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NBA Free Agency: Can The Wizards Offer Nick Young A Nick Collison-Like Contract Extension?

BNIE's post today on Nick Young got me curious, in particular because of one thing he wrote. In talking about the importance of re-signing Young, BNIE suggested the Wizards could give Young an extension similar to the wacky one Nick Collison received with the Oklahoma City Thunder (and, to a lesser extent, Andray Blatche received after the 2009/10 season).

Reflexively, it means there's little chance we'll lose Nick Young unless someone overbids recklessly. We should be able to outbid any offer from an opposing team by frontloading the deal a la the Trail Blazers. But the model I'm really lookinig to copy is Nick Collison's deal with the Thunder, authored by Sam Presti.

Can the Wizards actually do this, though? Did the new CBA close this loophole? I looked into it a bit and found that, yes, the Wizards should be able to do it, provided the following things happen:

(Thanks to Larry Coon for help on this).

Background: Nick Collison's contract

For the sake of accuracy, here's what the Thunder did with Nick Collison.

  • Gave him a five-year, $24 million contract with the following per-year breakdown: $13.27 million in 2010/11, $3.27 million in 2011/12, $2.9 million in 2012/13, $2.5 million in 2013/14 and $2.24 million in 2014/15. That's a standard front-loaded contract with declining salaries that fit into the 8.5-percent raises/drops in contracts. The only exception is taking a lot of that money and dumping it all into the first year because they had that much cap space.
  • The idea is: if you have a team under the cap, you can re-sign a player and give him a "signing bonus" that puts you up to the salary cap. In essence, the Thunder gave Collison a one-year, $13 million deal, then a four-year, $11 million deal. This is only available to teams under the salary cap.
  • To the best of Coon's knowledge, this loophole has not been closed. I too haven't seen it in the new CBA.

The Wizards' current situation

The Wizards will have some cap space, according to my calculations. But that doesn't include cap holds (a salary slot that's 150-300 percent of a player's salary placed there until the team acts on the player) or qualifying offers. Here's the two ways the Wizards could give Young a Collison-like extension.

If the Wizards use the Amnesty Clause on Rashard Lewis...

This becomes a lot easier. Using the Amnesty Clause on Lewis would free up $21 million from the Wizards' cap number. Without cap holds and qualifying offers, the Wizards would have $36 million in cap room. The Wizards would have to remove only a couple cap holds to get under the cap and be able to do this.

If the Wizards don't use the Amnesty Clause on Rashard Lewis...

This process becomes a lot harder, but it's still doable. When you include all the Wizards' cap holds and qualifying offers, the total team salary goes to $80 million. That's only for the purposes of signing free agents -- it doesn't mean the Wizards have no cap room. It just means they need to renounce several of these cap holds before making a subsequent move with their cap room. The downside is that those players renounced suddenly are cast into the free-agent pool, and the Wizards don't get exclusive Bird Rights on them.

Here's the path to creating cap room to give Young a signing bonus.

  • Renounce Yi Jianlian: The Wizards already declined to give him a qualifying offer, and his cap hold is $12.1 million. No reason to keep that around. We're down to $68.1 million.
  • Young's own cap hold ($7.9 million) goes away. Down to $60.1 million.
  • Renounce either Maurice Evans or Josh Howard, or both: Their cap holds are $6 million and $5 million, respectively. Cutting one gets the Wizards slightly under the salary cap; cutting both gets them $9 million under, giving them some wiggle room. It means the Wizards will have a much tougher time keeping either, but I don't know if they want to keep those two anyway.
  • Remove qualifying offers to Othyus Jeffers and Larry Owens: That'll clear up another $2 million.
  • Renounce Mustafa Shakur and Cedric Jackson: That'll clear up another $1.7 million.

That all puts the Wizards at $12.7 million below the cap, technically. From there, the Wizards can give Young a contract paying up to that much in the first year.

Of course, even if they can do that, it doesn't mean they will do that. They have more players they need to sign, and Young himself has to agree to it. But that's the path to a wacky Young contract extension that could drive his price down in future years, when better free agents will be available.