View Full Version : Article on recent trades, money issues. Also about the Kemp deal and Raul Lopez.

08-23-2002, 08:49 AM
<< As luxury tax looms, owners cut their losses

By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com

You look at the train wreck baseball is about to have because its owners want &quot;cost certainty,&quot; and you want to tell them, a luxury tax will give you your certainty. But there is a price. Every NBA team can tell you that, and so can most of this summer's free agents.

If you think me wrong, just take a look at what this summer has wrought across the NBA. In city after city, teams that may be one player from making a move do nothing, because their owners are petrified about next year's luxury tax. In the big revenue cities like L.A. and New York and Philly, and even small market teams with higher revenue streams (read: higher ticket prices), it may not be as big a deal. But in your mid-market towns, with few exceptions, the economic clamps are on.

Let's take Milwaukee. I know that George Karl and Glenn Robinson were oil and water and that the Bucks had to make a deal after their implosion last season. And I know that they, like the Nets, couldn't have tens of millions of dollars invested in the same position, small forward. They had to figure out a way to get Tim Thomas more playing time.

But I also know that Glenn Robinson for Toni Kukoc and Leon Smith (and, yes, a No. 1 pick that is only lottery protected 1 through 3 next year) would not make sense, does not make sense and never will make sense -- on the basketball court. And I believe the Bucks know this, too. But the other reason this trade was made -- the biggest reason, I believe --was to enlarge the coffers of the Hon. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who owns the Bucks.

I'm told the Bucks could have moved Robinson to the Sixers for Derrick Coleman, for example. And while Coleman and Anthony Mason would have been a handful in the locker room, I believe a big body like DC's is just what Milwaukee is lacking. But the legal troubles of Allen Iverson and, then, Robinson, kept slowing the momentum for a deal. More to the point, even after the air started to clear, the deal got nixed because, although Coleman is in the last year of his contract, he gets $9.38 million this season, while Kukoc only counts $7.8 million on the cap. And this year and next are the critical years for everyone; the money from the new TV contract will start going up in 2004, giving teams some precious breathing room from the tax.

By moving Robinson for Kukoc and Smith, the Bucks go from $55 million in team salary -- and sure to pay the tax -- down to $52.5 million -- and maybe not paying the tax, or at least not paying as much. Plus, the Bucks will likely get some of the disbursement money from the luxury tax pool. The final amount this season is probably around $6 million in cash and reimbursements, with tens of millions more saved down the road.

Milwaukee is hardly the only team. Toronto, teetering on the brink of pay/don't pay the tax, let Keon Clark go for nothing while doing nothing in free agency. Orlando's big offseason move thus far is signing Jacque Vaughn. Utah, as of this writing, hasn't re-signed any of its free agents. The Jazz did add Calbert Cheaney, for the veteran minimum, and Matt Harpring, for $4.5 million per for four years. They could have had Donyell Marshall back for $8 million per for three years. Wouldn't. Never came higher than three years, $15 million. Want to guess why?

&quot;I actually thought they would try a little harder,&quot; Marshall said Monday from Chicago, where he took basically the same offer Utah gave him from the Bulls. &quot;Things were said that just didn't happen. There were a lot of things said straight to me that wasn't done ... it wasn't about the money. I don't want to say anything bad about Utah. I enjoyed playing there. But some things were promised that weren't done.&quot;

My point is not that the Jazz don't have the right to determine what they think Donyell Marshall is worth, or that Matt Harpring might be a better player than Marshall. My point is that owners want it both ways. They want their cost certainty, but they also want to win. And when their teams don't win, they don't fire themselves.

Here is the question I have for the Hon. Sen. and his owner brethren: If at the end of next season, the Bucks miss out on the second round of the playoffs (and the additional playoff loot your building would give you three or four more times) because Toni Kukoc is on the floor in the fourth quarter instead of Big Dog Robinson, are you going to accept that? Or are you going to blame your general manager and head coach?

I know that some owners, like Utah's Larry Miller, have paid a PR price for being up front and public with their fans about their intention not to pay the tax. But that's the cost of doing business in the big league. And while some teams dicker over the tax, others like the Maloof Brothers go ahead and bite the bullet. Paying Mike Bibby $80 million and giving Clark the mid-level exception may not give Sacramento the Western Conference. And it most certainly will put the Kings over the tax threshold. But Gavin and Joe Maloof know that their window for winning (just as, I would argue, Milwaukee's) is right now. And though they may be the only game in Sacramento -- and able to charge more for tickets as a result, giving them more cushion than other teams in other cities competing with other pro teams for entertainment dollars -- it still takes a commitment and a willingness to spend now for a reward later.

And this is a system that allows small-market teams to compete! What in heaven's name will happen with a tax in baseball? Seamheads, proceed at your own risk.


How Trader Bob finally got his way
Well, it was a different idea.

Go to a guy making a guaranteed $46.5 million over the next two years and ask him -- politely, of course -- if he wouldn't mind giving $10 mil or so of that back. And then, if he wouldn't mind if you cut him loose, because you had other things you wanted to do with that money. It happens in other areas -- EMI Virgin tore up Mariah Carey's $100 million deal earlier this year and gave her $28 million to please, please not record another CD for them -- but not in sports.

When Blazers GM Bob Whitsitt broached the idea at the end of the season to other humans, most were skeptical. No one thought it would work.

&quot;Same thing my owner (Paul Allen) told me,&quot; Whitsitt said Tuesday, when Portland officially &quot;restructured&quot; Shawn Kemp's contract and waived him afterwards. &quot;He thought, you could insult the player, that he might not be as good a teammate as you want if he thinks the team has insulted him.&quot;

Which was just about what Kemp thought.
&quot;It got to the point,&quot; says Kemp's agent, Tony Dutt, &quot;where he felt, 'Boy, they really don't want me.' That hit him hard. And then when they kept at it and kept coming back with offers, he thought, 'They don't want me no matter what shape I'm in.' &quot;

Whitsitt, though, was determined to rid the Blazers of Kemp who wasn't going to get any more burn next season in Portland as he did last. Who was, though no one will say it, still out of shape. And who people in Portland feared could fall off the sobriety wagon at any time, even though he's been in compliance with the league's after care program for months. (By the way, for you conspiracy theorists, if Kemp had flunked a test or wasn't in compliance, the Blazers could have merely junked his contract a la Roy Tarpley and kept the entire $46.5 million.) If Kemp was logging 35 minutes a night and putting up numbers for Mo Cheeks, he would have laughed Whitsitt out of his own office. But as his butt was soldered to the bench, he had to listen.

&quot;I thought it was bold,&quot; Dutt said of the Whitsitt Plan. &quot;At the same time, I said, 'Let me approach Shawn and see what his response is, but I don't think it's going to be very good.' And it wasn't.&quot;

For you conspiracy theorists, if Kemp had flunked a test or wasn't in compliance, the Blazers could have merely junked his contract a la Roy Tarpley and kept the entire $46.5 million.

But over the next three months, Whitsitt wore Kemp and Dutt down. Of course, he did it with more money, but Whitsitt also has a history with Kemp. It was Trader Bob that drafted Kemp in the first round of the '89 draft for Seattle when Kemp was a 19-year-old leaving college under a cloud of suspicions and uncertainties. And when Kemp was floundering in Cleveland, it was Whitsitt that traded for him -- and the $80 million left on his contract -- to give him a chance to play for a winning team again. Who knows what other jams Whitsitt might have gotten the Reign Man out of over the years?

&quot;Everything's a process,&quot; Whitsitt said. &quot;Maybe you don't come out of the gate with exactly what you're saying. You have a number of sessions.&quot;

During the months of proposals and counterproposals -- at one point, the Blazers wanted &quot;offset&quot; language in Kemp's contract that would force him to repay the Blazers some of the money they were giving him to go away, but Dutt would hear none of it -- Whitsitt reminded Kemp how bad he felt when he was taking the Sonics to the Finals in '96, and yet wasn't getting paid what he deserved. (The Sonics, of course, will remind anyone who asks that they couldn't give Kemp any more money under the rules.) And Whitsitt tried to be honest. He didn't think Kemp was an all-star player any more, at least not in his current condition, and yet Portland was paying him like one.

&quot;I thought he'd appreciate the honesty,&quot; Whitsitt said.

It took a while, but after talking to his attorneys and his family, Kemp started to think about it. Whitsitt was offering him a way out and a way, maybe, back on the floor. The Blazers took their offset proposal off the table, meaning Kemp was free to keep all of whatever deal he could make with another team. The two sides worked out a deferral plan that will give Kemp most of the money he's owed before 2005. And Kemp realized he wasn't ready to retire. He didn't want to sit and atrophy for two more years.

&quot;They tried to make Shawn a relief pitcher,&quot; Dutt said, &quot;and he's not. ... You're taking some risks, they're taking some risks. But at the same time, they're giving you enough to solidify yourself for a long time. I told Shawn, 'It's really up to you. It's a matter of how you want to finish your career.' If he wants to finish it up in Portland on their bench, he could do that.&quot;

Kemp didn't want to. He could look east, to an Orlando team that's height-challenged, or south, to a Dallas squad desperate for some real size in the middle (and Kemp, um, has the size), and suddenly, freedom paid for out of his own pocket seemed worth the gamble. Now, he's in Houston, with a personal trainer, and will begin working out six hours a day, Dutt says. While in Portland, the Blazers will get charged up to around $10 million each of the next seasons instead of $21.5 milliion and $25 million in 2003-04. And Whitsitt now has the loot to bring back Arvydas Sabonis, to a more cap friendly two-year deal at about $8 million per.


Here's the moral of the story. In the last couple of years, Juwan Howard and his &quot;untradeable&quot; contract has been traded, twice. Nick Van Exel and his &quot;untradeable&quot; contract has been sent packing. Vin Baker and his &quot;untradeable&quot; contract has been moved across the country. And now, Shawn Kemp has agreed to give up more than a quarter of his &quot;untradeable&quot; contract. I will never call someone &quot;untradeable&quot; again.

Nor will it surprise me if Shawn Kemp plays well again for someone this season.

&quot;I think he can still play,&quot; Whitsitt says. &quot;And I think he'll be a much different player if he's making $1 million instead of $20 million.&quot;


Around the League

The Jazz will bring Raul Lopez in after Labor Day for what is certain to be a second reconstructive surgery on his knee. They're hoping he'll be on the floor in March if all goes well, but they are now in the market for a backup point guard (Rod Strickland, Travis Best, Kevin Ollie, Erick Strickland). The amazing thing is that Lopez was allowed to play for the Spanish national team without any insurance or a signed contract with the Jazz. Utah is still contemplating whether to pay for the surgery. ... The Wizards are in the market for a small forward. The Hornets' George Lynch -- whom Washington almost acquired from New Orleans before the draft for Courtney Alexander before taking the 17th pick instead -- told the Washington Post he'd like to be in D.C. next season. Still a possibility. My two cents: Walt Williams, ex-Maryland Terp, is still available, and would love to come home to finish out his career. ... Add Blazers: Sabonis sold the team that he was serious about coming back when he spent a week in Portland earlier this summer working out with the team. &quot;The thing I loved about him was his attitude,&quot; Whitsitt said. &quot;He seemed really pumped up. The sparkle was back in his eyes.&quot;

David Aldridge is an NBA reporter for ESPN. >>

Seems like the Jazz take care of Lopez. Good guys.
You can find the article here (http://espn.go.com/nba/columns/aldridge_david/1421705.html).

09-26-2002, 03:23 PM
<< Lopez gets deal; will have surgery this weekend

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Jazz have signed injured point guard Raul Lopez to a three-year contract, Jazz vice president Kevin O'Connor announced Thursday.

Lopez, a 2001 first round draft pick from Spain, initially injured his knee after playing four games for Madrid's Spanish League team in 2001. He returned to finish the season but reinjured the knee in an exhibition with the Spanish National team in August.

Lopez, 22, suffered a lateral meniscal tear as well as again tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He is scheduled to have surgery in Salt Lake City on Saturday and will most likely miss the entire 2002-2003 season.

In a statement released by the team, Lopez said he was happy to finally join the Jazz.

&quot;Although I'm very disappointed with the injury, surgery will allow me to enjoy a long career in the NBA,'' Lopez said.

Jazz director of media relations Kim Turner said the signing deal had been a long process and the Jazz were glad to have it done.

&quot;We wish he wouldn't have gotten hurt the second time,&quot; Turner said. &quot;We wouldn't have felt confident signing him if we didn't think he would recover.&quot;

The Jazz aren't releasing the exact terms of the agreement, and Turner said Lopez was getting the &quot;basic rookie salary,&quot; but he didn't say what that was.

The team is expected to give a medical update on Lopez within the next two weeks. >>

I give the Jazz alot of credit for this move. I donīt think alot of teams would have cared and taken the risk. Good guys.