By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
There are six teams currently over the NBA’s luxury tax and in line to pay significant penalties at the end of the season. While the Cavs search for a trade to unload Andrew Bynum, those are likely their best — and perhaps only — potential trade partners between now and Jan. 7.
No team that actually wants Bynum is likely to trade for him because his contract for this season becomes guaranteed for $12 million after Jan. 7. But a team trying to get under the luxury tax threshold of $71.7 million could trade a hefty salary to the Cavs for Bynum and release him prior to Jan. 7, while Bynum’s cap figure can be reduced to $6 million.
Bynum could then clear waivers, become a free agent and sign with another team for the league minimum.
The problem is the Cavs are no longer interested in taking on bad money for contracts that extend beyond this season, so they would either be searching for an expiring contract or it would have to be a player they genuinely like. It’s a narrow window of teams, which is what makes trading Bynum tricky.
The Brooklyn Nets are $30.4 million over the tax threshold and the New York Knicks are $16.5 million over, easily making them the two biggest spending teams this season. But the Miami Heat ($11.8 million over), Chicago Bulls ($7.3 million over), Los Angeles Lakers ($7 million) and Los Angeles Clippers ($2.2 million) are also in line to pay penalties after the season.
Teams must also be concerned with the “repeat offender” status, which hammers teams that are habitual tax payers. There is no repeat offender tax this year, but teams that have paid a luxury tax every summer since 2012 will be saddled with even larger fines beginning in 2015 if they’re again in the tax.
The Lakers and Heat are both in jeopardy of qualifying for the “repeat offender” tax in the summer of 2015, although each can avoid the problem if they get under the tax threshold by this summer.
So who has contracts that make sense? None of the following names should be considered as trade rumors or sourced negotiations involving the Cavs. It is simply a list of names that fit the criteria.
The Knicks’ Tyson Chandler is due $14.1 million this season and $14.5 million guaranteed next year. Chandler is 31 and has battled injuries this year, but is still a productive player.
Trading Chandler for Bynum won’t get the Knicks under the tax threshold, but it would significantly reduce their tax bill from $54 million to $14.9 million. The Knicks began Monday with the league’s second-worst record, yet remain four games out of the final playoff spot in the East and have shown no indication of making a salary dump. Remember, the Knicks have paid more in luxury tax fees (in excess of $205 million) than any other team in the league.
The Bulls paid a luxury tax for the first time last season. They could avoid paying the tax if they traded Luol Deng to the Cavs for Bynum, and while the Cavs would eagerly make that trade, the Bulls have not shopped Deng to this point. He is in the final year of a deal that pays him $14 million this season, and if the Bulls did eventually move him, they could conceivably get quality assets for him rather than making him strictly a salary dump.
The Clippers have never paid a luxury tax, but don’t appear to have any candidates that fit the Cavs’ criteria. Besides, the Clippers reportedly have an interest in bringing Bynum back to Los Angeles as a backup, meaning they’d have to wait for him to be released and clear waivers before offering him a league minimum deal.
The most intriguing match could be the Lakers and Pau Gasol, who isn’t a good fit with Mike D’Antoni’s system. The Cavs were close to acquiring Gasol last summer before Dwight Howard chose to leave for the Houston Rockets, which lessened the need for the Lakers to unload his $19 million expiring contract.
Gasol makes too much to trade straight up for Bynum, but a secondary salary like Alonzo Gee could make a deal work. By trading Gasol now, the Lakers would avoid the luxury tax this season and not worry about repeat offender status next season. The Cavs and Lakers already got together for a previous deal involving Ramon Sessions and draft picks.
All of this would have to be done, of course, by Jan. 7.
If the Cavs don’t find a deal to their liking, they can either release him prior to next week and clear $6 million in cap space leading up to February’s trade deadline or hold onto Bynum, pay him the full $12 million for this season and try again to trade him around the draft. They would have until June 30 to trade him before his $12 million salary for next season becomes guaranteed.
By retaining him and paying him the full $12 million, it would essentially force Bynum to miss the rest of the season and create a $12 million trade chip around the draft.
One more disclaimer, it’s conceivable (though not likely) a non-contender could do the same thing. Another team with cap space could trade for Bynum, slide his $12 million figure into their cap and only have to physically pay him about half of that for the rest of the season. Then they would have a $12 million trade bullet to fire around the draft and until June 30.
There are two teams with at least $5 million in available cap space, which would make a deal for Bynum a little easier: The Phoenix Suns and the … wait for it … Philadelphia 76ers.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.