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NBA AM: Never Too Early To Think About Cap Space

It’s never too early to look ahead to who might have real cap space to play with next summer.

Steve Kyler

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Never Too Early To Look Ahead

Salary cap management is a cornerstone of longevity in the NBA. As much as teams (and fans) may want to see heavy spending on free agents, managing the cap beyond the current season is increasingly important, especially for teams that are not competing for a spot in the NBA Finals. As the 2017-18 NBA Season gets geared up, there are a few NBA teams that may already have run into the proverbial iceberg of cap hell before they have started to play. Several other teams have set themselves up nicely if they want to make a run at the 2018 NBA Free Agent class, though, which could include the likes of Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and even LeBron James.

Let’s take a look at some of these teams and how they are structured.:

Woefully Capped Out

Capped Out Teams

Miami Heat $117,444,952
Charlotte Hornets $112,749,409
Washington Wizards $111,854,534
Toronto Raptors $107,232,001
Portland Trail Blazers $105,364,918

*** Guaranteed 2018-19 Salary

Looking at the guaranteed salaries on the books for teams in the 2018-19 season, the albatross of the bunch is the Miami HEAT, sitting at $117.444 million in guaranteed 2018-19 contract commitments. Assuming the 2018-19 salary comes in around the $102 million many are projecting, the HEAT are already $15.44 million over the cap, mainly due to the balloon years of Tyler Johnson kicking in. By way of the poison pill contract the Brooklyn Nets offered him in 2016, Johnson’s salary will balloon up to $19.245 million. The HEAT has tried to move Johnson a few times, and unless he really blossoms into a star, you may see the HEAT try and renew those efforts.

Miami has several tradable players including big man Hassan Whiteside and point guard Goran Dragic. Last year, the HEAT resisted the temptation to trade into the bottom, opting to see how far their squad could go after an impressive run.

The HEAT should be a team to watch, especially if they struggle. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to go out of their way to help the HEAT with the Johnson contract unless it includes another inducement from the roster.

Some of the other notables on the way above the cap list include the Charlotte Hornets ($10.749 million above), the Washington Wizards ($9.85 million above), the Toronto Raptors ($5.232 million above) and Portland Trail Blazers ($3.364 million above)

Keep in mind these teams have pending free agents that will add cap holds to these figures, so these values are simply the guaranteed dollars on the cap and not inclusive of player options that could swell them even further.

A Little Space To Work With

As of today, there are ten teams that project to have some cap room depending on how they handle their own free agents. Some of those teams could have just a sliver of room below a $102 million 2018-19 salary cap.

There are a few mirages in this list, like the Golden State Warriors. Kevin Durant holds a $26.250 million player option, which brings the Warriors guaranteed salary under the cap line, but there is no imaginable scenario in which he’s not going to be on the roster next season at a number larger than his contracted $26.250 million. In fact, he’ll likely cash that number in on a nifty new deal starting at $35.7 million.

A Little Space

Golden State Warriors $99,601,388
Boston Celtics $96,337,559
New Orleans Pelicans $91,577,138
Memphis Grizzlies $90,659,551
Detroit Pistons $90,555,702
Milwaukee Bucks $82,361,935
Houston Rockets $78,123,448
Orlando Magic $77,847,322
Cleveland Cavaliers $75,902,175
Minnesota Timberwolves $73,340,187

*** Guaranteed 2018-19 Salary

The Boston Celtics could also get to a sliver of space under the salary cap, but that would require passing on team options on players like Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier (which is not likely at all), as well as not get a deal done with Marcus Smart, also very unlikely.

The New Orleans Pelicans could get to cap space next season, but only if DeMarcus Cousins walks away as a free agent. The Pelicans have actually done a nice job fleshing out their roster with one-year deals, meaning if Cousins doesn’t stay, they are not married to a ton of their roster. The Pels still carry the dreadful contracts of Omar Asik and Solomon Hill and owe E’Twaun Moore some $16 million of two years beyond this season.

Believe it or not, the Memphis Grizzlies, who have spent like drunken sailors the last few years, could get under the salary cap. The new two-year $17 million deal for JaMychal Green is basically valued at the mid-level exception; it will count against the Grizz’s cap next season but still get them slightly under the cap assuming they let their expiring deals fall off. The Grizzlies got hammered pretty hard in the profit-loss department, so if this season does not yield a return to the top tier in Memphis, they do have the means to get cheaper if they wanted to and slide in under the cap slightly.

The Houston Rockets could get way under a $102 million salary cap if they wanted to, mainly because the deals on Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza expire. Assuming the Rockets are what they hope they’ll be, Paul will ink a new deal in Houston starting at $35.7 million, erasing any shot at cap space. Ariza is going to carry a $12.868 million cap hold. Paul’s hold will be $36.899 million. So unless Paul walks away, the Rockets won’t have much to work with, despite having just $78.123 million in guaranteed deals.

Two other fun names on the middle list are the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves. Cavaliers get here because of the $35.607 million Player Option on LeBron James. If he opts out and walks away, the Cavs get way under the cap because of James and pending Free agent Isaiah Thomas both coming off. Amusingly, Thomas’ cap hold is only $11.896 million, meaning if James walks as many have suggested he might, the Cavs could play the cap game with Thomas’ hold and sign others to the cap line and then exceed it using his Bird Rights to flesh out a new team around Thomas.

If James stays, the Cavs still can go way over the cap to re-sign Thomas if they want to pay the luxury tax that would come with it.

The Timberwolves look like they can get under the cap today, mainly because the extension for Andrew Wiggins is not final. The Wolves have all kind of option years to manage next summer so while their guarantee number is enough to get under the cap, in reality, they are likely going to clock in as a near luxury tax team if they can get the Wiggins deal inked.

Max Slot and a Little More

Possible Max Space

New York Knicks $68,004,397
Utah Jazz $67,839,543
Phoenix Suns $62,735,430
Denver Nuggets $58,287,262
Brooklyn Nets $57,408,907
Los Angeles Clippers $56,217,995
Oklahoma City Thunder $53,557,222
San Antonio Spurs $52,637,778
Sacramento Kings $51,556,390
Atlanta Hawks $49,767,209

*** Guaranteed 2018-19 Salary

There are currently ten teams that could get to at least a maximum salary slot if not more. Some of these are mirages too, for example, the Oklahoma City Thunder have just $53.557 million in committed salary for the 2018-19 NBA season, mainly because Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony all have Player Options. Westbrook has a new max level extension on the table and George and Anthony could either opt in to their deals or sign a new deal in OKC ending any shot at cap space.

The Denver Nuggets make this list mainly because they have seven rookie scale options they have yet to pick up and Player Options on Wilson Chandler and Darrel Arthur. The Nuggets have been talking with Garry Harris about a hefty contract extension that would all but erase any possible cap space. So while technically they only have $58.2 million in guaranteed money, they may end up closer to $100 million when everything is settled if not significantly more.

The LA Clippers have $123.6 million in commits this year, but only $57.12 million next season mainly because of DeAndre Jordan ($24.119 million) and Austin Rivers ($12.6 million) have player options. Add in player options on Milos Teodosic ($6.3 million) and Wes Johnson ($6.134 million) and the Clippers cap is riddled with option years creating the appearance of cap space. Unlike some of the mirages on the list, the Clippers could see a few guys opt out, although it seems unlikely that Jordan could command more than the $24.1 million owed him in 2018-19 in a league pivoting away from traditional centers.

Some of the real players on in this section are the Sacramento Kings, the Atlanta Hawks, the New York Knicks, the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns. All of these teams could get very close to a max contract slot, if not more, without much issue.

The Make It Rain Teams

Possible Two Max And More

Los Angeles Lakers $41,306,960
Dallas Mavericks $41,269,318
Indiana Pacers $35,007,844
Chicago Bulls $31,749,466
Philadelphia 76ers $18,655,796

*** Guaranteed 2018-19 Salary

Every NBA offseason, there are a couple of teams with more cap space than they know what to do with. This summer there looks to be five NBA teams with the ability to get to two full max salary slots.

The LA Lakers are the team everyone is talking about in terms of 2018 salary cap players, but there is a reality that to get to two full max slots the Lakers will have to dump some money, notably the remaining two years and $36.81 million owed to forward Luol Deng beyond this season. It also means players like forward Julius Randle and possibly new signee Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s days are numbered. The Lakers are set up pretty nicely in any eventuality. If the stud free agents they covet opt for other options, the Lakers can always re-sign Pope and pending free agent Brook Lopez if everything plays out well this season.

Unlike previous years where the Laker leadership bet the house on free agency, this Laker regime has multiple options, with what could be as much as $60 million in cap room, depending on how they play their hand.

The Dallas Mavericks will find themselves with a ton of cap cash after not reaching a long-term deal with Nerlens Noel. That situation could re-surface next summer, but given where things seem to be with Noel and the organization, he may not be in the long-term plans unless he really blossoms this season.

Like the Mavericks, the Pacers and Bulls will find themselves with lots of cap cash to play with, by way of tear down trades made this summer. The Bulls continue to be mentioned favorably because of the market size and perceived marketability of the marketplace.

As has been the case for several seasons now, the 76ers could open the 2018-19 free agency period with just $18.655 million in committed cap money. Keep in mind that does not include option years on players like Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes or Justin Anderson. All of those options are going to get picked up, so that is roughly $19.38 million combined. The 76ers will also carry a $27.6 million cap hold on the one-year deal to J.J. Redick and a $13.2 million hold on the one-year Amir Johnson deal.

The Sixers also have two pending free agents in Joel Embiid and Nik Stauskas they have to consider. Word around the NBA is the 76ers and Embiid are talking extension, which could eat into the 76ers space.

Regardless of how the details ultimately play out, the 76ers have plenty of options should a marquee-level free agent want to join the band. In fact, the 76ers could make things interesting for the Lakers if their current young squad actually makes the playoffs, because the 76ers have the money to spend in a Conference that isn’t exactly loaded.

If you are a salary cap junky, you need to make sure you bookmark the Basketball Insiders Salary Cap pages. Our own Eric Pincus powers the most in-depth salary resource found anywhere. We have recently re-designed the tables and pages to make them easier to consume on a tablet or mobile device.

Simply click this link: NBA Team Salaries – By Team. Click the team name in the table for all the team details.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_ and @Ben__Nadeau.

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NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break

After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.

Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.

In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.

As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.

“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.

“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”

But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.

Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.

With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.

Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.

Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.

This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.

“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”

Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.

Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.

Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.

“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”

Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.

“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”

And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.

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NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.

Shane Rhodes

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The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.

On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.

While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.

With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.

For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.

Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.

For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.

The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.

While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.

Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.

For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.

Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.

As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.

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NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge

Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.

Matt John

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Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.

Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.

“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”

Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.

July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists

Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.

“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”

On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.

“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”

Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.

“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”

In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.

“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”

When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.

In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.

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