This was interesting. From Coon:
52. Can existing contracts be renegotiated?
A contract for four or more seasons can be renegotiated after the third anniversary of its signing, extension, or renegotiation that increased any seasons salary by more than 8%. Contracts for fewer than four seasons cannot be renegotiated. A contract cannot be renegotiated between March 1 and June 30 of any year. Only teams under the cap can renegotiate a contract, and the salary in the then-current season can be increased only to the extent that the team has room under the cap. Raises in subsequent years are limited to 10.5% of the salary in the first renegotiated season. The renegotiation may not contain a signing bonus. Contracts cannot be renegotiated downward players cant take a “pay cut” in order to create salary cap room for the team or to contain fewer seasons.
Again, a team over the salary cap cannot renegotiate a contract. An interesting case of this was Shawn Kemp with the Sonics. Kemp, who was unhappy with his contract and wanted to renegotiate, could not get a larger contract from the Sonics because they were over the cap. Kemp forced a trade to Cleveland, who was far enough under the cap at the time to give him the large contract he wanted. Kemp’s contract was renegotiated soon after the trade.
Fourteen years later, the Kemp saga is even more mind-blowing in retrospect - Jim McIlvaine was responsible for destroying a mainstay Western Conference powerhouse of the 90′s. Recall that fresh off a finals defeat to the Bulls, Sonics management, looking for an interior presence to help push them over the top, signed McIlvaine to a 7-year, $33.6million contract, coming off a year in which he averaged a gaudy 2.3ppg and 2.9rpg (to go along with 2bpg). Kemp, of the feeling that he had been underpaid, naturally was livid, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s interesting because I was not aware that it had been Cleveland’s ability to renegotiate Kemp’s contract which had facilitated the deal. I’ve been of the opinion for some time that actual cap space is overrated (as top tier free agents do not switch teams outright) and that it is flexibility (ie: length of contract, cheap assets) which is critical for smart management. But this example would seem to present one overlooked template through which cap space can be a boon. Though of course, the circumstances would be rare (ie: a disgruntled star making less than the max, but eligible for renegotiation), but the possibility does exist.
Sidenote on Kemp: He’s the one guy from the 90′s, moreso than anyone else, whom, due to the suddenness of his tragic downfall, we view through a revisionist lens and romanticize as greater than what was reality. To be clear, Shawn Kemp was incredible – elite defensively and the quintessential athletic specimen of his era. But he’s spoken of today, in reminiscence, as the premiere forward of that age, and in truth, he was far from it. Just check the numbers, hovering around 18ppg on a fast-paced Sonics bunch.