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
|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.
|Golden State Warriors||$99,601,388|
|New Orleans Pelicans||$91,577,138|
*** Guaranteed 2018-19 Salary
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
|New York Knicks||$68,004,397|
|Los Angeles Clippers||$56,217,995|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||$53,557,222|
|San Antonio Spurs||$52,637,778|
*** 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
|Los Angeles Lakers||$41,306,960|
*** 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.
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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman
Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics.
Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics.
Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?
Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.
Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.
BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?
Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.
BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?
Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.
BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?
Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.
Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.
BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?
Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.
I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.
BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?
Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.
That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.
BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?
Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.
BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?
Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.
BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?
Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.
BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?
Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.
BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?
Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.
The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.
BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.
Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.
BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?
Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.
I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.
BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?
Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.
BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?
Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.
BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?
Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.
Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.
James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture
James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.
James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.
“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”
Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).
Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.
“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”
After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?
“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”
Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.
“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”
While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.
Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?
“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”
Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.
“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.
Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.
NBA Daily: Quincy Pondexter Has Grown With New Orleans
Quincy Pondexter did two stints with New Orleans four years apart, both of which changed his life forever.
By the time the New Orleans Hornets traded for the draft rights to Quincy Pondexter in the summer of 2010, the city was just starting to see some real progress in the reconstruction efforts that followed the half decade after Hurricane Katrina.
In February of that year, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, a victory that the city badly needed, and Pondexter found himself dropped into the sports culture of the league’s most unique city.
Now with the Chicago Bulls, Pondexter would only play in New Orleans for his rookie year before getting dealt to Memphis and signing a multi-year extension, but in late 2014 he was traded back to New Orleans, who had rechristened themselves the Pelicans by that point. He couldn’t believe how much had changed in just four short years.
“You stopped seeing the spray paint on the houses, and the prices start going up on real estate. It was definitely a lot different coming back,” Pondexter told Basketball Insiders. “I remember I had a house there, when I first got there as a rookie, and it was very, very cheap. But when I came back, I had a place probably twice as small for almost double the price. The city had just grown and developed a lot more, especially the downtown areas where you could start seeing buildings being built. You’d start to see the city come back to form, come back to life, and I really, really got to enjoy it my second time.”
That sort of progress was slow to come by 2010, however. Despite five years having passed since the initial devastation of Katrina, New Orleans was finding slow progress toward physical and emotional healing. The team had just moved back to the city full-time a couple of seasons prior after having played a good number of games in Oklahoma City during Louisiana’s recovery, but Pondexter remembers the Hornets giving the people of the city something to root for, too.
“The Saints, when you win a championship, when you’ve been there for years, of course you’re going to be the favorite, but, when the Hornets were part of that, too,” he said. “When you win games, and I had the chance to go to the playoffs with two different stints with them, I think it’s embracing how much the city comes together once you make an achievement like that, and whether you’re at the grocery store, gas station, whatever, people are always going to talk to you about the game of basketball. They don’t talk to you like a fan in New Orleans; they talk to you like a family member. It was really cool to be in a city like that.”
He also admitted that it was exciting to play even a small role in helping New Orleans continue to heal.
“It was a unique experience because the city was rebuilding, and being able to be a part of helping put it back together, it was really special,” he said. “We had an unbelievable star in Chris Paul, and you just don’t realize how much people lean on sports to get through tough times. We bridged that gap, and it was a real unique community to help refurbish the city of New Orleans.”
Coming back four years later, Pondexter had grown up a lot, and while a lot of his next few years with the Pelicans would be plagued by a torrent of medical problems ranging from knee issues to a staph infection, he did get to spend a lot more time in the city after having been there for only a year as a rookie in 2010-2011. That’s when he really fell in love with New Orleans.
“The culture, the melting pot culture, the rich history, it’s so much different from anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I grew up in Fresno, California, went to school at the University of Washington, and New Orleans is just something unique, and I could always say I learned so much from a city like that, about our country, about life, about so many things. About music, about food, about everything in that city, you just really learn so much. It’s a city where you get to put your hair down, and just enjoy being alive.”
Time passes quickly in any NBA career, but playing two times for one team several years apart can’t help but give a person some perspective, which is what it has done for Quincy Pondexter.
“You grow up, you learn the game of basketball, you learn a lot about yourself, and you see what you want in life more,” he said. “I think that was a really big pivotal moment in my life, one I’ll never ever forget.”