Salary maneuvers mark start of NBA's summer season

July 1, 1991

Today marks the start of the summer NBA season. You always suspected pro basketball was a 12-month affair and it is getting to be more that way each year.

Yesterday was the deadline for the Celtics to act on Dennis Johnson's $ 1.15 million slush fund. They were trying to use the money, or part of it, to sign Rick Fox, their No. 1 draft choice.

It made sense for Fox to act, because this likely would represent his best chance at significant money. Boston could pay him anything between $ 180,000, the minimum for first-rounders, and the $ 1.15 million. Starting today, all the Celtics would have available would be the minimum, although that could change over the summer.

The other option under consideration as the deadline approached was using the fund to replace a player's base-year compensation figure. Some players have two numerical values; their salary and their base-year. In some instances, there can be a wide difference between the two (there was a $ 1 million-plus difference recently for Kevin McHale.)

For a team over the salary cap, like the Celtics, the lower, base-year figure comes into play when the player leaves the team, either via the trade route or retirement. Thus, substituting the $ 1.15 million figure for a base-year figure helps Boston down the road.

The third option was to acquire a player who fits into the $ 1.15 million slot. But there was nothing imminent in that area last night.

Elsewhere, the team also took care of official business before today, ensuring that Kevin Gamble remains their property. They sent a qualifying offer to Gamble for $ 468,750 for the 1991-92 season. That amount represents 125 percent of Gamble's 1990-91 salary and gives the Celtics the right to match any offer Gamble might receive over the summer as an unrestricted free agent.

The figure does not, however, represent what the Celtics intend to pay Gamble or what the latter expects to receive. Negotiations between the two have not really started in earnest yet, but both sides want to make a deal and one should be completed before training camp.

Even though the Celtics are well above the salary cap, they are not bound by any limits as to what they can pay to retain Gamble. Similarly, they can match any offer, regardless of the cost, to keep him.

A.J. Wynder and Dave Popson were not tendered qualifying offers. That means that as of today, both players are unrestricted free agents and can sign with any team, Boston included. The Celtics, however, have no claim to their rights.

The reason Boston chose this route was, simply, money. Big surprise, huh?

Popson and Wynder would have had to receive $ 250,000 qualifying offers. If they make the team, it'll probably be for the $ 130,000 minimum.

Also today, unrestricted free agents can entertain bids and sign contracts. The Celtics are unable to do much of anything. Their payroll for next season is at a staggering $ 20 million plus. And now that DJ's "spot" has been exhausted, they have no similar loopholes to sign players.

They can, however, attempt to re-sign any unrestricted free agent who last played with them and that means Popson, Wynder and Derek Smith. Boston can sign them without any conditions or limits. But they are unable to make any kind of remotely competitive bid for someone such as John Battle or John Paxson.

What also will happen today is that the recently rumored deals and personnel maneuvers will be consummated.

Atlanta will bid adieu to Moses Malone, Spud Webb and draftee Anthony Avent and bring in Blair Rasmussen and Travis Mays. The Nuggets will get Avent and then ship him to Milwaukee for the rights to Kevin Brooks, the 18th pick.

The teams had to wait until today to get the openings. Atlanta slides Rasmussen into Malone's slot and Avent goes into Jack Sikma's spot in Milwaukee.

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