The answer is: Yes. The Nuggets could actually choose to waive Andre Miller if they cannot find a deal for him before the NBA trade deadline. In fact, teams would be wise to sit back and not trade with the Nuggets in hopes that Miller could be had for a lot less than the $5 million price-tag he currently has.
From Larry Coon's FAQ on how released players affect their old team's salary cap:
Guaranteed salary must be paid even if the player is released, and continues to be included in team salary after the player is waived.1 For example, if a player is waived with $10 million in guaranteed base salary remaining on his contract, then that $10 million will be included in team salary. If a player is waived part-way through a season, then the portion of team salary that is charged to the cap for that season reflects either the guarantee or the salary that was actually paid, whichever is greater. For example, if a player has a $6 million salary with $3 million guaranteed and is waived 1/3 through the season, then $3 million (reflecting the 50% that is guaranteed) continues to be included in the team salary. If instead he is waived 2/3 through the season, then $4 million (reflecting the salary actually paid) continues to be included.
Translation: The Nuggets could waive Miller, but they'd still be on the hook for the full $5 million he's owed this season (they've already paid him a portion of that salary as players don't get a lump sum, they are paid throughout the season) and they'd be on the hook for his $4.6 million salary for next season, too (which could only be the $2 million he's guaranteed, I'm not totally sure). On top of that, the Nuggets would be hit with a salary cap hold for Miller on the greater amount of the salary paid or not paid. So, if they still owed him $3 million of the $5 million, this season, then the cap hit would be $3 million, not $2 million.
Could the Nuggets get out of paying Miller in any way? Yes, by placing him on waivers and having another team "claim" him during that 48 hour period.
Waivers are a temporary status for players who are released by their team. A team initiates the waiver process by "requesting waivers" on the player they are releasing. The player stays "on waivers" for 48 hours (including weekends and holidays), during which time other teams may claim the player and assume his contract. If no team has claimed the player before the end of the waiver period (which is always 5:00 PM Eastern Time), he "clears waivers." The player's contract is terminated and he becomes a free agent. The only way to terminate a contract early (other than with an ETO -- see question number 58) is through the waiver process.1
A team can claim a player on waivers only if one of the following is true:
- The team is far enough under the salary cap to fit the player's entire salary.
- The team has a Disabled Player exception for at least the player's salary (see question number 25), and the player is on the last season of his contract.
- The team has a trade exception for at least the player's salary (see question number 84).
- The player has a minimum salary contract.
If a team makes a successful waiver claim, it acquires the player and his existing contract, and pays the remainder of his salary -- the waiving team is relieved of all responsibility for the player. There is a fee of $1,000, payable to the league office, for claiming a player on waivers. If more than one team tries to claim a player on waivers, the team with the worst record gets him.
If the player clears waivers he becomes a free agent, and is free to sign with the team of his choice. The player's roster spot is freed-up as soon as the team places the player on waivers. It can sign a new player or acquire one via trade immediately, without waiting for the player to be claimed or to clear waivers.
The waiving team continues to pay the guaranteed portion of the terminated contract (see question number 63).
Translation: If say, the Charlotte Bobcats put in a waiver claim on Miller - they then owe him the $5 million this season and the $4.6 million next season and the Nuggets are relieved of all contract responsibility to Miller. But it's very unlikely that Miller would be claimed off waivers as so few teams are in desperate need of a point guard at that salary rate. The reason you put in a "claim" is if you fear another team will want Miller or if you don't think you'll be able to sign him once he becomes a "free agent". This could be a fear of, say, the Washington Wizards who could fear Miller signing with the Heat ... but perhaps not enough of a fear to roll the dice on the claim.
Now, if Miller clears waivers the Nuggets will once again be on the hook for Miller's guaranteed salary. He would be able to sign with a new team, any team he chooses, for any amount of money, but that would be considered a new contract and the Nuggets would be on the hook for the "terminated" contract that is fully guaranteed.
It would make the most sense for teams to wait for the Nuggets to waive Miller, not claim him, and then sign him for the veteran's minimum once he's a free agent. It would save teams money and allow them to keep any asset they may have given up in a trade with Denver.
The Nuggets could also save a little coin by using a stretch provision, but that would mean they still have to pay Miller his full guaranteed salary - they'd just get to do it over a longer stretch of time.
Can't the Nuggets and Miller come to terms on a buyout? Yes.
Sometimes players and teams decide to divorce each other. They do this by mutually agreeing that:
- The team will waive the player
- If the player clears waivers, the player's guaranteed salary will be reduced or eliminated (see question number 63)
- In contracts signed or extended under the previous CBA, the payment schedule for the remaining salary may be shortened or lengthened (see question number 64)
- Optionally the team's set-off rights (see question number 65) may be waived
After the player clears waivers, he and his former team are free to go their separate ways. There is a quid-pro-quo between the player and team regarding contractual obligation and salary -- in exchange for gaining his freedom, the player agrees to give the team a break on the remaining salary he is owed.
But there's a twist, which needed an arbitrator's ruling to resolve. As detailed in question number 63, on January 10 all contracts become guaranteed for the remainder of that season. Although compensation protection ensures the player is paid after he is waived, the compensation protection does not kick-in if the player is waived after January 10, because the player does not lose any salary. Even though the team and player can mutually agree to reduce or eliminate the player's compensation protection, he is still owed his full salary if waived after January 10.
This was challenged by John Starks during the 1999-2000 season. Starks had been traded to the Bulls, and wanted to sever ties with the team after January 10. The arbitrator ruled that in the last season of a player's contract a team and player can choose to eliminate the protection that kicks-in on January 10. Starks and the Bulls were therefore free to walk away from each other with no money owed.
Translation: Andre Miller is owed $9.6 million by the Denver Nuggets. They have to pay him that money. But if Miller really wanted to be rid of the Nuggets, he could accept a buyout of his contract of say $8 million and then he could walk away from the Nuggets.
Any way you slice it, the Nuggets can create a roster spot by waiving Andre Miller. It's more than likely that if the Nuggets waived Miller that he would go unclaimed and the team would be on the hook for the guaranteed portion of the $9.6 million. I'm not sure if they could get away with only paying Miller the $2 million he's owed next season as the guaranteed portion of his contract after this season, but the language in the FAQ sort of hints that could be the case.
The Nuggets have until Thursday's deadline to make a deal or face waiving Miller.