Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pistons Have Plenty of Amnesty Candidates

Pistons Have Plenty of Amnesty Candidates
By Steve St-Pierre

The NBA and its players remain divided on a new deal for the league’s next collective bargaining agreement. However, both sides have apparently OK’d a proposal for a new amnesty clause that would allow each team to waive one player and shed 75 percent of that player’s contract against the salary cap.

According to multiple reports, the new amnesty clause is still being discussed in labor meetings. Some teams are arguing that, if they don’t currently have a bad contract they wish to shed, they should be allowed to save their amnesty clause for at least a year or two.

Certainly, the Pistons are a team that could desperately use such a privilege. One would think that the logical candidates for this clause would include guards Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva. All three players have struggled the last two seasons in terms of performance, and each is due a substantial amount of money over the next two to three seasons.

Hamilton, who the Pistons have tried to trade the last two years, is due to make over $25 million the next two seasons. Though he was a major contributor during Detroit’s title run in 2004, he has been a thorn in the franchise’s side for a number of years with his lackluster behavior both on and off the court. Since the Pistons traded away his former backcourt mate Chauncey Billups, Hamilton has appeared disinterested and welcome to a change of scenery.

The year after they traded Billups, the Pistons appeared ready to part ways with Hamilton when they spent $90 million to sign Gordon and Villanueva in the summer of 2009. Gordon, who like Hamilton is a shooting guard, established himself as one of the NBA’s best scorers with the Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately, Detroit hasn’t found a way to make it work with either player. Gordon is owed more than $37 million the next three seasons.

Villanueva, a power forward who was signed to replace veterans Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, has also failed to live up to expectations in his two seasons with the Pistons, leaving a major void in the frontcourt. Villanueva will make over $24 million the next three seasons.

Assuming the Pistons elect to exercise an amnesty clause, they would have to decide between waiving Hamilton, Gordon or Villanueva. To do so, the front office would need to gauge its feelings on each player. Three years ago, Joe Dumars, Pistons President, elected to sign Hamilton to a three-year, $34-million contract extension. Two years ago, Dumars was willing to pay $90 million to sign Gordon and Villanueva. Obviously, Dumars will need to determine which player’s value has decreased the greatest the last couple seasons.

This time around, Dumars will surely need to consider the input of Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach, and even Tom Gores, Pistons Owner. Even during this current NBA lockout, these three individuals should be communicating on a regular basis, preparing for a possible amnesty clause and discussing the number of scenarios it presents.

The Pistons could very well elect to waive one of either Hamilton, Gordon or Villanueva via the amnesty clause while arranging a buyout for another. For example, the team could decide that since Hamilton only has two years left on his contract, it might make more sense to either continue trying to trade him or simply buy out the remainder of his salary whenever the lockout ends. If he was bought out, Hamilton would still stay on the Pistons’ salary cap for the duration of his contract, but he would be free to sign with another team, and the Pistons could use his roster spot to sign a different free agent.

Another option, of course, is to just use the amnesty clause on Hamilton and commit to moving forward with Gordon and Villanueva. Clearly, both players have been misused during their first two seasons in Detroit. Gordon, though undersized, is perfectly capable of handling a starting role at shooting guard. His scoring and ball-handling make him extremely valuable on the offensive end, and the Pistons must utilize these capabilities if he’s going to remain on the roster.

Even with Hamilton gone, it could still prove difficult to commit the proper amount of playing time to Gordon. The Pistons still have a logjam in the backcourt with point guards Will Bynum and rookie Brandon Knight. Likewise, combo-guard Rodney Stuckey is a restricted free agent who Dumars has previously expressed interest in retaining. If Stuckey was to return, Detroit’s rotation issues would likely continue.

If they used their amnesty clause on Villanueva, the Pistons would be even thinner up front. Veteran Greg Monroe is set to remain as the team’s starting center, but both forward positions are up for grabs. Austin Daye is currently penciled in at small forward, and restricted free agent Jonas Jerebko will likely be re-signed. If Villanueva was to be released, Jerebko could start at power forward. The Pistons still have veterans Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell under contract, but Wallace appears on the brink of retirement, and Maxiell has never been more than a complimentary reserve player.

It remains to be seen how long the NBA lockout will last and what results will come of its completion. It does, however, appear certain that there will be some sort of amnesty clause for each of the league’s 30 teams. The Pistons are arguably in need of it more than any other, and they’d better be ready to make the most of it.