clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bucks could use amnesty provision on Drew Gooden or Beno Udrih -- but don't bet on it

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Update: In contrast to ESPN's report yesterday, Charles Gardner writes that the Bucks do NOT plan to use the amnesty on either Gooden or Udrih. That seems much more consistent with what we know about the Bucks.

The possibility of the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement including an amnesty provision has been floating around for at least a couple months, so it's not surprising to see a new, more flexible version of the 2005 "Allan Houston Rule" among the many key items that the owners and players have essentially agreed on for inclusion in the next CBA. The basic idea remains similar to the rule introduced as part of the 2005 CBA, with a couple key differences:

  • Teams would be allowed to waive one player whose contract would no longer count against either the salary cap or luxury tax. The player becomes a free agent but would still be owed the full value of their contract. The big difference with the new rule is that it provides true cap amnesty--the 2005 iteration only provided luxury tax relief, while still counting the contract against the cap.
  • The provision could be used only once at any point during the new CBA, though it could only be applied against a contract signed before the lockout. As a result, teams more concerned with cap flexibility a year or two from now can put off using the provision until they actually need it. This is especially relevant for teams with young stars that will need big contract extensions. In contrast, the 2005 rule was only available in the first summer of the CBA.
  • ESPN is further reporting that only 75% of the contract's value would be shed for cap purposes, though like many aspects of the CBA it's not clear if that's how the final rule will look.
So how might the Milwaukee Bucks take advantage of the new rule? At ESPN, Chad Ford and Marc Stein suggested on Monday that Beno Udrih (two years, $14 million remaining) would be the Buck most likely to get the axe, citing "sources close to the situation." That might surprise many fans used to making Drew Gooden (four years, $26 million) the target of their contractual ire, though for the moment I'm not sold that the Bucks would waive either guy--not unless they had an obvious free agent upgrade lined up, and we all know how easy it is to find good value that way (gulp).
Before we dive into why specific players would or wouldn't make sense to waive, let's begin with the basic logic for using the amnesty provision in the first place. And let's start with a reminder: teams still have to pay the guy they decide to waive. It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, and don't expect owners to be thrilled with the idea of paying a guy to go away unless it helps them do something else. As a result, it's going to take more than a subtle re-evaluation of Drew Gooden's usefulness to convince Herb Kohl he should pay him $26 million to take his ball and go home. With that in mind, here's why a team would want to use the amnesty provision and some discussion of whether each scenario applies to the Bucks (note that the 11/12 numbers I'm quoting will actually be prorated depending on how many games are actually played, but the same logic applies):

1) You're over or dangerously close to the luxury tax. We don't know exactly where the tax will be under the new CBA, but my guess is it won't be that far removed from the previous tax level of around $70 million. That's relatively good news for the Bucks, who currently have around $51.5 million committed to 11 players. That's not including RFA Luc Mbah a Moute or rookies Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer, but the rookies will likely receive somewhere around $2 million combined and Mbah a Moute presumably wouldn't cost more than $3-5 million to re-sign (the details of the new CBA will play a big role in determining the final figure). Long story short: the Bucks won't be in danger of hitting the tax threshold unless a) it falls significantly from last season and b) they pay top dollar for Mbah a Moute AND add salary in some other way. Word is the new MLE will start at $5 million and be limited to three years, so that would be the main avenue for pushing the Bucks' cap number beyond $60 million.

2) You're trying to free up cap space. We don't know where the cap will end up, but once again let's presume it's similar to last year's $58 million figure (as good a guess as any). That would put the Bucks slightly below it as things stand now, though odds are they'll essentially have just the MLE to work with.

But could they open up significant cap room by waiving a player like Gooden or Udrih? Maybe, but odds are they would need to let other guys go, too. If they re-signed Mbah a Moute for $4 million and cut Udrih (who makes slightly more than Gooden), then they'd have around $7 million to spend on two roster spots--and that's only if there isn't the 25% haircut which ESPN is reporting. Timing matters of course, as waiting to sign Mbah a Moute (whose cap hold is only $1 million under the current rules) would free up an additional $3 million using current rules. But if 25% of the amnesty'ed deal continued to count against the cap then there would be $2 million less in cap space terms, and remember that even if they kept Udrih they could still use the MLE (presumably $5 million) to spend on one roster spot. Meanwhile, the opportunity to open up more significant space (ie >$10 million) would require waiving Gooden, Udrih or Stephen Jackson plus letting Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova walk. Note that while Ilyasova is under contract, his deal reportedly isn't fully guaranteed and he has made it clear he would prefer to stay with Turkish side Anadolu Efes for the remainder of the season. Presumably that means the Bucks could agree to let Ilyasova out of his contract with little to no cap hit.

But while the idea of having cap space might be exciting to think about, remember that a) the 2011 free agent class isn't particularly strong and b) most of the Bucks' biggest personnel mistakes have come as a direct result of signing free agents. Hopefully the new CBA will bring a new era of rationality to free agent prices, but it's never been the best avenue for adding quality players at reasonable prices, and odds are the new CBA doesn't dramatically change things. In other words, I'm not expecting Nene to be signing with the Bucks anytime soon. Moreover, it's possible someone like Carl Landry could be available for the MLE anyway, meaning the Bucks could add a useful player without having to utilize the amnesty provision this season.

The good news is that the Bucks also have optionality: they could always pursue a higher priced free agent (whoever that might be) and then opt to waive someone only when it becomes obvious that they need to open up cap space to sign him. As Steve von Horn suggested in a conversation we had earlier today, the most intriguing option could be taking the wait-and-see approach and making a run at an attractive RFA like Thad Young, though the rules for RFAs are yet another unknown in the next CBA. RFAs also provide additional risk because teams might have to use the amnesty clause just to sign the RFA to an offer sheet, even if their original team eventually matches the offer. Then again, odds are that within six months half the fan base would revolt against whoever the Bucks sign anyway, right?

3) You're trying to get rid of a guy who's so destructive to your team that you'd pay him not to show up. If you're considering waiving a big-money player anyway, then the amnesty provision is a no-brainer. That could have been appealing with Corey Maggette in particular, but with the remaining big money guys (Jackson, Gooden, Udrih) I don't think that's the case. It's not to say any of those guys have good contracts, but it's a big leap to say the Bucks would prefer to pay them to no longer play in Milwaukee.

4) You're rebuilding, trying to tank for the loaded 2012 draft and want to get rid of a high-priced veteran who's no longer integral to the plan. This might be good rationale for Cleveland to dump Baron Davis, but for better or worse the Bucks seem intent on competing in the short term.

So with those basics in mind, let's consider the guys on the Bucks' roster most likely to be waived.

1) Drew Gooden ($6.2 million 11/12 salary, $26.2 million over next four years)

A not insignificant portion of Bucks fans would rather see Gooden hit by a meteor than suit up for the Bucks again, so perhaps I sound like an optimist (or moron?) stating my belief that Gooden could still be a useful rotation player in Milwaukee [ducks]. Do you want him starting next to Andrew Bogut for the remainder of his contract? Maybe not. But Gooden's shown throughout his career that space cadets can still be useful in the right situations, and it's not like the Bucks have anyone else this side of Bogut with Gooden's combination of size, rebounding and occasional offensive usefulness. I'd rather have Carl Landry, but then again the Bucks might not need to waive Gooden to get him anyway (though they could still opt to dump Gooden down the road). The fates of Ilyasova (will the Bucks force him to come back? Will they trade him? Let him walk for nothing?) and Mbah a Moute will no doubt be major factors here as well.

2) Beno Udrih ($6.9 million 11/12 salary, $14.3 million over next two years)

I know Ford and Stein specifically stated that their source believed the Bucks would waive Udrih over Gooden, but I'm still struggling to see how it adds up. Gooden is owed nearly twice as much money over twice the contract length, and Udrih does seem like a nice fit on an offensively challenged team that missed Luke Ridnour's steady perimeter game last season. Am I just drinking the press conference Kool-Aid?

Waiving Dooling (even if it's not with the amnesty clause) would seem a more talent-optimizing approach to offloading one of their PGs--unless the Bucks have plans to spend their cap space in a big way. Again, I'm skeptical that cap space would net them a player better than Udrih, and it's awfully difficult to imagine them getting a better value when they have to pay Beno either way. Stein/Ford's analysis seems rooted largely in the positional scarcity argument--the Bucks have lots of PGs but only one center--but I'm still not sold that the Bucks' best route to adding a big man and/or swingman requires them to eat Udrih's contract.

3) Stephen Jackson ($9.3 million 11/12 salary, $19.3 million over next two years)

Like Udrih, Jackson is relatively overpaid (two years, $19 million) but expected to play an important role in the Bucks' current plans, especially given the relative lack of wing scoring currently on the roster. For better or worse, Jackson is guaranteed to get 33-36 minutes per game and as many shots as he feels like; in return the Bucks are hoping he provides versatile play on the wing and the kind of vocal locker room presence they lacked last season.

The argument to waive Jackson is pretty simple: only Bogut ($12 million) will earn more money than Jackson ($9.26 million) this season, so if you're goal is to maximize cap space then Jackson fits the bill. That said, it seems like the Bucks want to give it a go with Jackson's veteran presence complementing Bogut and Jennings, and if they don't use the amnesty this summer then they could always opt to waive him a year from now ($10.06 million). Moreover, the same questions about the Bucks' free agent options apply here: who exactly would they sign with that potential cap space?

4) Keyon Dooling ($2.2 million 11/12 salary)

Given his modest deal (one year, $2.2 million) and his status as the most likely odd man out at PG, Dooling is probably the player most likely to be waived without an amnesty clause. So would the Bucks use the amnesty on him in order to get the extra benefit of $2 million in additional cap reductions? I doubt it for two reasons. First, the cap benefits of using the amnesty clause on a small deal are by definition small even in the best case, and it wouldn't provide any incremental space to teams with just the MLE to spend anyway. That could be the case in Milwaukee, especially if Mbah a Moute is re-signed. Second, teams will likely be loathe to waste the amnesty on a small deal in the short term since they can save it for use down the road on a bigger deal. The Bucks would no doubt hate to use the amnesty on someone like Dooling and then see Udrih, Gooden or Jackson suffer a career-limiting injury shortly thereafter. Put simply, the amnesty is for big-game hunting, not Keyon Dooling.