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The Amnesty Clause and the Toronto Raptors

An amnesty clause in the proposed CBA?  RaptorsHQ takes a look at what players the Raptors could potentially rid themselves of, should said clause come into effect.

Has this lock-out taken a turn or what?

First it spurred discussions of league contraction, one that I think we all agree, the Toronto Raptors, luckily, don't need to be worried about.

Now, the Oregonian's John Canzano is reporting that owners are aligned on the inclusion of an "amnesty clause" in any new labour agreement.

Sound familiar?  Everyone remember the Allan Houston clause?

Oh right, that crazy thing from the CBA in 2005 that gave NBA teams a one-time option to release a player without his contract counting against the luxury tax.  Essentially then, teams that had gotten themselves into a sticky situation financially got a bit of a mulligan on one extra bad contract.

The Raps gave the contract of a certain former Georgetown center the boot that time, having already bought him out, but still owing a decent chunk of change on his deal that indeed would have counted against their luxury limit. we go again?

Apparently so.  From Canzano's article:

Two NBA sources told me Tuesday that they believe there's consensus among owners on a few important lockout issues. One of those issues being an amnesty clause that would give NBA teams the ability to release one player, pay his salary, take no luxury tax liability, and also, not have that player count against the season salary cap.     

Before we even get into the discussion from a Raptors' perspective, how ludicrous is this?  I mean if this isn't a living example of "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it," I don't know what is.

And not only did NBA owners not learn from the first go-round, but now they need an even more powerful hit of the good stuff; no luxury tax impact AND no salary cap implications!

Indeed a mulligan in its purest form, a complete "yeah, let's pretend that never happened" and looking at some of the contracts handed out recently, yeah, I'm looking at you and your shoe museum Joe Johnson, owners certainly could use it.

Which of course brings us to our beloved Toronto Raptors.

Should this new amnesty clause be put into effect, who would be on the chopping block for the Dinos?

It's an interesting question, one that league-wide has spurred a ton of discussion, and even had colleague Jonathan Abrams going back and forth with Bill Simmons on Grantland yesterday.

Let's start with the obvious candidates though for TO, break down the argument for cutting each, and then get into some other considerations...

1)  Linas Kleiza.  Mr. Kleiza takes up the torch for Jason Kapono in terms of the dreaded "mid-level exception" signing.  Time and time again we've seen these signings crash and burn around the NBA and Kleiza unfortunately looks to be headed in that direction.

On the pro side, he is one of the few current players who can stretch the floor, brings some toughness and aggression to the team, and has a contract that gets cheaper by the year.  He did have an excellent international tourney before signing with the Raptors, and microfracture knee surgery this past spring would suggest that the disappointing numbers he put up last season could be improved upon once he gets healthy.  At 26 he's not exactly over-the-hill, and would be an asset in the locker-room when countryman Jonas Valanciunas comes on board.

On the flip side though, we're talking about $4.6M next season, and $13.8M in the years following that, for a player who duplicates Andrea Bargnani to a great degree, lacks a true position, and is probably best suited as a bench contributor on a top notch club, not one looking to develop its youngsters.

2)  Jose Calderon.  For Simmons and Abrams, it was a toss-up between Jose and Mr. Kleiza in terms of who would get cut.  Here was their take:

Abrams: Linas Kleiza. It would be tempting for the Raptors to use the clause on Jose Calderon, whose contract guarantees him $20.3 million over the next two years. Kleiza's contract (signed last summer) is equally awful and pays him $13.8 million through 2013-14.

Simmons: Disagree. I'd rather chop Calderon's $20.3 million. I'm pretty sure paying eight figures a year for a backup point guard isn't getting you anywhere with a harder cap. Although really, they should see if they can use the clause on Bryan Colangelo - that's the worst single Raptors contract, right?


Nice shot by Simmons at the end there but we'll leave that one alone for the time being.

So the argument for cutting Jose goes something like this:

-He's played in only 68 games the past three seasons and is what you would call "oft-injured."

-He's owed over $20M the next two seasons.

-His average steals per game were up last year, but we're still talking about a lead guard viewed as a defensive sieve.

-While never a big scorer, his average has been in decline since the 2008-09 season, his field goal percentage has been in decline since his second year in the league, and his 3-point percentage, one of his supposed strengths, has tumbled from .429 in 2007-08 to .365 last season.

-Oh, and he turns 30 today, so doesn't really fit with the team's youth movement.

So is it happy birthday Jose, you're cut?

Based on finances alone it makes a ton of sense to clear his deal, and it's not like the team is opposed to moving him.  Remember, Bryan Colangelo already tried to move his deal last off-season.

But it's not so simple.

For one, Jose is still one of the most productive players on the roster.  Many of his numbers as noted may have declined last year, but he still sports one of the best assist marks in the league, best assist-to-turnover ratios, and is one of the team's lone veteran, steadying forces.  On a young team like Toronto, that's pretty important.

The other, and to me bigger issue, is that if Jose goes, that leaves Jerryd Bayless as the club's lone point guard option.  Bayless may be a better athlete, scorer and defender than Jose, but he's yet to prove here in Toronto, or anywhere for that matter, that indeed he's ready to run a club's offense.  There have been flashes, but how good would anyone feel about going into the season with just Bayless?  

3)  Leandro Barbosa:  Well, maybe Bayless wouldn't be the only option at the 1.  If Jose goes, Leandro Barbosa could certainly help out at the point guard position...

...if the Raptors don't cut him.

Barbosa of course decided to pick up the option on his deal this past off-season so now he's owed just under $8M this coming season.  Cutting him would lop off some quick salary, but it's not exactly a long-term fix like Calderon or Kleiza.

As well, despite playing in only 58 games last year, he rebounded nearly across the board from a very rough 2009-10 season, and could be much more valuable as a trade piece to a contender, then simply a salary dump.

4)  Amir Johnson:  This is where things get interesting to me.

At face value, there's no way you cut Amir.  He's only 24 years old, is one of the club's few legit defensive stoppers, has a steadily improving offensive game, and plays each game like it was his last.

The problem is, he's not only fighting for minutes with the club's prized rookie, Ed Davis, but even if Reggie Evans is gone, he'll be competing with the club's ordained star, Andrea Bargnani, possibly Kleiza, and the following year, Jonas Valanciunas. Top off the fact that the upcoming draft is filled with stud 4's, and it's definitely a bit crowded at his position.

And of course we wouldn't be having this discussion were it not for the $23M owed to him over the rest of his deal.

But even those future savings don't equate a "cut vote" to me.  It's hard to think the team would drop Amir over the previous three considering his upside, and possible trade value.  No, I'd rather the team looked somewhere else.


5)  Andrea Bargnani.  Yep, you knew it was coming.

Andrea may be the current face of the franchise to a certain extent, but how would cutting $42M in salary over the next four seasons sound?

And to me, the million dollar question:

"Would this club be significantly worse without him?"

Various statistical analysis would have you believe it wouldn't (in fact the Raps would improve) and to me, if we're talking about getting the most bang-for-your-buck from a potential amnesty clause, dumping Andrea is tops on my list.

But it's never going to happen.

I mean, cutting Bargs, Bryan Colangelo's former number one pick, the player he's shielded for years, and just recently gave a giant contract extension to, would be akin to admitting he knows about as much about basketball as the homeless guy that frequently shouts random things at me as I leave my condo in the morning.  We know how proud BC is, and for this reason alone, I think Bargs sticks.

The other angle might be trade value.

I know we all dismiss the "value" Andrea reportedly has on the open market, but as we've seen in the NBA historically, NBA GM's do stupid things to acquire potential 20 point per game scorers, regardless of how inefficient said scoring is.  Look at the contracts of Ben Gordon and Al Harrington for instance, two likely "amnesty casualties" if the rule goes into effect.  Maybe Colangelo can get something, anything for Andrea, thereby saving some face.

Actually the big face saver, and only way I see Andrea getting dumped, is if it's under the auspices of "Pritchard did it."  What I mean is that if BC indeed hires a new GM, or assistant GM etc, perhaps the Raps will spin it as a "the new GM made the decision" type situation, where Colangelo left things up to his new hire.

Hard to buy?

Of course.

But again, we're talking a good chunk of change that could be used down the line on guys like DeRozan and Davis to keep them in TO long term.  The financial benefit of letting Andrea go is just too big to completely dismiss, say nothing of the impact on team performance and culture.

Is there anyone else we should be considering?

I don't think so.  We've covered off the Raps' top five salaries and after these guys, we get into the Jerryd Bayless and James Johnsons' of the club, minor salaries for very short time periods.  The best options are the top five, and again, for me, Andrea would be my choice for Allan Houston Clause 2.0.

If not Andrea though, I wouldn't be upset to see Calderon or Kleiza go.  It's sad really that Toronto has so many options to choose from, and indictment of the salary cap management job Bryan Colangelo has done of late.

In fact it's too bad we weren't having this discussion a year ago as there's a certain pizza-loving former Raptor who would have fit this clause to a T...