NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26: NBA Commissioner David Stern (R) and Former Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association Billy Hunter speak to members of the press to announce a tentative labor agreement to end the 149-day lockout on November 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
With a handshake agreement in place, most of the major points have been ironed out in the new CBA by the players and owners. Long divided by the size of each side's share of basketball-related income (BRI) and the so-called "system" issues such as the salary cap and the length of contracts, both sides came to a compromise after the owners relented on many of their more extreme demands, and rather than allow the present antitrust lawsuit to move forward, both sides agreed to salvage a 66 game season that will start on Christmas. Although many "B-list" issues such as the eligible age of draft eligible college players and similar are still at large and both sides have to actually vote to ratify the new agreement, nearly all media outlets have reported that the deal will go forward and any outstanding issues will be shuffled into committees that will resolve the problems over the course of the year.
Courtesy of SI's Sam Amick, we have the text of the actual agreement, and can examine the particulars of the new environment the league will operate under for at least the next six years. After the jump, we will review how the new CBA provisions such as the new midlevel exception (MLE), a stiffer luxury tax, and more affect the Lakers' flexibility in free agency, the trade market, and in other areas going forward.
The bête noire of the owners throughout the process, the exceptions, which allow a team above the cap to exceed it in order to sign free agents, have been blamed for many of the especially bad contracts signed over the course of the last CBA. This was primarily due to the midlevel exception (MLE), tagged to the league's average salary, which allowed teams to sign players to a roughly $5.6 million/year salary for up to five years. Two such signings on the Lakers right now, Metta World Peace ($33 million/5 years) and Steve Blake ($16 million/4 years), are testament to how these contracts, made for generally solid role players, can have poor consequences, as MWP's declining athleticism and offensive game portend poorly for his future prospects and Blake had a horrid first year with the Lakers last season.
The MLE has now been subdivided into different exceptions for teams above and below the tax line. The Lakers, light years above any reasonable luxury tax threshold, obviously fall into the former category. In that case, the Lakers would have access to the "taxpayer midlevel exception," which is detailed here:
Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception: Set at $3M in year 1, growing 3% annually thereafter; maximum contract length of 3 years; can be used every year.
So that's not a terrible loss for the Lakers. One could even argue that being limited to offering roughly $10 million/3 year contracts to one players will encourage the Lakers to be more fiscally responsible in doling out long investments on the outside parts of their rotation. It certainly damages the Lakers' ability to pursue the top end of the B-list free agent spectrum, but there's still enough there to add semi-solid role players -- Mike Dunleavy anyone? -- and the allure of L.A. will be something no CBA will ever be able to legislate. As with many of the provisions here, it will simply encourage smart management, and while the Lakers have been quiet on that front since the Gasol trade, Mitch Kupchak is still a solid GM.
This is especially important since the biannual exception, another provision of the previous CBA allowing a tax team to go above the minimum to sign players, has been limited to non-tax teams. The biannual isn't that much more than the minimum, so this isn't a huge loss either, but again, it gives the Lakers good reason to be judicious in utilizing all of the resources allotted to them.
The Amnesty Clause
As we noted yesterday, the Lakers are interested in Baron Davis and Rashard Lewis, two likely recipients of the amnesty clause, which allows a team to waive a player and exclude their salary from their cap and all luxury tax calculations. New developments, however, have thrown a small wrinkle in how that might actually go down. From the text of the agreement:
A modified waiver process will be utilized for players waived pursuant to the Amnesty rule, under which teams with Room under the Cap can submit competing offers to assume some but not all of the player’s remaining contract. If a player’s contract is claimed in this manner, the remaining portion of the player’s salary will continue to be paid by the team that waived him.
Yikes. So the Lakers' potential interest in any amnesty candidates can be railroaded by a team below the cap offering a token bid on those players, from which they would pay that player that salary for the length of the player's previous deal. For instance, if Baron Davis becomes an amnesty candidate, then team A, which is under the cap, can bid $3 million -- assuming that team has enough space under the cap -- and pay Baron that salary for each of the two remaining years of his contract while the Cavaliers would continue to pay Baron his original contract minus the amount of team A's bid. Moreover, if a team B wanted Baron, they could offer $4 million and would win the bidding.
This noted, this doesn't mean that the Lakers should necessarily abandon all hope for having a shot at some of the amnesty candidates. Let's take a look at the teams under the cap and whether they would have any interest in any of the possible amnesty candidates we discussed over the summer:
- Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets' current problem is that a good chunk of their roster -- J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, and Kenyon Martin -- went off to China, and due to the rules of the Chinese Basketball Association, they will be unable to return until the end of the CBA season in March. So unless any of their players get released for "personal reasons" over the next few weeks, they will have a lot of cap space and some big holes to fill, especially with their premier center Nene becoming a free agent. This could make them a suitor for players such as Rashard Lewis, Brandon Roy, and Mehmet Okur, but they are set at the point with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, making them an unlikely spot for Davis or Beno Udrih.
- Sacramento Kings: The Kings, after an utterly baffling draft day deal that saw them perform the unlikely feat of taking on salary in order to drop down in the draft, have a very full backcourt between Jimmer Fredette, Tyreke Evans, Francisco Garcia, Pooh Jeter, Isaiah Thomas, and a potentially resigned Marcus Thornton. However that shakes out, it's doubtful they pursue Baron, Roy, or Udrih, although they may be interested in adding a center such as Okur with Samuel Dalembert hitting free agency and an otherwise young frontcourt.
- Indiana Pacers: The Pacers are a fairly solid team with some nice young pieces and a big, gaping hole at the four, where Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts aren't ideal solutions. Their high tempo offense that emphasizes the three ball could make them a landing place for Lewis, who doesn't solve their problems at the position but would provide some quality depth. After trading for George Hill, the Pacers have a generally solid backcourt between Hill, Darren Collison, A.J. Price, and Brandon Rush -- and Davis would be an unlikely candidate due to his attitude issues on marginal squads and Bird's reputation for selecting high character players -- but they might be interested in filling the hole on the wings potentially left vacant by free agent Mike Dunleavy.
- Memphis Grizzlies: One of the league's surprise teams last year, the Grizzlies potentially look stacked with Rudy Gay returning to a rotation that was already a solid playoff squad last year. There are no explicit holes on the roster, although as a potential contender, it always is smart to be looking for more depth. Of all the teams on this list, Memphis has the greatest possibility of putting a bid in for Baron Davis, although the point is fairly filled between Mike Conley, Greivis Vasquez, Ishmael Smith, and Josh Selby.
- New Jersey Nets: With next season as the last year on Deron Williams' contract, expect the Nets to throw the kitchen sink and then some at the wall to keep him in town. Davis isn't likely due to the presence of Williams and former Laker Jordan Farmar, but every other position is open season for the Nets. They might want to preserve their cap space for a run at some of the bigger free agents on the market -- SI's Chris Mannix reports that they're interested in Dallas free agent Caron Butler -- but they could run the entire gamut of amnesty candidates with all the holes on that roster.
- Washington Wizards: A young, upcoming squad that likely had the best draft night in the league during the summer, the Wizards will be interested in the amnesty candidates primarily to add some veteran presence to what is otherwise a very young roster. Davis is likely out due to John Wall eating up the grand majority of the minutes at the point and the fact that he would almost certainly dog it on what is all but guaranteed to be a bottom feeder next season. Rest of the roster is much more open, so there's no telling what direction GM Ernie Grunfeld may go, but one would think they would want to maximize the minutes of rookies Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, and Shelvin Mack along with the rest of their young core.
- New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul strikes me as too classy to pull off a Melo-esque drama by holding his team hostage with a trade, but there's no doubt that the pressure for the Hornets to trade Paul will be overwhelming if the team struggles this season. With David West and Carl Landry likely leaving and the rest of the roster besides Emeka Okafor a steaming pile of crap, the Hornets have no shortage of needs, so expect them to be active in pursuing amnesty candidates. Like many other examples on this list, Davis isn't likely because the team's marquee player eats up most of the minutes in front of him, not to mention the unceremonious way that he left New Orleans earlier in his career.
- Charlotte Bobcats: In a depressing trend that makes one wonder how the Lakers of all teams could be so utterly devoid of talent at point guard, Davis is unlikely to come to Charlotte due to the presence of D.J. Augustin and Kemba Walker, but Charlotte could look for candidates elsewhere to fill the copious holes on the roster. With Rich Cho in charge, Charlotte finally looks like they are in relatively capable hands, but it's likely they have a quiet summer while they start their rebuilding process.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Rick Adelman is interested in signing Roy, if only to rectify the absolutely horrid Randy Foye draft night trade, five years and some missing knee cartilage too late. The keys of the offense will be handed to Spanish phenom Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour, one of the league's better backup point guards, will finish out that rotation, so Davis likely won't land here, and the huge glut of combo forwards on the roster likely precludes any pursuing of Lewis.
- Los Angeles Clippers: The irony of Davis ending back on the Clippers aside, this might be possible given that second year player Eric Bledsoe needs significantly more seasoning, Mo Williams is a two guard in a point guard's body, and Blake Griffin would certainly welcome the main provider of his alley-oops back. Aside from that, the Clippers could use depth at nearly every position besides the five, but it's more a question of how much they want to proceed with their youth movement.
- Houston Rockets: Daryl Morey is apparently putting all his chips in for Nene, which makes sense given the rather big hole the Rockets have at the five with the undersized but defensively masterful Chuck Hayes a free agent and the only other center being woeful draft bust Hasheem Thabeet. I wouldn't put anything past Morey, who has been one of the league's best GMs in maximizing value in trades and other transactions, but there are no other explicit holes on the roster besides the three, there's a huge amount of young players with athleticism and high upside who need playing time, and he might need all that cap space to pursue Nene given the number of suitors interested in him. Davis certainly isn't heading here with the massively underrated Kyle Lowry heading the point and Spur-killer Goran Dragic backing him up.
- Detroit Pistons: The Pistons are a toxic morass after the way last season went, and Joe Dumars seems to have finally come to the realization that this team needs to be blown sky high and rebuilt. It's hard to say where Detroit will go besides handing the keys to the team to Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, and Greg Monroe, but Dumars could possibly supplement the rotation with some amnesty signings, especially for the back end of the frontcourt. That Davis would be terrible in this kind of environment is a given, and due to the presence of Knight and Will Bynum at the point, it's doubtful Dumars has any interest in seeing how that would play out.
- Toronto Raptors: If I was Toronto, I would throw the kitchen sink and then some at Tyson Chandler and Nene and pray one of them bites since they desperately need some toughness and a defensive presence in the middle, especially with Dallas defensive guru Dwane Casey coming in. That might preclude the Raptors from chasing any amnesty candidates to preserve their cap room, although they might look for some wing depth with Linas Kleiza recovering from knee surgery. Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless offer a pretty compelling reason that Davis won't cross the border.
Golden State Warriors: The thought of Davis returning to his old stomping grounds in the Bay is interesting, although the presence of Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Klay Thompson, and Charles Jenkins probably would stop that reunion. The Warriors have been one of the most prominent teams interested in the services of Brandon Roy, and they'll also be looking for frontcourt depth behind David Lee and Andris Biedrins, not that the defense will likely improve any.
So basically, if the Grizzlies and Clippers pass on Davis, the Lakers are very likely to have an opportunity to nab him after he clears waivers. Essentially every other amnesty candidate is fair game, and the Lakers would mostly have to depend on luck for any of them to clear the process. Ultimately, Davis' worst characteristic -- his lackadaisical attitude and tendency to dog it on bad or rebuilding teams -- might be the Lakers' best asset in ensuring that he's still available following this process.
The Carmelo Rule
Or the lack of it rather. Despite much hullabaloo about the owners desiring to avoid a repeat of the Carmelo Anthony situation, extend-and-trades, in which a team signs a player to an extension using its Bird rights and then immediately trades the player, will be legal. The text reads:
Extension-and-trades permitted, except maximum length of any such extended contract is 3 years (e.g., 2 new years if player during last year of his old contract) and max annual increases are 4.5 percent. If a player signs a contract extension for a longer period or higher amount than would have been permitted for an extension-and-trade, then the team is prohibited from trading the player for a period of six months following the date of the extension. If a team acquires a player in a trade, then, for a period of six months following the date of the trade, the team is prohibited from signing the player to a contract extension for a longer period or higher amount than would have been permitted for an extension-and-trade.
In other words, if Dwight Howard wants to come to the Lakers, he'll have to accept a slightly smaller contract -- 4.5% annual increases instead of the 7.5% ones if he stayed with Orlando -- in any potential extend-and-trade, but that's hardly a deal breaker. With no rule present to preclude such discussion, expect a veritable ton of media frenzy around Howard and Chris Paul next season, and the Lakers will almost certainly be in those conversations.
The Luxury Tax
Or again, the absence of such. In lieu of a hard cap, the owners had sought to impose a more punitive luxury tax along with increasing repeater fees to discourage heavy spending by the Lakers, Mavericks, and similar teams. The saving grace is that this will not go into effect until year three of the new CBA, giving the Lakers significant breathing room to plan out their roster, and hopefully time for Buss to stash money from the Lakers' gargantuan $3 billion Time Warner media deal, which gives the team $150 million each year. While the Lakers will certainly look towards being more circumspect with any deals they hand out from this point forward, it is very unlikely that Buss will condone any significant salary dump moves so long as the team's championship window is open, and by that point, Laker management should be able to revamp the Lakers' core moving forward.
While there are numerous smaller issues present -- sign-and-trades being allowed for tax teams for the first two years so long as they don't exceed the tax by $4 million, the new "stretch" exception, or the possibility of implementing a "two and through" rule for the draft -- they are minor in comparison to the other issues for the Lakers. In any case, as numerous writers throughout the NBA blogosphere have noted in excellent work all summer, the effect of a more restrictive system is that it puts a big impetus upon smart management to work around the rules in place, and per above, the Lakers aren't bereft of talent in that department. Even with the new system certainly not beneficial for the Lakers, there are plenty of tools in place for the Lakers to retool this summer and move back into the title chase next season.
UPDATE (4:07 AM): I seem to have forgotten four other teams also under the cap. They don't change anything I've written above about Davis' availability, but for the sake of completeness, I've written some short summaries of them above.
Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.