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Winderman: Max contracts and amnesty, have the owners learned anything?

Jul 12, 2012, 7:26 PM EDT

Brook Lopez AP

With Elton Brand about to come off the market and Luis Scola about to go on the market, we’re reminded of why there is an NBA amnesty process in the first place: because of large-scale contracts that were shortsighted.

And then we have Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert and Eric Gordon getting maximum-scale offers this summer and we’re left to wonder whether anyone has learned their lockout lesson.

The reality is the new max-level deals are decidedly less cumbersome than the previous, Joe Johnson-level deals. But the third and fourth years of those contracts nonetheless quickly can turn cumbersome if those players don’t turn into perennial All-Stars.

The difference this time is there will be no second chance, no amnesty allowed on contracts signed after the lockout. This time, teams have to live with the luxury-tax consequences.

All of which leads to the debate of max contracts themselves, and the uniqueness of the NBA marketplace.

Sports, especially leagues with salary caps, are the only place where you go shopping, ask how much something costs, and the answer comes back as, “How much you got?”

Lopez, Hibbert and Gordon all found suitors with maximum salary slots available.

This by no means is advocating any sort of statistical metric, with so much in the NBA still non-quantifiable, be it the pass that leads to the assist, stepping out to disrupt the pick and roll, setting crushing screens.

But there sure seem to be enough experts around these days, between the statistical set, the executives and coaches who act as if they invented the game, the recently retired, the Hall of Famers, that perhaps the NBA needs to move to some sort of free-agency tier system, where the most deserving still could max out, but where others couldn’t hold teams hostage just because cap space happens to be available.

Each time a team amnesties a player, it is acknowledging a mistake, no matter how the press release is issued.

We’re currently in the latest round of mea culpa, teams acknowledging they either offered too much money or too many years or simply put too much faith in their medical staffs.

To a degree, amnesty is a market correction.

But the reality is that while amnesty allows for luxury-tax savings, the dollars still are being spent, teams fully on the hook for the balance of those contracts.

When the process is over, when every team utilizes its one-time amnesty allowance in coming years, the NBA needs to analyze each of the amnesty releases, crunch those numbers, establish statistical, medical and age profiles of those players . . . and then hopefully learn going forward.

Because if there’s another league-wide round of amnesty, it will mean there will have been another lockout.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter @IraHeatBeat.

  1. cmehustle - Jul 12, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    Im sorry, I believe in Brook, Gordon and Hibbert. I think they were all worth near or close to max dollars. You get paid for what teams believe you can accomplish, rather than what you already have accomplished in the NBA. Your resume cant take the court. Of course the only way to tell whos right is to wait 2 or 3 years lol.

    • raidmagic - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:30 PM

      There is no way you really believe Lopez is a max guy.

      • cmehustle - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:33 PM

        Actually I believe Lopez will be a top 3 center in the NBA. Maybe not by next season but in two he will be. But I am a Brooklyn Nets fan so take it how you want.

      • marcusfitzhugh - Jul 13, 2012 at 12:34 AM

        @ cmehustle- yeah, right. If Brook is so good, why try to get Howard? Just sign Lopez to the longest contract possible.

        Howard, Bynum, Lopez. You’re going to sit here and say “IN 2 YEARS”, they’ll be practically the same – all top 3 guys. So to you, one rebound or one free throw, that’s about all that will separate them? Please, get a TV and actually watch a game

  2. icu84bs - Jul 12, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    Ira makes no sense. No matter what system is implemented, the owners soon circumnavigate it as most are very competitive people. Nobody is twisting their arms, they could say no but rather blame the problem on the players.

    (‘Holding hostage’, I don’t think so: ‘perhaps the NBA needs to move to some sort of free-agency tier system, where the most deserving still could max out, but where others couldn’t hold teams hostage just because cap space happens to be available.’ ) LOL.

    • therealhtj - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:34 PM

      The only fix to this system is to move to a mostly non-guaranteed CBA with a more realistic hard-cap like the NFL where garbage contracts can be released at the team’s whim. We’re about 2 more lockouts away from that happening as opposed to this bogus soft cap where if every team spent just below the tax threshold they’d barely meet the agreed upon BRI split.

      Alternatively you can move to a MLB type system with a total free market, but then the days of competitive small market teams can be completely forgotten.

      • brewcitybummer - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:39 AM

        NFL teams are capable of giving out fully guaranteed contracts which means the question should be why they never do so. My answer would be less scarcity in the talent market and a universal understanding of the fragility of the assets. I could go into detail about how much more replaceable NFL players are than MLB or NBA players but I think most people realize that.

        NBA and MLB owners would be able to have an NFL system if they had a yearly talent infusion in the draft that was roughly equivalent to what the NFL has.

      • Kurt Helin - Jul 13, 2012 at 10:23 AM

        NBA owners started off the last CBA talks asking for non-guaranteed contracts. But that was a non-starter for the union.

  3. reupjosh - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    KAAAAAAHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!

  4. therealhtj - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    The answer to your first question is No.

  5. papichulo55 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:01 PM

    Maybe the Owners can rethink this from the basic truism that “They are NOT created equal”! Owing a franchise in Sacramento is not equal to owing one in Brooklyn. It all about location to these Free Agents. They make a ton of money in endorsements and they simply want to play in big markets (God Bless you, Timmy).

    Maybe the answer is to devise a cap that factors in the locations. Let the small market teams spend more? I dont know. It seems that they need to rethink this based upon the marketplace realities.

    • idontevenwannaknow - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:25 PM

      It is a fine idea in all, but it’s almost like a hard cap without saying it’s a hard cap when we all know it might as well be a hard cap.

  6. papichulo55 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    Maybe the Owners can use Congress as an example. Stay with me now, lol..

    The Senate recognizes each state equally. So maybe each team can continue to have the same cap. The Congress recognizes differences in states. So maybe the Luxury Tax can be sliding, based on income, like our Income Tax rates, where Brooklyn tax rates are significantly higher than Sacramentos.

    These organizations are some of the smartest people in business, not just sports. They can devise something better. If not, we might never see another San Antonio.

  7. idontevenwannaknow - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    The way I see it, these type of players are below superstar status to major markets, but to small market teams, these type of players turn into their “superstar” players because it is near impossible (there are exceptions) to to lure a true superstar (Kobe, ‘Melo, etc…) to a smaller market. These smaller market owners have to pay a premium to get these 2nd tier players to their market to hopefully put enough pieces together to become relevant. Sometimes they are able to put championship contending teams together, but they need luck on their side so that they do not strike out with any of these max deals that scare some fans.

  8. doubledown44 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    “Each time a team amnesties a player, it is acknowledging a mistake, no matter how the press release is issued.”

    I don’t think that blanket statement is always correct. Take the Cavs, for example. They took on Baron Davis’ bloated contract as a means to get an unprotected first round pick. That gambit was well rewarded when the pick became Kyrie Irving. The amnesty clause then allowed them to clear that contract off their salary cap. Where was the mistake?

    • berto55 - Jul 12, 2012 at 11:25 PM

      Nice example, wouldn’t have thought of that.

  9. dclogicatlast - Jul 12, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    Simple solution. Want parody? Hard cap no max. Lebron would be paid his actual worth of 30+ and there’d be no true big 3′s.

  10. beagle11 - Jul 13, 2012 at 12:12 AM

    Get rid of the cap and let the market dictate what players are worth rather than “slotting” players

  11. southpaw77 - Jul 13, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    These amnesty rules are a joke. The player still gets his money and then turns around and signs with a warm market or big market while teams in said markets still go over the cap.
    Need to be allowed to waive a player NFL style at least every other year if they don’t live up to a contract. No money if you turn into a slacker, then they either gotta keep proving themselves or to get their highly bloated contract they actually gotta go to a team with cap space. Not get their 10-20 mil du to amnesty then turn around and sign the vets minimum with Miami, NY, LA, Boston or Brooklyn.

    Want to exceed the cap of say 66 mil? Then once u go over you pay 66 million and up. NBA will never be up to NFL popularity if cold weather small markets never have a shot at long term success such as Cleveland, Denver, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Indiana, etc. Even if u draft right your players will bounce to bit cities or warm weather markets even if they have no cap space. Only shot these cold weather small markets have if nailing every draft pick and trade and praying the players they get stay humble and loyal and wanna stay.

  12. reupjosh - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    The need a hard cap… straight up… no luxury tax, no MLE’s, etc… just a hard number that no team can go over. There are still too many loop holes for these teams willing to spend to get better players.

    Really though, players need to man up and stop with the “if I can’t beat them , I’ll join them” routine.

  13. papichulo55 - Jul 13, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    Need a system that allows small market teams to compete for the ring on a reguar basis. Hard Cap is equal rules applied to unequal business partners. Use entertainment industry metrics to categorize each market, then let the small caps spend more. Then total compensation package of small vs big caps will be much closer than it is now. The shoe contracts of these guys is the wildcard in all of this. Gotta figure a way to make things even or we will have a league of Globe Trotters vs Washington Generals!

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