It was the most confounding part of this constantly confounding NBA lockout.
The owners and players got to a point a few weeks ago where they essentially agreed on the money side of the equation — how to split up the revenue coming into the league — but could not get close on the “system” issues that essentially came down to player movement concerns (the mid-level exception, Bird rights, the sign and trade rules, etc…).
Sometime early Saturday morning in New York — in the hours when the city that never sleeps even starts to close its eyes — they two sides reached a deal that will mean games on Christmas day and a 66 game season.
Where did those system issues land? Here is what we based on multiple reports.
• Next year the salary cap line will be at $58 million and the luxury tax line will be about $70 million, both where they were last season. One key difference is teams have to spend up to 85 percent of that salary cap line now, which means the minimum salary level for teams next season will be $49 million (last season it was more like $44 million). Also, the luxury tax on teams that exceed that tax line will be more stiff (it had been $1 for $1 over the line, now it will start at $1.50 for each $1 and escalate from there).
• Teams can only have one max-salary player that takes up to 30 percent of a team’s salary cap space.
• Larry Bird rights, the ability of a team to go over the salary cap or luxury tax line to re-sign their own players, remain essentially as it had been.
• Contract lengths are four years for free agents, but teams can add a fifth season for Bird rights players.
• Teams have only three days to match offers to restricted free agents, down from seven days in the old deal.
• The extend-and-trade remains, which means a team can sign a player to a Bird-rights size contract then instantly trade him — the stick that Carmelo Anthony used to force Denver to trade him last season without a financial loss for him.
Nobody is happier about that than Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, the current big free agents to be. Maybe Deron Williams too, but the Nets want to be buyers, not sellers.
• There will be a mid-level exception, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. Teams under the luxury tax can go for $5 million a season up to 4 years. For teams over the tax it is $3 million for up to 4 years.
• However, around the luxury tax line the mid-level will also impact Bird rights, reports Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated reports:
If you use the full mid-level to get to or approach that barrier looming $4 million over the tax line, you cannot cross it by re-signing your own free agents via Larry Bird Rights. You can cross it to sign rookies or guys on veteran minimum contracts.
To use Lowe’s practical example, if the Boston Celtics used the mid-level to bring in someone like Jason Richardson to help on the wing that would take them over the tax line next season (to about $71 million total) and they would not be able to re-sign Jeff Green or Glen “Big Baby” Davis to anything more than minimum deals.
It means big spending teams will not just be able to take risks on free agent role players to go around their stars and not have consequences if it doesn’t work out (like the Lakers with Luke Walton, for example).
• There will be a $2.5 million exception for teams just below salary cap to go over the cap, reports Wojnarowski at Yahoo. However, those teams lose the right to the mid-level exception, too.
• There is no real change for the rookie deal or minimum salaries (which increase with years of service).
• There will be a “stretch” provision in the deal that allows a team to buy out a player and waive him, but spread his deal over a longer period of time (double the length of the contract plus one year) so as not to be such a cap hit. For example, if a player has three years, $30 million left on a deal and the teams want to waive him, they would have him on the official books for seven seasons at $4.3 million. It will look weird to see a guy on the books who was let go years before, but that space allows the team to not be completely hamstrung by a bad deal.
Call it the Eddy Curry rule.
• There also will be an amnesty clause in this deal that will allow teams to waive one player and wipe that salary almost totally off the books (75 percent goes away). This is similar to what was done in 2005, although then it only counted as savings against the luxury tax, now it counts as savings against the cap as well.
The Orlando Magic will have to choose between Gilbert Arenas or Hedo Turkoglu for this one. Tough decision.