Linas Kleiza; amnesty candidate

How have the Raptors not made use of the amnesty provision yet? When you think about a CBA clause that allows a team a one-time shot at getting out from under a bad NBA contract, you think of general managers like Bryan Colangelo that necessitate such a provision in the first place.

Yet here we are, in our third offseason since the reintroduction of the amnesty provision, and not only have the Raptors not made use of it, they may not make use of it before they run out of amnesty eligible players.

As it stands today, the Raptors have only two players eligible for amnesty: Amir Johnson and Linas Kleiza. Considering Johnson has become something of a cult hero in Toronto, it feels pretty safe to say that he will not be cut loose to save money before his contract is up in 2015. Which leaves Kleiza, the last possible amnesty candidate that as recently as a month ago looked like a lock to be sent packing. However, the earth has shifted under Kleiza’s feet since Masai Ujiri took over the club, and while he’s no more a part of the team’s future than he was last year, it may not make much sense severing ties with him using amnesty as a tool.

The first thing to remember when discussing the amnesty provision is that a club must still pay the player that they are releasing, even if their salary is cleared off of the cap and removed from any luxury tax obligations. While it is easy for fans and commentators to shrug off that little detail, handing out millions of dollars to someone to have them not do what you are paying them for can be a hard sell to management to ownership.

One also needs to remember that Kleiza is an expiring contract. That means that a) after this coming season he is wiped off of the books anyway and b) he could be a valuable piece at the trade deadline. Now, last winter proved that expiring contracts don’t get you as much as they used to on the open market. The 2013 free agent class, however, pales tremendously to the 2014 free agency class, and it would be smart to wager than an expiring deal will carry more value this winter than it would have last winter. There is a line of thinking that suggests that Ujiri should hang on to guys like Kleiza (as well as Aaron Gray, Kyle Lowry, Quentin Richardson and the partially guaranteed deal of Marcus Camby) because they could be the difference between the Raptors being able to make a meaningful move later on in the season and them not being able to make such a move because they don’t have the cap ballasts necessary to make it legal. Ujiri is all about flexibility and options, and having some easy-to-move deals in one’s back pocket is a useful position to be in, and again, they come off of the books either way at the end of the year.

When Ujiri met with the media yesterday to discuss his trade of Andrea Bargnani the topic of the amnesty was broached and Ujiri was characteristically elusive in his discussions. He said they “haven’t made a decision yet” as to whether or not they would use the amnesty provision this year, and that the “smart way to do it will be to wait” until the deadline (July 16) to make that call.

That’s because funny things happen once the free agent market settles down and teams start to assess their positions. Some teams that had high hopes for their cap space are left sitting with money to spend and no one to spend it on. Or, after spending their money, some teams are sitting with redundancies on their rosters that they’d like to get out from under before the season starts. The only pressing concern right now for the Raptors is to get under the luxury tax threshold that they are $2.4 million over (or will be once Tyler Hansbrough and Julyan Stone are added to the ledger). Amnestying Kleiza’s $4.6 million salary would accomplish that, but so might a favourable buyout of Camby’s $4.4 million salary, or a cap-friendly trade of Camby, Richardson or Gray. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and right now Ujiri is surveying his options before settling on a tool.

The trick is finding the best method that achieves the team’s near-term goals of getting out of the tax territory while also protecting the team’s long-term flexibility. Yes, the Raptors could just amnesty Kleiza (or buyout Camby and/or Richardson) but then the club might wish they had those deals down the road if an appetizing trade scenario comes along. You might ask why any team would want any of those players, but may I remind you that Camby and Richardson were just included in a trade for cap purposes, and the team that received them is looked upon as the “winner’ of the transaction. No one may see how they could benefit the team today, but those deals can play a huge part in the team’s flexibility (or lack thereof) in the weeks and months to come.

One way or another we’ll know by next Tuesday whether the Raptors have chosen to amnesty Kleiza. While fans may yearn for the cathartic release of another of Colangelo’s foibles, Ujiri may ultimately decide he has more value as an expiring deal than he does as a player they are paying to play in another market. Either way he won’t be on the team as of this time next year, right now it’s just deciding how profitable the club can make his imminent departure.

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  • Tim W.

    Welcome aboard, Tim. Great article and food for thought. I wouldn’t be surprised either way with Kleiza. We certainly won’t have to wait too long to find out what he’s doing, though.

    • Borg

      Tough, hard nosed and can shoot the three (when/if healthy)… and maybe rebound some.

      Sounds to me like LK’s about the player UM and DC want in the team… so I say keep him (as backup bench forward) for next year and who knows maybe he’ll return like the Kleiza we knew from few years back :)

  • Brian Gerstein

    Fantastic article Tim. Most Raptor fans thought it was a fait accompli that Kleiza would be amnestied, but it is not as simple as that, as you laid out so well. I do have confidence that Ujiri will make the right call in the end, which is approaching.

  • Dr Scooby

    Nice piece Tim.

    Can a team’s amnesty provision be traded to another team?

    • Lucas

      Unfortunately not. And you can’t use it on a player you traded for, either (after the new CBA was signed).

      At this point, it’s a use it on Kleiza or lose it, sort of thing (because they’re obviously not going to use it on Amir, as that would be an epic fail). Everyone else on this team was either signed or traded for after the new CBA.

  • Nilanka15

    In Messiah we trust!

    • c_bcm

      I seem to recall “in BC we trust” being quite popular 5 years ago. One thing about Raptors fans is that we’re with you until you screw it up. WHich I think is pretty fair.

  • Marz

    “The first thing to remember when discussing the amnesty provision is
    that a club must still pay the player that they are releasing, even if
    their salary is cleared off of the cap and removed from any luxury tax

    This is really the only thing that matters. Unless you can put a more competitive team on the floor that would drive revenue higher, there is no way a business will amnesty a player. Well, at least not MLSE/Bell&Rogers

  • Vimsanity

    Tim Chisholm?! RR is getting the big name talent! Haha, welcome aboard, Tim!

    • Tim Chisholm


    • ozrapsfan

      The better Tim

      • SVN

        The other Tim is pretty good too….probably the only decent RR mod out there.

  • tross_31

    Expiring deal is the way to go at this point.

    Ujiri has to find himself a PG, somehow, and the only way that’s going to happen is via trade. The hit he’ll have to take is getting a big contract in return, and I would not discount someone like Dragic, who is owed about 15 million on his deal. Throw Kleiza’s expiring at PHX and suddenly things start to click if PHX wants to save money.

    I’d also like to know if Pistons are serious about Brandon Knight, if not, cue the Ujiri sweep. You’ll likely have to throw in a pick here, but that’s OK.

    Personally, I was hoping for Jeff Teague in a S&T, assuming Atlanta was tanking, but he’s got MIL after him.

    • old_boy

      Same logic of what you’re applying to Dragic, but on Udrih from Orlando or Barea from Minny. That’s what I’m betting on. If nothing can be worked out (which I find unlikely), then the amnesty comes into play.

  • Dr. Simon

    Great article. Nice to see a professional NBA writer on this site.

  • mountio

    Good article and you bring up some good points. However, I think the trump card in this whole decision (which you didnt focus much on) is having an alternative use for the cash / cap space. It goes without saying, but if we arent over the tax and dont intend on signing someone new, then the use of the amnesty is completely moot.
    So .. a) we need to figure out if we are tanking or not and b) if not, we need to have a player making $5-6 mm that we are ready to sign such that the amnesty actually has the effect of keeping us below the tax. I think its as simple as we havent figured either of these out yet ..

  • tonious35

    MU: “I don’t throw players away for nothing”… I’ll just be patient, because Masai might get something out of him either a bench gem in need of playing time, or a high 2nd round or late 1st round pick from a dumb GM.

  • tonious35

    Tim, are you still with TSN? What did PhD Steve offer you join the Republic might I ask?

    • raptors phdsteve


  • Amigo

    Life is Beautiful, We are all rich, tall and well hanged. At the end of the day a journalist has to feed his family and MU is God at least till 2016. Than wash-rinse and repeat.
    Steve Novak is even a good stretch 4 with great D, we won the trade, we are waiting and maybe James Johnson is available.
    What about Mcgee +40 mil contract, where was MU when Ajinca,Alabi,Patrick OBryant, Jawai where scouted ? .

  • Amigo

    Sorry, just forgot, We have TH! TH! 43% fg against second units WoW WoW WoW !! Pound da Rock & Roll

  • SerendityNow

    Okayyyy Bam Bam!! Tim Chisholm is in the house.

  • Parm

    This is pretty straightforward, if the Raptors don’t have a way of getting it done by Tuesday, Kleiza will be amnestied.

    Having one more expiring contract (worth maybe maybe a second rounder?) is not worth incurring penalties in the millions (paying taxes + losing out on the receiving end of the lux tax pool)

  • Balls of Steel

    We have seen the domino effect of what happens when a player gets injured. Granted, Kleiza as a 3 and a small 4 can be valuable to this team. We also don’t know what LK is up to. Perhaps he’s super healthy and doing well again through rehab. There is a glut of 3 for sure and certainly the addition of Richardson / Novak complicates matters for him.