I'm calling them guesses, not predictions, because this way if I'm completely wrong, I won't look as stupid.
My original version of this post did not include a lot of content. Until Chris Sheridan shed some light on the secondary waiver process, amnesty looked like a pretty bad deal for most teams. This is because amnestying a player didn't look like it actually saved you much money (except tax dollars), and freeing up cap space is only a good deal if the player you can sign is much better than the player you let go. For instance, waiving you Gilbert Arenas gets you $17m in cap room, but Gilbert Arenas, overpaid as he is, is probably still a decent guard (He was pretty bad last year, but he used to be Kobe-like, so I'm giving him the benefit of doubt that he'll recover some of his pre-injury form), so to improve you have to use the money to sign a superstar guard (otherwise there is no net improvement). Financially, this would only make sense for teams that could amnesty a terrible player (Denver, I'm looking at Al Harrington right now) and replace him with an average/good player. And only for teams that have a "win now" mentality (which should eliminate teams like Minnesota).
However, the secondary waiver market changes all of this. If another team picks up an amnestied (yes, it's a stupid verb but I'm bowing to convention here) player off waivers, the player's original team is off the hook for the contract. And even if that happens, if another team picks up the player in the secondary waiver bidding war, the original team only has to pay the difference of the player's salary and the secondary waiver bid -- in effect, the new team has to subsidize the contract for you. This means amnestying a player can actually save an owner real, hard cash in addition to getting cap room. If you were an owner that was really hard up for money, you could amnesty a good player who is fairly paid, and he'll likely get picked up on waivers, saving you all the money from that contract. This makes the amnesty clause an interesting decision for most teams: amnestying a terrible player that no one wants won't save you any money (except tax dollars) because no one will bid for him on either waiver. Perhaps you are better off amnestying a player who's only slightly overpaid (or a good player who is very overpaid), hoping that some other team bids for him and saves you a big chunk of money. There's even the possibility that another GM will overpay for that player again, thanks to the bidding nature of the secondary waiver. Honestly, if you are any GM not named "Kahn" or "Jordan", the odds that one of the other GMs will bail you out by doing something stupid can't be that low, right?
So, here are my amnesty predictions guesses. I got my salary data from Hoopshype.com. I'm assuming the cap will be around $60 million, which makes the league minimum payroll around $45 million. I also make the assumption that both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul will opt out of the last year of their contracts next summer, since both would be eligible for the new CBA's "max contract at 30% of salary cap" rule, which will net them significantly more money than their current player options. This has a heavy impact on some teams' 2012 salary targets (i.e. getting low enough to bid on those players in summer 2012).
- Atlanta Hawks: Joe Johnson might seem like a good bet. He's not worth anywhere near $18million, but somebody will probably pay $10 million (or more) for him, so amnestying him saves a lot of cap room (given that his salary will cripple the Hawk's flexibility in a few years) while saving somewhere around $15 million per year if you consider the luxury tax impact. ATL could sign an average guard to replace him and not lose that much productivity.
- Boston Celtics: Assuming that they do not offer Jeff Green a qualifying offer (and they shouldn't...), the Celtic's best candidates here are O'Neal, Wallace and Allen, but they probably over-estimate Allen's worth and won't amnesty him. The question then becomes, does anyone bid for either O'Neal or Wallace and save the team money? If not, it will purely save luxury tax dollars, since Garnett is the only salary that could get them under cap. And amnestying Garnett would be collossally stupid, since even at his age he's still fairly paid, having produced nearly 15 wins last season.
- Charlotte Bobcats: They shouldn't really waive anyone. It's tempting to think waiving Maguette would save money because someone will pay him, but that would put them under the league minimum payroll, meaning Jordan would have to sign someone else. The odds that Jordan can sign someone better than Maguette are slim indeed.
- Chicago Bulls: None. It's tempting to consider Boozer because of injuries, but he's just too good when healthy for a team that wants to win now to consider getting rid of him. Amnestying Kyle Korver might save some money but it wouldn't improve the team because he's already a servicable player.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Baron Davis is the obvious choice. Someone will pay $8 million or so for him. The Cavs don't need the cap room (they'll be way below the minimum next year even if they keep Davis) but they could use the roster flexibility (making Irving the starter makes sense), and they don't need to win now.
- Dallas Mavericks: Brendan Haywood is way overpaid, but someone else might (over)pay for him, and the Mav's could use the money/cap room to sign Tyson Chandler (if they don't try to do this, I'll ridicule Cuban on a Kahn-like level, I swear).
- Denver Nuggets: Al Harrington was a no-brainer under my previous understanding. Now, with the chance that some other team picks him up, he must be amnestied if the Nuggets want a chance at being a contender. Harrington has a spot on the NBA's all-time "most-overrated" list for sure. But keep in mind that Denver needs to spend money because they are way under the minimum. They can do this by re-signing Nene and picking up one or two quality free agents (Murphy, Dunleavy, Battier, Humphries, Grant Hill) and/or other team's amnestied players (imagine if the Heat amnesty Mike Miller!)
- Detroit Pistons: So many choices. The Pistons have a lot of overpaid players, but the good news is that lots of other teams will pay (and possibly overpay) for some of them. I'd choose Gordon, because someone is probably willing to bid for him, and his contract is longer than Hamilton's and more expensive than Villenueva's. Detroit might have to spend to stay at the minimum, and letting Dumars spend money is always a risky proposition, but as I mentioned with the Nuggets, there are cheap quality free agents to be had.
- Golden State Warriors: They should amnesty Ellis, who's over-rated and overpaid (the combination any owner should look for when considering amnestying a player), but I suspect that the Warriors are part of the group that overrates him, so they will likely choose Biedrins.
- Houston Rockets: The question for Houston is, will anyone bid for Flynn? I think not, so it probably doesn't make a lot of sense for them to amnesty anyone. Possibly Thabeet but they aren't near the cap, and I suspect Houston likes Thabeet's "potential".
- Indiana Pacers: Another team that's already way below the cap. Amnestying Granger doesn't win them anything unless they have great players lined up to spend on (and they probably don't). So I imagine they stand pat.
- Los Angeles Clippers: Again, they're around the minimum right now, so if they did amnesty a big contract, they'd have to spend. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but if someone will pay for Mo Williams this might benefit them.
- Los Angeles Lakers: If I were running the team, I'd amnesty Kobe. No, really. I know, Kobe is really good. Kobe is not $25million good. But the chance that some other team snaps him up at face value is too good to pass up, and without his contract, LA has $47m on the books next year. If they decline the team option for Bynum, they get to sign Dwight Freaking Howard or possibly Chris Freaking Paul without declining Bynum's option. This is so much better than paying Kobe $27 million in 2012/13 and $30 million in 2013/14 when he's 35 (more like 38-40 in "usage" years) that it's more than worth the risk. But of course, they won't. They'll just ope instead to save the $7 million on luxury tax from Luke Walton (since no one's bidding on him, I presume, that's all they will save). There's an outside chance they use it on Meta World Peace instead, since someone might bid on him and save them more money, but the Lakers have never been about saving money.
- Memphis: What they should do: amnesty Rudy Gay (someone will pay quite a bit for him), sign Zach Randolph and one quality FA (see the list from Denver's bullet point). What they probably will do: stand pat, signing Zach.
I'll cover Miami through Washington in part 2. What do you think about my choices so far? Come on, I know you're dying to call me crazy for amnestying KOBE. Bring it on.