Folks are obsessed with the amnesty provision, which is coming into focus now as the players’ union and league work around the clock to finalize the collective bargaining agreement. I’d put the over/under on teams using amnesty ahead of this season at 3.5, and now that the Trail Blazers have indicated that they will not use it on Brandon Roy, I may well take the under.
Still, the provision will stay alive for the full length of the new collective bargaining agreement. Teams can use it only once, and only for “contracts in place at the inception of the CBA,” according to a summary of the draft agreement.
The idea is simple — cut a player with pay so his salary doesn’t count against the cap or luxury tax — but as I wrote last week, the details are complicated and carry several crucial questions. The two sides have now reached a broad agreement on some of the thorniest questions, according to a source close to the talks. Some bullet points:
• Teams will not be able to use the amnesty provision on a player acquired in a trade going forward. The CBA summary says teams can apply amnesty to a pre-existing contract. It does not say whether teams must already have that contract on their books, or whether that contract must simply exist. There had been hope, for instance, that the Nets could acquire Hedo Turkoglu’s contract in a theoretical Dwight Howard trade and then use the amnesty provision on Turkoglu instead of the less-expensive Travis Outlaw. Turkoglu’s contract is “in place,” in some sense, after all.
But alas: The sides have agreed that teams can use the amnesty provision only on players they have now. That is a bit of a disadvantage for teams such as the Thunder and Grizzlies that have no viable amnesty candidate, though it does provide a form of long-term insurance should any of their players become unproductive down the road.
• The salary of any player waived via the amnesty clause will continue to count toward the salary floor. This could be of major interest to a team such as the Wizards, who would fall so far under the salary floor (about $49 million per team) by using amnesty on Rashard Lewis as to make the provision almost unworkable for them this season. But if Lewis’ $20.6 million salary continues to count toward that floor — and not against the cap — even after amnesty, the provision is more useful in the short term. Regardless, the Wizards indicated last week that they will not use the amnesty clause on Lewis this season. That makes some sense, considering this center-heavy free-agent class doesn’t have much to offer a team trying to develop its own big man (JaVale McGee).
• Teams will not be able to use the new “stretch” provision on players they acquire via the amnesty process. The stretch provision will allow teams to waive a player and stretch the annual cap hit well into the future. For instance: If you release a player with two years and $20 million left on his deal, you could stretch the cap hit over five seasons — twice the number of years left on his contract, plus one. The goal is to soften the short-term impact on cap flexibility so that teams will be more willing to waive players they don’t want.
The catch: Teams can use the provision only on “new” contracts, or deals that don’t yet exist. But what of amnesty-related contracts? If a team bids on Outlaw and “wins” him, is that a new contract the team can “stretch” later should Outlaw continue to struggle? Or is it an “old” one, and thus not eligible to be stretched because it is linked to a pre-existing deal?
The answer is: The team will not be able to use the “stretch” provision on such a player.
• Finally: If a team bids on a player in the amnesty waiver process, it is bidding on the full length of his contract, not just the first season. In the event the Blazers change course and use amnesty on Roy, that would mean any team that bids, say, $4 million on the guard will be bidding to pay him at least that amount in each of the four remaining seasons on his deal.
This is where we stand at the moment, according to a source close to the process. Things could change in theory, but with players scheduled to begin voting on the CBA on Wednesday afternoon, that seems unlikely.