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Friday, August 19, 2005

NBA's "Amnesty" Rule Sparks Dreams of Time Travel

If scientists devise a "Back to the Future"-style way to combine the NBA's "amnesty" rule with VH1's "I love the 90's" show, they could assemble a pretty formidable NBA team. For those of you whose eyes glaze over when you hear terms like "collective bargaining agreement" or "luxury tax," I'll keep the explanation of the "amnesty" rule brief: the new agreement that NBA owners and the NBA Players Association just signed allowed each NBA team to release one player between August 2 and August 15 and not have to pay the luxury tax on his contract; teams that exceed the salary cap are assessed a dollar for dollar luxury tax, so this presented a tremendous opportunity to get rid of an overpriced veteran player and his accompanying luxury tax burden. The released players became free agents, but cannot re-sign with their original team for the length of their old contract; guaranteed contracts are still paid by the player's original team, but if the player signs with another team a percentage of the money in the new contract is "rebated" to the player's original team. It didn't take long for people to start calling this the "Allan Houston" rule, since it was widely assumed that the New York Knicks would waste no time getting rid of the injured shooting guard with the bloated contract, but the Knicks opted to waive Jerome Williams instead.

There are some pretty prominent names on the "amnesty" list, including former All-Stars Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Miller, Vin Baker, Michael Finley and Derrick Coleman. Throw in former Sixth Man Award winner Aaron McKie and guys like Doug Christie, Brian Grant and Clarence Weatherspoon and you'd have a 50+ win team--if we turned back the clock at least five years. Heck, even Ron Mercer was averaging 16-19 ppg back then.

Even without Michael J. Fox and his time travelling DeLorean, the "amnesty" rule is good for teams, players and fans. The teams get luxury tax relief; players get the opportunity to start over without forfeiting any money that they had originally been promised; fans ultimately get a better product, as the "amnesty" players re-sign for their true, current market value--some of these players may prove to be the missing piece in a championship puzzle, while others will provide veteran leadership to rebuilding teams. Instead of Brian Grant sitting on the Lakers' bench collecting almost $30 million in the next two years, he can go to Phoenix to bolster their frontline; meanwhile, the Lakers can allocate money toward rebuilding. If NHL owners and players had this kind of creativity, ESPN would not be airing poker tournaments in hockey's old time slots.

(Note: This post was edited on Aug. 21 to clarify some of the language about the specifics of the "amnesty" rule. Thanks go out to Tobey, who pointed out that waiving a player under the "amnesty" rule provides luxury tax relief but does not reduce that team's salary cap total.)

posted by David Friedman @ 3:50 AM