Eight teams have officially clinched playoff berths as the 2013-14 regular season winds down.
The league’s early projections for next year’s salary cap is $62.9 million, up from this year’s $58.7 million. The luxury tax threshold is also expected to climb to approximately $75.7 million from $71.7 million.
In the fifth part of a series, where do the five teams in the Central Division stand this offseason?
Chicago Bulls (42-32)
Projected 1st Round Picks: 16th (from Charlotte, top-10 protected), 18th
Projected Cap Space: None to $11.9 million
The Bulls are one of the few teams remaining with their amnesty clause, and they may use it to purge Carlos Boozer and his $16.8 million from their books.
If Chicago doesn’t use their amnesty, they’re not a cap team.
If they do, it would take an additional trade to open up any serious space (to make a run at a player like Carmelo Anthony).
While Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have contract incentives that may raise their cap numbers slightly, if the Bulls do look to get below the cap, that money may be earmarked for Nikola Mirotic.
Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan goes into detail on the complex matter of bringing over Mirotic, who is one of the top overseas players not in the NBA.
Cleveland Cavaliers (30-45)
Projected 1st Round Pick: 9th
Projected Cap Space: None to $23 million
In a perfect Cavaliers’ world, LeBron James comes back home as a free agent.
Just in case, Cleveland has a good $23 million in cap room if they trimmed down their roster of non-guaranteed contracts and free agents, including cutting Anderson Varejao (whose contract is guaranteed for $4 million).
Alonzo Gee ($3 million), Scotty Hopson (approximately $1.4 million) and Matt Dellavedova ($816k) are also non-guaranteed.
The Cavaliers have a few key unrestricted free agents to decide on, including Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles.
If any or all return, and Varejao (plus the others) aren’t cut, the Cavaliers may stay above the cap. If so, Cleveland may look to trade their non-guaranteed contracts to a team looking for financial or cap relief.
That would allow the Cavaliers to bring in significant salary in trade, while keeping their veterans and their Mid-Level Exception.
While it’s unclear exactly how the Cavaliers will proceed, the franchise has significant flexibility this summer – which, in the NBA, is an asset, in and of itself.
Detroit Pistons (24-47)
Projected 1st Round Picks: 8th
Projected Cap Space: None to $21.7 million
The Pistons have lost just enough games to get to their pick protected. An unlikely bounce of the lottery balls could drop Detroit to ninth, sending their first-round pick to the Charlotte Bobcats as part of the Corey Maggette trade.
Look for the Pistons to make a stab at catching the seventh-place Sacramento Kings in the lottery standings, for a little protection breathing room.
Meanwhile, whatever Detroit tried to do this season has not succeeded. The big-man trio of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe hasn’t functioned well together on the floor.
Monroe can be a restricted free agent with a $5.5 million qualifying offer, but his cap hold is a meatier $10.2 million.
Jonas Jerebko seems sure to opt into his final year at $4.5 million. The Pistons may not be likely to pick up Chauncey Billups’ $2.5 million option. Josh Harrellson and Peyton Siva aren’t guaranteed. Both Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva are free agents.
If the Pistons let them all go, except Jerebko, who chooses to stay, the Pistons could have as much as $21.7 million in space.
With Monroe’s cap hold, the Pistons may still have up to $12.0 million to spend — less if they look to keep Stuckey.
Given how poorly the team has fared, do the Pistons just let him go, or do they instead, look to trade Smith or Drummond?
Indiana Pacers (52-23)
Projected 1st Round Pick: None
Projected Cap Space: None
Indiana has a difficult decision to make. How much should they pay guard Lance Stephenson?
The Pacers are committed to Roy Hibbert ($14.9 million), Paul George ($13.7 million) David West ($12 million) and George Hill ($8.0 million). Stephenson is a valuable part of what could be a championship core.
Indiana can make Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen restricted free agents. Even if both leave, the Pacers aren’t falling under the cap.
The bigger question becomes minding the luxury tax if Stephenson is locked back up.
The Pacers’ first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft will go the Phoenix Suns, as part of the Luis Scola trade.
Milwaukee Bucks (14-60)
Projected 1st Round Pick: 1st
Projected Cap Space: None to $12.7 million
The Bucks will likely be a cap team this summer, although that’s not necessarily a given.
If the team has any intention of keeping free agents Ramon Sessions, Jeff Adrien and Ekpe Udoh (potentially restricted), they may choose instead to stay over.
With the worst record in the league, Milwaukee is guaranteed no lower than the fourth pick, but as they’re currently slotted, the top pick will take up $4.6 million in cap space.
A qualifying offer for Udoh would be $6.0 million, likely richer than the Bucks are willing to give.
Khris Middleton is a bargain on a non-guaranteed $915k contract. Milwaukee isn’t likely to let him go.