Mark Cuban created a bit of a stir recently when he suggested that using the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant might make a lot of financial sense for the Lakers. Cuban, Kobe, and the Lakers all recognize that the team would never make such a move on its franchise player, but the Lakers and a handful of other teams are likely to consider using the amnesty provision this summer to clear an unwanted contract from their books for cap and tax purposes.
For a full refresher on how the amnesty clause works, be sure to check out our Hoops Rumors glossary entry, but here are the basics: Starting in 2011/12, each team was eligible to amnesty one player, eliminating his cap hit from the books while still paying him his full salary. Only contracts signed under the previous CBA are amnesty-eligible, and the amnesty period comes around just once a year.
Bryant is one of just 37 NBA players still eligible to be amnestied, a number that could be reduced by the time this year's amnesty period arrives in July. Like Kobe, stars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant won't be wiped off their respective teams' books via amnesty, and other amnesty-eligible players on cheap contracts, like DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, and Larry Sanders, will be safe as well. But of those 37 amnesty-eligible guys, there are still plenty that could be in danger of being released this summer. Here are the players to watch:
- Andrea Bargnani, Linas Kleiza (Raptors): As unlikely as it is that Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo would ever amnesty the player he drafted first overall and signed to a long-term extension, Bargnani will still have two years and $22.25MM on his contract after this season. Colangelo was unable to find a taker for the big Italian at the deadline, and Bargnani's play hasn't improved any since then. If his value continues to decline, the amnesty clause will have to at least be considered. However, it's still more likely that Toronto uses its amnesty to clear Kleiza's $4.6MM player option from the books, which could help the team sneak below the tax line next season.
- Carlos Boozer (Bulls): Boozer continues to be healthy and productive for the Bulls, but his contract is a bit of an albatross. Whether it's next season, when Boozer earns $15.3MM, or in 2014/15, when he's making $16.8MM, the veteran forward will remain an amnesty candidate if only because clearing that cap hit would get Chicago well below the tax threshold with more punitive penalties on the way.
- Drew Gooden (Bucks): No longer a part of the team's rotation, Gooden has played a total of 140 minutes for the Bucks this season. If he were on an expiring contract, he'd be a candidate for a buyout today, but Gooden still has two more years remaining after this one, at $6.69MM apiece. With Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and J.J. Redick all expected to become free agents, Milwaukee could create a significant chunk of cap space. Depending on which players the Bucks attempt to re-sign and where team salary ends up, it may make sense to clear Gooden from the books as well.
- Mike Miller (Heat): The Heat have more than one questionable contract that's eligible to be amnestied, including that of little-used Joel Anthony, which has two more years and $7.6MM remaining on it. Miller's price is highest though, at $12.8MM for the next two years, and it appears unlikely he'll even be healthy enough to play that long. Amnestying Miller wouldn't take Miami out of the tax, but it would significantly reduce a bill that's set to increase exponentially next season.
- Kendrick Perkins (Thunder): Perkins remains an important piece of Oklahoma City's defense and frontcourt, but his big contract, which pays him close to $18.7MM over the next two seasons, could eventually make him an amnesty candidate. If OKC does want to move that money though, a more likely scenario would involve trading him along with a combination of young players and/or draft picks.
- John Salmons (Kings): It appears a new ownership group will decide whether or not to pay the remaining guaranteed money on Salmons' deal, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Kings (or SuperSonics) decided not to amnesty him this July. Salmons is overpaid in 2013/14 at $7.58MM, but his 2014/15 salary ($7MM) is only partially guaranteed for $1MM, so he'll be on an expiring contract of sorts next season.
- Tyrus Thomas (Bobcats): For a player that has only appeared in 18 games this season and isn't a part of Charlotte's long-term plans, $18MM+ is a steep price over the next two years. I very much doubt the Bobcats will find a taker for Thomas' contract, so it would be a surprise if he isn't amnestied this July.
- Charlie Villanueva (Pistons): The Pistons' front office would probably love it if Villanueva chose to turn down his $8.58MM player option for 2013/14, but that's not happening, as Villanueva himself has confirmed. Monroe is the only other Piston eligible to be amnestied, and that also isn't happening, so if Detroit wants to make use of the amnesty provision, it has to be Villanueva and it has to be this summer. Given how unproductive the veteran forward has been and how much cap room Detroit is poised to clear, I expect the Pistons to make use of the amnesty clause.
- Metta World Peace, Steve Blake (Lakers): If the Lakers re-sign Dwight Howard to a max deal, team salary figures to be somewhere north of $100MM, which will mean a gigantic tax bill. Amnestying Bryant ($30.45MM) or Pau Gasol ($19.29MM) would result in more savings, but Kobe's not going anywhere, and Gasol will still have trade value. That makes World Peace ($7.73MM player option) and Blake ($4MM) as potential amnesty targets if the Lakers look to reduce their tax bill.