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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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors
Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.
As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.
Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.
Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.
Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.
When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.
“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”
Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.
Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.
In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.
“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”
It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”
“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.
Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors
Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions
Opening week is finally upon us.
Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.
The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.
In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.
Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.
But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.
The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.
What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.
That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.
Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.
Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.
Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.
It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.
As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.
Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.
Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.
Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.
The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.
Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.
The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.
See you at tip-off.
NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season
NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.
The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.
In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.
Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.
New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:
- Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
- A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
- A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
- Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
- Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
- NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.
Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:
- Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
- Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
- NBA Team Pass: $119.99
- Single Game Pass: $6.99
- Virtual Reality package: $49.99
- Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
- Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
- NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99
As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).
This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.
Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.