HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Rarely have so few words received so much scrutiny.
But if we didn’t know any better, the amnesty provision in the NBA’s new labor proposal (and that’s all it remains at this point, until the untangling process is complete) would appear to be the most important piece of the pending collective bargaining agreement.
It seems strange that something that will be utilized by such a small number of teams would be the focus of everyone’s attention. Yet when you realize the names that could potentially be impacted by the rule — Brandon Roy, Rashard Lewis, Baron Davis, Richard Jefferson, Mehmet Okur, Gilbert Arenas and several others — the intense examination of how the rule works makes much more sense.
Folks in Portland have already singled out Roy as one of the certain casualties of the amnesty rule, with John Canzano of the Oregonian providing the background for how and why it will go down:
The whisper at One Center Court is that Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen won’t bother to take one last look at Brandon Roy before he goes amnesty clause on the guy who won all those games for him.
Here’s hoping Allen does. And that the longest look is into Roy’s eyes.
“Brandon’s out,” a league executive told me Monday. “Don’t know the exact details, but everyone around the league knows it’s way, way done. Paul and Bert (Kolde) are calling the shots on this one.”
While the amnesty provision seems like the hot topic of the day, there are other items in the tentative labor agreement, outlined in a letter from Billy Hunter to the players, a copy of which was obtained by SI.com‘s Sam Amick, that require more attention.
Chris Sheridan of Sherdianhoops.com dives in on the “stretch exception,” a tool designed to give teams relief from bad contracts signed after the new CBA goes into effect, while also detailing a couple of new wrinkles that will make trading players easier than it was under the previous CBA. Sheridan’s believes that the stretch exception has limitations in it that will not allow teams to abuse it and explains his theory:
… what I see happening is teams overpaying for marginal players, knowing that they can dump a guy owed $10 million in the final year of his contract if it is only going to count as $3.33 million against the cap in the ensuing three years.
For example, let’s say there are two teams bidding for the services of Kris Humphries, who is a free agent in more ways than one.
Team A is willing to give Humphries a three-year contract starting at $8 million. With 4.5 percent annual raises, Hump would have an offer of $25.08 million sitting on the table.
But Team B really needs someone to do the dirty work under the boards. So they make Humphries the same offer but with a fourth year added on, fully guaranteed at $9.08 million. Now, Hump is looking at a $34.16 million deal.
Which one do you think he’s going to take?
Team B’s, of course.
Then, after three years, if Humphries is a $9 million burden on Team B’s 2014-15 cap, they can waive him using the stretch exception, and he will count against the cap for only $3 million per season over the next three seasons.
It should make for some funny money flying around on Dec. 9 when free agency and training camps open simultaneously.
Dec. 9 is setting up as easily the most dramatic day of the past five months, since the flurry of expected activity could rivals anything we’ve seen in free agency, including Free Agent-Palooza 2011.
Buckle up and be ready!
PAUL REMAINS THE FOCUS IN NEW YORK
Knicks fans will no doubt spend the coming days wondering who joins Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire at Madison Square Garden this season. Chris Paul remains the focus on Knicks fans, just as he was before the lockout. Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine stokes that fire :
… unlike the situation with [LeBron] James, whom the city begged and pleaded to sign with the Knicks in 2010, visions of Paul in blue and orange are steeped in reality, not mere fantasy. Paul’s first choice by far is to team up with the Knicks’ Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to form yet another Eastern Conference big three, according to sources close to the situation.
The Knicks should have enough room beneath the salary cap next summer to offer Paul, who can become a free agent after this season, a contract starting around $13.5 million, just less than the maximum. And while New Orleans could offer him more money, Paul, like his buddies James and Wade did in 2010, will gladly take a little less to join the team of his choice.
But one team’s joy is another’s sorrow, and Paul’s current team, the poor, league-owned New Orleans Hornets, will of course do everything it can to avoid losing Paul for nothing. That means trying to trade him before or during this truncated 66-game season, according to sources.
Of course, the Hornets will first offer Paul a long-term contract extension as soon as the league’s new collective bargaining agreement is ratified and teams are given permission to speak with their players.
But once he turns that down and refuses to commit to them long-term, they’ll have no choice but to begin shopping him in hopes of avoiding a sequel to the Melo-drama that took place in Denver last season.
Here’s the problem: No team is going to give up assets for Paul unless it can sign him to a long-term extension. And the one team Paul definitely would sign an extension with, the Knicks, has nothing of value — outside of Anthony and Stoudemire — to send to New Orleans in a trade.
If the player movement that commences on Dec. 9 is as fast and furious as most expect it to be, this could be more than just a theoretical conversation.
SCHEDULING REALITIES HIT HOME FOR SPURS
As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann detailed over the weekend, after the Christmas Day openers the remaining 990 regular season games that have to be played will be done in 119 days. That could mean some serious back-to-back(to-back) action for veterans teams like the Spurs.
They are bracing for that reality in San Antonio, according to our main man Mike Monroe of the Express-News:
For a team like the Spurs, with aging veterans among its key players, the grind will be especially difficult. Perennial All-Star and two-time Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan is 35, [Manu] Ginobili 34. Richard Jefferson and Matt Bonner are 31. Point guard Tony Parker is just 29, but has been playing professionally since he was 15.
[Gregg] Popovich has been limiting Duncan’s and Ginobili’s playing time for several seasons. One expert on Popovich’s approach expects even more vigilance.
Mike Brungardt announced his retirement in July, after 17 seasons as the only strength and conditioning coach in franchise history. He was with Popovich in the 50-game lockout season of 1998-99, when the Spurs played three straight on one occasion and back-to-backs 10 more times.
“It’s going to be a situation where he has to monitor their minutes closely and probably be even more conscious of it,” Brungardt said. “Pop’s really good about sticking to a game plan with minutes for each player, adjusting as he goes. He’s got a great feel for players, always questioning, always staying on top of it. I know he’ll go into the season with a plan for exactly how he wants to approach every scenario.
“You always have to adjust on the fly. Things change. People get hurt. Some games become more important than others. But he will stay with his plan for the most part. He’s as experienced as anyone at dealing with a situation like this. He’s always done well in these types of scenarios.”
The schedule also will mean Matt Herring, who replaced Brungardt, will have to adapt his approach to keeping players at peak strength.
“When you compress that many games into that short a period of time, it’s going to be important not to overtrain guys,” Brungardt said. “I would assume that most teams will probably practice much less than in the past, simply because of the schedule. And even when they do practice, most practices won’t be as intense or as long.”
COMING HOME? … NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS
The road home from China for NBA players that opted to go that route during the lockout appears to be blocked by the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association), per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Aaron Brooks are the four top NBA players under contract in China, and several sources involved in those contract entanglements said escape clauses won’t be allowed with the impending end of the NBA lockout.
The Chinese Basketball Association passed a rule that its teams could sign only NBA free agents during the lockout, and it was made clear to those players they would have to play the full season to be given FIBA clearance letters to sign contracts with NBA teams.
Smith has had multiple clashes with his team, and some Chinese officials fear players becoming obstinate and purposely missing practices and games once they realize they’ll be held to their contracts.
Team officials have prepared for the possibility some players could try to force their way out of deals, but their contracts give teams the latitude to fine and suspend players without pay. Chinese teams invested heavily when they signed NBA players, also providing hotel suites, personal drivers and chefs to make the players more comfortable.
“They can play, get paid [in China] and return to the NBA in March,” one Chinese team official said. “Or they can not get paid, and return to the NBA in March.”
March doesn’t seem like it’s such a long way off. But we’re saying that from the comfort of the hideout and knowing that we will spend all of our time in NBA arenas this season.
While everyone else is stressing about what went down the past five months and moves that will be made in the next few weeks, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com was busy thinking big picture. Over the weekend he provided a sobering glimpse into the future that I hope you didn’t miss:
What happens if Oklahoma City wins a title or two?
Competitive balance has been a battle cry for small-market teams. Some of the aforementioned provisions are designed to even the playing field, and owners are virtually certain over the coming weeks to hammer out additional concessions for lower-revenue teams — all this despite the fact there’s little empirical evidence that payroll correlates with success on the court.
When data-driven folks point to the Spurs’ four championship as evidence to the contrary, naysayers answer that the Spurs are an anomaly. That argument will be increasingly difficult to sell if the Oklahoma City Thunder — playing in the league’s third-smallest television market — achieve their potential and routinely find themselves playing basketball in mid-June.
Yes, the Thunder have some built-in advantages. A publicly-funded $120 million renovation to their arena — along with the construction of a practice facility — provided the franchise with a solid foundation in Oklahoma City. Voters even approved a one-cent sales tax increase. General manager Sam Presti has drafted and managed the roster impeccably.
If the Thunder can translate that sound management into a Larry O’Brien trophy, it will serve as further evidence that small-market teams can prosper if they do the right things. That, in turn, could make competitive balance an antiquated notion.
“Sound management,” just as it was during the previous CBA, will always rank as a close second to serendipity (if and when your team snags the No. 1 pick in the draft you have pray there is a Duncan, James or Howard in the mix) in determining which teams compete for championships and which teams watch from the sidelines.