Difficult as it is to escape the irony of a billionaire giving advice on how to pinch pennies, Mark Cuban might be on to something when he suggested that the L.A. Lakers adopt a more cost-conscious approach.
In what's quickly become one of the season's most noteworthy sound bites, Cuban jokingly mentioned an outlandish solution to the Lakers' bloated budget.
According to Tim McMahon of ESPN, Cuban was on ESPN Dallas' Ben and Skin Show when he said, "If you look at their payroll, even if Dwight (Howard) comes back, you’ve got to ask the question: Should they amnesty Kobe?"
I was clear saying it was hypothetical and I didn't expect it to be that way, but it was a good example because they have the highest payroll and the highest-paid player in the league. That's the end of the story.
The clarification came after Bryant himself posted the tweet of the year, a barb that came hot on the heels of a 38-point performance in a huge win over Cuban's very own Mavs.
Kobe Bryant @kobebryant
Amnesty THAT2/24/2013, 9:54:35 PM
The entire exchange, from Cuban's original statement to his clarification, is a glaring example of a quotation being taken completely out of context and blown up into a story that simply doesn't reflect the facts of what happened.
Objectively, it was obvious that Cuban was speaking hypothetically. And even if that part of his point was cloudy, he made it totally obvious that he wasn't actually suggesting the Lakers amnesty Bryant by later saying that he'd never do the same thing to Dirk Nowitzki.
But what if there's something to his overall point that even the richest NBA teams need to consider cost-cutting measures?
Think about it; the current dollar-for-dollar luxury tax for teams over the $70 million dollar mark is already hurting a few clubs. The Brooklyn Nets come readily to mind here. And next year, that tax goes crazy, according to McMahon.
Beginning next season, the luxury tax starts at $1.50 per dollar and escalates for every $5 million a team is over. If the Lakers are $30 million over, their luxury tax bill would be a whopping $85 million next season. If L.A. trims the payroll down to $20 million over the tax, the Lakers would still get hit with a $45 million bill.
Even if the Lakers have a big-market television deal and a revenue stream that few other clubs can match, that luxury tax is no joke.
Amnestying a player like Bryant, who is still somehow at the height of his powers and an iconic figure in the Laker landscape, is ridiculous. Cuban said as much himself. And logistically speaking, cutting Bryant loose to try to sneak under the cap for one year makes little sense; his contract expires after next season anyway.
But there's no question that the league's smartest teams are the ones that have avoided getting stuck in punitive cap situations.
As the Lakers move forward, they really will have to spend more judiciously. In the immediate future, that's going to mean making a thorough evaluation of Dwight Howard, as he's an unrestricted free agent this summer.
It'll be tempting to blow big bucks on D12, but as the Lakers have painfully learned this season, you can't rely on a few high-dollar assets to get the job done. Instead, it's better to spend where it's necessary, but keep enough set aside to fill out a roster with competent players.
There's no logical case for using the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant, and nobody has even really suggested that in any serious way.
But Cuban may be right about one thing: The NBA is changing, and the most successful teams will be the ones who spend carefully. As unpleasant as it sounds, the Lakers would do well at some point to consider Dallas' tear-down, rebuild model.