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Curley Howard to the Bakers or Kinks - a fairy tale with a not so happy ending.

Anyone as cynical as me may have noticed some of the bizarre rumors we've heard coming out of the Collective Bargaining sessions and, if you are like me, you may have drawn some weird conclusions.

We all know the issues backwards and forwards by now. The Owners and their front man David Stern have been harping on the same talking points from day one. By now, anyone that follows basketball can recite them in their sleep:

  • "22 of 30 teams losing money"
  • "The League lost $300 Million last year"
  • "Small market teams are at a disadvantage"
  • "System changes are needed to improve League competitiveness"
  • yada, yada, yada.

Even the players seem to have been resigned from day one that there were going to be major give backs during the negotiations; conceeding a roll back from 57% of BRI to 52.5% of BRI without much of a fight. The union leaders seem willing to bend on certain "system changes" - as long as they don't severely cripple player movement. The end of the Lockout will not be determined by anything the Players or Union accomplish. The end will happen when the Owners think they have squeezed enough out of the Players. Once the Owners think they've gotten everything they want... and even a little more; then Basketball can resume.

Now that the Owners have the Union on the run and have extracted enough money to offset their claimed "losses", they are in the process of making changes to the "system" to ensure future competitiveness of the League. You know, the changes that are critical for small market teams like Minnesota, Milwaukee and Charlotte to compete on even terms with L.A., Chicago and New York.

After the break, we'll discuss those "necessary system changes" that the Owners want to implement.

What are these monumental system changes that will allow Minnesota to win a Championship next year? Well, here's what we've heard so far. The MLE will be reduced from $5.8 Million to $5 Million (and probably one year shorter than allowed in the last CBA). They may (or may not) reduce maximum contract lengths by a year. The Luxury Tax will most likely be increased - but we won't see anything near the 3X or 4X Taxes the League was clammoring for earlier in the negotiations... Probably more like 1.5X and 2X. They may eliminate the bi-annual exception (which, as everyone knows, was a HUGE contributor to escalating salaries..... wink, wink).

Hmmm... Those don't sound like earth-shattering changes to me. There may be other changes... but still those few minor tweaks will help Minnesota compete on even terms with the mighty Lakers? I don't think so. I mean, the Lakers and Knicks will probably STILL be able to afford the stiffer tax penalties. Mark Cuban will still go after every Free Agent that he thinks will get his team closer to another title; despite being sued by his minority partners for running the team in the Red. Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert will go back to thinking his team is the Mona Lisa. Robert Sarver will continue to run a slip shod operation, blame the escalating players salaries, all the while claiming poverty.Oh yeah, and Minnesota will continue to draft every Point Guard, and undersized Power Forward available for the next decade.

Now for the bizarre part....

We hear rumors that the sign-and-trade provision has made it through negotiations intact. WHAT??!!!?? Isn't that the insidious loophole in the old CBA that allowed teams to be over the Salary Cap, but still trade for a Free Agent, AND pay him a max salary with the extra year and max raises? Wasn't that one of the areas of the old CBA that was inflating player salaries and creating competitive IMBALANCE? For an example: Carmello Anthony forcing his way out of a small market team, and essentially dictating where he wanted to go (ie: big market team). Essentially, Carmello got his cake, he ate it, AND got a bakery built on his property. Where's the "competitive balance" in that? Why are the Owners now OK with Sign-and-trades? The Union must have been stunned... Billy Hunter probably blinked.... stammered for a second, and quickly regained his senses and said "OK, we agree too... uh, but reluctantly". (While Derrick Fisher snickered behind his clipboard in the background). Bizarre, no?

The latest buzz from New York is that the Amnesty clause may be changed. The original thought was that amnesty was needed to temper any severe changes to the cap or luxury tax. For instance, if there were a Hard Cap (or severe 3X Luxury Tax) implemented, the Amnesty would allow teams a one time chance to release a player on their roster and get under the cap or avoid a big tax bill. It would give all the teams a chance to fit their current situations into the new rules- without taking a huge hit. Perfectly reasonable to allow an exception early in the CBA to allow teams to "catch up" and stay within the new rules. Except, where's the Hard Cap? Where's the ultra-punitive Luxury Tax? It seems like those features have fallen off the negotiating table. Yet, we are hearing that the Amnesty may not be a one time, get under the cap feature - but more like a "get out of jail free" card to be used whenever a team wants to in the next two (or more) years.

So now the logical thinker in me is saying "Wait.. wait.. wait... I cannot believe what I'm hearing." The Owners, who have said all along that they are losing money, now want a way to add a player by Free Agency - and then if he doesn't pan out, release him and use the amnesty clause to take his salary off the Salary Cap? Or, worse yet trade for a player, and THEN Amnesty him? How does that save money? How does that help make the League more profitable? More importantly, how does that make the League more competitive? The Owners will STILL have to pay the released player, AND they will have to pay who ever they sign to replace him. Bizarre, no?

Now the cynic in me sees a sinister twist to all this... Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that somehow David Stern is behind all this. There are others in there, but those two guys in particular think that something stinks; and it may sound weird, but they're starting to convince me.

Which teams benefit most from sign-and-trades? (Hint: It isn't the Minnesota, Milwaukee or Charlottes of the League)... and who will benefit most from an extremely friendly and flexible amnesty clause that has very few restrictions and a long shelf life? (Hint: It's the same teams that would benefit from S&T's).

Now the wacko right brain part of me chimes in. I don't let him out much because he's kinda out there. He says: "Let's do a fictional trade, shall we?" Let's say that there is a big market team out there called the Burbank "Bakers". They could trade a good young Center named Drew Barnum, a solid vet named Lamont Odor and a couple other pieces to a team called the "Disney Mice" ... The "Mice" would trade back the League's best Center... Defensive player of the Year, Curley Howard - along with a player named Gilbert Eeriness who has a massive contract, but has declined in recent years due to injuries. The contract for Eerieness is one of the worst in the League. In order to avoid paying the massive Luxury Tax bill, the "Bakers" could immediately cut Gilbert Eeriness and use their amnesty clause to reduce (or eliminate) his Cap number. The Disney team could then start their rebuild by releasing (with amnesty) Hedudu Terdglue, and their total salaries would be reduced by over $30 Million - with a nice building block in Drew Barnum. Interesting scenario, isn't it?

By the way, the same type of trade could land Curley Howard on the Metropolis Kinks or the Windcity Blues. And just wait until Paul Chris is available - there could be even more Sign-and-Trade fun in the future for the Metropolis, Bakersfield, Windcity and Everglade teams.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I'm still trying to figure out how these system changes will help Minnesota, Milwaukee and Charlotte.