, it just adds up, goodbye, Sweet Lew. Thanks for those 11.4 points last season.
But before anyone gets prepared for the Wizards to slash $22 million from the payroll – or about $18 million, if you include money lost from the cancellation of the season’s first month – there are a couple a reasons why it makes sense for the Wizards to keep Lewis through the 2011-12 campaign.
When the league allowed teams to release players to avoid luxury tax penalties in 2005, they had two weeks to make a decision after the provision was enacted. This time around, teams can make the decision at any time during the life of the C.B.A. on players already under contract as of July 1, 2011.
Lewis is slated to earn $46 million through the next two seasons, but is only guaranteed to receive $32 million, with a $10 million buyout option available for the 2012-13 season.
ESPN is already projecting that the new provision could be named after Lewis, but there would be some irony in that title. Back in 2005, the amnesty clause was originally called the “Allan Houston Rule” after the New York Knicks guard who was given a ridiculous $100 million deal in 2001. But when it came time to waive a player, the Knicks cut … Jerome Williams.
Lewis’s salary represents a large hunk of the Wizards’ payroll in the upcoming season, with the team projected to shell out roughly $51.8 million. That number could change considerably depending on how much it would cost to retain Nick Young, sign Josh Howard, Maurice Evans or any other free agents, or if the team rescinds any of its qualifying offers (including the one for Othyus Jeffers, who recently suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee).
Either way, the Wizards should be in very good financial position, no matter what the two sides decide with the next salary cap. If the players agree to a 50-50 split of revenues, the salary cap would likely be close to $51 million, with a luxury tax level set for about $62 million. So keeping Lewis for another year wouldn’t hurt the team financially and waiving him could actually create more problems: if the Wizards’ payroll drops below $30 million, the team would be forced to pay other players — possibly for more years — in order to meet a potential minimum salary.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is going to have to pay Lewis at least $32 million no matter what. So, would he rather pay Lewis to play for him or simply pay him to leave to join the contending team of his choice? Lewis was plagued by injuries last season and won’t ever return to his all-star form of three seasons ago. But he is healthy again, still has some game left, and could provide a veteran presence for a team that otherwise has Andray Blatche – or Young, if he comes back – as the oldest player on the roster.
And, if you haven’t noticed, this is not necessarily the best summer to have a lot of salary cap space, with a less-than stellar free agent class featuring unrestricted free agents Tyson Chandler, Nene, David West, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince and Jamal Crawford and restricted free agents Marc Gasol, Jeff Green, Thaddeus Young and Rodney Stuckey. No need for the Wizards to overpay for somebody who isn’t going to put them over the hump and possibly place the franchise in the same troubles that forced other owners to push for this current lockout.
Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams will be the biggest names on the market next summer, but JaVale McGee will also become a restricted free agent, so it might be best to hold on to some money in anticipation. So the best scenario might just be to pay Lewis to play this season, write him a $10 million check to leave next season, then have money set aside to make more improvements, possibly in the draft, when the 2012 class should be incredible (that is, unless the age minimum is increased to 20).
It probably is a slam dunk that the Wizards will eventually cut Lewis, but it doesn’t have to be immediate.