Ball Don't Lie

The Lakers may cut ties with Metta World Peace, which would make Metta and Kobe Bryant sad

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Metta looks pensive at a charity event in China in June (Getty Images)

With the heavy duty portion of the agreement phase to the 2013 free agency period just about over, teams are looking to trim the edges in other, more obvious ways. For those that still have a chance at this, utilizing the amnesty provision to waive players that were signed prior to Dec. of 2011 is a way to both save in basketball terms (teams still have to pay the player’s salary, but he won’t count against the cap nor luxury tax), and open up a roster spot.

Los Angeles is one of the few franchises that still owns its one-time-only amnesty provision, and as the team that paid the most luxury tax scratch in 2012-13, you can kind of understand why the franchise would want to cut ties on a player after a disappointing 45-win season, and Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Pau Gasol and even Kobe Bryant had been rumored to be considered, but Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register was the first to report that the Lakers are actually going to save their axe for Metta World Peace, lopping off his $7.7 million for 2013-14 and turning the Lakers into – gasp – a non luxury tax-paying team!

(Assuming they play with six or seven players next season, that is.)

The Lakers have already saved about $2.2 million by buying out reserve guard Chris Duhon, and if you add that number to MWP’s $7.7 million the team technically dips below last season’s luxury tax threshold. The problem from there is that the team recently agreed to contract terms (as yet unrevealed) with Chris Kaman, and it has four players in Devin Ebanks, Robert Sacre, Darius Morris, and Andrew Goudelock that are eligible to either play for the respective qualifying offers, or become restricted free agents. On top of that, we won’t know until Wednesday what the 2013-14 luxury tax number will be.

Because Los Angeles has been a tax-paying team for so long, and because they were so far over the threshold last season, the penalties for paying out all of World Peace’s contract are severe – because we’re not in dollar for dollar territory anymore. Los Angeles Times Laker scribe and Collective Bargaining Agreement maestro Eric Pincus ranks the savings around the $14 million mark, while counting that the Lakers actually still do have to pay MWP his salary.

That kicker is why some smaller market teams have yet to use the amnesty provision. Look at a team like the Milwaukee Bucks, which could easily waive the barely-used Drew Gooden and save over $13 million over the next two seasons in cap space. The Bucks would still technically have to pay Gooden that salary though, while using more cash to sign a replacement. Using the amnesty clause, for some teams, is a fantastic basketball move, but not a happy payroll move. Sure, it helps a team’s cap situation, but it often hurts the bottom line.

For the Lakers, a reported move like this helps the bottom line because of the tax implications, while hurting the team in basketball terms. MWP, for all his hustle, hasn’t aged well. He remains in fabulous shape and still has that defensive savvy, but he’s not the sort of “three and D”-contributor that has become all the rage in the NBA, as he fires away at 32.8 percent clip from long range over the last two years, while taking five three-pointers per 36 minutes of play. Worse, Metta turns 34 next November, and can be caught lacking in his close outs against some of the swifter small forwards that the NBA has to offer.

Metta isn’t all about the memories, at this point, harkening back to his work in the 2010 playoffs or his famed “I’d like to psychiatrist”-performance in Game 7 of that year’s Finals. The guy can still play, and contribute, and possibly play a stretch four in Mike D’Antoni’s undersized offensive schemes.

Kobe Bryant, venting on Twitter in the wake of Ding’s tweet, seems to think so:

(While we’re at it, Metta reacted in his own inimitable way.)

Presuming they’ve made up their minds, the Lakers still have time to change it. The window to amnesty players runs from July 10 to the 16th, and nothing is set in stone until World Peace’s deal is turned to stone. It’s unfortunate that a team that is set to rake in billions through an upcoming cable deal would cut one of their more popular players (and, perhaps, one of the better chances at gaining more revenue by sneaking into the playoffs next season) just to count those initial $14 million in savings, but this is how the team operates now. Spend big on the stars, cut quickly on anyone (scouts, longtime locker room personnel, front office helpers) that isn’t on a billboard.

The Lakers aren’t about 2013-14. They’re not going to blow it up, and they’re shooting to still worm their way into the postseason, but the second Dwight Howard tweeted about Houston was the second the team fully committed to throwing all the cash it could at whatever star that wants to play alongside Bryant and Steve Nash in the summer of 2014. World Peace, at age 35 heading into 2014-15, was never going to be part of that plan.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers can’t do right by their obsessed fans and keep the guy around for one more year. Laker Nation has more than paid for Metta World Peace’s salary in car antennae flags alone. What’s another $14 million, with billions on the way?

NBA video from Yahoo! Sports:

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