With a mere 11 games left in what has become yet another lame-duck season, and only the recent futility of the Milwaukee Bucks stopping the Raptors from being mathematically eliminated from the postseason, I figured it was high time to begin looking forward to what could quite easily become one of the most pivotal offseasons in franchise history – or, alternatively, yet another “hurry up and wait” few months. Today, I’m talking about the amnesty provision.

For those out of the loop, here’s a quick primer on the amnesty provision: created in the wake of last season’s work stoppage, the provision allows each NBA team to waive one contract signed prior to the 2011-2012 season. Teams will still have to pay the waived player’s contract (if they sign with another team, the balance of their previous contract), but will remove said player from their salary cap – essentially allowing NBA GM’s to clear one onerous contract that they themselves negotiated pre-work stoppage. Ah, the wonders of collective bargaining.

To date, half the league’s teams have used their amnesty provision, waiving contracts that range from the mildly annoying (Chris Andersen) to the insane (Gilbert Arenas). The Raptors, as you either know or may have guessed, are not one of those teams, and, with their salary total already rapidly approaching the luxury tax line without adding any new money this offseason (it was $70 million this year, though it’s expected to increase by as much as 20%), speculation has run wild on whether or not the Raptors will use their provision to clear some money and go for another large piece of the puzzle, rather than simply sign a few players on minimum contracts/exceptions.

On the current Raptor roster, only 4 players have contracts that were signed prior to the NBA’s work stoppage and would thus qualify for the amnesty provision. The first of these is Rudy Gay, who may be the most intriguing option when it comes to combing salary from the team given his current production – he’s due nearly 18 million next season. However, with their already being buzz from the front office about signing him to an extension, the amount the team gave up to get him, and the fact that, even if he submits a dismal season next year, he’s an 18 million dollar expiring contract trade chip at worst, chances of that happening are about as close to absolute zero as one could get. Safe to say this would be the shocker of shockers. Equally crazy would be the amnestying of Amir Johnson, who’s become a bargain at just over $6 million due next year.

Editor’s Note (from Blake): Garrett you stupid idiot. Gay can’t be amnestied…had to be on the roster at the time of the new CBA. You silly, silly, dumbstruck Aaron Gray looking bastard.

Eliminating those two players from the discussion, that leaves just two viable candidates for the Raps’ amnesty provision: Linas Kleiza and Andrea Bargnani. Next season, Kleiza has a $4.6 million player option that he will almost certainly exercise, but is only on the books for one more year, while Andrea is due over $10 million over the next two seasons.

Essentially, amnestying Kleiza would be an indication by the Raptor front office that there was simply no better option on the table, clearing a small amount of salary that may be the difference between the Raptors accessing the mid-level exception and not, depending on the other moves they make during the offseason. Amnestying Bargnani would be a far more bold move, in that it would clear substantially more salary, while at the same time ridding the team of a player that has shown flashes of above-average NBA skill and is thus more valuable around the league, though perhaps not at his current salary.

So, then – herein lies the dilemma: Kleiza, or Bargnani? Given the circumstances, it’s a difficult call, and one that I’m not going to make a definitive statement on here, but the crux of the argument seems to be based on Bargs’ trade value: firstly, does it exist, and secondly, who is available? If the Raps were to make a move for a big salary piece through the trade market (let’s say Pau Gasol for argument’s sake), Bargnani’s giant contract may become an asset for salary matching purposes. If they choose to pursue said player via free agency (again, for argument’s sake, let’s go with Josh Smith), the teams’ salary flexibility would be so compromised that they’d have no choice but to amnesty Bargnani to clear up enough money to sign said player. In either case, a major move for an All-Star calibre player certainly precipitates Bargs’ tenure in Toronto being over, either through the amnesty provision or via a trade.

Then again, if the Raps choose to stand pat with their current core (and/or if Bargs proves unmovable), the amnesty needle moves toward Linas Kleiza – should he stay or should he go? In my opinion, the answer is that he should stand pat, unless the team’s salary situation becomes so onerous that there is no other option but to amnesty a player. With Kleiza’s salary coming off the books next season, the Raptors’ may be better served waiting a year, assessing Bargnani’s progress and potential trade value during the year, and giving themselves the option to use the provision on him during what should be a stacked 2014 free agent class. Assuming Kleiza is back and can provide replacement-level minutes at small forward, the team shouldn’t suffer too much, and, while his contract is far too high to justify his production, it’s not the sort of deal that puts teams in horrible financial situations.

The correct course, it seems, is to stand pat, play out the year, and wait for 2014 (and a bunch of cap space, and a 1st round draft pick to play with). That said, we’re all realists here in RaptorLand, and I have a feeling Colangelo isn’t going to be using this summer to push another rebuilding year. If I were a betting man, my money’s on Kleiza packing his bags from the Big Smoke within the next couple months.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Let’s hear ‘em.

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