The end of the NBA amnesty era
By Miles Wray
Way back when the league’s new collective bargaining agreement was signed in fall of 2011, ending that horrible season-shortening lockout, a new provision allowed NBA teams a one-time mulligan: the amnesty clause. Each team was allowed one opportunity to cut a player without any salary cap ramifications. The team still had to pay the entirety of the salary out to the player—but at least none of it counted against the salary cap.
Thanks to RealGM’s handy Amnesty Eligible Tracker—the clause only works for players who have had so long a tenure with their current team—we can see that there are only three arbitration-eligible players left in the whole league: Al Horford, Mike Conley, and Kevin Durant. Uh, yeah: none of those guys are getting cut anytime soon.
And so, it’s time to say goodbye to the amnesty era. This year, an astonishing 10 teams still sent out paychecks to previously cut players. With the end of the regular season, these sweet (if you’re a player), disastrous (if you’re a team) payouts are coming to an end as well. What would the league look like if the amnesty clause didn’t exist, and teams had to pay out salaries to these players until the bitter, bitter end of their deals? Listed by increasing order of 2014–15 payday, here are those 10 amnestied players:
Travis Outlaw, Philadelphia 76ers, $3 million
The Nets originally amnestied Outlaw just a single season after he signed a princely five-year, $35 million deal. Outlaw was traded twice this summer as contractual counterbalance in trades, ultimately ending up with the Sixers, who cut him the day they traded for him. After making his debut in the NBA as a 19-year-old, it looks like Outlaw washed out of the league before his 30th birthday.
Luis Scola, Houston Rockets, $6.1 million
Thanks to Scola’s current $4.8 million deal with the Indiana Pacers, the Rockets are only obligated to pay the difference in salary ($1.3 million) instead of the whole $6.1 million price tag. Since the Rockets waived the Argentine in the summer of 2012, though, the team has paid him over a million dollars for three straight seasons. In the summer of 2014, Houston was trying to lower its cap figure as much as possible in an attempt to make room for Chris Bosh, ultimately losing Chandler Parsons in the contractual melee. Having the entirety of Scola’s salary on the books would have made it hard for the team to eventually sign Trevor Ariza, who is finishing the first year of a four-year, $32 million deal.
Mike Miller, Miami Heat, $6.6 million
How is this dude only 35 and not, like, 40? After Miller shuffled around the NBA Finals like a geriatric—while draining threes like Stephen Curry—Heat boss Pat Riley released this sharpshooting member of LeBron’s personal entourage. Last season, Miller stunned the league by playing all 82 games for the Memphis Grizzlies. He did so on a veterans’ minimum ($1.39 million), leaving Riley to pick up the remaining $4.8 million tab. This year, Miller received a raise from the Cleveland Cavaliers: since he’s earning $2.7 million, the Heat have only owed him $3.9 million this year.
Drew Gooden, Milwaukee Bucks, $6.6 million
After appearing in only 16 games for the mediocre 2012–13 Bucks, it looked like Gooden’s brilliantly eccentric journeyman career had come to a close. Instead, Gooden has become a surprise bench contributor to the Washington Wizards—which at least saves the Bucks a little money. Even when Gooden’s $1.4 million veterans’ minimum salary is deducted from the Bucks’ tab, Gooden is still Milwaukee’s third-highest-paid player this season, behind O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova.
Josh Childress, Phoenix Suns, $7.3 million
Since Childress is out of the league, the Suns are on the hook for the entirety of this deal, which makes him the third-highest-paid Sun behind Eric Bledsoe and Marcus Thornton. After signing a five-year, $33.5 million deal with the Suns following his brief sojourn to the Greek league, Childress ended up averaging 4.2 points in just 88 games with Phoenix. Last season, the Suns were willing to receive an injured Emeka Okafor in a trade with the Wizards, paying Okafor’s $14.4 million rehab bill—all for a first-round pick in last summer’s draft. Phoenix probably wouldn’t have been able to swing that move if Childress were still on the books.
Brendan Haywood, Dallas Mavericks, $7.7 million
Um, it looks like every player in the league should be tracking down Haywood’s agent. After an ineffective 2012–13 with the Charlotte then-Bobcats and then sitting out all of 2013–14, Haywood is not only receiving $5.5 million from the Mavericks (he is earning $2.2 million from his current team, the Cavaliers), he is due to earn $10.5 million next season. If Haywood were still on the books, it would have been difficult if not impossible for the Mavericks to swoop in and sign Parsons over the summer.
Andray Blatche, Washington Wizards, $8.4 million
Over the last three seasons, Blatche has received $21.6 million from the Wizards—a mammoth price tag that could have prevented the team from signing free agent Paul Pierce over the summer. Comically, the Wizards signed Blatche to a three-year, $24 million extension in 2010—and then amnestied him before the extension even started. Since Blatche has spent his 2014–15 in China, he has received both his full Chinese league salary and his full Wizards salary. Nice.
Tyrus Thomas, Charlotte Hornets, $9.3 million
If Thomas’ huge deal were still on the cap table, there’s no way that the Hornets would have invested $27.4 million ($18 million guaranteed) in phenomenally athletic but mercurial talent Lance Stephenson. Actually, check that—since the Hornets are still cutting Thomas checks, they really should have learned their lesson about signing phenomenally athletic but mercurial talents.
Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, $13.5 million
There’s been more than one point in Boozer’s career where teams were falling over each other in an attempt to secure his services on the free agent market. Oh how times chance. Since Boozer is earning $3.2 million this season from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bulls are paying him $10.3 million this season. Were that salary still on the books, that’s a huge albatross that probably prevents the signings of Pau Gasol ($7.1 million this season) and/or Nikola Mirotic ($5.3 million). In retrospect, this was a good job by the Bulls to recover as much value as they could out of Boozer’s contract, before cutting him when the time was right.
Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers, $19.3 million
While their reputation is far from being fiscally irresponsible, it turns out to be the Trail Blazers who, out of all 30 NBA teams, were undeniably saved the most by the amnesty clause. Were this gigantic salary still on the books, there’s no way the team would be able to simultaneously employ top earners like LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum alongside valuable free agents like Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. More than any other team, the Trail Blazers took advantage of the amnesty clause, and they wouldn’t be a playoff team today without it.
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