NBA Amnesty Clause: Do the Washington Wizards Cut or Keep Rashard Lewis?

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NBA Amnesty Clause: Do the Washington Wizards Cut or Keep Rashard Lewis?
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Rashard Lewis is many things. He’s an elite three-point shooter from the forward position. He’s a former 20-point per game scorer. He’s well spoken, intelligent and a guy who has won a lot of games over the years, even making it to the Finals with the Magic in 2008.

But despite his successes and numerous All-Star experiences, he’s probably best known around the league for his monster contract, signed in 2007 with Orlando after averaging more than 15 points per game for eight consecutive seasons in Seattle.

And when Lewis inevitably came back to earth—he was never commonly viewed as a superstar, even when he declared for the NBA in 1998 straight out of high school—he became the poster boy for the overpaid athlete.

This took on new meaning during the recent CBA negotiations. Owners painted the players as overpaid and out of touch with their real value. They lamented guaranteed contracts and the percentage of Basketball Related Income they took away from the league.

Guys like Rashard Lewis, the logic extends, were one of the reasons the league was not profitable for owners (despite record franchise sales prices and no lack of interested buyers).

While the details will not be finalized until early next week, one of the main items included is an Amnesty Clause. As we are to understand it, the clause allows you to waive a player currently on your roster within the next two years and not have salary cap and luxury tax ramifications. Rashard Lewis, he of the $22 million contract for 2011-12, was the player everyone pointed to as a no-brainer cut.

But the Wizards are already way under the salary cap, and in a weak year for free agents, their main priority is to re-sign their RFAs—specifically SG Nick Young. If the Wizards use amnesty on Lewis, they would be over $34 million under the cap, though they could still count his pay against the “salary floor” that is also purportedly included under the new CBA (teams must spend a minimum of 85 percent of the salary cap or pay a penalty).

Should the Wizards use amnesty on Rashard Lewis?

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The Wizards have plenty of small forwards on their roster, having drafted two this past June (Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton) and a guy who splits time there the year before (Trevor Booker). Those guys could use the minutes vacated by Lewis and the team would get a better idea of what they have moving into the future.

But really there are only a few scenarios where using Amnesty on Lewis would be appropriate. Remember, the Wizards would still pay Rashard’s contract (minus whatever is bid on him in the amnesty bid system) for the next season and a half (about $32 million, since his contract has a $10 million buyout for 2012-13). The only benefit is if they plan to pursue, and sign, a marquee free agent.

Of the free agents available, there are some big men that the Wizards would be interested in. Nene, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler are all solid contributors who the team would be happy to have. But they will all be given big contracts this offseason, and by most estimations we are looking at monster deals in the $10 million-plus per year range.

DeAndre Jordan may not be far off. The Wizards and their new management are not likely to make one of those offers.

The only other area the team can make their mark is using the amnesty bid process themselves. They are well positioned to bid on other teams salary cap casualties, though it is yet to be seen who those players will be.

While the Amnesty Clause has been the talk of the league for the past few weeks, it seems fewer and fewer teams will actually lose it—despite its propensity to help them out greatly.

Some players will get waived—Baron Davis and Josh Childress, for example—so there will be talent available for pennies on the dollar. But in both of those cases the players are not at a position of need and do not make the team significantly better.

At a couple million a year they might be welcome, but they are not in the Wizards long term plans. Players like Al Jefferson, Luis Scola and David Lee are possible amnesty targets because of their outsized salaries, but not likely ones.

So this is what it comes down to: do you want to bid on big name free agents, will there be big names to bid on from amnesty, and are you willing to hand your reigns over to three players with a combined one year of NBA experience.

Looking at the Wizards new commitment to fiscal responsibility and building from within, I think the answers are clear. No, they won’t bid on the biggest name free agents, probably only Nick Young or a replacement (Arron Afflalo) if he walks).

Yes, if there are big names in amnesty the Wizards will look for value there. No, they don’t particularly want to give their rookies a trial-by-fire in their worst season.

Both Vesely and Singleton need to work on their long distance shooting, and there isn’t a better person to learn from than Rashard Lewis. He works hard on defense as well and can teach the young guys a lot about how to survive in the league. While he’s an injury risk, at least he can mentor the young guys for part or all of the season.

The only scenario where I see Lewis being waived this year is if one of those big names ends up an amnesty casualty themselves. Otherwise, the team can wait until next year to use the amnesty in a better free-agent market, giving themselves more flexibility and the benefit of another high draft pick in their rebuilding process.

It is my understanding that the team can use amnesty the same day they find out another player is being waived using the amnesty clause as well. That’s why I expect the Wizards to hold tight, plan on keeping their only veteran swingman and look for opportunities and value as they appear.

It’s the right thing to do, and I’m happy to say I finally have faith the team front office will do that.

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