Amal McCaskill isn't doing much these days, but is getting paid almost a million dollars to do it.
A 6-foot-11 journeyman center who has bounced around to five NBA teams, to Europe for four years and to South America for another since 1996, McCaskill was sitting at home contemplating his future during the offseason when a call came with a deal too good to refuse: Sign a one-year contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, worth $922,000, and become a books-balancing footnote in a trade that sent Derrick Coleman to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Corliss Williamson.
Since signing the deal on Aug. 4, McCaskill never took the court and never received a uniform with his name and number on it for either team. The Pistons, in fact, cut him on Oct. 1, before the start of training camp for the upcoming season.
"I'm not going to complain about it," said McCaskill, who played 59 games for the 76ers last season but was a free agent looking for a new team when the call came. "I'm getting paid, and now I can go out and find a better situation on a team that has room for a player like me."
McCaskill, who has averaged 1.8 points and 1.9 rebounds during his four-year NBA career, is the latest beneficiary of the creative financing that the NBA employs to make sure teams balance their books when over the salary cap.
Because more than a 15 percent gap existed between Williamson's contract (he is due to make $5.5 million for the 2004-05 season) and Coleman's ($4.5 million), the 76ers needed to include another player in the trade with a contract that would even the salaries. The rule was created in 1984, when the league's salary cap was implemented, to ensure that teams would not exceed the cap.
"The 76ers said to me that they had a couple of players that they could have sent with Derrick to make the deal work," McCaskill's agent, Steve Kauffman, said. "But because they thought Amal was a good guy, they felt that it would be nice for him to be the beneficiary here."
Kauffman, who also represents Pistons forwards Ben Wallace and Darvin Ham, said he convinced Pistons general manager Joe Dumars to cut McCaskill, who has been plagued by a lower back strain, instead of placing him on injured reserve.
"It's part of the business," said Alan Ostfield, the Pistons' chief operating officer who manages the team's salary cap. "Of course you'd prefer not to sign a player to a guaranteed contract and then cut him, but that's the process that you sometimes have to go through."
Since McCaskill's contract was guaranteed, he could collect two paychecks at once if another team signs him for the coming season. His $922,000 salary will count against the Pistons' cap, but the trade is essentially a wash because the team would have been saddled with Williamson's contract if the trade had not been completed.
As part of the deal, the 76ers also received an undisclosed amount of cash, which is allowed under league rules. Money is often exchanged when one team agrees to take on a contract with a greater overall value. Coleman's two-year contract is worth $9.5 million, while Williamson is due $18 million over the next three seasons.
This isn't the first time that McCaskill has been paid but failed to play for a team.
In January 1999, after the NBA players and owners settled their labor dispute, McCaskill signed a contract with the Miami Heat worth $270,000. He was waived three weeks later but collected his money despite never playing a game. He was signed by the Heat again in August 1999, this time for $485,000, but was cut before the season started.
The sign-and-trade-then-cut phenomenon happens a few times each year.
Mike Wilks, a guard who has played with the Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets during the first two years of his NBA career, was signed by the Rockets to allow the team to trade Eric Piatkowski and Adrian Griffin to the Bulls in exchange for Dikembe Mutumbo. Wilks is now fighting for a roster spot with the Bulls, who have Chris Duhon, Jannero Pargo and Frank Williams ahead of him on the depth chart.
"Matching up the salaries makes it much harder to make trades," said Bill Neff, Wilks' agent. "If a team wants to trade Tracy McGrady for sweatshirts, they should be able to do that."
Neff actually knows how that works.
In 1994, one of Neff's clients playing in the Continental Basketball Association, Edmond Wilson, was traded from the Wichita Falls Texans to the Oklahoma City Cavalry for three sweatshirts and three jerseys.
McCaskill apparently has more value than Wilson. One fan on a Pistons message board suggested trading McCaskill for "100 brand-new, quality-made basketballs."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org