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The schedule isn't the friendliest on this hard-luck Friday. Broadcasting arrangements made way back in the summer have served up Raptors at Celtics, followed by Suns at Sonics.
Seems like a fine time, then, to go in a completely different direction and delve into a completely hypothetical situation.
Let's say a marquee free agent signs a big contract with an NBA team this summer. It could be the team he currently plays for, or a team in the same city.
A team that plays in the same building, even.
Then that player is incarcerated.
It's one of the most-asked questions we get here at Stein Line HQ: What are the salary-cap implications for the team in question if it ever signed a superstar free agent who is subsequently jailed?
So we've consulted with salary-cap experts to address these implications. Answers to some good questions follow:
1. If a player with a guaranteed contract is incarcerated, is a team stuck with that contract on its payroll?
No. If a player is incarcerated, he can't perform under the terms of the contract. Based on Section 16(a) of the NBA's uniform player contract, a player who shall "at any time fail, refuse or neglect to render his services hereunder or in any other manner" breaches his contract. The team is thus allowed to void the contract if it chooses, removing the contract fully from the books.
In the case of our hypothetical example, if a free agent is signed this summer and then sent to prison, his team can void the contract as if the money was never spent. Which diffuses the risk factor for teams pursuing a hypothetical free agent with a perilous legal cloud over his head. If the team involved wants to break all ties, all it's really risking is the PR hit.
2. What if a team signs a player who is then jailed, but the team doesn't want to cut ties with the player? Can the team keep his rights?
The most likely course, in this case, is that the team suspends the player while he's unable to perform. And all such suspensions, according to league rules, are without pay. When the player is free to return to the NBA, it would then be the commissioner's decision whether the player would be cleared for reinstatement. Of course, in the interim, the contract of a suspended player continues to count against the salary cap and would carry luxury-tax consequences in a tax year. A team facing such circumstances would undoubtedly consider the length of the sentence when deciding whether it's a worthy investment to sacrifice financial flexibility -- and perhaps pay substantial penalties -- for keeping the rights to someone who can't play.
3. But what if said team, out of the goodness of its heart, wants to keep paying the player while he's in jail?
It's theoretically possible, but the team would have to keep the player on the active roster of 12 to do so, which would be risky on multiple fronts. On top of that, it's highly unlikely that commissioner David Stern would allow such a move, given the severity of the offense. So a suspension without pay is the best a team can do, if it's hoping to stay on the good side of a player who won't be around for a while.
All of the above, of course, is hypothetical. I predict that the court system in Colorado isn't going to force us to use any of this new knowledge this summer.
Thought I'd post this since this is the first time I've known that a team can essentially sign Kobe "risk free" because his contract can be completely wiped off the books instantly if he's incarcerated. Meaning there could still be many teams trying to "woo" him away from the Lakers this summer, since they can't get stuck with his contract if he's doing time.