Since a tentative labor deal was reached on Saturday morning with the NBA and its players association, ending what was a 149-day lockout, fans and analysts have been talking about the ins and outs of the prospective collective bargaining agreement.
One of the more popular topics of discussion has been the amnesty clause.
The amnesty allows a team to waive one player and have that player’s full salary removed without tax and salary cap repercussions (For a full review of the amnesty clause, click here).
As far as the Los Angeles Lakers are concerned, their choice to use the amnesty comes down to two players: Ron Artest or Luke Walton.
Walton’s six-year, 30 million dollar contract has been a sore subject amongst Lakers fans since the moment it was signed.
Given his non-existent production over the last couple of seasons due to a back injury (1.7 points in nine minutes per game last season) and the amount he is still owed, 11.5 million dollars over the next two seasons, it’s easy to see why so many fans want to exile Walton to the land of abandoned toys (which is my name for all of the players whose teams will use the amnesty on them).
Conversely, Artest is owed three years and 18.8 million dollars. Last season, Artest was subpar, following up his herculean effort in the 2010 postseason. The mercurial forward averaged career lows in points and rebounds in 2010-11, averaging eight and three, respectively. Also, Artest’s usually stellar defense seemed to take a turn for the worse.
On paper, Artest is still considered a much better overall basketball player than Walton. But Artest is the much bigger risk for not using the amnesty on.
For starters, Walton could be retiring. During the lockout the former Arizona Wildcat has been serving as an assistant at the University of Memphis, in addition to being an assistant on Phil Jackson’s staff last year while nursing his ailing back.
Given his recent injuries, and seemingly finding his niche as a coach, the team may not even have to worry about considering Walton.
And unlike Walton, Artest has a much bigger role on the team. The Lakers can afford Walton having another subpar season. But Artest? Not so much. If the Lakers keep Artest and his play continues to decline, the team puts itself at risk of not achieving its ultimate goal of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy again.
For the money they are paying Artest, the team can look for a younger, more talented starting small forward.
While the knee-jerk reaction of most fans is to use the amnesty on Walton, Artest is the right choice, given the relationship between the uncertainty of his future production and how it affects the team’s overall success going forward.
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