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All About Amnesty, And What It Could Mean For The Phoenix Suns

Should he stay or should he go?
Should he stay or should he go?

Of all the new components of the newly agreed upon CBA that has yet to be formally adopted, the amnesty clause is one of the more popular aspects and also one of the least understood. This new clause has been talked about at length in the media, and on numerous web sites and sports blogs with wild speculation about players who could be waived and what teams they could land on, but in reality the actual impact of the amnesty clause may be much more bark than bite.

The basic rundown of the new amnesty provision according to the pending proposal is this...Each team will be able to waive one player at any time during the length of the CBA and remove all of that player's salary from counting against their salary cap.

Sounds simple enough right? Not so much. While the amnesty clause in and of itself seems fairly straight forward, its stipulations are much more detailed and will likely curtail a veritable free-for-all of do-overs from ever occurring. Let's start by clearing up some of the common misconceptions about the new amnesty clause and listing some of the lesser known conditions of it:

  • Teams can only use the amnesty clause once, and on only one player during the life of the new CBA, not just during the 2011-2012 season. The player must also have been on the roster prior to July 2011 in order to qualify

    Teams cannot use the amnesty clause once per season or on multiple players, they get one shot and that's it. Teams do not have to use the amnesty clause this season, they can wait and use it at any time during the life of the new CBA. Teams also cannot use the amnesty clause on any future signings or trades...It only applies for those players who are already on the roster.

  • Teams must still pay the difference in the amount of the amnestied player's original contract verses their new contract with the team that claims them, over the remaining life of the deal (excluding a team option year if any).

    In other words, teams may be off the hook for the salary cap but not off the hook for monies owed. For instance, if Portland waives Brandon Roy and his $15 million dollar salary this year, another team may offer him $5 million per year, and Portland would still have to pay him $10 million not to play for them this year; and may have to pay even more for the following two years depending on the amount and length of the new contract.

  • Waived players will be entered into a selective waiver market in which only teams that are under the salary cap will be able to bid for their rights. If the waived player clears waivers without any offers from teams under the cap, they will then become an unrestricted free agent and be able to sign with any team they choose, even those that are over the cap.

    This means that only the teams under the $58 million salary cap, not just under $70.3 million luxury tax cap, will be able to bid on contracts for players who have been waived. The team that submits the highest contract bid wins. The only way that either room teams (like the Suns) or luxury tax teams would be able to sign a waived player is if they clear waivers with no contract bids from teams under the salary cap first.

So what does all of this mean for the Suns? What are their options and would it make sense to use the amnesty clause on one of their players? Let's look at the big picture and see what makes the most sense:

First of all, what players on the Suns' roster that are currently under contract would be the most likely candidates for the amnesty clause? Assuming they buy out Vince Carter's $18 million contract for $4 million, The Suns right now have a total of eight players on the roster with guaranteed contracts: Nash, Gortat, Childress, Frye, Pietrus, Warrick, Dudley, and Lopez. These are the only players who can qualify for the amnesty clause now or in the future.

Out of these eight players, which of these players make any sense to use the amnesty clause on? They can eliminate Nash, Gortat, Lopez, Frye, and Dudley...All of these players are either valuable to the team, and/or have positive trade value, and/or have cap-friendly contracts.

So they are left with the following three players who are possible amnesty clause candidates: Childress, Warrick, and Pietrus. Now, let's explore the contract details of each player as well as the present and future financial/salary cap position of the Suns to determine whether or not waiving any of these players would actually benefit the team either now or going forward.

  1. Josh Childress - Under contract for four more seasons with roughly $27 million remaining on his deal...earning between $6-7 million in each of the four years. This season, Childress is set to earn an even $6 million.
  2. Hakim Warrick - Under contract for three more seasons with roughly $14 million remaining on his deal...earning between $4-5 million in each of the three years. This season Warrick is set to earn $4.3 million.
  3. Mickael Pietrus - Under contract for one more season at $5.3 million.

Warning...In order to adequately explain how waiving one of these players would affect the Suns' salary cap, it's necessary to explain their current salary cap status along with their cap holds and what options they have regarding either turning them into actual salary, or renouncing their rights to them to drop them off the books completely. If that sort of information doesn't interest you, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs and you can just take my word for it.

Now, let's look at the financial position of the Suns in relation to where they stand with the salary cap to see if waiving any of these players would help them. When the salaries for all eight players are added up, and before they sign the three non guaranteed players (Lawal, Siler, and Dowdell), the Suns will have a salary of $50.7 million this year. However, we also have cap holds on Grant Hill, Aaron Brooks, Markeiff Morris, and others in the amount of approximately $18 million which also counts toward the salary cap bringing our total to approximately $68 million...meaning that we are over the salary cap but under the luxury tax for this season. Our own Alex Laugan wrote a nice comprehensive piece on this that can also be referenced here.

Here's where it gets tricky. If the Suns sign either Grant Hill or Aaron Brooks, each with a cap hold of approximately $6 million, the cap hold will drop off and be replaced by their actual salary. Or, if Hill signs elsewhere and the Suns renounce their rights to Brooks each of their $6 million cap holds will drop off. Since Brooks is likely stuck in China until at least February, it is likely that the Suns will keep his rights and be forced to keep his $6 million salary cap hold on the books...It's very doubtful the Suns simply renounce his rights to let him sign elsewhere and get nothing for him just to save a $6 million cap hold.

Some of the other cap holds the Suns currently have on the books are for our first round pick that they haven't yet signed (Morris) at around $1.6 million, and three older players they still haven't formally renounced their rights to...Jalen Rose, Gordan Giricek, and Eric Piatkowski for a total of $3.6 million; which I believe the Suns will clear off their cap. So at most I would guess that the Suns may be able to clear $12 million in cap holds once free agency begins, but they will also have to add Morris's salary and Grant Hill's salary to the books if/when they are signed...which will probably total an additional $6 million or so if they both sign...meaning their total savings off the cap would probably be around $6-10 million when it's all said and done depending on whether or not Grant Hill stays in Phoenix...Are you following all this?

So, If Grant Hill re-signs in Phoenix then the Suns will remain a cap team. Or, if Grant Hill decides to sign with Boston or Miami and the Suns clear the three ghosts of seasons' past off the books, the total salary for The Suns could end up at around $58 million which still puts Phoenix right at the salary cap. Remember, this is also before any of the three non guaranteed players have been signed (Lawal, Dowdell, Siler) at about $700k each. In either scenario, would waiving any of the three possible amnesty candidates above make enough of a difference to really matter? The answer is probably least not this year.

If a team is under the salary cap they can only sign players up to the cap amount, then they will have to use the same exceptions as cap teams. So even if the Suns get down under the salary cap, they probably wouldn't be far enough under it to make much of a difference. The most money they could save this year is by waiving Childress for a savings of $6 million. Without re-signing Grant Hill, that would put them at around $52 million and allow them to sign another player for $6 million in addition to any exceptions. But at the same time, if they lose Grant Hill, Childress suddenly becomes much more important to this team.

Waiving Pietrus makes no sense because he is an expiring contract, and that alone gives him trade value and also makes him valuable to the Suns if he stays. Warrick has not been a great signing but his $4 million salary isn't exactly breaking the bank either, and the Suns wouldn't gain much by letting him go verses keeping him on the roster or seeking a trade for him instead.

I believe the best option for the Suns is to hold onto their amnesty clause until next year when there's a real possibility they could clear enough cap room to become major players in free agency. At the moment, the Suns only have six players on the books for next season (Gortat, Childress, Frye, Warrick, Dudley, Lopez) for a total of around $29 million. That will likely change somewhat between now and then depending on the moves that the Suns make in free agency or trades this season, but depending on the direction that our FO wants to take, they could have substantial cap space available to sign multiple free agents next season.

If the Suns are going to use the amnesty clause to waive Childress, that would be the time to do it. Not only would waiting another season make more sense financially, it would also allow the coaching staff one more season to evaluate Childress with a healthy shooting hand to see if last year was just a fluke or if he simply isn't a good fit in their style of offense. He also gives the Suns added depth this year at small forward, a position they could find themselves extremely thin at if Grant Hill gets injured or if he decides to take his talents to South Beach.

In light of all this, I believe that the Suns will not exercise the amnesty clause on Childress or any other player this season...I just can't see a real benefit to do so at this point. Now of course, just because it doesn't make sense that doesn't mean it won't happen, as I'm sure most of us long-time fans of this organization can personally attest to. However, unless significant and unforeseen moves are made at the beginning of free agency that clear additional salary off their books, I don't believe we will see any Suns players waived by means of the amnesty least not yet.

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