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Amnesty clause offers Mavs a potential out

DALLAS -- As much as the Dallas Mavericks appreciate what
Michael Finley has done for their franchise, simple economics make it likely they will soon say goodbye to their longtime leader.

The Mavs would save at least $51 million and perhaps much more
by waiving Finley under a provision in the NBA's new labor deal
known as the amnesty clause. This one-time escape hatch lets teams
avoid the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax obligation on one contract.

The money owed will still count against the salary cap. And the
player will still get his guaranteed money -- plus more from
whatever team signs him next. Players can't rejoin the team that
cuts them until after the existing contract expires. In Finley's
case, that would mean no sooner than the 2008-09 season.

"We haven't given up on trying to figure out a way to get the
savings and keep Mike in a Mavericks uniform," team president of
basketball operations Donnie Nelson said Friday. "We've come up
with creative solutions to problems before, and we're trying to
pull a rabbit out of our hat again. But of the multiple scenarios,
we're down to the last few. It's looking less and less likely."

Nothing can happen until the collective bargaining agreement is
signed, which is expected by the end of next week. The amnesty
opportunity expires once the upcoming season begins.

Finley's agent, Henry Thomas, declined to comment Friday. Finley
is expected at a news conference Saturday for a charity baseball
game in which Nelson and Mavs owner Mark Cuban will be playing.
Finley will be managing instead of playing because he's recovering
from ankle surgery, event organizers said.

"Mike has helped build this franchise into what it is today,"
Nelson said. "But all of us who are in professional sports know
there's a dollar sign on our heads. That's just the way pro sports
works. Still, it doesn't make these conversations any easier."

Finley is the longest-tenured player in Dallas. He was an
All-Star before Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were, then together
that trio took the Mavericks from lottery regulars to perennial
playoff qualifiers. With Nash leaving as a free agent last summer,
Finley's departure would leave only Nowitzki from their "Big
Three."

Finley's role in the franchise's rebirth was rewarded in 2001
when he signed a maximum contract of $100-plus million over seven
years. He has three years left at annual salaries of roughly $16
million, $17 million and $18 million.

Yet Finley's production no longer merits anything near that.

His scoring average has dropped five years in a row -- from a
career-best 22.6 points per game in 1999-2000 to 15.7 last season --
and his rebounds and assists have diminished plenty over that span,
too. New coach Avery Johnson has even talked about bringing Finley
off the bench next season.

Part of Finley's drop-off has been because of Nowitzki's
emergence. However, at 32, the former dunk contest participant
rarely soars anymore, hanging out mostly around the 3-point line
for jumpers.

While the ankle surgery should improve his mobility, he's still
not the iron man he was in his younger days. After playing the
first 490 games of his career, reaching midway through his seventh
season, he's missed at least 10 games every season since, including
18 last season.

Nelson said the club also is looking into trading Finley. The
team must decide whether they're better off cutting Finley and
collecting the luxury tax savings or dealing him and getting
something back, albeit likely players who also have bloated
contracts. The quality of the players they're offered and details
of their contracts may ultimately make the difference.

Either way, Finley has probably worn his No. 4 Mavs jersey for
the last time.

"We're continuing to compare notes and look for a win-win
opportunity," Nelson said. "But at the end of the day, we've got
to decide what is in the best interest of the Dallas Mavericks."

The bright side for Finley is that he would get to pick his next
team -- perhaps reuniting with Nash in Phoenix, where he began his
career until being traded to Dallas for Jason Kidd, or maybe
returning to his hometown, Chicago.