Joe Smith is now looking for a new team after an arbitrator on Thursday upheld the penalties issued against him by NBA commissioner David Stern.
“I think the league has made it very clear that they would like Joe to play somewhere other than here,” Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said.
Arbitrator Kenneth Dam ruled that Stern did not exceed his authority when he voided Smith’s contracts for the 1998-99 and 1999-00 seasons, taking away any financial incentive for him to stay in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves can now offer Smith a one-year contract for no more than $611,000. Other teams, including the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, can offer Smith more than six times that amount.
Dallas, Atlanta and New York also are believed to be on Smith’s short list.
“This could be a great opportunity for him. He could be looking at a starting position,” Heat coach Pat Riley told reporters in Miami.
More Punishment from NBA?
The Timberwolves signed an illegal secret agreement with Smith, promising him a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract extension that was to begin in the 2001-02 season after Smith had played three seasons in Minnesota.
Stern penalized the Timberwolves by taking away their next five first-round draft picks and fining the team $3.5 million.
The commissioner also voided Smith’s contract for the current season along with his one-year contracts for the previous two seasons, thereby taking away his so-called Larry Bird rights.
Players with Bird rights can re-sign with their team even if the team is over the salary cap. Smith will have to play three more seasons to re-earn those rights.
“I think the arbitrator recognized the importance of enforcing the provisions relating to secret agreements,” NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. “It demonstrates that if you enter into secret agreements, the consequences of getting caught can be fairly significant.”
Stern may not be finished penalizing the Timberwolves.
A hearing must still be held to determine which team officials had knowledge of the secret agreement. Taylor, vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale and other team officials could face one-year suspensions.
Heat, Bulls Have Money to Spend
Smith’s agent, Dan Fegan, is free to negotiate with any of the 29 NBA teams interested in signing Smith, who was the overall No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft.
The Bulls, with about $6 million in salary cap room, could make Smith the largest offer.
“Nothing to say. I have nothing to say right now,” Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said.
The Heat have a $3.92 million salary cap exception that was granted by the NBA after they lost Alonzo Mourning for the season because of a kidney ailment. The Heat must use the exception by Nov. 26.
The Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks also have expressed interest in Smith, but the best offer they could make is a one-year contract for $2.25 million.
The Timberwolves had been hoping that Smith would win his appeal and re-sign with them, while the commissioner adamantly felt the team should lose Smith since they had broken the rules to acquire him.
“Now that there is a decision, the best thing for everyone is to move on,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “We have to move on and put some finality to this.”
In their appeal, Smith and the players’ union argued that Stern did not have the authority under the collective bargaining agreement to void past contracts. The league had argued that Stern has the authority to void any contract — past or present.
“We were expecting a contrary ruling, but unfortunately we didn’t get it,” union director Billy Hunter said. “We’re in consultation with Joe and his agent and we’re studying the ruling to see what our next action, if any, will be.”
The union later issued a statement saying it was weighing an appeal.