The basic notion of the amnesty provision of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement is simple: Every team can waive one player and remove his contract value from the salary cap during a one-week window that coincides with the beginning of free agency, provided that player signed with the team before July 1, 2011. It's a fully sanctioned mulligan in a league where mistakes are costly and rampant, and thus seen as a way out for cap-strapped teams that have few other alternatives.
If only it were so simple. The amnesty clause may seem like a quick fix for teams over the salary cap, but in very few cases could it actually help a team create cap space. Most teams are simply so far over the cap that nixing the salary of a player would create a nominal amount of room, if any at all. In the final balance, a team pays a player the full value of his contract (less however much another team under the cap is willing to "bid" on the player, via the amnesty waiver process) in order to part ways immediately, likely without creating the means to add a replacement.
The ranks of amnesty-eligible players have dwindled to a mere 37, as 15 teams have already made use of the one-time provision and the rest of the league's players are no longer eligible to be amnestied because they've been traded or signed after July 1, 2011. For the sake of thoroughness, we'll touch on each of those 37 candidates, the vast majority of which are hardly realistic candidates.
(For reference, the following teams have already used the amnesty clause to release a player: Brooklyn, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Golden State, Houston, Indiana, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Washington.)
This list should need no explanation. Just because a player can be amnestied doesn't make it a legitimate or viable option. Each of the players listed below is either too productive, too talented or too cost-effective for their teams to reasonably consider waiving them via the amnesty clause.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Because the function of the amnesty clause is to alleviate teams of burdensome salary, it would make exceedingly little sense for a team to amnesty a player on an affordable deal without compelling reason. The following players are safe on these grounds.
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City Thunder
Some of the names below are widely discussed as potential amnesty targets, while others are less debated but eligible by rule. Nevertheless, all of their teams would stand to gain little (or nothing) from cutting them loose. As mentioned above, invoking the amnesty clause tends to require very specific circumstances for both player and team, most intersections of which have already been exercised by the 15 amnesties over the past two offseasons.
Tyrus Thomas, Charlotte Bobcats: Thomas is owed $18.1 million over the next two seasons, which is a brutal sum for a player who logged just 360 minutes in 2012-13. But the Bobcats aren't exactly in a position to ditch Thomas on principle. He isn't even remotely worth his paycheck, but erasing his cap hit would offer Charlotte little immediate benefit and likely only add to the overall roster costs of a team in development. The Bobcats won't be making any big free-agent moves and have plenty of cap space to work with as is, making Thomas a likely Bobcat through the end of next season at least.
Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls: I've already addressed the clamor over amnestying Boozer, which would be a senseless decision for a taxpaying team without the means to replace his production. If Chicago did opt to amnesty one of its best scorers and rebounders on the basis of him being overpaid (to the tune of $32.1 million over the next two seasons), all it would gain from the exchange is the difference between the taxpayer "mini" mid-level exception it's currently set to receive ($3.18 million) and the full mid-level exception ($5.15 million) if would receive if Boozer's contract were wiped off the books. No cap space would be created and no other exceptions gained. Chicago would simply set fire to $32.1 million on a whim, while losing a player who's far more important to the offense than most seem to realize.
Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls: See above. And Deng is even more valuable than Boozer.
Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers: Unless the Lakers opt to punt their season while waiting on Kobe Bryant's rehabilitation and recovery, I see no logic in amnestying Gasol. Clearing out his salary ($19.3 million) would help the Lakers pare down their luxury tax bill considerably, but even those savings paired with a possible Dwight Howard departure wouldn't bring the Lakers down below the salary cap. That's proof enough of how gigantic Bryant's 2013-14 salary ($30.5 million) will be, and how little use there is in ditching a player like Gasol.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: Why would Memphis even remotely consider amnestying an All-Star-caliber big man on an expiring contract? (UPDATE: Randolph actually has two years left on his contract, as the second year is a player option. We apologize for the mistake.)
Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat: Haslem is far from irreplaceable, but under Miami's current financial circumstances he may as well be. The Heat are set to be well over both the cap and tax lines next season, left with just the aforementioned mini mid-level exception. That exception could well be used to re-sign Chris Andersen, or to potentially court another complementary big man on the free-agent market. Neither of those moves would make Haslem in any way expendable, as his contributions on defense and on the glass make him well worth keeping around as a reserve. Plus: If Miami intends to trim some salary as a means of saving money on luxury-tax payments, Joel Anthony would seem the far likelier candidate.
Mike Miller, Miami Heat: In a similar position to Haslem, particularly in regard to his standing relative to Anthony.
Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs: If the Spurs opt to keep Bonner through next season, they'd have to pay him only a manageable $4 million for the last year of his deal. If that cost isn't to general manager R.C. Buford's liking, San Antonio can release Bonner before June 29 at a cost of only $1 million. With those palatable options and no tax payments to skew the team's internal calculus, there's little reason to amnesty Bonner.
THE CURIOUS CASES
The possibility of erasing a player's cap implications can be interesting for a variety of reasons, even when the amnesty victims in question are living legends. Strange circumstances have brought forth the possibility of amnestying two long-tenured stars, unthinkable though that possibility might seem.
Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics: The final year of Pierce's contract has only $5 million out of a potential $15 million guaranteed, which has fueled rumors that Boston may consider releasing Pierce to get a head start on a possible rebuild. If that option is being seriously considered, then so too is the amnesty option. If the Celtics amnestied Pierce rather than releasing him outright, they'd stand to make the same functional gains while also clearing that $5 million figure from their cap sheet. That alone wouldn't do too much for a team that is projected to be over the salary cap either way, but if the decision is made to let Pierce go, why not also ditch his cap implications?
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: The possibility of amnestying Bryant is more of a thought experiment than a practical option, but the fact that the Lakers have such an unfathomably large luxury tax bill (almost $95 million if Howard re-signs) makes it an interesting hypothetical.
THE PLAUSIBLE CANDIDATES
At long last, we're here. Below are the players who aren't necessarily likely to be amnestied, but reasonably could be.
Charlie Villanueva, Detroit Pistons: Although his entire stint in Detroit has been a disappointment, Villanueva is coming off the worst season of his NBA career. If the Pistons have any immediate plans for using their cap space (or even want to leave open the possibility of utilizing that space to facilitate a trade later in the season), they should least consider amnestying Villanueva, who has one year and $8.6 million left on his deal.
Metta World Peace, Los Angles Lakers: An unessential player who isn't worth his salary ($7.7 million for next season), much less the multiplied cost created by the luxury tax. Again: No amnesty decision is likely to make the Lakers a better team, as their cap situation is too unfavorable to allow for short-term improvement and flexibility. But if the Buss family gets uncharacteristically thrifty in what looks to be a down year, they may well trim the fat of World Peace's $7.7 million salary from an otherwise bloated cap sheet.
Joel Anthony, Miami Heat: It seems unlikely that Anthony would ever be amnestied, given Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's clear appreciation for his work ethic. He's still valuable as a pick-and-roll defender and an effort rebounder, but Miami could conceivably look to snip the $3.8 million Anthony will make in each of the next two seasons as a way of hedging the tax bill of a costly roster.
Drew Gooden, Milwaukee Bucks: Given Milwaukee's web of negotiations with guards Monta Ellis (player option), Brandon Jennings (restricted) and J.J. Redick (unrestricted), Gooden's amnesty status is a bit complicated. The Bucks have Bird rights on all three of the aforementioned free agents, meaning that they won't need cap space in order to re-sign them and thus wouldn't need to amnesty Gooden as a means to that end. But until those players are signed (or until Milwaukee renounces their rights), Ellis, Jennings and Redick will each have a cap hold that clogs up the Bucks' cap space. Those holds come to a combined $33.6 million, which, when added to the team's committed salary for 2013-14, puts the Bucks clearly above the projected salary cap.
Depending on how things go with Ellis, Jennings and Redick, the Bucks could renounce some of those holds to create workable cap space, then amnesty Gooden to expand it. But the interesting factor in play with Gooden and the Bucks' free agents is the amnesty timeline. As previously mentioned, teams can only amnesty players between July 1-9, leaving Milwaukee with about a week to engage in negotiations on several fronts and conclude whether amnestying Gooden might actually offer a tangible benefit. That will depend on which of those three free agents the Bucks decide to bring back and for how much, forcing a cost-conscious organization into a difficult dilemma with a ticking clock.
Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder: Another case of a much-maligned big man on a bloated salary. The Thunder no doubt regret the $18.6 million they committed to Perkins over the next two seasons, but the decision to amnesty requires far more than mere dissatisfaction. In Oklahoma City's case, the justification to pull the amnesty lever could come in the form of a trimmed tax bill. Dumping Perkins would make it more palatable to re-sign free-agent wing Kevin Martin, who would otherwise command a salary that would vault the Thunder into luxury-tax territory. The cost of a potential Perkins replacement would hedge against the Thunder's savings, but OKC's ownership and front office will ultimately have the choice between keeping a seemingly well-liked player at a tax cost or erasing his cap (and tax) hit while absorbing what remains of his salary.
H/T to Mark Deeks of Sham Sports for clarification on OKC's tax situation.
John Salmons, Sacramento Kings: Although Salmons is technically under contract with Sacramento for two more seasons, the final year of his deal has just $1 million guaranteed. That makes him nearly as attractive an amnesty candidate for this summer as it will next, depending on the Kings' more precise offseason plans. Ultimately, Sacramento is in a position to pick its spot. Will a new ownership group led by Vivek Ranadive be willing to pay Salmons $7.6 million to not play? Although an impending decision regarding the future of Tyreke Evans will largely dictate the Kings' course, it's feasible for the team to create a good chunk of cap room to work with for either 2013 or 2014, if it's willing to cut ties with Evans and his cap hold. The odds are on Sacramento's waiting until next summer to cut Salmons loose and play the field a bit.
Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors: New GM Masai Ujiri wants Bargnani gone, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, and a shy trade market could force him to consider alternative options for unloading the problematic forward. That Bargnani is owed $22.3 million over the next two years might make him an amnesty long shot, but given his pitiful play and lowly standing with the team, his release is at least conceivable. That would be a lot of money for the Raptors to concede just to rid themselves of a once-valuable player, but any decision to amnesty Bargnani would undoubtedly come as a comparative option to the luxury-tax bill Toronto would otherwise face with him on the books.
Linas Kleiza, Toronto Raptors: Another potential impediment to amnestying Bargnani is the presence of an even less useful player -- this one in the final year of his deal. Kleiza is set to make $4.6 million next season, and he doesn't seem very tradeable given his recent run of injuries and largely depressing play. If the Raptors can get something -- anything -- for Bargnani via trade, they may pursue that end and save their one use of the amnesty provision for Kleiza. All salary information courtesy of the invaluable ShamSports.