Using strong words and a new strategy, the NBA has voided the contracts that free agents A.C. Green and Horace Grant signed earlier this summer.
In an offshoot of a case begun last year concerning free-agent contracts and opt-out clauses, the league said the deals signed by Green and Grant were specifically and blatantly designed to circumvent the salary cap.With the opt-out clause, a player takes a lower first-year salary with the unspoken understanding that he will become a free agent after one year and then re-sign for much more money.
In the last year, dozens of players have gotten opt-out clauses in their contracts. The Players' Association has encouraged them to do so.
The league cited a judge's statement in the landmark Chris Dudley case - that too many opt-out clauses could render the salary cap useless - and interpreted it to mean such deals could legally be voided.
Whether the league is correct in that interpretation remains to be seen.
"It is mind-boggling that they would choose to reopen this issue that was so clearly decided by a special master, an arbitrator and a judge. The NBA lost on all three counts. They're grasping for straws," said Marc Fleisher, Green's agent.
The dispute seems certain to end up back in court, where the NBA has already won a suit against the Players' Association this summer in which the union sought to have the cap declared illegal.
"We're declaring war on some opt-out clauses," deputy commissioner Russ Granik said Tuesday night.
Green signed a five-year contract with Phoenix averaging $5.2 million a year after exercising an opt-out clause that made him a free agent after last season, when he earned $1.9 million while playing for the Suns.
Grant, formerly of the Chicago Bulls, signed a deal with the Magic last week that will pay him $2.1 million this year. It, too, contains a one-year opt-out clause that could make Grant a free agent after the upcoming season.
The players' union is appealing last month's Federal Court ruling that said the salary cap, draft and right of first refusal rules are legal. The appeal is expected to be heard late this month.
Meanwhile, there is no collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expired after last season.