Gilbert Arenas And Amnesty A Slam Dunk?

AP Photo/DayLifeOne day this lockout will end. One day, there will be basketball. One day the season will begin and teams will be allowed to make moves.

One of those moves will inevitably be the much bally-hooed amnesty clause. There has to be some way to get the teams over the tax threshhold back under it so they can actually spend some money and compete. This whole lockout is about balancing the playing field so small market teams who can’t spend money can compete with those cash-wielding big-market teams.

The amnesty clause added to the 2005 adjustments was labeled the Allan Houston provision. Of course, the provision was never actually used on Allan Houston. The Knicks dropped Jerome Williams and kept Houston for a few more years before he retired (and took a nice job in the Knicks’ front office).

This time around, almost everyone assumes Gilbert Arenas will be this year’s poster child for the amnesty clause. Arenas is owed a little more than $62 million over the next three years (if he declines an early termination option in 2012). Judging by his production last year with the Magic — 8.0 points per game on 34.4 percent field goal shooting — and it is pretty clear and easy to say Arenas is not earning his keep.

There would be no reason for Orlando not to use its amnesty allowance on Arenas. According to Marc Stein and Chad Ford of ESPN, it is a “slam dunk” that the Magic would use the amnesty exception this upcoming season most likely on Arenas.

“Amnesty 2011 gives Magic GM Otis Smith an opportunity to undo a gamble on his good buddy Gil that backfired spectacularly and take at least some of the considerable tension out of the air after the toxic end to last season in that first-round exit to Atlanta … at a time when the weight of Dwight Howard‘s 2012 free agency happens to hang over all of Central Florida. The Magic, remember, have a deep-pocketed financier in Rich DeVos that would be on the short list of NBA owners who could withstand the huge financial hit required to send Arenas away. So it’s going to happen. It’s just of matter of when.”

Certainly, the amnesty provision acts as a get out of jail free card and would allow Smith to free up some salary cap room — although if Orlando waived Arenas, the franchise would still be on the hook for the rest of Arenas’ salary, even if it would not count against the cap.

So, let me try and entertain a reason not just to immediately rid yourself of Arenas. These explanations will range from the conspiracy theory to the reasonable patience. I do not want to say these suggestions are what the Magic should do or what they will do. Frankly, we do not know that and I imagine/hope Otis Smith is considering every option available to him. He certainly has the time to right now during the lockout.

The first reason is hopelessly optimistic: Arenas comes back in 2005 form and is a superstar once again. This might be a fantasy as Arenas let himself really go out of shape and struggled to fill a complementary role off the bench while dealing with (or not dealing with) lingering knee issues. Arenas has been reportedly working hard and has lost weight and gained strength. But we will not know how good he will be for 2011-12 until he steps foot on the floor.

You would expect that Stan Van Gundy will use Arenas much differently this year and put a little more trust in him. But, of course, you gain Van Gundy’s trust by making shots and, most importantly, playing defense. The defense part has not always been Arenas’ strong suit.

Remember though, Arenas showed flashes of something in the final half of that Playoff series as things (finally) seemed to click, even for just a moment. He had a 20-point effort in the Game Three loss and seemed to find a rhythm in pushing the pace. Something to keep in mind.

As Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel points out, the structure of the amnesty provision could also play a role.

AP Photo/DayLifeSome rumors about the proposed structure of the amnesty provision would give teams at least two years to decide to use it. Another proposed structure would allow teams to use the amnesty provision on any contract signed before July 1 at any time during the new collective bargaining agreement, limited to one use per team. Then there is the question of whether a team could use its amnesty provision on a player it acquired in a trade.

Without knowing the structure, it is hard to predict how each team will use it. But entertain me here.

Say, a player like Joe Johnson is available. Maybe Orlando (somehow) convinces Atlanta that it would take on Johnson with his salary cap hit in exchange for Arenas, whom Atlanta could immediately clear off its cap.

Remember, Arenas is making max money. To make a trade for another max player, you have to be able to match salaries. And giving teams the option to simply wipe Arenas off their cap could be enticing.

So in some theoretical way, Arenas could help deliver the Magic the scorer that they desperately need — whether it is him or not. This does not even get into the proposed stretch exception which could further help Orlando clear some cap room.

All these exceptions and provisions are fine and dandy. But the reality is, Arenas is getting paid no matter what. He may not count against the cap, but he is going to get the full value of his contract. That might be the greatest deterrent to waiving Arenas.

He may never live up to his contract, but it is better to give him the chance to rather than have him sit on the sidelines or playing for another team. Rich DeVos is perfectly willing to spend, but to invest $20 million a year on a player that is not even playing or has a chance to play for your team? That does not sound like a good deal.

Obviously, other circumstances could make it worth it — i.e. the arrival of another star player or clearing enough cap room to make a run at Deron Williams or Chris Paul in 2012.

All I am saying here is don’t think using the amnesty on Arenas is so automatic. It is very very very very likely. But there are reasons to wait and see with him.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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