Mike Monroe: Amnesty for RJ not a simple choice

Mike Monroe/Express-News staff

The last time the NBA and the players union struck a new collective bargaining agreement, in 2005, the deal included an amnesty clause that allowed teams to waive one player and remove his salary from its official payroll.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban used the provision to waive Michael Finley, and the final three years of his contract ($51.8 million) disappeared from Dallas’ official payroll but not from its contractual obligations. Finley is still getting paid by Cuban, $5.18 million a year, give or take, through 2015.

The Spurs, fresh off a championship run, swooped in and convinced Finley to sign a three-year deal at $2.5 million per season. Ultimately, he earned a championship ring and made another $10 million.

Another amnesty clause is part of the tentative NBA deal awaiting finalization and approval.

Isn’t this a chance for the Spurs to get Richard Jefferson’s contract, average salary $10.17 million, off their payroll through the next three seasons?

Seems like a no-brainer, unless you think $10.1 million is fair value for a guy who averages 11.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Or unless you’re the guy who still has to sign his paychecks.

Turns out there is a new wrinkle to the proposed amnesty rules that makes dumping Jefferson anything but a slam dunk: The new amnesty can be implemented in any offseason of the new CBA.

As underwhelming as Jefferson has been in his two seasons in silver and black, he was a pretty solid contributor last season on a team that won 61 games. So doesn’t it make more sense for the Spurs to see how the returning core group fares this season? After all, Jefferson made a career-high 44 percent of his 3-point shots, fifth-best in the league at a skill the Spurs value highly.

If Jefferson can help the Spurs remain in the hunt for another championship, his contract will have been well worth keeping.

But if the Spurs should suffer another first-round playoff disaster or fail to make the postseason at all? Then the conclusion will be evident: Getting Jefferson’s money off the cap will make basketball sense, no matter how painful the fiscal hit.

In all likelihood, the Spurs will keep Jefferson, but it’s not a simple decision. That’s because the pending agreement contains other wrinkles that argue for big-spending teams to use amnesty.

For one thing, the proposed deal requires teams over the luxury tax threshold to operate under more punitive restrictions on their free-agency options, including a mid-level cap exception of $3 million. Teams that are not over the luxury tax threshold will be able to offer free agents a $5 million mid-level exception.

The Spurs continue to hover around the threshold, which was $70.3 million last season. With Jefferson on this season’s roster, they’ve got 12 players whose contracts go well above $70.3 million, plus two first-round draftees who will add about $2.2 million. Getting Jefferson’s salary off the rolls would guarantee the Spurs would be under the threshold.

A third change in the pending agreement might mitigate the sting of writing all those post-waiver checks. Players waived under amnesty will be subject to a secondary waiver process that will give teams with cap room a chance to bid on them. Winning bids will apply to the player’s prior contract, effectively reducing the cost to the team that waived him.

Jefferson is still worth $4 million-$5 million a season to a team well under the cap, isn’t he?

The Spurs must decide if that is a question worth asking.

Leave a Reply