Of the myriad of questions floating around the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, there's no front office issue that could shift from extremely impactful to borderline insignificant like the amnesty provision debate.
For the uninitiated, the amnesty provision is a one-time opportunity for a team to waive any player who signed his contract before December 2011 and have his salary wiped from the team's salary cap figure. In many cases, teams will use this provision to clear a player's cap number off the books in order to fit another man's contract onto the books. In the Lakers' case, the amnesty cut would most likely be used to simply reduce steep luxury taxes that could potentially go into the eight or even nine figures. The only restrictions that a team faces when cutting a player via the amnesty is that the player would have to be with the same team since December 2011 (thus, he could not have been traded in that time).
We asked the writers around Silver Screen & Roll who, if anyone, will be waived this summer?
The Great Mambino
Metta World Peace, and it's not really a debate in my eyes amongst the available choices of Lakers personnel. At his diminished state, MWP is still very much a useful player, but provides nothing that can't be replaced. On the plus side, he probably won't ever lose his incredibly quick hands or uncanny ability to poke the ball away from his opponent when cornered. However, as everyone surrounding him becomes one year older, having an athletic swingman is of even more paramount importance. Metta's footspeed has been declining since the day he signed his contract, as more and more wings are able to blow past the formerly agile Ron Artest. While he's undoubtedly strong as he's ever been, MWP's lack of lateral quickness and inability to run fast enough on the break has handicapped his defense.
Offensively, Metta is as much as an adventure as we've seen him. He's been incredibly erratic as a three-point shooter and finisher on the run, to say the least. At this point in his career, he might be best suited as a power forward, as his bruising strength and unorthodox post moves make him a surprisingly efficient player on the block. All things considered, MWP's scoring ability is simply too unreliable to count him as a starting small forward on a team with championship hopes. Even without taking his contract into account, Metta would be the choice cut out of the four eligible players.
Sadly, we live in a world where money does matter, even for the Lakers. MWP's near $8 million dollar player option will cost Los Angeles exponentially that amount in luxury taxes if he's on the books in November. For a player who could be replaced with the mini mid-level exception contract (think Demarre Carrol, Matt Barnes, Lazar Hayward), Metta could be a shoe-in for the amnesty unless his cap figure is used in a trade.
Metta World Peace. You perhaps could add Steve Blake to that list, but no one else really makes sense. And before you ask, Kobe Bryant probably isn't going to be amnestied because there's no endgame in which that makes sense. Save for a highly farfetched scenario in which the Lakers move heaven and earth in order to clear space for someone like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, something Mambino debunked a while back, it's difficult to envision an offseason that doesn't end with Kobe still on the roster. There are essentially two paths this offseason can take: one with Dwight and one without him. In the former scenario, the Lakers move forward with Dwight on the roster and plan to compete as well as they reasonably can with the resources available to them. Obviously, you want Kobe to come back at some point and aid that team in their playoff aspirations, however limited they may be. Should the latter occur and Dwight depart for somewhere like Houston, then the Lakers face a rebuilding project in which case they probably should jettison any piece with value for assets and get under the tax line. That removes any real motivation for using the amnesty on Kobe since it all becomes moot from a financial perspective if the team doesn't have to hemorrhage money in order to keep him. He can take his sweet time to recover, make some progress on his career point totals when he returns, and hopefully not jeopardize the huge tank for Andrew Wiggins enterprise that will be unfolding. Cutting ties with him in that case would almost certainly lead to him taking up residence somewhere else if only to compete for something meaningful should a team under the cap claim him and that's a highly undesirable outcome for the Lakers.
As a result, both scenarios lend themselves to a Metta amnesty. A competitive team deep in the tax with Dwight could save $20-30 million in tax payments by using the amnesty on him and a tanking one gains the benefit of clearing him from their payroll (although one could see him opting out in that case to seek greener pastures on a team with playoff hopes). In that case, Blake becomes the next logical target, as Pau could almost certainly get the Lakers useful pieces for rebuilding between his large expiring contract and still solid play on the court to close out this past season. This noted, Blake very well could be packaged with Pau as a fellow expiring and collateral in any such deal, as the Lakers would prefer not to pay a player not to play for them. Regardless, it is still very likely that the amnesty axe comes down on someone this offseason as the Lakers try to endure the crushing payroll implications of the new CBA.
The Lakers have quite a few options when it comes to the amnesty provision. The first four that come to mind are: Steve Blake, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, and Kobe Bryant. Given Nash's age and injury issues this past season, amnestying Blake probably doesn't make sense. The risk of being left with no competent point guard is too big of a risk for such a small financial gain.
Pau Gasol is an interesting candidate because the savings would be quite significant (over $60 million). That number is hardly pocket change and if the Lakers feel the need to go smaller and more athletic with Howard in the middle (assuming he returns) then moving Gasol seems to make sense. I don't see this happening though for two reasons, one is that amnestying Pau would allow another team with cap space to win the bidding war for him. I could see a team like Houston that has shown past interest in the Spaniard and has cap space making a run at him. The threat of making a quality team a contender while getting nothing in return is not wise management. The second reason is that Gasol is still a desirable player for the right team. No squad is going to offer up an All-Star for him, but a team under the cap with some mid-level talent could make an offer that would provide the Lakers both salary and tax relief while giving the Lakers and infusion of youth and depth. For these reasons, even if Gasol were to be moved, it wouldn't be via amnesty.
That leaves us with the final two players, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace. One could easily make a case that the best choice would in fact be Bryant. Using the amnesty provision not only provides the Lakers with around $80 million in savings, but it gets them below the salary level that gives them options like the mid-level exception to bring in a quality role player for the future. The Lakers won't have access to this exception with Bryant still on the roster no matter who else is amnestied or waived. It makes further sense when one considers these costs against the gains of having Bryant for only half a season or so. It makes far more sense to amnesty him, improve the team's depth, and then bring him back next season for one final run. This won't be happening though as Kobe will try to recover this year and thus it would be a PR nightmare if the Lakers amnestied the face of the franchise to save money when they have the most lucrative TV deal in the league.
By process of elimination, that leaves Metta as the odds on favorite to be amnestied.MWP was the type of three-and-D player the Lakers have long desired prior to his acquisition four years ago. His defense has always been his calling card, however he had a rather underrated shooting touch as he shot better than 38% from deep in three of the four seasons prior to coming to LA. Now, with his lateral quickness virtually gone and his shooting touch never approaching pre-Lakers levels, he is more of a undersized power forward than small forward on both ends of the floor. Given the likely return of Gasol, Jordan Hill, and Earl Clark along with the hopeful return of Dwight Howard, there simply exists little room at the PF position for World Peace. Metta's declining game no longer warrants his fairly large salary and certainly doesn't warrant the taxes associated with it. Given that he has no market value via trade, he won't bring in any assets and he won't push a rival over the top. There is no risk to releasing the former Defensive Player of the Year, which is why he will be gone come July.
Metta World Peace is the obvious choice. He makes just enough money for an amnesty to actually help contain costs and/or forge a path for the Lakers to find themselves under the luxury tax, and everybody who makes more than he does either has trade value (Pau Gasol), or would cause a political nightmare if he were amnestied (Kobe). Metta has little trade value, and his amnesty would actually matter, so he's the leader in the clubhouse. But nobody else makes a lick of sense.
If the Lakers use the amnesty provision on anyone it will be Kobe Bryant. I'm not suggesting that they should, or will, but it's the only answer that makes sense to me. If they're looking to save money it seems likely they can trade Pau Gasol for a bag of peanuts and a pair of flip flops. While Metta World Peace is another logical target, shaving his $7 million in salary doesn't move the needle very much, and the team doesn't have a small forward to replace him on the roster currently. Steve Blake is another potential target, but he falls into the same category as World Peace in that saving money on his salary doesn't change a great deal. There's also the matter of needing Blake as an insurance policy for Steve Nash should he go down with old man-itis again.
That leaves Bryant, who is a $30 million contract that is returning from a torn Achilles, and will be much harder to trade should it reach that point. If Dwight Howard leaves, if things don't go Los Angeles' way this Summer, the fresh slate initiative may begin a season earlier than anticipated. If that happens, then it could be the tipping point for Kobe. Will he want to spend the final few years (or perhaps final year) without Howard in L.A.? If Howard leaves, the front office should consider their options, which could very well mean the scrapping of Gasol to acquire youth in some form.
After a grueling injury and working to come back and prove to the basketball world that he isn't going down on anybody's terms but his own, would Kobe accept a season or two of retooling the roster? If not, then perhaps the two sides will come to a gentlemen's agreement to let the amnesty fly, effectively giving Kobe a chance to end his career however, and potentially wherever, he'd like.
Either Dwight sticks around and the Lakers don't use their amnesty provision, or Dwight leaves and everything begins burning a season earlier than projected.