The Philadelphia 76ers amnesty Elton Brand and his expiring contract, and we’re in a new era

As reported by Yahoo!'s omnipresent Adrian Wojnarowski, the Philadelphia 76ers have used the amnesty clause on power forward Elton Brand and the last year of his contract. And so the Sixers have dumped $18.2 million from their cap figure for this season, thereby opening up some cap room and allowing them to sign free agents this offseason.

In case you're not aware, the clause was one of the most talked about provisions of last year's lockout negotiations and allows franchises to waive a player and rid his contract from their salary cap figures (while still paying it in actuality). It can only be used once, however, and the contract must have been signed before last summer. With a large salary and diminishing returns on the court, the Sixers thought it prudent to part ways with Brand before he becomes a free agent again in 2013. With marks of 28.9 minutes, 11 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 2011-12, Brand will be missed at least a little bit. But the Sixers are a deep team with the ability to replace his production, and the choice to use the amnesty clause with just one year left on his deal isn't especially controversial.

The timing is fairly puzzling. At, John Hollinger explains where the Sixers went wrong:

But let's get back to Philly, who both amnestied Brand and announced they'd be parting ways with Lou Williams on Friday, and then said they reached a one-year deal with Nick Young.

What, exactly, are they going for here? Even after the amnesty, Philly has just $7 million in cap room, which is perhaps enough to put in a bid for the likes of Ersan Ilyasova or Kris Humphries, but if you're going to do that you might as well ride out another year with Brand, right?

Even more puzzling is the timing. If Philly had determined to amnesty Brand a week ago and not bothered with Young or the recent two-year, $13-million deal with Spencer Hawes, the Sixers were looking at max cap space and the chance to lure a top free agent. Not a great chance, perhaps, but a chance.

Now? They're looking at, best-case scenario, signing somebody almost as good as Brand. One wonders if another move is waiting around the corner -- an Andre Iguodala trade, perhaps, or some other move that will allow us to make sense of all this.

It's a peculiar decision for the reasons Hollinger mentions. But even this poor choice helps illuminate the new reality of cap space in the NBA. Under the last collective bargaining agreement, a large expiring contract like that of Brand had real value as a means of acquiring the ability to sign free agents. For instance, in advance of the summer of 2010, the New York Knicks obtained Tracy McGrady just for the right to lose him in free agency, and the Miami Heat moved around virtually all players not named Dwyane Wade so that they could sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Value was in many ways virtual — the idea that a contract would eventually not exist is what made it valuable.

The amnesty clause has changed that. Now, instead of waiting for cap space, teams can create it instantaneously by ridding themselves of their worst contracts. Brand isn't the first example of this — last December, Chauncey Billups, Charlie Bell and James Posey were all amnestied in the final year of their contracts. Teams now have a choice to wait for the right opportunity or engage in instant gratification.

Whether that's a good thing for a franchise long-term is an open question. When teams had to hold on to their expiring deals, they exercised more restraint and developed real plans for their future. Those plans didn't always work out, but they did represent products of vision rather than impulse. As Hollinger argues, the Sixers are largely acting irresponsibly in their decisions to amnesty Brand and pick up the first free agents who cross their path. They now have more freedom to get the players they want, but that ability to choose doesn't necessarily mean they're better off than they were under more restrictive rules.