Sunday, November 27, 2011

Amnesty Options for the Atlanta Hawks

Assuming the new CBA gets ratified by both players and owners, it will contain the following amnesty provision:
  • Each team permitted to waive 1 player prior to any season of the CBA (only for contracts in place at the inception of the CBA) and have 100% of the player’s salary removed from team salary for Cap and Tax purposes.
  • Salary of amnestied players included for purposes of calculating players’ agreed-upon share of BRI.
  • 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.
The Hawks are in a pretty terrible position with regard to the salary cap: about $7 million over the cap (counting neither the unguaranteed deals to Pape Sy and Magnum Rolle nor cap holds for the empty roster spaces) despite having just seven players under contract for the 2011-12 season and only $4 million scheduled to come off the books (and some guaranteed money to be added should the team keep its first round draft pick) after the season. The Hawks are both unlikely to pay the luxury tax and unlikely to get under the salary cap by any significant amount for either the 2011-12 or 2012-13 seasons.

What follows may be an academic exercise. The current ownership group chose to keep Randolph Morris on the roster to play 124 minutes in 2009-10 rather than pay him the $855,189 he was guaranteed and either use his roster spot on someone potentially useful or sign an additional player who might have been more productive. Admittedly, this history creates plausibility problems for the options discussed below, wherein ASG would choose to risk paying 10 times as much as Morris was due in 2009-10 for a far more useful professional basketball player not to play for the Hawks.

So, disclaiming the very real possibility that the Hawks will never use the amnesty provision of the new, tentatively agreed-upon CBA, the team has three potential amnesty options:

1) Kirk Hinrich -- Using the amnesty provision on Hinrich would be the cheapest option as his pro-rated 2011-12 salary will be around $6.5 million. Presumably, using the provision on Hinrich would be a short-term move inspired by a desire to use the MLE*, the Bi-Annual Exception, or just fill out the back end of the roster with veterans rather than the likes of Pape Sy, Keith Benson, Magnum Rolle, or their inexperienced (and cheaper) ilk. I suspect the Hawks are more likely to trade Hinrich than use the amnesty provision on him.

*Choosing to amnesty Hinrich in order to use the MLE to re-sign Jamal Crawford is probably the worst of all potential choices.

2) Marvin Williams -- If the Hawks amnesty Williams before this season starts, they'll still owe him $25 million and would be under the salary cap, but by less than $1 million and with seven roster to spots to fill. If the Hawks amnesty Williams before next season, they'd owe him just under $17 million and would be below $52 million in salary owed (not counting a 2012 first round pick's guaranteed contract) to the five remaining players under contract.

As the Hawks don't gain much flexibility by just using the amnesty provision on Williams before this season begins (though the combination of amnestying Williams and trading Hinrich might have interesting consequences), the number and type of players other teams amnesty will likely impact the Hawks' decision. If a bunch of teams use the amnesty provision immediately, then it's less likely Williams would draw sufficient interest under the third part of the amnesty provision wherein another team currently under the cap would defray some of the money Atlanta owes him. However, that might mean that Williams would draw greater interest as an amnestied free agent next summer when teams had fewer options from which to choose.

The reverse is not necessarily true. Even if the majority of teams hold on to their amnesty provision, Williams' market value is at an all-time low right now so the Hawks might not benefit from a thin market of amnestied players in December.

3) Joe Johnson -- If things go south (or even stagnate) for the Hawks over the course of this season and the next, 2013 could hold massive rebuilding potential for the team. Al Horford, Joe Johnson, and Jeff Teague (if the Hawks make a qualifying offer for him) are the only players currently under contract beyond the end of the 2012-13 season.

If rebuilding becomes a reality, the Hawks would also figure to have their 2012 and 2013 first round picks under contract, plus the haul from a Josh Smith trade (as it's highly unlikely the Hawks will just let Smith leave via free agency). In such a scenario, the Hawks might have enough players on team-friendly contracts that it would make sense both to pay Joe Johnson the remaining $69 million in order to get that cap space back and pursue free agents in 2013 and 2014.

Because of that third part of the amnesty provision, there is a chance that it would make sense for a team under the salary cap to assume some of Joe Johnson's contract and defray the cost to the Hawks of using the amnesty provision on Johnson. Again, it's not that Joe Johnson is a worthless basketball player, it's just that he's not going to be worth $20+ million dollars a year for his age 32-34 seasons.

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