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Revised amnesty clause raises questions

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If waived by the Trail Blazers, Brandon Roy would have no say in which team acquires him. (AP)

We’ve all been obsessing for months over the new amnesty rule, which will allow each team to cut one player currently under contract and have that player’s salary (which the team must still pay) vanish from its salary-cap number. Teams will be able to use amnesty once over the course of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The rule comes loaded with moral issues: Why should teams that signed or acquired overpaid, non-productive players be rewarded with a get-out-of-jail free card, especially since the new, harsh luxury-tax penalties won’t come into effect until the 2013-14 season, giving teams two years to prepare? And wouldn’t the rule be unfair to teams that have kept their cap sheets clean for this crop of free agents? They might face more competition as rivals shed salary, and players who end up as amnesty cuts might view such teams as unappealing destinations, since such players could sign minimum-level deals with glamorous contenders.

The league has tried to fix that last issue by creating a waiver process for players cut via amnesty, according to the details of the league’s proposal. The net result is that teams under the cap will have the first shot at any amnesty victims, preventing those players from flocking to contenders over the cap (the Lakers, Mavericks, Celtics, Spurs, Magic, Bulls and even the Grizzlies). Here’s a slightly simplified version of how it will work:

• Say the Trail Blazers use their amnesty provision on Brandon Roy, who is set to make $15 million this season and $69 million over the four years left on his contract. Releasing Roy would not take the Blazers under the cap — a reason they might wait — but it would take them under the dollar-for-dollar luxury-tax line. Read More…


  • Published On 1:14pm, Nov 28, 2011
  • New schedule good for money, bad for play

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    Borderline playoffs teams, like the Rockets, who have to face an elite team like the Heat on the road will be at a disadvantage. (Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE)

    As expected, fans concerned with quality of play and teams getting ”normal” amounts of rest through the course of the season have lost out to maximizing revenue: The NBA will play a compressed 66-game schedule running from Christmas through April 28, and the compression will be such that the league may be forced to use back-to-backs in the second round of the playoffs.

    Two other consequences jump out from the NBA’s schedule parameters, first reported Sunday by Howard Beck of The New York Times:

    • Each team will play at least one and as many as three sets of back-to-back-to-back games — a grotesque emergency schedule quirk last unveiled during the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

    • The league had to trim some games to get from 82 to 66, and travel logistics make it most practical to cut games between Eastern and Western Conference teams. Each team normally plays all 15 teams from the opposite conference twice per season — one at home, once on the road. But this season, teams will play only three of those 15 teams twice. They’ll play six others once at home and the remaining six on the road.

    The most common question arising from all of this is: Which teams benefit or get hurt the most from a compressed schedule? That’s a thorny question, involving unknowns and small sample sizes, and I’ll address it in greater detail later this week. For now, let’s just say anyone giving you definitive answers is guessing.

    The compressed schedule creates a few other issues we can address more quickly: Read More…


  • Published On 11:01am, Nov 28, 2011
  • CBA questions for teams: Western Conference

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    We’re pondering what the end of the lockout means for every team. Here’s our look at the Eastern Conference, a list from May of the likely amnesty candidates and position-by-position lists of the top free agents available – big men, wings and point guards.

    On to the Western Conference, in alphabetical order:

    DALLAS MAVERICKS

    Re-signing Tyson Chandler is key to the Mavericks' hopes of repeating as champs. (MCT/Landov)

    Can they re-sign Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and other free agents from their championship nucleus? Chandler has speculated that a harsher luxury tax — which made it into the new deal — could prevent the Mavericks from re-signing him. Good news for Chandler: The deal includes a two-year grace period before harsher tax penalties come in, but as I explained earlier, it includes a funky new mechanism that will make it impossible for the Mavs to re-sign Chandler (and their other free agents) and use the full mid-level exception on an outside free agent.

    Still, Dallas can re-sign each player and use the limited “mini” mid-level exception (on an outside free agent) available to teams over the projected tax line. The Mavs have about $62 million already committed for this season, meaning signing Chandler alone would take them over the tax. Re-signing all of these players might put them $10 million to $12 million or more over the tax, but owner Mark Cuban is likely willing to pay the dollar-for-dollar penalty now, knowing several key contributors (including Jason Kidd and Jason Terry) come off the books soon. The Mavs can also carve out some cap room by using the amnesty provision on Brendan Haywood.

    Read More…


  • Published On 5:40pm, Nov 26, 2011
  • CBA questions for teams: Eastern Conference

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    We’re still trying to ferret out the key details of the new proposed collective bargaining agreement — the ones that will define whether the NBA has made a real change beyond grabbing money from the players. In the meantime, here are CBA-related questions for each of the league’s 30 teams, starting with the Eastern Conference and continuing to the Western Conference. (Also, here’s a list from May of the likely amnesty candidates as well as a list of the best free agents available divided into big men, wings and point guards.)

    ATLANTA HAWKS

    The Hawks could use their amnesty provision on Marvin Williams, but it won't help their cap sheet much.. (AP)

    Who will own the team long term, and are the current owners willing to spend in the short term? When the deal to sell the team to Alex Meruelo fell through three weeks ago, the incumbent owners said all the right things about being happy to still own the team — the very money-losing property they had just tried to dump. Those owners will probably look for new buyers eventually, and until they find one, we’ll see whether they are any more committed now to spending what it would take for this solid team to make the leap.

    The Hawks have about $65 million committed to just seven players in 2011-12, meaning they’ll be over the cap but under the tax. Will they use the mid-level exception if it means going over the tax line — something this franchise has been unwilling to do? According to a source familiar with the proposed deal, all teams will be allowed to use the full mid-level exception, provided that doing so does not take them any more than $4 million over the tax line. If using the full mid-level takes a team over that limit, it will be allowed only to use the “mini” mid-level exception — a three-year deal worth $3 million per season.

    Will the Hawks use the amnesty provision on Marvin Williams, even though that would take them — at best — just a hair under the projected cap line? Read More…


  • Published On 3:24pm, Nov 26, 2011
  • NBA source details new mid-level exception

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    By using the full mid-level exception, the Celtics would likely lose free agents Glen Davis (above) and Jeff Green. (Greg M. Cooper/US PRESSWIRE)

    It was perhaps the thorniest “system” issue of all, the one the players were willing to go to war over: Should teams that pay the luxury tax have access to the full mid-level exception, worth $5 million per year over four seasons?

    The owners had proposed banning any tax team from using the full mid-level and instead allowing it to use a “mini” mid-level worth $3 million per year over three seasons. The players, knowing how many of them get their career-making contract via the mid-level and how many benefit from the leverage that comes when every team can offer it, wanted something better.

    Here’s what they got, according to a source familiar with the deal:

    • Every team can use the full mid-level exception, provided doing so does not take the team more than $4 million over the tax line.

    • Sounds great for the players, right? Here’s the rub: If you use the full mid-level to get to or approach that barrier looming $4 million over the tax line, you cannot cross it by re-signing your own free agents via Larry Bird Rights. You can cross it to sign rookies or players on veteran minimum contracts. (Update: 8:29 p.m.: The NBA informs me via Twitter that teams in fact cannot cross that barrier $4 million over the tax line via veteran’s minimum deals if you first use the full mid-level).

    Let’s use a real-world example: The Celtics have about $66 million in salary committed to seven players next season, putting them about $4 million under last year’s tax line of $70.3 million, which we’ll use as a projected tax level for the upcoming season. Using the full mid-level on, say, Jason Richardson, would take the Celtics’ payroll to $71 million — over the tax line. Under the owners’ old proposal, Boston would have thus been prohibited from using the full mid-level.

    Under the current proposal — the one to which the two sides have tentatively agreed — Boston could offer the full mid-level to Richardson. But it would leave itself only about $3 million of room with which to sign its own free agents — Glen Davis and Jeff Green being the headliners — using Bird Rights. In other words: Using the full mid-level would likely mean losing both Green and Davis.

    Read More…


  • Published On 12:42pm, Nov 26, 2011
  • NBA players’ reactions to tentative labor deal

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    By Nicki Jhabvala

    On the 149th day of the NBA lockout, players and owners agreed on the framework of a new deal that would allow the 2011-12 season to begin on Christmas Day. The deal must still be ratified by all players and owners before it can be put in place, but both commissioner David Stern and union chief Billy Hunter are optimistic their parties will sign off.

    Top officials from the league and union met in New York for more than 15 hours before emerging bleary-eyed at 3 a.m. on Saturday to relay their good news. Here’s how players responded to the tentative deal:

    Read More…


  • Published On 5:08am, Nov 26, 2011
  • Talks resume with eye on Christmas start

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    The math is simple: NBA commissioner David Stern has said that 30 days are needed between a handshake labor deal and the start of the regular season. So, if the league wants to begin the season on or before Christmas, it has to agree with the players on the framework of a settlement in the next few days. The two sides are at least trying, it appears.

    Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports first reported that the parties resumed talks Tuesday and were expected to continue Wednesday. Howard Beck of The New York Times and SI.com’s Sam Amick confirmed Wojnarowski’s report. A source told Beck that the NBA would play a 66-game season if it can open on Christmas.

    It would be fascinating to see who called whom, but sources are mum so far. The players dissolved their union last week and filed a class action antitrust suit against the league, claiming the lockout represents an illegal group boycott and requesting damages equal to triple any missed salaries, court records show. The union, in other words, no longer exists, and the first step to saving the 2011-12 season would be a settlement of the players’ case against the league. That settlement would include the guts of the next collective bargaining agreement, but not the whole thing; the union would have to re-form first for the sides to write and sign a new deal. All involved agree that process could happen in short order, even if the move to the courtroom has added a step or two to the process.

    Read More…


  • Published On 3:13pm, Nov 23, 2011
  • Does NBA’s ‘franchise tag’ do enough to help incumbent teams?

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    LeBron James

    The NBA is looking to help small-market teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers retain star free agents such as LeBron James. (Heinz Kluetmeier/SI)

    In the spring and summer, before it became clear that lockout negotiations were going to slip into a depressing stalemate, there was a lot of interest in the NBA’s possibly adopting an NFL-style franchise tag. The rule allows football teams to use the franchise tag to keep one core player off the free-agent market for one year. Such a rule could give small-market teams an extra year to persuade their star free agents — ahem, LeBron James — to stick around long term.

    In May, the NBA proposed a less restrictive version of the franchise tag, one that would not allow teams to unilaterally prohibit a player from entering free agency. Instead, teams could label one guy a “designated player,” and offer him more years and money than any rival could. The old system already did this with Larry Bird Rights, but the idea was to increase the gap between offers so that the incumbent team had an even greater advantage–and to craft a rule the union, concerned about freedom of player movement, would accept.

    It got very little press amid the drama over the players’ decision to dissolve their union, but the “designated player” concept remained in the league’s final offer, which was rejected on Nov. 14. It would apply only to a player eligible for an extension to his rookie contract, and it would allow teams to offer that player a five-year extension instead of a four-year extension. The deal would come with 6.5 percent annual raises — the maximum raise available only to players with full Bird Rights.

    All other players, including those who lose Bird Rights by switching teams via free agency, would be eligible for only 3.5 percent annual raises and four-year deals. That gap of three percentage points is a hair larger than the gap of 2.5 percentage points — 10.5 percent raises for Bird guys, 8 percent maximum for everyone else — in the old collective bargaining agreement.

    Recent history suggests that an extra year and a few million dollars isn’t enough to stop stars from bolting if they really want to, and increasing the available raise totals by half a percentage point amounts to about $200,000 more in missed money over two years for a player making $20 million per year. That’s nothing, which is why the league has proposed other ways to give incumbent teams a meaningful advantage. Chief among them:

    1. A ban on sign-and-trade transactions for teams in the luxury tax. Under the owners’ proposal, tax teams could not use sign-and-trades after the 2012-13 season–a key system issue the union opposes, and one linked to the “franchise player” discussion.

    2. Restrictions on extend-and-trades. These are the Carmelo Anthony-style deals in which the player’s old team signs its star to the maximum-level extension he couldn’t get anywhere else and then deals him to the place he really wants to be. The NBA’s proposal wouldn’t outlaw such transactions, but it would make them difficult on both sides. Teams would have to wait six months to trade a player after signing him to an extension, and any team that trades for a player could not sign that player to an extension until six months after the trade. The trade deadline is in mid-February, meaning a team could not extend any player it acquires around that time until mid-August — six weeks into free agency. That creates obvious problems if the acquired player is a free agent you’d like to keep.

    Read More…


  • Published On 12:47pm, Nov 23, 2011
  • Could third-party mediator save the season?

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    With Jeffrey Kesler (pictured) and David Stern unable to work out a deal, the sides could turn to someone like Jim Quinn. (AP)

    As mentioned earlier today, the two sides in the NBA lockout have not spoken to each other — at least on the highest levels — since the union dissolved last week, making way for the players to file an antitrust suit against the league. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been talking about each other, and about a possible settlement. And, as Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports, they’ve been whispering into the same ears: those of Jim Quinn, an attorney at the megafirm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and a veteran of the sports labor world.

    Quinn represented the union during the 1998-99 lockout, and he has also done work for the NFL players’ union in previous collective bargaining fights; Jeffrey Kessler, the union’s current outside counsel, started in that assignment under Quinn while both were at Weil. (Kessler has since moved to another firm, Dewey & LeBoeuf.) Quinn knows everyone involved, and if those folks are sick of each other, he is more than willing to hold their hands and get them back together, according to Berger:

    Quinn characterized the conversations as “touchy-feely” and “off-the-record,” and said they have occurred “in the past number of days.”

    “The reality is,” he said, “sometimes off-the-record conversations can be useful.”

    Never more so than right now.

    “I’ve always said that I’ll be helpful in any way I can be,” Quinn said. “Everyone would like to see that there is a season, so sure, I’d be helpful.”

    And:

    “The most favorable outcome is that they somehow get together quickly and reach an agreement so that they can have a reasonable season,” Quinn said. “I hesitate to guess what most likely outcome is.

    “I think both sides want a settlement,” he said. “I just don’t know whether they can get one quickly.”

    Read More…


  • Published On 7:19pm, Nov 22, 2011
  • Court Vision: NBA overseas movement, Pt. II

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    • Now that the players have sued the league, collective bargaining has broken down and the owners are showing no interest in starting settlement talks before Thanksgiving (the players will miss another paycheck on Dec. 1), you can expect international clubs and NBA agents to start talking more. Roster spots abroad might be limited, but clubs will work to make them available, and some of them will court willing NBA guys aggressively.

    Just in the last 24 hours, we’ve learned news of the following: Chicago’s Luol Deng (whom I assume is still exhausted from logging so many minutes last season) is looking abroad, and Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski says the Turkish team Besiktas, the same team that landed Deron Williams, is chasing both Deng and Kevin Love now. Insuring Deng’s NBA contract will cost $50,000 per month, Wojnarowski reports, and policies like that are going to be no-gos for lots of international teams.

    • Wojnarowski also reports Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, close friends, are kicking around the idea of playing together overseas.

    • The Xinjiang Flying Tigers, an elite Chinese team, has offered J.J. Barea a contract, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. Teams in the Chinese league can only sign NBA free agents (Barea is one), and they are not allowed to offer opt-out clauses that would allow such players to return to the NBA immediately when the lockout ends. Barea, should he sign there, would be in China through as late as mid-March. Read More…


  • Published On 4:59pm, Nov 18, 2011


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