With Jose Calderon out of the picture, does Amir Johnson become the main amnesty target for the Raptors?

The 2012 deadline for NBA teams to use the amnesty provision has passed, and it appears safe to assume that the Raptors elected not to utilize the option, meaning they will still have the ability to amnesty one of their pre-lockout contracts next July.

If you’ve been reading RaptorBlog, you’ll know I’m happy with this development. Jose Calderon has a valuable expiring contract worth over $10 million. It should hold at least some value in a trade, especially if Calderon can get off to a good start next season in a point guard combination with the newly acquired Kyle Lowry.

Even if the Raptors don’t end up trading Calderon and he simply plays out his contract, that’s 10-plus million dollars coming off the books next summer. An expiring Jose and an amnesty move next year could mean over $15 million of salary cap relief in an environment where more impact players might be available, either via free agency or trade, whereas amnestying Calderon now would have given the Raps $10 million worth of breathing room that may have been useless in the team’s current situation, and doesn’t do much for the long term plans.

With the decision not to amnesty Calderon or anyone else this season now seemingly official, we can look to the only three amnesty options remaining for Toronto (I’m assuming amnestying the rookie scale contract of DeRozan or Davis is pointless and a non-starter, by the way).

All salary information courtesy of www.shamsports.com

- Andrea Bargnani – $32,250,000 remaining over three years (If you don’t include the third year, in which Bargnani has an early termination option, it would be $20,750,000 over two years)

It’s easy to look at this, especially for Bargnani haters, and say, “amnesty the most lucrative long term contract which just happens to belong to the biggest enigma.” But the reality is that Bargnani is easily the best player of the three on this list, and whether you want to admit it or not, is being paid at a reasonable rate when you consider some of the money thrown around this off-season. He’s always going to have his shortcomings, but his offensive talent and versatility for a big man means he’ll also always be tradeable in the NBA.

Quite simply, the only way Bargnani would become untradeable and amnesty worthy would be if he suffered a career-altering injury or put forth a disappointing season of epic proportions next year.

So while it’s technically an option, and while a lot of frustrated Raptors fans might think about it, you can pretty much block the thought out of your head. It’s not happening.

- Amir Johnson – $17,600,000 guaranteed remaining over three years (An extra $2,050,000 in the final year of the contract is un-guaranteed, according to shamsports)

Amir Johnson is a fan-favourite in Toronto known for his love of the city, his hustle, his energy off of the bench and his efficiency. So when I first proposed the idea that he should at least be in the amnesty conversation, a lot of fellow Raptors fans printed my image off of this page just to burn it. Heck, the relationship between Scott and I became nearly as irreparable as the one between Dwane Casey and James Johnson (not really, the BlogFather and I have always been cool).

Well I’m not trying to say ‘I told you so,’ but if you’ve noticed, Amir’s name has been coming up when reporters in the city discuss the Raptors’ amnesty clause.

Here’s the bottom line: I’m a big fan of what Amir Johnson can bring to the table and think that he can carve out a defined role on a very good team in the future. But if Ed Davis, who is younger and who I think has a higher ceiling, ends up having a good season for the Raptors, Amir becomes very expendable. The ideal solution would be to trade him and get something back in return, but I just can’t envision a very fruitful trade market for Amir next year when two years and over $13 million would still be left on his contract.

- Linas Kleiza – $9,200,000 remaining over two years (The second year and final $4.6 million is a player option)

Kleiza’s inconsistency and his inability to stay healthy haven’t exactly helped him endear himself to Raptors fans, though you could argue his inability to stay healthy is the reason for the inconsistency.

When he’s on his game, Linas is a tough and versatile offensive forward who can stretch the floor and score in bunches, the type of player who might look like a steal for $4.6 million per year. But we simply haven’t seen Kleiza on his game for long enough stretches, and one more season of inconsistency would likely spell the end for him in Toronto.

Kleiza’s $9.2 million cap-hit over the next two years was certainly worth a look for amnestying this summer, but by the time next year rolls around, he’ll only have one year and $4.6 million remaining on his deal, and that’s only if he picks up his option for the 2013-2014 season.

If Kleiza has another disappointing season, picks up his option and the Raptors want to rid themselves of him, you’d have to imagine it would be a lot easier to trade an expiring contract worth less than $5 million than it would be to find a taker for Amir’s longer, larger deal.

So you see, it’s not that Amir Johnson’s a useless player, worse than Linas Kleiza or isn’t worthy of being here long term. It’s just that any way I spin it, the amnesty target keeps pointing to Amir the same way the spinning gun kept pointing to Walter White in the Season 4 finale of Breaking Bad.

Only unfortunately for Amir, barring a very good bounce back season, I can’t find any Lily of the Valley to save him.