Of the harshest realities of the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, most involve teams going above and approaching the league's new punitive luxury tax.
As noted by just about everyone and their great grandmother, the 2013-14 season marks the beginning of harsh penalties that will forever alter how teams build rosters. Depending on how much a team is over, here is a quick chart of how much a luxury tax team will pay for the remainder of this agreement:
|Amount Over Tax||First-Time Offense||Repeat Offender Rate|
|$5 million or less||$1.50 to every $1 over||$2.50 to every $1 over|
|$5 million to $10 million||$1.75 to every $1 over||$2.75 to every $1 over|
|$10 million to $15 million||$2.50 to every $1 over||$3.50 to every $1 over|
|$15 million or more||$3.25 to every $1 over||$4.25 to every $1 over|
Data via Larry Coon's CBA FAQ.
For some teams, this more punitive tax will lead to cutting costs any way possible. We've already seen that phenomenon take hold with the trades of players like Rudy Gay. Teams—especially ones in small markets—are beginning to avoid that number like the plague.
For others—like the New York Knicks—spending those tax dollars comes with a slight chuckle and a hearty check.
Knicks fans, if you're looking for a reason Andrea Bargnani is coming to the Big Apple, look no further. The Knicks finalized a trade for the power forward Tuesday, as per ESPN's Jared Zwerling. New York is playing with James Dolan's Monopoly Money. Uncle JD and the Straight Shot doesn't mind throwing a few extra (tens) of millions around in an attempt to bring the championship back to Madison Square Garden.
One problem: the NBA does.
In that same collective bargaining agreement, the league put restrictions on the movement tax teams can make. According to Larry Coon's indispensable CBA FAQ, teams $4 million over the luxury tax cannot land players involved in sign-and-trade deals starting this offseason. Nor can they pay a full mid-level exception but a less desirable mini mid-level that starts out at a little over $3 million per season.
Here's another reason your team bought into two years of Bargnani. The Knicks can stay over the cap and tax as much as they want, but they're going to have to continually find little loopholes in doing so. Unfortunately, that still won't work in free agency. This team likely has only one or two major moves to make and will then hit the veteran trash heap looking for minimum salaries.
Who might the Knicks be looking at? Here is a quick look at all the latest rumblings going on around the Big Apple.
Elton Brand, Knicks Have Mutual Interest?
The past few years have seen quite an interesting career evolution for Elton Brand. Signed as a franchise player by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2008, Brand's devolution due to injury turned him into one of the league's biggest albatrosses. His play slipped, numbers cratered and the Sixers eventually amnestied him before last season.
Picked up by the Dallas Mavericks for a pittance waiver claim, Brand did what so many have in the past—developed into a sneakily useful backup. Brand averaged 7.2 points and six rebounds last season, taking his new role in stride on the surface. Dallas' offense saw no major atrophy when he was on the floor, which is no small feat considering Brand most regularly spelled Dirk Nowitzki.
With his contract finally expired, Brand can officially work himself into that late-career mold full time. He's expected to command a ton of interest from the Mavericks and other teams, with just about everyone around the league needing a smart veteran presence, efficient post scorer and rebounder.
The Knicks? Yep. They're interested, too. According to Zwerling of ESPN, the interest is coming from both sides:
The appeal for each side is pretty easy to spot. Brand is from Cortlandt Manor in New York and could have a more integral role than he even did in Dallas. Neither Amar'e Stoudemire nor Tyson Chandler are exactly bastions of health, leaving Brand open to getting starters minutes even in a "backup" role on paper.
Brand could also allow the Knicks to shift their focus away from bringing Kenyon Martin back into the fold. Martin was fantastic as a backup to Chandler this past season, but he still played in exactly 18 regular-season games. There's also the locker room help that could be given, going from the volatile Martin to the more docile Brand.
It will be interesting to see whether Brand prefers New York over Dallas, where he seemed to be comfortable last year. But he's certainly going to have no shortage of suitors. That's certainly an improvement over where Brand was this time a year ago.
Bucks, Others Driving J.R. Smith's Price Too High?
Of the players from last year's team hitting the open market, Smith has been and will continue to be priority No. 1. The enigmatic shooting guard had the best season of his career in 2012-13, averaging 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game en route to winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award.
The campaign represented the culmination of a long, arduous career path for Smith. Long one of the NBA's most talented scorers, this past regular season was seen as the one where the lightbulb finally went on for the 27-year-old Smith. He (somewhat) bought into defensive rotations, was (somewhat) more selective with his shots and (somewhat) said the right things in the media.
It was a coming of age.
Then the playoffs happened and everything went to hell. Smith was suspended for Game 4 of the Knicks' first-round series against the Boston Celtics for needlessly elbowing Jason Terry in the face, sending his postseason into a downward spiral. He went on to shoot an abhorrent 28.9 percent from the field in New York's second-round series against the Indiana Pacers, which it lost in six games.
All of that progression was gone, and Smith was left in near-fetal position. So his stock has certainly been one to watch, because it's unclear what teams will be getting once they cut the check.
With that said, NBA general managers cannot help themselves. Equipped with enough cap space to fill a fleet of Brinks trucks, team executives will find a way to make it rain until their stock runs dry.
Smith may be the latest example of that phenomenon. It's been reported by multiple outlets that Smith is one of the hotter names on the market for teams in need of bench scoring. According to Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times, plenty of teams—most notably the Milwaukee Bucks—are looking to make Smith an offer he cannot refuse:
The Bucks definitely have J.R. Smith (New York) in their cross hairs. Smith, an explosive scoring shooting guard, would replace Monta Ellis, who is shopping his wares and is a cinch to sign with another team.
Smith would prefer to remain with the Knicks, but will likely receive a more lucrative offer from another team like Milwaukee, Dallas or Phoenix, to name a few.
As noted by Woelfel, Milwaukee would look for Smith to replace Monta Ellis, who seems bound to depart after turning down an extension and opting out of his contract. Apparently Bucks general manager John Hammond has an affinity for talented scoring guards with bewildering shot selection.
If the recent market indicates Smith's oncoming haul, New York might get priced out of his range. As noted by HOOPSWORLD's Tommy Breer, J.J. Redick's four-year, $27 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers may set the benchmark.
If that's the case, it might be two-and-done for Smith in the Big Apple. The Knicks can offer Smith more than their mini mid-level exception because they hold his Early Bird rights, but a perceptive deal starts around $5 million. Either way, it might be time to look at some secondary options just in case.
Knicks Want Copeland, Prigioni to Split Mid-Level but Copeland Getting Offers?
Slightly lesser on the desire spectrum for Knicks returnees are Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni. Both are restricted free agents, but that doesn't necessarily mean as much as it would for other players. The Knicks hold no Bird Rights on either player, though, meaning they could be priced out of one or both by the open market.
Granted, that's unlikely. Prigioni is a 36-year-old point guard whose best traits are his incredible basketball IQ and innate passing ability. Copeland is far younger (29), but he's a player who had one role and one role only in the Knicks' offense—shoot. They're both fine role players for what they are, just not guys who will command upwards of $3 million per season—at least that's what the Knicks are hoping.
According to ESPN's Zwerling, New York is hoping to split its mini mid-level exception on the two incumbent bench cogs to bring them back into the fold:
If the money was split right down the middle—about $1.5 million apiece—Copeland and Prigioni would receive a little more than $500,000 more than what their restricted free agent qualifying offer currently entails. Not bad for you or I, but for two guys who might command a little more payola on the open market, the prospect of a moderate raise could make them look at other options.
Copeland especially is one to watch. Three-point gunners, even ones as one-dimensional as Cope, are becoming increasingly trendy across the sport. Guys who can knock down an open jumper, space the floor for stars and keep the lane unclogged for more dribble-drive-heavy players are valuable. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Copeland and the Indiana Pacers have a mutual interest, which would make some sense considering the Eastern Conference finalist's struggles with spacing last season.
At this point, Prigioni is the likelier bet of the two to stick around. The Argentinian guard became a fan favorite during his first NBA season, morphing from beloved curiosity item to beloved basketball player (Yes, there's a difference).
What's more, Prigioni's fit within the offense became clear during the postseason. During a time where the Knicks' offense fell increasingly into its bad black-hole habits, Prigioni was the master of ball movement. His insistence on keeping the ball moving and at least getting one or two passes in before the inevitable isolation did wonders.
Provided Prigs wants to play a second year in the NBA, it will be with the Knicks, and New York is better for it.
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