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The End of the NBA’s Amnesty Era

Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah, and Monta Ellis were all on team payrolls this season despite not playing a game in years.

An era in the NBA is coming to an end, and it might be one you’re unaware of. No, it hasn’t played out on the court, but instead in the wallets of a select few players, some of whom have been out of the league for years.

We’re talking, of course, about the amnesty clause — a little-discussed mechanism that allows NBA teams to get big contracts off the books without taking a luxury tax hit.

A Brief History of the Amnesty Clause

Flashback to 2005, when NBA contracts began creeping toward the nine-figure threshold. In that year’s collective bargaining agreement, labor and management agreed to allow each team an “amnesty clause.” In short, this means every team could release one player without his contract counting toward the luxury tax. It was a move to give franchises more financial flexibility without allowing them to cut a few players out of frugality. Under the amnesty clause, the released player still gets his salary (stretched out over a number of years) and is allowed to sign with any team except the one that released him. Teams, however, only had a few years to use this clause, and in the first amnesty era, 14 teams did just that. Alonzo Mourning, Michael Finley and Reggie Miller were among the players let go.

That was the first iteration. In 2011, the NBA decided to revisit and reuse the amnesty clause, granting each team another opportunity to stretch one contract over a few years. Most of the amnesty money was paid in full a couple years ago. But a few contracts from some well-known former players were settled as the regular season ended this month.

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End of the Amnesty Road

All numbers via Spotrac

Player: Luol Deng
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Contract Details: 4 years, $72 million
Money after being cut: $20 million
Last played: 2019

With the Lakers’ disappointing season coming to an end before the postseason even started, Deng’s contract finally came off the team’s books. Deng spent most of his career with the Chicago Bulls, then two of his final five years with the Lakers. Deng played in one game in 2017-18 before moving on and finishing his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. More than half of the remaining $20 million on that amnestied contract has been paid without Deng being on a roster.

Player: Chris Bosh
Team: Miami Heat
Contract Details: 5 years, $118,705,300
Money after being waived: $52 million
Last Played: 2015

Chris Bosh was a part of the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame class, getting the call in his first year of eligibility. As he was accepting his induction, he was still being paid by the Miami Heat team he won two NBA championships with. Bosh’s career was cut short due to health problems and the Heat decided to amnesty his nearly $120 million contract through the end of 2021-22. Bosh attempted a comeback before ultimately retiring and starting his Hall of Fame clock. Not a bad deal.

Player: Monta Ellis
Team: Indiana Pacers
Contract Details: 4 years, $44 million
Money after being cut: $11 million
Last Played: 2016

“Monta have it all.” Those were the words the NBA combo guard used while comparing himself to Dwyane Wade. . While some ridiculed him for seemingly unrealistic juxtapositions, we can certainly apply “have it all” to his final NBA contract. Dallas dealt Ellis to Indiana in 2015 and he played 150 games there over the next two seasons. The Pacers decided to make him a casualty of the amnesty clause, stretching the final quarter of his $44 million contract from 2016 to the end of this year. It may have been nearly six years since Ellis’s last dribble, but that last deal was paid in full.

Player: Joakim Noah
Team: New York Knicks
Contract Details: 4 yeas, $72 million
Money owed after being waived:

The New York Knicks signed the former Bulls All-Star Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract in an effort to retool and be a playoff team in the latter stages of the Carmelo Anthony Era. Noah is a native New Yorker, but the on-court fit wasn’t quite right and Noah only played in 53 total games with the Knicks — half the length of his contract. This means half the remaining money on the contract was also spread out from 2018 until now. Noah was amnestied and allowed to signed with the Memphis Grizzlies before finishing his career in 2020 with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Knicks were still paying him four years after he left New York and two years after leaving the league.

A Different Kind of Amnesty

Player: Kevin Garnett
Team: Boston Celtics
Contract Details: 7 years, $35 million
Money after retiring: $35 million
Expires: End of 2022-23 season

This contract is a little different. Garnett is a Hall of Famer and one of the NBA’s 75 greatest players. After nine years in Minnesota, Garnett’s second act for the Boston Celtics included a 2008 championship and Defensive Player of the Year award. Garnett was not amnestied — he was famously traded with fellow Celtic legend Paul Pierce to Brooklyn before the start of the 2013-14 season. Instead, KG asked the Celtics front office to pay him his $35 million salary over seven years, after he retired. Garnett went back to Minnesota, ending his career with 38 games played in 2015-16. Then his “final” contract began and he still has one season on the Celtics’ payroll.

Maybe the NBA will have a third iteration of the amnesty clause in years to come. But for now, we say goodbye to an era of payments due long after a player leaves the roster.

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