The hottest trend in the NBA last summer was for players to publicly trash their clubs and demand to be traded. Vince Carter and Baron Davis were among those who led the way, and the league experienced more superstars swapping jerseys in their prime than ever before.
But why just switch teams when players can switch teams and get paid more money?
A provision in the new collective bargaining agreement provides "amnesty" for high-payroll teams experiencing buyer's remorse after watching production decline for overpaid underachievers.
The "amnesty" provision -- which could easily be called "Commissioner David Stern's pardon" -- is a one-time escape clause that allows teams to waive one player by October and avoid the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax. When the new six-year collective bargaining agreement is ratified, probably within the next week or two, the provision will provide relief for teams over the salary cap and another avenue for players to get paid.
The New York Knicks are rumored to be considering the amnesty provision for injury-plagued guard Allan Houston, who is owed $40 million over the next two seasons. The Dallas Mavericks may have to overlook Michael Finley's contributions to the franchise for the sake of simple economics, since waiving the emotional team leader could save the organization at least $51 million in luxury tax liability.
The salaries still count against the cap, but by not being subjected to the luxury tax for the player, the team actually gets rewarded for tossing out unwanted goods. The players get to experience double-dipping at its best because team will still be obligated to pay the player his full guaranteed salary -- and the player can add more from the team that signs him next. "It's the golden parachute for the players," one Western Conference executive said on the condition of anonymity. "These guys are going to get paid all their money. They get every penny and they can explore free agency. How great is that?"
The only side that doesn't stand to benefit from the provision is the league, which won't receive the luxury tax money for the players. "It's a pretty philanthropic move on the part of David," the same executive said.
"It was created to give teams more flexibility putting their rosters together," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
The rule applies only to players who were on the team's roster as of June 21 (or who were waived prior to that date). Take the case of Alonzo Mourning, who was traded to Toronto as part of deal that sent Vince Carter to New Jersey. Mourning never set foot in Canada, but his salary remains on the books after the Raptors negotiated a buyout and Mourning finished the season in Miami. Without impacting its roster, Toronto could still save almost $8 million over the next two years should it decide to waive Mourning -- again.
Any player acquired after June 21 will not be eligible for amnesty treatment, meaning that a team such as Portland couldn't trade for Houston then cut him to get the tax relief.
At the time it was announced, the Western Conference executive said he expected at least one-third of the league's 30 teams to participate. But in recent weeks, he said, "I don't think it's going to be that many." The Washington Wizards don't plan to use the provision.
No players can be cut until the collective bargaining agreement is signed, but the players who are shown the exit could affect the free agent class by allowing teams to add a proven veteran at discount prices. A player can't rejoin the teams that cut him until his existing contract expires.
The list of players most likely to be waived isn't expected to be overwhelming, but Finley probably has the greatest chance of benefiting.
At 32, Finley's scoring average has declined in each of the past five seasons, but he still averaged 15.7 points last season. If released, he may receive the full mid-level exception, which is worth about $5 million (meaning that Finley's salary could increase from $15 million to $20 million next season). Finley's agent, Henry Thomas, declined to comment yesterday. But he told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week that 10 teams have already expressed interest in signing Finley.
The Los Angeles Lakers could release forward Brian Grant rather than pay $15 million per year over the next two seasons to a deteriorating player who has averaged just 3.8 points last season. If Grant is cut, the Shaquille O'Neal trade to Miami will continue to look worse for the Lakers, with Lamar Odom and a 2006 draft pick being all that remains after Caron Butler came to Washington in exchange for Kwame Brown.
Orlando Magic guard Doug Christie has been a major disappointment since he was acquired from Sacramento last December. He has requested a trade, but the Magic may just want to save $8.2 million and give him the amnesty axe.
Any damaged egos will be easily smoothed over by a few extra millions and the opportunity to join a winning team. Contenders such as the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns are expected to gorge on the loose scraps. "It's a win for everybody," the executive said.