One Among Them

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 7, 2011 under Commentary | 8 Comments to Read

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Every bit of optimism that has seeped into the collective bargaining negotiations has been dealt with in short order. The NBA is uncompromising, and the players’ willingness to negotiate has been coopted by hardline owners as a free avenue for player concessions. The owners have given little to nothing in return, and now yet another arbitrary deadline threatens the 2011-2012 season altogether.

On a more local level, Tyson Chandler discussed another sobering reality on the Ben & Skin show on ESPN Radio in Dallas: even if the players and owners do somehow get a deal in place to end the lockout, the likely luxury tax framework of such a deal could prevent Chandler from re-signing with the Mavs:

“With the collective bargaining agreement and some of the things that they’re trying to enforce, it would basically prohibit me from coming back. It would take it out of my hands — and the organization’s — because it would almost be pretty much impossible for me to re-sign. I just think that can be the worst thing that can happen. For years, the Lakers have been able to win championships and re-sign their players and keep them there so they can go out for another title. Now, to put that deal in place after we win ours, I don’t like it one bit.”

Chandler’s concerns are real. An actual hard cap is almost an impossibility at this point, but a soft cap with harsher penalties for taxpayers is virtually guaranteed. That could deter Dallas — a team already committed to $64.7 million in 2011-2012 salary before accounting for the potential re-signings of Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, or Peja Stojakovic — from bringing back its second-best player. Considering that Chandler would cost more than double of what would surely be a substantial salary, no one should blame Mark Cuban for refusing to foot the bill, even with the added cost of losing out on top-tier contention.

Still, reports have indicated that a likely amnesty clause — akin but not completely similar to the one the Mavs used to release Michael Finley in 2005 — could give the Mavericks a potential out. If Chandler’s salary would truly push Cuban beyond his spending threshold, the amnesty option would at the least give him some options worth considering.

Assuming the specifics of a new amnesty clause hold true to the initial reports, Brendan Haywood could prove to be a suitable amnesty candidate. In a vacuum, Dallas would likely keep their amnesty privilege for a rainy day; Haywood’s contract, while unquestionably large, was nonetheless considered an acceptable price for the team’s incredible center depth. Cuban proved last season that he’s willing to pay for two starting-caliber centers, under the apparent condition that neither player’s salary gets out of control. Chandler’s skyrocketing stock has threatened that ceiling, but releasing Haywood under the amnesty clause would give Dallas the ability to swap the positions of their two centers: Chandler, with a secure deal in place, would become the incumbent, while Haywood would enter free agency in his place.

The primary difference would be the Mavs’ preclusion from somehow retaining both players. If Haywood were to be released via amnesty, Dallas likely wouldn’t and couldn’t be able to court Haywood as a free agent. Not only would it be counterproductive to the financial bottom line, but amnesty rules would likely prevent the Mavs from even entertaining the possibility. This would be a clean swap, and thanks to the flexible timing of a possible amnesty clause, a safe one. Dallas wouldn’t need to release Haywood simply for the freedom to negotiate with Tyson Chandler, but could come to terms with Chandler in free agency before electing to let Haywood go. Considering that “insurance policy logic” is part of what led the Mavs to overpay for Haywood in the first place, it’s essential that they have one of the two centers locked down, lest they spend themselves even further into luxury tax trouble. The amnesty provision would provide that much, as either Chandler or Haywood would be a Maverick during every step of the process.

Releasing Haywood is by no means the optimal solution; Dallas would have a serious need for a reserve center, especially after committing to a player with such a worrisome injury history. Yet Chandler is indisputably the better player, and would be crucial in maintaining Dallas’ performance in the year to come. If the luxury tax changes would actually prevent the Mavs from making a serious run at Chandler, swapping him in for Haywood — even at the cost of Haywood’s full (but tax-less and cap irrelevant) salary — could be the most sensible option.

  • Dominic

    Would it be possible to sign Chandler, trade Haywood to a team which won't contend, has no interest in him, has a lot of cap space (to nothing needs be taken back in return) and has no amnesty candidate of their own … Maybe Indiana?; Sacramento?; Toronto perhaps?? … get them to use their amnesty on Haywood who could then resign with Dallas.
    Now we'd have to give up something to get the other team to participate .. draft picks? cash? even trade JJB / Butler / Stevenson to get them to do it – but I think this could work …

    • Rob Mahoney

      It's an interesting thought, but there are a few problems:

      1. I just can't imagine a scenario in which a team would give up their amnesty privileges so easily. The right to waive a player with no cap/tax implications is very powerful, and would likely cost more than Butler, Barea, and/or Stevenson.
      2. Plus, that non-contending team would still be obligated to actually pay Haywood's considerable salary throughout the life of his deal, adding a pretty large expense with a smaller potential benefit. Considering that lottery teams typically like to keep their costs low, this seems like a longshot.

      3. Luxury tax paying teams likely won't be able to execute sign-and-trades under the new CBA, which means Butler, Barea, and Stevenson won't be able to be included in a deal.

  • G. Albert

    This is exactly why the have-not owners are being so harsh. They want to see any potential future dynasty crushed in the name of competitive balance.

    Then again, it could be quite entertaining to have an NBA where any team could be great or terrible in any given year. It works for the NFL…

  • Landfillsrule

    Who can afford Tyson if the Mavericks can't? I would think other teams will have cap issues as well. Also, why can't Tyson take a little less (like our buddy LeBron) and stay here. I feel this attitude is how the slaries got so far out of control. Suck it up Tyson. Instead of 20 million a year, tighten your belt, cut coupons, and try and survive on 15 million.

    • Morganstateman

      Hate to break it to you but the Mavs couldn't afford Tyson at 15 MIL a year either.  The salary cap I believe is going to be around 55 MIL.  So say bye bye to Tyson.

      • Rob Mahoney

        The salary cap is irrelevant for a player like Chandler because the Mavs already hold his “Bird rights.” They have the right to exceed the cap in order to re-sign him. The luxury tax is where things get dicey, as Mark Cuban would have to pay a ridiculous amount of money just to keep the current core intact.

    • Rob Mahoney

      The problem isn't the cap issues the Mavs face — it's the tax. Depending on how the CBA negotiations shake out, Dallas may be forced to pay an additional $1.50 for every $1 spent over a certain tax threshold. The Mavs are likely already over that threshold, meaning that even if they signed Chandler to a contract that would pay him $12 million next season, they'd actually be paying out $30 million ($12 million to Chandler, and $18 million back to the league as a tax penalty).

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