NBA

NBA AM: Free Agent Dollars Drying Up

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The Cash Is Drying Up:  Most of the teams that had major cap space have basically spent it. While there are still a few teams with sizable exception money remaining, the big money available in free agency has basically dried up.

Here is what the current cap picture looks like:

Here are the teams with real money to play with:

The Atlanta Hawks currently have about $2.08 million in space and could open up an additional $6.75 million more by renouncing the cap holds on Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon, giving them a possible $8.83 million to spend. The Hawks are still very much engaged on the free agent front so spending their cash is likely.

The Charlotte Hornets have roughly $1.41 million remaining under the cap and still have Brian Roberts’ deal to finalize. Roberts’ deal is valued at the “room exception” so Charlotte appears to have structured things to get at the cap number, meaning they should have one more transaction up their sleeve.

The Detroit Pistons have $1.43 million in space, but are carrying a $10.216 million cap hold on their qualifying offer to Greg Monroe. Pistons president Stan Van Gundy has labeled retaining Monroe as the team’s top offseason priority, but it’s clear they are not willing to give a max offer. With almost no money left in the market, they are simply playing the waiting game. There were reports that the Phoenix Suns may make an offer to Monroe, but it’s likely that Detroit matches an offer sheet.

The Milwaukee Bucks technically don’t have cap space by virtue of the $11.173 million cap hold they carry on free agent Ekpe Udoh. If they were to renounce it, they could open up roughly $10.3 million in space. The Bucks are believed to be one of the suitors for Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe, but landing him would require a sign-and-trade as it’s likely Phoenix would gladly match a $10 million offer sheet. Because the Bucks are still technically over the cap, they still retain their cap exceptions.

The Orlando Magic have roughly $8.34 million in cap space and could free up an additional $2.81 million by renouncing the cap holds on E’Twaun Moore and the draft rights to Fran Vasquez. The Magic are roughly $5.66 million away from the NBA‘s required minimum salary of $56.759 million, although they have until the end of the season to meet that number. The Magic for the most part seem finished in free agency and are more likely to use their space later in the season given that they have basically 13 players under contract for the upcoming season.

The Philadelphia 76ers lead the NBA with the most available cash under the cap with a whopping $23.58 million available, with an additional $2.646 available by renouncing the cap holds on Byron Mullens, Charles Jenkins and Adonis Thomas. The 76ers are the lone remaining team with massive cap space. However, they do not seem overly engaged with anyone on the free agent front. Last season, the 76ers carried a massive amount of space all season, ultimately using it at the trade deadline to acquire Danny Granger in a cap clearing move with the Indiana Pacers.

The Phoenix Suns have roughly $12.759 million available under the cap and could free up an additional $915,000 by renouncing the cap hold on Leandro Barbosa. The Suns do have a $6.56 million qualifying offer out to Eric Bledsoe. There have been reports that the Suns might issue an offer to Pistons free agent Greg Monroe, and could do a deal starting at $13.6 million and still be able to retain Bledsoe using his Bird rights. The Suns and Bledsoe remain somewhat apart on a deal,with reports suggesting that a four-year, $48 million offer was made by the Suns and turned away by Bledsoe.

The Utah Jazz still have cash remaining under the cap to the tune of about $3.636 million. The Jazz have basically fleshed out their roster, but do have cash to spend. However, they have 15 players on the roster, including several non-guaranteed contracts. The Jazz’s core seems to be in place, although there has been continued talks that a third guard is on their wish list and with $3.6 million to spend they should be able to secure one.

There are currently four teams already over the $76.829 million luxury tax line: The Boston Celtics ($1.937 million over), Brooklyn Nets ($16.202 million over), L.A. Clippers ($2.850 million over) and New York Knicks ($14.586 million over).

The teams with notable cap exceptions remaining include: The Boston Celtics ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual), Denver Nuggets ($5.305 million mid-level), Houston Rockets ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.077 bi-annual), Memphis Grizzlies ($1.393 remaining from their mid-level), Milwaukee Bucks ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual), Minnesota Timberwolves ($5.305 million mid-level), Oklahoma City Thunder ($2.105 million remaining on their mid-level and $2.077 million bi-annual), Portland Trail Blazers ($505,000 remaining on their mid-level exception), San Antonio Spurs ($5.305 million mid-level and $2.07 million bi-annual) and Toronto Raptors ($2.80 million remaining on their mid-level and $2.077 million bi-annual).

A couple of housekeeping notes:

NBA teams carefully manage how and when contracts are submitted in order to maximize their flexibility. A large number of deals have been agreed to but have yet to be filed with the NBA as it would impact a team’s flexibility in free agency.

Meeting things like the NBA minimum are not required until the end of the season, meaning teams like Philadelphia and Orlando are under no obligation to spend money now, but would face a minor penalty if they do not meet the so called “floor” at the NBA Trade Deadline in February.

Equally, the luxury tax is computed based on what’s on the roster at the end of the season, so teams like the L.A. Clippers and the Boston Celtics could trigger cap clearing deals before the deadline and avoid the luxury tax.

Of the four tax paying teams, the New York Knicks are looking at the stiffest tax bill due to the “graduated tax” system and the new repeater penalty that kicks in this season. The Knicks are $14.58 million over and are looking at a tax bill of $42.302 million. The Knicks will become the first “repeater” tax payer this season, having been over the tax line in all three of the last three seasons. The Celtics are also looking at the repeater penalty on their $1.97 overage, which will cost them $4.84 million in tax. The Nets are currently $16.02 million over the tax line and are looking at a tax bill of $32.656 million, but have one more season before being designated a repeat tax payer.

Bledsoe and Monroe:  Arguably the top two remaining free agents in the marketplace are Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe; both are likely going to have offer sheets matched, so the fact that both sit unsigned is not altogether surprising. What might be a little surprising is that in a market that saw Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Dallas’ Chandler Parsons get basically maximum level offer sheets is that neither Bledsoe nor Monroe saw that kind of love in free agency.

Surely if Hayward can get $14.76 million next season, Bledsoe and Monroe should get something similar right? Well, not exactly. Here is the thing about valuations: it requires two competing bids.

The reason Parsons got such a hefty number from Dallas is that the Mavericks knew that’s the number it would take to steal Parsons away from the Rockets. It’s not that Dallas believes Chandler to be worth $14.7 million, it’s that is what it costs to steal him. The Mavs needed a win in this free agency class and overpaid a little to get one.

The Hornets tried to do the same with Hayward, hoping that a maximum deal would scare the Jazz away.

The problem for Bledsoe and in many regards Monroe is that neither player seems to be garnering the same “over pay to get him” mindset from other teams.

The L.A. Lakers had cash to spend and did not make offers. The Miami HEAT and Houston Rockets could have made offers and didn’t. The Philadelphia 76ers have more money than anyone and are not at the table.

The Suns offered Bledsoe a four-year, $48 million package. Considering Stephen Curry signed a four year, $44 million in 2012, is $48 million for Bledsoe so crazy? Sure, Curry would command a lot more today than he would have in 2012, but are Bledsoe and Curry’s situations that much different? Both do have a long history of injuries.

In order for Bledsoe to be “worth” more, someone has to be willing to pay a bigger price. With almost no money left in the market place, Bledsoe is somewhat stuck.

It is clear his camp is trying to drum up a sign-and-trade deal; however, the Suns don’t have to entertain anything on that front if it’s not in their best interest.

So would Bledsoe sign the qualifying offer of $6.5 million and take his chance as an unrestricted free agent next year? Bledsoe is coming off a nasty knee surgery; do you really turn down what amounts to $12 million per year in his situation?

There is no question that players hate restricted free agency. It ties them up and limits their free market earning potential, but the one thing restricted free agency is supposed to do for teams is help them avoid overpaying.

The market place sets what a player is worth and unfortunately for Bledsoe and Monroe, the market place wasn’t nearly as kind to them as it was to Hayward and Parsons. That doesn’t mean they each won’t get a very good contract offer. The Pistons have had a number on the table for Monroe since July 1. The Suns have a number on the table for Bledsoe now.

Both players can try to wait out the process and see if a better offer surfaces, but with almost no “interested money” in the field, the odds that either are going to get a max offer sheet now seems fairly slim and that’s simply how valuations go.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.