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What is amnesty in basketball?

Have you ever looked at an NBA team’s roster and said, “Why is this guy still on the team?” Too often, there’s a player on the team who is collecting a big check and is severely underperforming or maybe not even playing at all, but the team hasn’t gotten rid of him. Well, chances are that you can blame the salary cap; but there was a point in NBA history when teams could cut ties with a guy like that with little to no repercussions.

What is amnesty in basketball? The amnesty clause in the NBA allowed for a team to effectively remove one player from their team salary, saving them from paying luxury tax on that contract. Amnestied players are waived and are still paid the remaining amount on their contract. The amnesty clause was introduced in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NBA and the NBA Players Association (NBAPA). The amnesty clause was also included in the 2011 CBA, but amnestied players would not count towards the salary cap or the luxury tax. The amnesty clause is not present in the current CBA and is therefore not applicable.

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How does the amnesty clause work?

The amnesty clause was introduced in the 2005 CBA so that teams could have a little more financial flexibility to deal with an unwanted contract or free up some of the luxury tax bill. The amnesty clause could be used once only, before the 2005-06 NBA season; amnestied players would alleviate any luxury tax hit of their contract only, but their contract will still count on the salary cap. Amnestied players would still be paid the remaining amount on their salary. The clause was sometimes referred to as the Allan Houston rule, referring to the Knicks player who was presumed to be the reason for the rule’s introduction (interestingly enough, Houston was never amnestied; the Knicks used the clause on another player, Jerome Williams).

The amnesty clause was also included in the 2011 CBA, but this time with a few changes. Amnestied players would be removed from team salary total, both the salary cap and the luxury tax bill, whereas the 2005 CBA amnesty clause only alleviated the luxury tax. In the 2011 CBA, the amnesty clause could be used during any of the first 5 seasons since the CBA became active (until the 2015-16 NBA season); however, like the 2005 CBA, it can only be used once.

The actual amnesty process remained the same. A player who is amnestied is waived, and they are now on a special type of waiver wire: only teams with cap space can bid for the player. The team with the highest offer gets the player; they pay the salary for the player as much as their cap room allows, and the team who amnestied the player pays the remaining amount. If no one claims the player in the waivers, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team.

The amnesty clauses were partly introduced so that teams could maneuver the significant changes to the luxury tax and salary cap systems in each CBA. By having the amnesty clause, teams could strategically use the clause to help them adjust to the new rules with better effectiveness. The amnesty clause was optional; teams were not forced to use it, nor did they gain or lose anything by not using the clause. One advantage of the amnesty clause was that teams who operated under the salary cap could acquire amnestied players at a reduced salary before they became free agents, serving as a reward for operating with salary cap room.

Which players were eligible to be amnestied in the 2011 CBA?

The amnesty clause in the 2011 CBA allowed for any player who was under contract before the 2011-12 NBA season to be amnestied. The cut-off date was July 1st, 2011, so any player who signed a contract afterwards could not be amnestied. Any player who had a contract extension could not be amnestied. Players who had been waived before the cut-off date and still had their salaries counting against the cap could also be amnestied.

Who are some notable players who were amnestied?

Since the 2011 CBA was active, the amnesty clause was used for 23 players. Notable players to be amnestied included Brandon Roy (Portland Trail Blazers), Carlos Boozer (Chicago Bulls), Luis Scola (Houston Rockets), Baron Davis (Cleveland Cavaliers), Mike Miller (Miami Heat), Chauncey Billups (New York Knicks), Gilbert Arenas (Orlando Magic), Elton Brand (Philadelphia 76ers) and Metta World Peace (Los Angeles Lakers), among others.

Why was the amnesty clause not included in the 2017 CBA?

The amnesty clause did not receive much support from team owners in discussions for the 2017 CBAt, and was ultimately not included. While the reason for excluding the clause was not explicitly stated, a few reasons were voiced, one being that because there was not a significant change in the luxury tax/salary cap structures compared to the previous CBA, an amnesty clause was not necessary. Another reason reportedly was that team owners did not want to give other teams a “get-out-of-jail” card for bad contracts, and that teams who were careless with their contracts should reap the consequences of their mistake, and not have the amnesty clause to get them out of a sticky situation.

The amnesty clause was a critical playing card that teams used to keep in their back pocket to navigate tough salary cap and luxury tax situations. The power to remove any player from the roster, be it for cap purposes or performance reasons, was an incredible cushion for teams to fall on. The removal of the amnesty clause brought back headaches (just recall the infamously burdensome Timothy Mozgov and Luol Deng contracts given by the Los Angeles Lakers), and in the wake of soaring luxury tax bills, there have been calls around the league to bring back the amnesty clause. What is essentially a one-time cheat code for teams could potentially rock the NBA landscape should it make its return in the upcoming 2022 CBA.