Mark Cuban's "amnesty Kobe" comment, and Kobe Bryant's subsequent responses -- both on and off the floor -- have provided the rare opportunity for a 30-second news cycle story to live for days. And for good reason.
Not because the Lakers actually would amnesty Kobe, and not because they should. Rather, Cuban's speculation about the impossibly tough choices big-spending teams like the Lakers will have to make under the new collective bargaining agreement is very real and based in nothing less than unvarnished reality.
Lest we slide down the slippery slope into radio talk-show mode, it's best to take a look at the facts. And the facts are not pretty for the Lakers.
If the Lakers re-sign Dwight Howard to a max deal -- and my working assumption continues to be that they will -- they would have approximately $100 million committed to nine players next season. Even if you assumed that they added no more players -- and they have to, in order to meet minimum roster requirements and, you know, beat anybody -- that figure would put them about $28 million above the anticipated luxury tax line of $72 million. (That's a guesstimate based on how much the league's cap and tax lines move up next season based on this season's revenues, which in the words of David Stern have been nothing short of robust.)
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Up to and including this season, the luxury-tax penalty has been dollar-for-dollar. So for a team with a gazillion-dollar regional cable deal and a plethora of other resources that the L.A. market affords, a $28 million tax bill wouldn't be outlandish. Enter the new tax rates, and they're way uglier than this Lakers season has been.
Starting next season, teams will be charged $1.50 for every dollar above the tax threshold up to $5 million. The penalty increases to $1.75 for the next $5 million, $2.50 for the next $5 million, and so on until the rate hits a crushing $3.75 for any player expenditures between $20 million and $25 million. The rate increases $0.50 for every $5 million increment behind that, not that any owner in his right mind would go there.
Given that, if the Lakers had a $100 million payroll next season and the tax line came in at $72 million, they would owe an astronomical $76.5 million in luxury tax. Let that number wash over you for a moment. That's bigger than the entire payroll of every team in the NBA this season except four: the Lakers, Heat, Nets and Knicks.
Not even the Lakers will pay that, especially for a team that, as currently constructed, looks to be at best a one-and-done playoff team and at worst a colossal, lottery-bound failure.
So what do the Lakers do? Well, Cuban took a swing at the lowest-hanging fruit when he slyly suggested that maybe they'd have to think about amnestying Bryant, who is on the books for $30.5 million next season. That would solve the entire problem by itself. (The Lakers ultimately would still be a tax team once they filled out the roster with draft picks and minimum players, but the bill would be far more reasonable.)
Will they amnesty Kobe? No, it's preposterous. Should they? Not necessarily. But their working plan of being able to manage their tax bill simply by using the amnesty provision on Metta World Peace ($7.7 million next season) would be out the window if they kept Howard.
The most sensible course of action would be to amnesty Pau Gasol, unless they could miraculously trade him at draft time or in July to a team with massive amounts of cap space so they wouldn't have to take back the required salary needed to otherwise make the trade work under NBA rules. If they couldn't dump Gasol in a trade, they could wipe his $19.3 million off their books next season with the amnesty provision, reducing their tax bill from $76.5 million to about $14.5 million in our hypothetical $100 million payroll example.
So if I were Gasol, I'd spend every waking moment staring at the Pacific Ocean because there's a good chance he'll never see it again.
No matter what the Lakers do, Cuban's overriding point is valid: Under the new CBA, the usual tax-paying suspects are going to have to make some extraordinarily difficult choices. Cuban was one of the few who saw this coming, and he made some of those choices proactively when he let Tyson Chandler go in 2011 after winning the championship. Even if the Lakers dodge a massive tax bill next season, their problem will roll over into 2014-15, the first year of the new repeater tax.
The Lakers are a tax team this year and will be a tax team next year. If they re-sign Howard, they would have only Howard's approximately $20 million salary and Steve Nash's $9.7 million on the books that year. Under the old dollar-for-dollar, non-repeater rules, the Lakers simply would've reloaded with offseason sign-and-trades or straight-up signings of multiple free agents. The free-agent class of 2014 will include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. So what's the problem?
Well, if the Lakers were to go that route and dip into tax territory again, they'd face even more massive tax rates by virtue of spending above the tax line for a third straight season. The tax rates for such repeat offenders that season will be $2.50 for the first $5 million above the tax threshold, $2.75 for the next $5 million, $3.50 for the next $5 million, all the way up to $4.75 for a payroll between $20 million and $25 million (increasing $0.50 per $5 million above that.)
Let's say the Lakers spent a modest (for them) $15 million above the tax. That expenditure -- less than the price of a single max free agent -- would cost them an incredible $43.75 million. Not even the Lakers are going to sign a $15 million player when the total cost of the transaction is nearly $60 million.
So will the Lakers amnesty Kobe? Only in Mark Cuban's dreams. But that doesn't mean his point wasn't valid, or that teams like the Lakers don't face some nightmarish decisions as they come to grips with the life of a big spender in the new NBA.
And with that, on to the rest of this week's Postups:
• With Mike Krzyzewski making it clear that he believes it's time to end his long association with Team USA, there's a near-unanimous feeling in basketball circles that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would be the logical replacement to coach the team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. But a person briefed on internal discussions regarding Coach K's successor told CBSSports.com that another high-level NBA coach shouldn't be ruled out: Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo maintains that he wants to speak with Krzyzewski in an effort to persuade the Duke coach to stay on board. But sources believe Krzyzewski became burned out on his Olympic obligation last summer in London and is inclined to listen to his wife, Mickie, who wants him to back away from the added stress and travel obligations that come with the job.
Twice a Team USA assistant -- in 2004 under Larry Brown and '02 under George Karl -- Popovich has a resume that speaks for itself and, frankly, can't be matched by any active NBA coach. But if Krzyzewski indeed steps down, picking a replacement is going to be about more than qualifications on paper.
Rivers was in London for the Olympics as a studio analyst for NBC Sports, and he made his presence felt around the team -- staying in the team hotel and eating meals with the players. During the Celtics' run of success during the now-crumbling Big Three era, Rivers forged strong relationships with some of the biggest stars in the game -- many of whom will still be with Team USA in Rio. Also, there's a feeling among some involved in Team USA that Rivers' personality and skilled handling of star egos would provide a more natural transition.
"With Doc, I think it would keep the same chemistry going," one person briefed on the matter said. "If Pop comes in, he would want his own way of doing it -- kind of the Spurs' secretive way of doing things -- and out of Jerry's norm."
Whoever winds up coaching the '16 Olympic team, there will be changes to the roster. Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala are all out of the mix to varying degrees of likelihood for Rio, with Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving virtual locks to fill two of those spots. Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James -- seeking to become a three-time gold medalist -- all are expected back.
It is believed in some Team USA circles that Deron Williams has played himself out of contention for the 2016 team, while Dwight Howard is viewed as a 50-50 proposition for Rio. But come to think of it, if Colangelo wants Howard in the mix, it's hard to think of a coach more capable of handling the drama that comes along with him than Rivers. It's just one of many factors that would make him ideal for the job.
• It was a year ago this week when Sacramento won another stay of execution in its ongoing efforts to keep the Kings. An 11th-hour agreement at All-Star weekend in Orlando between the Maloofs, the city of Sacramento and the NBA staved off a March 1, 2012 deadline to agree on a funding plan for a new arena. The Maloofs, of course, later backed out of the deal.
Now, the city faces another March 1 deadline -- Friday -- to present a competing bid to purchase the team from the Maloofs and keep it in Sacramento in a new arena. Mayor Kevin Johnson vowed during All-Star weekend in Houston that the deadline would be met, and there are strong indications that will be the case. The key players in the competing offer are supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, with millions in additional funding from an assortment of minority investors.
"I'm extremely focused and confident," Johnson said during All-Star weekend. "Our city has delivered time and time again."
Even if the deadline is met, this three-year ordeal for Sacramento won't even be close to the finish line. Johnson then would have some serious lobbying to do with owners on two committees combined by commissioner David Stern to deal with the Kings issue. His task will not be easy: Persuade owners, who presumably want to preserve the right to someday sell their own teams to a prospective buyer of their choosing, to turn their backs on an executed purchase agreement between the Maloofs and the Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. During his All-Star appearance, Johnson offered a preview of what his pitch to owners will be as he tries to get them to side with Sacramento over a perfectly logical and lucrative alternative.
"No owner wants to move a team from one city to another," Johnson said. "That's not the strength of the NBA. That's not the stability of this market and this association and what it's done. You don't want to do that because every time it occurs, it's a travesty to the league."
Again, as always, the clock is ticking on Sacramento. And Mayor KJ is leading the comeback.
•Only those who started the brawl in Indianapolis Tuesday night were suspended, not those who escalated it and sent it hurtling dangerously into the front-row seats. I can't say I disagree strenuously with the NBA's decision, but it's worth wondering how much thought was given to what might have occurred as opposed to what did.
The Pacers' Roy Hibbert and Warriors' David Lee were suspended one game apiece for instigating the fight with shoving under the basket. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors and Lance Stephenson of the Pacers were fined $35,000 each for escalating it. It's worth pointing out how lucky Curry, Thompson and Stephenson were -- not to mention David West, Jarrett Jack and others who were shoving the pile closer to the fans -- that nothing horrible came of it. The incident between Hibbert and Lee could've ended with a couple of shoves and that would've been it. But other players joining the fray -- particularly Curry, who got shoved to the floor twice by Hibbert -- sent everything sideways. And by sideways, I mean toward the area where fans sit.
Thankfully for all involved, once the pile spilled off the court, everyone regained composure and moved away without further incident. But what if the actions of Curry and others had resulted in a far uglier scene, such as what transpired in the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004? Suffice it to say their punishments would've been worse. And suffice it to say a stiffer penalty for merely inviting such a grim possibility would've been entirely justified.