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David
08-04-2002, 11:10 AM
PRO BASKETBALL NOTES
On 'rebate,' there is debate

Owners, players in basic disagreement

By Peter May, Globe Staff, 8/4/2002

Can't get enough of that luxury tax? Didn't think so.

Yes, it's boring. Yes, it's complicated. But its mere threat has done more to pare costs and limit player options than a league full of Donald Sterlings.

Owners are terrified of the tax, which is a dollar-for-dollar fine on the amount a team's payroll exceeds this still-undetermined threshold. A lot of teams are preparing for the worst and estimating the threshold could kick in around $50 million-$52 million. (The Players Association vigorously protests such figures and feels the number will be higher.)

But the owners are equally concerned about two other components of the tax. Both can loosely be called rebates, and if you go over the threshold, you may not be eligible for much, if any, of what could be a significant stash of money. That money comes from two sources: the 10 percent that is being withheld from player salaries, and the distribution of the luxury tax fine money to the ''good'' teams that don't go over the threshold.

The dollar-for-dollar penalty is cast in collective bargaining cement. The decision on the dispersal of the ''rebate money'' is not. And there are several teams holding back, not so much because of the luxury tax itself but also for fear of losing out on the rebate money.

That fear is helping to make the term ''veteran minimum'' a standard part of the NBA vocabulary in the summer of 2002. Celtics owner Paul Gaston, for instance, could devise a formula whereby he would have ''lost'' as much as $20 million by simply re-signing Rodney Rogers to a $3 million deal.

The Players Association isn't happy with any of this, needless to say. And Thursday it will present a case to arbitrator Charles B. Renfrew that the league's decision to use the ''rebate'' money as some sort of fiscal Sword of Damocles is a violation of their agreement.

The union feels that using the rebate money to further punish the owners constitutes a tax not agreed to in collective bargaining. The league's answer is pretty simple: There's a paragraph in the agreement that says it has ''sole discretion'' as to what it does with money collected from luxury taxpayers and player salary escrow.

The association points to a different part of the agreement that says you can't use one provision to defeat another. The union isn't arguing collusion. But it is saying the league's decision on dispersing the rebate money amounts to a circumvention of the agreement.

Both sides want a quick answer from the arbitrator. If he were to side with the union, it might have a dramatic effect on player movement. Teams could sign players knowing that, while they might have to pay the tax, they wouldn't get whacked more than once. If the arbitrator agrees with the league that ''sole discretion'' means ''sole discretion,'' then we'll continue to see most teams shy away from spending and carry 12- and 13-man rosters with a lot of guys working on one-year minimums.

It's not as if it has been a nuclear summer for the players. Malik Rose commandered a sweet deal in San Antonio along with Bruce Bowen. Good for both of them; they deserved it. Raef LaFrentz merely went to the Mark Cuban Cooperative Bank & Trust and walked away with $70 million. Chauncey Billups hit paydirt with Detroit, and the still-raw Jerome James got $15 million from Seattle.

But Rashard Lewis is peeved about his offer from Seattle. Hey, at least he has one to be peeved about. Keon Clark and Rogers, key contributors on playoff teams, are still out there. Travis Best is still available.

If Renfrew decides that ''sole discretion'' does, in fact, mean ''sole discretion,'' the availability pool isn't going to dry up anytime soon.

Cheap trick

Here's the good news, Andre Miller: You've been traded from the Cavaliers. Here's the bad news, Andre Miller: You've been traded to the Clippers at a time when you'd like to think you're going to get a very, very large contract. If Stephen Ambrose decides to write ''Undaunted Courage, Part II,'' he might use agents Bill Duffy and Lon Babby as his NBA Lewis & Clark. Their mission: to go where no man has gone before - into Clippers owner Sterling's wallet for big, fat contracts. Duffy represents Michael Olowokandi, who likely will play this year with the Clippers for his rookie-scale salary and then go elsewhere because Sterling won't give him a maximum contract. (Then again, maybe Olowokandi doesn't deserve one and, at $5 million plus this season, Sterling probably thinks that's excessive for his center.) Babby represents Miller, who also is seeking a maximum deal. ''We understand that,'' Babby said, referring to Sterling's reputation. ''But the plan was to put Andre into an environment where he'd have a better chance of winning, and we think we've done that. We know we're not going to do anything this summer [when he is eligible to sign an extension]. There's a time for that. You have to have a courtship before a marriage.'' The acquisition of Miller gives the Clippers three of top eight players from the 1999 draft: Elton Brand(No. 1), Lamar Odom (No. 4), and Miller (No. 8). But based on how LA is handling Olowokandi, you have to wonder how the Clippers are going to handle the next three. If nothing else, Miller gets himself a better situation, which should help him down the road, either in Los Angeles or elsewhere. It clearly was not going to be in Cleveland. ''The one assessment we made,'' Babby said, ''was that it would be better for him and the team if he were traded. That was our observation at the end of the season.''

... On July 2, agent Mark Termini held an invitation-only workout for 10 teams in Cleveland. On display was little-known Polish center Cezary Trybanski , who turns 23 in September. He was not drafted in 2001 - the year he was draft-eligible - and was a free agent. A number of teams liked what they saw in the workout and arranged one-on-ones with Trybanski, who is 7 feet 3 inches in sneakers. One of those teams was Memphis, which liked Trybanski so much it gave him a three-year deal, fully guaranteed, for $4.8 million. It's about what the 12th player selected in the 2002 draft will get. ''I'm not an authority on NBA scouting,'' Termini said, ''but if [Grizzlies boss] Jerry West says he sees something, I don't question that.'' How did Trybanski slip through the cracks when the NBA has a sophisticated scouting presence in Europe? Well, Poland isn't exactly the San Pedro de Macoris of basketball; Trybanski will be the first from his country to play in the NBA. The quality of coaching and the institutional structure in Poland still lag behind those of many European countries. And he was a backup on his own team, with unimpressive numbers. But the NBA is all about speculation these days, and Trybanski fits because of his age, his height, and the fact that he's got a huge upside. ''He's not going to be a starting center, but by the end of the year, he'll have an impact on the season,'' Termini said. Trybanski did make a brief appearance at the Utah Summer League after signing with the Grizzlies, and he fared well against the likes of Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry . The Grizzlies, meanwhile, appear to be going against the grain somewhat in that they plan to keep the maximum 15 players under contract.

Go to the videotape

The NBA's decision to use instant replay for next season is welcome. (It comes too late for the Kings, who would have won Game 4 of the Western finals with the Lakers based on the fraudulent 3-pointer awarded Samaki Walker at the end of the first half.) Replays will be used only at the end of quarters to see whether a shot beat the clock. Officials also will be able to check to see whether a shooter's feet were out of bounds or touching the 3-point line. If the officials call a foul on the play, they'll also be able to review that, but only to see whether the foul occurred before time expired. The one potential problem: What about games that aren't televised? Not every team televises all of its games. Said league operations boss Stu Jackson , ''We don't know how we're going to satisfy instant replay in non-televised games.'' The replay also will not be used to determine whether the clock was started at the right time. According to sources, only the Nets voted against replay. They could have been helped by it during the playoffs, because Reggie Miller's desperation trey that forced overtime in Game 5 of their series with Indiana was shown on replay to have been launched after time expired ...

A full-blown contingent of Seattle hoop dignitaries visited with Lewis this past week in Texas. Their mission: to persuade him to sign what they think is a very attractive and talent-based offer. It's in the $60 million range for seven years. Lewis thinks he's worth more, and he may be right. But there is no one out there who thinks the same way and can come remotely close to what Seattle is offering. To date, Lewis has visited Dallas, which can offer $15 million for three years. ''We think he's nuts not to jump at our offer, but he, obviously, has a different opinion,'' said Sonics president Wally Walker. ''No one else can get close. It's not 1999 anymore. Not everybody understands that yet. There's always a time between perception and reality on both sides.'' Walker also offered this observation on Vin Baker, who signed a seven-year, $70 something million deal with Seattle in, yup, 1999: ''He should be terrific in the Eastern Conference. He played great against Shaq, Tim Duncan , [ Kevin] Garnett . Two years ago, we were 4-0 against the Lakers. This year, we were 1-3 and Shaq missed two of those games. But in one of the games he did play, Vin had 20 at halftime and we won the game.'' Walker thinks Baker still has a lot of basketball left. ''Boston is the best chance for him to get his confidence back. When a guy like that, with a contract like that, gets traded, usually that means that there was something amiss in the previous situation. Unfortunately, that was the case in Seattle.''

... The Celtics had until Thursday to make a decision on Omar Cook. They didn't wait that long. They waived him after the Shaw's Summer League. Cook was simply outplayed by J.R. Bremer , although he did not think he got a chance to play the way he thought the Celtics wanted him to play (read: push the ball). Still, he has now had time with Denver, Dallas, and Boston, and hasn't shown much. He could be in for another year in the NBDL. The Celtics, meanwhile, still have two roster slots to fill. One, they hope, will go to Walter McCarty for the veteran minimum (there's that phrase again) of $762,435, but only $637,435 would count against the cap and the Celtics would receive a $125,000 ''reimbursement'' from the league. It appears that rookie Darius Songaila is determined to come to camp and not go overseas, but he isn't a point guard, and that's what the Celtics say they want (again, for the veteran minimum). Asked if the team had discussed training camp with Songaila and his agent, GM Chris Wallace said, ''We haven't crossed that bridge yet.''

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

This story ran on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 8/4/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

Drbio
08-04-2002, 12:36 PM
very interesting

Fidel
08-04-2002, 01:32 PM
Very good read. Thanks David for posting it.