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OutletPass
02-04-2003, 02:04 PM
by Chad Ford
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Is the salary cap slipping away?

If the bad economy, declining television revenues and empty arenas aren't enough to depress NBA teams, Insider learned Monday that things could get much worse this summer. Insider talked to several league cap experts on Monday and all of them were preaching the same message. The salary cap for next season will either stay the same (it's set at $40.2 million this year) or go down. That's right folks. It might go down. How far down? No one has exact estimates, but at least a couple of scenarios have it falling to around $39 million next season.

For you optimists out there, you might as well throw out the rosy reports that the cap could creep back up to $42 million. It ain't going to happen."Unless you go out and buy about $20 million worth of tickets," one source said, there's no way the cap is going up next season. That forecast will potentially crush teams like the Magic and Heat, who are struggling to at least have enough cap space to outbid a team with a mid-level exception. Believe it or not, that's the good news. The bad news is that the luxury-tax threshold may fall with the cap. Current projections have the luxury-tax threshold falling to about $52.4 million. If that is the number, 16 teams, according to Insider's calculations, will owe the tax next year.

Portland will pay the heftiest tax bill. The Blazers will owe David Stern and company $52,803,092 in taxes. The Knicks aren't far behind with a tax bill of $41,335,752. Dallas ($18,442,321), Sacramento ($17,738,952), Philadelphia ($12,841,196) and the L.A. Lakers ($10,283,011) all will have tax bills over $10 million. Currently, under that scenario, Atlanta, Indiana, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix, San Antonio and Toronto also would owe luxury taxes. However, if the threshold falls by just $1 million more, two other teams that were playing it close -- Boston and Seattle -- also will slip into luxury-tax land.

The penalty will be doubly hard for teams that owe the tax. Not only do they have to pay Stern for having an over-bloated roster, they also miss out on a cash windfall at the end of the season. The league plans to disperse the taxes paid by offenders to the teams that didn't cross the threshold. Add in lost revenues from the players' escrow rebates and some teams could be looking at losing an additional $8 to $10 million in potential revenue. Now you know why everyone under the sun is trying to trade players with long-term deals (even good ones) in return for players whose contracts are expiring at the end of this year. "With this tax coming, the climate has changed drastically," an Eastern Conference GM told the New York Daily News. "Now, every team in the league is looking to purge the overbearing salary from their roster. It's on everyone's minds. My owner has been chirping in my ear to cut salaries." GMs can still add, but under one practically unattainable condition.

"The player has to be big-time, a difference-maker, along the lines of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant or Jason Kidd," another executive told the Daily News. "Those kinds of guys are worth that kind of penalty."


Swift-Miller deal back on the table?

Is Pau Gasol or Drew Gooden really on the trading block? Will the Grizzlies just give away Lorenzen Wright or Jason Williams just to shed a salary or two? Several GMs claim that the Grizzlies are putting out the word that they're open for business. Their story is that Jerry West is willing to dangle one of his building blocks to any team willing to rid him of two of the Grizzlies' worst contracts. West, for the record, doesn't know what they're talking about. "I like to win more than any one," West told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "But I'm not going to do something stupid. Sometimes, winning is a process."

Yes, West would like more cap flexibility. He'd love to recreate the Grizzlies in his own image and knows he needs the cap space to do it. On the other hand, he's not, as some reports have suggested, just going to swap Gooden for Mike Dunleavy. He wants to make a move that makes sense. That one does nothing to either clear the cap or give the Grizzlies more firepower now.

However, just because West doesn't want to make a stupid trade, it doesn't mean he isn't willing to make one at all. Two league sources told Insider Monday that the Grizzlies appear to be resurrecting talks with the Magic about a Mike Miller-for-Stromile Swift swap. The two teams have talked about this deal several times over the course of the last eight months. However, the Magic have been reluctant to pull the trigger because of the uncertainty surrounding Grant Hill.

So why are the Magic listening again when Hill's future has never been more hazy? The Magic have been trying to pry away Gooden to no avail. However, the Grizzlies are now apparently willing to include international sharp shooter Gordan Giricek to make the Magic whole. While Giricek isn't as accomplished as Miller, he, along with Pat Garrity, should be able to handle the workload at small forward in Hill's absence. Swift would give the Magic the young, athletic low-post player they've coveted for a while. While he isn't the star-caliber player they hoped to land, Swift is probably the best young talent that's actually available.

The Grizzlies, who have a log jam at power forward with Gasol, Wright, Gooden and Swift, have coveted Miller for a while. To make the deal work financially, the Magic would have to throw in center Andrew DeClercq. That's great news for the Grizzlies. DeClercq has a team option on his contract for next season. If the Grizzlies aren't interested, they could clear over $3 million in cap space next summer by letting him go.


Knicks burning the phone lines

Here's a news flash. Multiple New York newspapers are reporting that Scott Layden is working the phones, trying to put together a big deal before the Feb. 20th trade deadline. His trade bait? You guessed it again! Latrell Sprewell. Rumors have been floating for a week that the Sixers (offering Keith Van Horn) and the Lakers (offering who knows what) are in the hunt for Spree. How, in the name of P.J. Carlesimo, would Spree mesh with with Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant? Terribly. But that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning.

Of course, if you believe what the Knicks are saying, something has to churn. You can't land a superstar for nothing. The Knicks have no real expiring contracts to offer, no young players with potential to dangle . . . they have Spree, Kurt Thomas and a bunch of overpaid role players nobody wants. So it's got to be Spree, right? The New York Daily News reports that even in this era of fiscal responsibility, Spree and his $12 million a year salary may have some trade value. But there's a pretty big if attached. Sprewell's deal seems affordable, especially for a team thinking it is one piece away from winning a title. "His contract isn't bad, if the Knicks are willing to take more money back in exchange," one Western Conference owner told the Daily News.

Any other year, that would be an option for Layden. But Garden CEO James Dolan has made it clear this year that he's sick of the Knicks overspending. According to the Daily News, Layden is looking for either an all-star caliber player in return, or players whose contracts would be up this year or next, in order to gain cap flexibility. If that's the case, Layden might as well tilt at windmills. The Knicks may be better off keeping Spree anyway. With Spree in the lineup this season, the team is 19-19. With Antonio McDyess back next year, second-round pick Milos Vujanic coming aboard, and a free-agent pickup or two, what's to stop the Knicks from being competitive next season?

"It's evident how important Latrell is to our team by the record since he's been back," Layden told Newsday. "I think we're all disappointed at the record as it stands now, but we feel good about recent play with the team intact as it is now. . .We would look to make a change if we thought it would improve the team. But you look at our team now and you have to feel good about the group and the camaraderie. When you look at how well we're playing together right now, you've got to be excited about the prospects of this group being together."


Will the Nuggets be horri-bull for a while?

Say whatever you will about Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe's decision to blow his team to smithereens, draft a couple of international prospects and pray that a couple of free agents flee to Denver this summer. It was bold. Vandeweghe already has the international prospects, is in line to be a contender for LeBron James this summer and he's already cleared about $18 million in cap space to lure free agents. Now comes the hard part. Convincing someone to take his money.

More than one writer has suggested that the Nuggets may have fallen into the same trap the Bulls did in 2000, when they cleared all of that cap space and, one by one, the NBA's top free agents said no thanks. Rocky Mountain News writer Chris Tommasson quizzed Bulls GM Jerry Krause about the experience on Monday. "It's taken a little longer than we expected," Krause told the Rocky Mountain News. "But it takes time to build a winning team." Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, Eddie Jones and even Tim Thomas all have shunned the Bulls at one time or another.

"We got two free agents we wanted in the last few years in Donyell Marshall (in 2002) and Eddie Robinson (in 2001), and we didn't get a couple we wanted the year before," Krause said. "But that's part of the business. We had one guy [Jones] who told me he was going to come, and then didn't." "They didn't have all the necessary pieces to entice somebody," Memphis coach Hubie Brown said. "You may have maximum money, but your supporting cast is weak. A player might be leaving a situation where he doesn't think he can win, so he might be saying, 'Why should I go someplace else and take less money (teams can re-sign their own free agents for more) and it's just as bad a situation.' "

Should Vandeweghe be worried? Probably not. The economic realities of the NBA have changed dramatically since the summer of 2000. Teams are much more fiscally responsible and only a handful of clubs will have the cap room or the green light to be offering max contracts. Given the wealth of players out there, and the positive reputation that Vandeweghe holds among players (coaching at Pete Newell's big-man camp the past few years hasn't hurt), it's unlikely that the Nuggets will fall into the same trap.

"I think in some ways they executed their plan pretty well," Vandeweghe said. "But it's a long process to rebuild. It doesn't happen overnight. After they blew up their team, there were perhaps some hard feelings. Hopefully, we've created a positive atmosphere. I love our city. I think we have great advantages."

Peep Show

Washington Wizards: Michael Jordan thinks he could average 35 points a night if he wanted to. "I'm pretty sure I could do it every night," Jordan told the Washington Post about scoring at will. "Everybody goes to the arena and expects that I'm going to score 40, I'm going to score 50. I'm at least going to get 35 and it's going to be in so many ways people probably can't determine. In that sense it's the Michael Jordan. That's old Michael Jordan -- a younger Michael Jordan. . . Now I use more of my mind and try to look for opportunities to take advantage of those opportunities so the 40 and the 30 points are far and few between. I'm still capable of doing that."

New Jersey Nets, Seattle SuperSonics: Jason Kidd may have a great relationship with Sonics owner Howard Schultz, but that doesn't mean he's bolting New Jersey for Seattle this summer. "We have a great relationship with the 76ers' GM [Billy Knight]," Joumana Kidd, Jason's wife, told the Tacoma News Tribune. "In this league, it becomes a fraternity, so you can't really go by that. I don't think it makes a difference, is what I am saying. I mean, we love [Nets general manager] Rod Thorn. We have been close with Rod Thorn for a long time. If it was based on stuff that simple, then life would be a lot easier." Kidd said the relationship is overblown anyway. "I'm, like, a major Starbucks addict, I guess you could say," Joumana Kidd said. "We have a mutual friend, an accountant, and knowing how much I love Starbucks, he set that up. And we met Howard. He is a really nice person. We have seen him several times after that."

Los Angeles Clippers: Lamar Odom told the New York Daily News that if the Clippers don't show him any love this summer, he'd like to join the Knicks. "Right now I'm a Clipper and my loyalty is to them," Odom said. "But I think it's a dream of every kid who played basketball on the playgrounds in New York, took a train to the Garden even with no ticket, to play here. It would definitely be special." . . . Michael Olowokandi will miss four to five weeks after doctors removed damaged cartilage from his left knee. "It went great," Bill Duffy, Olowokandi's agent, told the L.A. Times. "There was some slight damage and they cleaned it out. It had been hurting Michael all season, but he didn't want to say anything. Hopefully, we have solved it now."

Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Miles claimed he shot a 1,000 jump shots a day this summer. The joke around the league was there's a big difference between shooting them and making them. Miles sunk to rock bottom in December when he shot just 36 percent from the field. Suddenly, however, things are starting to change. Miles' outside shots are finally finding the mark. "I'm finally starting to shoot the ball like it's supposed to go in," Miles, who shot 44 percent in January, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Before, I was shooting just to be shooting because I've been so used to driving to the hole all the time." Cavs coach Keith Smart said the team has been working with Miles lately. "We've worked with him at the foul line to develop the right shooting mechanics," Smart said. "Now, he's seen the ball going through the hoop, and that has helped his confidence."

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors won their 21st game of the season Monday night. It was cause for celebration. "Are balloons going to come down from the rafters?" Erick Dampier asked. "That's the most wins I've ever had," Antawn Jamison told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'm a little more energetic about it than some of these guys who have been on other teams. If we win on Wednesday (against San Antonio), I might fly off the roof." The last time the Warriors won more than 21 games? 1996-97, when they went 30-52.

LRB
02-04-2003, 04:24 PM
Nice article OP. I think that lowering the salary cap can give us a huge advantage in adquiring mid-level talent if Cubes is willing to open his pocket book.

seelenjaeger
02-05-2003, 06:12 AM
well, in addition it gives us some trade problems since all our talent is locked up long-term, so we donīt have any trade baits to offer.

Fidel
02-05-2003, 01:14 PM
Thanks for posting.

LRB
02-05-2003, 05:53 PM
SJ that is a point with us having primarily long term contracts, but not all our players have long term contracts, just the most talented ones. However if Mark is willing to open his pocket book, I still think that we can find more flexibility than some teams with short-term contracts.