How the NBA's Amnesty Clause Is Helping the Rich Get Richer
One of the central issues of the NBA’s 2011 lockout that dragged from July through December was the need for parity. The desire was to help smaller market teams compete with the upper echelon, major market teams of the league, both for free agents and on the court.
Of all the aspects of the league that were altered, the decision to implement an “Amnesty Clause," allowing a team to waive one player and have their salary not count towards the cap, was considered one of the most positive by many fans and pundits.
Once a player is amnestied, teams under the salary cap are able to bid on his services, with the winning team receiving the player and the team that waived him covering the remainder of the contract. If he clears waivers, meaning no team places a winning bid, the player in question becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign wherever he pleases.
Unfortunately, the amnesty clause has served largely to benefit the major contenders and done little to help teams looking to join the ranks of the league’s elite.
The clause most clearly benefits teams that have spent lavishly in the past or acquired players with staggeringly high salaries via trade. Teams like New York, Orlando and Philadelphia were able to erase the salary of injured, aging stars Chauncey Billups, Gilbert Arenas and Elton Brand, respectively, in order to carve out some cap room and preserve financial flexibility for the future.
While teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers have used the provision to clear out tremendous, cumbersome contracts, it primarily serves to reward teams that spent frivolously with a way to avoid being handcuffed for years.
Look no further than Dallas, who amnestied under-performing center Brendan Haywood.
Haywood was slated to earn $27.2 million over his contract's final three years, but averaged a paltry 5.2 points, six rebounds and a block per game while making 54 stars for the Mavericks last season.
Although the amnesty waiver process benefits teams that are under the cap, most of those squads are younger and lottery-bound, meaning they would have little use for the kinds of players who end up on the amnesty wire.
While Phoenix brilliantly snagged Luis Scola for three years and $13.5 million and Charlotte shored up their frontcourt with Haywood’s acquisition, most young teams simply have no interest in the kind of players who are cut via the amnesty clause.
The Suns and Bobcats are both in unique situations, as Phoenix was under the salary cap but is not too far from playoff contention and Charlotte simply needs all the talent it can get.
The players that are amnesty candidates, for the most part, are veterans signed to contracts that, at this point in their careers, are not reasonable based on their level of play. The majority of them are best fit to join contenders as valuable role players and rotation pieces.
Looking at where some of the more coveted amnesty players have ended up, chiefly Davis, Billups and Brand, proves that big-market, high-spending teams are often the ones most active on the amnesty market.
Billups even famously warned teams against bidding for him, and though the Clippers took a gamble on him they were a major market team with plenty of intriguing talent clearly looking to build a contender.
Does the NBA's Amnesty Clause primarily help only the good teams?
Teams like the Miami Heat or L.A. Lakers that have little financial flexibility are now in a prime position to lure in talented players on the cheap. Even veteran's minimum deals are attractive because of the allure of a huge media presence, star teammates and the opportunity to win a ring while still earning money from the contracts they signed with their previous teams.
Players like Davis and Milicic were signed to unwarranted deals because teams like the Clippers and Timberwolves had to overpay to bring in free-agent talent, but can still pocket that money while guaranteeing themselves a deep postseason run.
With its punitive luxury tax penalties and incentives for players to remain with their teams, the lockout settlement made some improvements to the parity of the league, but the amnesty clause will largely continue to aid the league's elite teams while doing little for smaller markets.
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