6th October 11:30
In article <X8mdnZiJo5a9_4_dRVn-sA@comcast.com>,
Vin Baker has likely played his last game as a
Celtic. All that remains to be seen is what the
team will do. Options range from nothing to
cutting all ties with the power forward.
But be advised that even if the team terminates
Baker's contract because he failed to comply with
his alcohol treatment program, which could only
be an option three weeks from now, it does not
mean the Celtics can suddenly put a free agent
like Kobe Bryant on their radar screen this
summer. Yes, there will be a dramatic savings;
assuming they prevail in arbitration (yes, the
players' union will file a grievance), they could
save what's left from this year's $13.5 million
salary and another $14.625 million next year and
$15.75 million the year after that. That all
comes off their payroll. And, knowing that it was
in the budget, it amounts to more than $30
million in found money.
But, at present, even lopping off Baker's salary
from next season does not put the Celtics into
the same situation that Utah, San Antonio, and
Denver are likely to be in this summer. All of
those teams could have significant room under the
salary cap to pursue free agents. If Baker's
money comes off the books, the Celtics' payroll
(assuming they keep Chris Mihm at his designated
rookie salary figure of around $4 million) will
be $44 million-$45 million next season. With the
salary cap expected to come in at around $45
million, that means the Celtics will be in no
position to be far enough under the cap -- or
even under it at all -- to go out and sign any
marquee free agents with available cap space.
Bryant is expected to be the biggest fish in the
pond, assuming he stays out of jail.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves somewhat
here. First, the Celtics must wait 10 games
before they can even think to act.
However, once the suspension hits 10 games --
which would be after the final game before the
All-Star break -- the Celtics take control of the
situation. They could then go to the uniform
player contract and, citing the medical evidence
assembled by the doctor, announce they are
terminating the deal because Baker is unfit to
play. They could allow the suspension to
continue, but one gets the sense that this
ownership group, while sympathetic to Baker's
situation, also knows it has a business to run,
and would desire a swift resolution.
But suppose they do terminate the deal and
Baker's money disappears. Here's how such a move
would help financially on three fronts:
If there is a luxury tax this year -- and that
won't be known until the summer -- the Celtics
may well not have to pay a dime if they can get
what's left of Baker's money this year to come
off the books. Many teams figured that any club
with a payroll in excess of $57 million would
have to pay the luxury tax, which is a dollar-
for-dollar tax on the overage. The Celtics'
projected payroll for this season, with all of
Baker's cash on the books, is around $59 million.
If you are under the threshold, you're entitled
to refunds from the league, which could be
substantial. That is one reason the players'
union is monitoring this thing with an electron
microscope. But no one can say for sure if there
is going to be a luxury tax. There was last
The Celtics can be aggressive in using the
midlevel exception, which they chose not to use
last year. That figure, which should be about $5
million, can be used by an over-the-cap team to
sign a player (or players), and there usually are
some good buys at this price. Most teams are in
the same boat, however, so competition for
someone like, say, Brent Barry, will be stiff.
Last summer, Juwan Howard was one of the more
celebrated signees out of the midlevel exception.
Two others: Gary Payton and Michael Olowokandi.
The Celtics would be able to take care of their
own without worrying about the luxury tax. Mark
Blount, for instance, is under contract next
season for a shade more than $1 million. But it's
a player's option and, given the improvement he's
made, he is certain to exercise it. The Celtics
could then strike a new deal with Blount for more
of a fair-market value for a decent NBA starting
Blount has earned that much. Mike James is
another who should get a raise. The Celtics still
hold his rights but, given the way he's played,
he deserves a big bump from the $640,000 he's
getting this season.
These are only possibilities. And they may not
come to pass. But after another noncompliance
episode, the Baker story has quickly gone from
uplifting to troubling to sad. No one wanted to
see it end this way.
¡¡ jacked and pumped !!