Is Using Amnesty Clause On Rashard Lewis A 'Slam Dunk?' Not Really

ESPN.com has a long article out on which players each team will release using the "amnesty clause," which is almost certainly expected to be in the new collective-bargaining agreement in some form.  What exactly that form is remains to be seen, but it looks like it'll be a little more lenient than the 2005 version.  As the article notes, it'll likely remove 75 percent of the players' salary from the salary cap, and teams will have much longer to decide when to actually use it on one of their players.

(Note: For the purposes of this piece, we're ignoring the owners' own hypocrisy in talking about the need to cut costs while also promoting a measure that will cause them to spend more money on player salaries. That angle was covered beautifully by Henry Abbott and Tom Ziller).

The name listed for the Wizards is obvious: Rashard Lewis.  Not only do Marc Stein and Chad Ford say that the Wizards using the clause on Lewis is a "slam dunk," but they even propose naming the actual thing after him.  They say the allure of cap space is too much to resist.

He's an amnesty lock some two years later.

And that's because the Wiz, once they shed the nearly $30 million in guaranteed money left on Lewis' deal, can instantly become a major player in both the free-agent and trade markets. Taking your time with the amnesty clause is a nice new luxury to have, but there's no need when there's an immediate payoff of substantial cap space to be had.

But is Lewis really a slam dunk?  I say no.

Why? The Wizards need to ask themselves whether that cap space is really that valuable.  Dropping Lewis from the team eliminates $15.8 million from the Wizards' cap number if the 75-percent rule is in effect.  The Wizards' cap number would then be at about $30.1 million* for 13 players, based on HoopsHype's numbers.  As Michael Lee notes, that puts the Wizards right along the line of the projected salary floor, which means money has to be spent anyway, whether it's on Young, a replacement for Lewis or both.

That's really the rub here.  Why pay Lewis to go away, only to turn around and spend what would likely be more long-term money to replace him?  As Abbott writes:

Consider that he can actually play NBA basketball, and did so for 32 minutes per game last season. No, he doesn't rebound very well, but he can shoot and pass, and he doesn't turn the ball over very much. He can be part of a really good team, which we know because he recently was in Orlando.

If Wizards owner Ted Leonsis pays Lewis to go away, though, then Leonsis will be both out $43 million and in need of somebody who can play 32 minutes a game at power forward.

Replace "power forward" with "small forward," but the point still stands.  Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely may be the small forwards of the future, but they can't split 48 minutes at the position for however many games the Wizards play.  Another player will need to be added to replace Lewis, and that player will likely come with a long-term contract and will only add to the amount of cash Ted Leonsis is dolling out on player salaries.  Why bother spending on that player in a poor market when the Wizards can wait a year, pay Lewis his $10 million guaranteed to cut him, allow Vesely and Singleton to get their feet wet, benefit from Lewis' professionalism and re-evaluate in a year?

If the Wizards were contending, I could see cutting Lewis loose and making a major push to upgrade his roster spot.  They aren't, so I don't see the point in adding a ton of dead weight to pay Lewis to go away.

(*: Includes qualifying offers for Nick Young, Othyus Jeffers, Larry Owens Hamady Ndiaye. Does not include cap holds for Josh Howard, Maurice Evans or any other free agent. Includes Mike Bibby's salary from the buyout, which is about $1.1 million.  Using this data for the salaries for Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack).

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