Sunday, July 17, 2005

I take no exception to all this

May I say, I'm so proud of my readership. In the last week, I've probably gotten 20-25 e-mails asking me about the semantics of the salary cap. I take great pride in trying to explain it as well as I can in my stories and in numerous radio interviews.

Some beat writers don't bother with it, figuring the average fan doesn't care or it is too complicated from them to understand. I've always said the real fans do want to know because this is what they talk about when there's no game to watch or talk about. Thanks to many of you for proving me right.

OK, now hopefully I can clear some of this salary cap stuff up for you.

Whenever you hear or read anything about an "exception" it means an exception to the salary cap. The NBA, unlike the NFL, has a soft cap. (Don't ask me about the NHL, I think their's might eventually be a hard cap). Soft because teams can exceed it under certain "exceptions."

Now, because the Cavaliers will be $28 million under the cap on Friday when the new NBA fiscal year starts, they get NO major exceptions this year.

The most common one you hear about is the mid-level exception or the MLE. This means teams get what an "average" or "mid-level" player is worth to exceed the salary cap each season. This is for teams OVER the cap or under the cap by less than the MLE. This year, the MLE is expected to be about $5.5 million.

You also hear about the Larry Bird exception. This means teams can exceed the salary cap to sign their own free agents or players for which they have so-called "Bird rights" to. It is named for Larry Bird because the Celtics broke the cap to sign Bird back in the 1980s in the landmark case. To have "Bird rights" a player must have been under contract for at least three years. This is why the Cavs didn't have Bird rights on Carlos Boozer, he'd played just two years.

There is also something called the million dollar exception. It used to be a worth a million, now it is worth $1.7 million. Many will just refer to it as the $1.7 million exception. You can only use this every other year if you are over the cap. The Cavs used it for Tractor Traylor last year when it was worth $1.6 million.

Teams over the cap can always sign players to the to a minimum contract at any time.

Now, many of you are still wondering why the Cavs can't spend $28 million and then sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas because they own his Bird rights. Well, this is a another little lesson concerning a thing called cap holds.

Until they are signed or "renounced," free agents have a cap hold on their team's books. The rules on these vary greatly, but just understand this, Z's cap hold is 105 percent of his salary from last year. So that's about $15 million. Jeff McInnis' cap hold is 200 percent of his salary, $7.2 million.

These holds are in place until a player is renounced or signs with a team. So, if the Cavs sign Larry Hughes for about $12 million, Z's $15 million cap hold will eat up all the rest of their money and they can't sign anyone. If they renounce him, they lose his Bird rights so they can't go over the cap to sign him later. So they will just sign him to a deal starting around $9 million and move on.

I hope you call understand all this mumbo jumbo. I'm glad so many of you are interested. Hopefully, this has helped you become a better NBA fan. Trust me, it is just a small piece of the ins and outs of the salary cap.

Take care and thanks for your loyal reading,