Thursday, July 10, 2008

Express News: Signing Mason brings bit of tax relief for Spurs

Mike Monroe: Signing Mason brings bit of tax relief for Spurs

Less than 24 hours after the 76ers committed more than $80 million to forward Elton Brand and the Warriors pledged $50 million to swingman Corey Maggette, it was reported that eight NBA teams will have to pay more than $95 million in luxury taxes based on their player payrolls for last season.

A short while later, the Spurs reached agreement with Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr. on a two-year deal that will pay him a total of $7.5 million and still leave the Spurs in position to be major players in the talent-rich free-agent market of 2010.

In about three weeks, Spurs majority owner Peter Holt and his partners will get a check from the league office, courtesy of the eight spendthrift owners. It will be for a little more than $3 million and will help the club maintain its reputation for doing everything in a first-class manner, from facilities to scouting to travel accommodations.

These events are not unrelated.

As much as an eye for talent is required of today's NBA basketball executives, so is a tight grip on the owner's purse strings. So when the Spurs missed out on signing Maggette, an immensely talented player with a reputation for selfish play and occasional churlishness, consternation was minimal at the team's headquarters on Spurs Circle.

Maggette was right for the Spurs because they need to get younger and more athletic. But he would have been a risk, even at the mid-level salary-cap exception of $5.585 million the Spurs reportedly offered. Sharing positions with Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen, as Maggette would have and Mason will, means watching your role diminish when the playoffs arrive. Maggette's favorite role always has been designated scorer.

The real beauty of Michael Finley these past three seasons was his professionalism in dealing with Ginobili's in-and-out status as starter and reserve. Everyone marveled at Ginobili's selflessness, an All-Star ceding a starting role for the good of the team. But each time Gregg Popovich put Ginobili back in the starting lineup, that meant Finley went to the bench, always without a whimper. And if Mason's arrival means Finley's days with the Spurs are over, Popovich will not have made the choice without a large measure of agony.

Could Maggette have accepted temporary demotion with similar equanimity? Volume shooters seldom do, and the guess here is that Maggette would have sulked if Popovich asked him to sacrifice for the good of the team. The head coach doesn't easily suffer sulkers.

Mason also is a different sort of combo player. At 6-foot-5 he is a one-two, rather than a two-three, and that means Ime Udoka figures to retain his value as Bowen's primary backup. Mason proved last season he can play the point if the need arises. He is a more devoted defender than Maggette.

The Warriors had to do something to recoup after Baron Davis' defection to the Clippers, but you wonder if signing Maggette to a five-year, $50 million deal didn't contain a dose of payback to the team that stole their top player. Though he averaged 22.1 points last season, and 16.1 points over his nine NBA seasons, Maggette hardly is a $10 million-a-year player.

At least the Sixers can rationalize paying Brand $82 million over five seasons. He is a two-time All-Star, a second-team All-NBA selection just two seasons ago, and a career 20-10 big man. Plus, he is one of the league's solid citizens.

There has been speculation about why Brand chose the Sixers over the Clippers, but the simple truth is more geographic than Machiavellian, as some have suggested. A New Yorker by birth who played college ball at Duke, Brand wanted to go “back East” the last time he was a free agent, but then he was restricted. The Clippers matched the offer sheet he had gotten from the Heat. This time, the choice strictly was Brand's, and now he is much closer to what he considers home.

So the Clippers slide backward, yet again, left to ponder a really outrageous offer to Atlanta's Josh Smith that immediately would make him one of the league's most overpaid players.

Meanwhile, the Spurs improved without breaking the bank.

This article doesn't make a lot of sense. Considering the Spurs used part of their MLE on Mason, it really did nothing whatsoever to count for or against their luxury tax. The team is gonna spend their MLE and LLE either way. Are we supposed to be glad that we didn't spend money we didn't have?

Indeed, Mike Monroe strikes again.

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