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.