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NBA AM: Why NBA Teams Can’t Get To Zero

It can be difficult for teams to free up cap space. For the HEAT and Raptors, it’ll require work.

Steve Kyler



Can’t Get To Zero

With the NBA Finals now set and other NBA teams turning their attention to the draft and offseason moves, there is a concept worth bringing up, especially as it pertains to free agent dreams and offseason wishes.

The NBA salary system is complicated. It’s not an easy system to understand and it certainly is not an easy system to manage, which is why NBA teams hire guys specifically to focus on cap management, creative cap accounting and asset generation through cap management.

Why is this important? In July, the NBA is going to see an unprecedented amount of cap space. The rough math today estimates that there may be as much as $1.09 billion available under the salary cap, meaning NBA teams will enter the market with more than  a billion dollars to spend on what amounts to 270 free agents.

Cap space will be plentiful, but accounting for it won’t be as easy as subtracting what a team has on the books in guaranteed money from the final salary cap figure, which gets locked in July after both the NBA and the Players Union finalize their end of season audits.

One thing that is never possible is for a NBA team to get to zero dollars owed. As a cost control mechanism, every team has to account for at least 12 roster spots either in salaries owed, cap holds for free agents or draft picks or what’s called an incomplete roster charge that is equal to the NBA minimum salary.

The salary cap in and of itself is a cost control mechanism. A team is always going to have at least 12 players, so it must always account for them.

Equally as soon as a team is awarded a first-round draft pick, they must account for that salary too, as well as any legacy draft rights and offer sheets they must issue to retain them.

In many cases teams are still carrying free agent cap holds of players long gone from the roster or even the NBA. Like all things related to the cap, everything can be an asset or a liability, depending on how its recorded.

Two teams are entering this offseason with some tough cap choices to make, specifically because they found diamond in the rough free agents that do not have Bird Rights, which would allow the home team to exceed the cap to keep them.

In essence both the HEAT and the Raptors have to fit would-be free agents under the cap, or risk losing them.


Miami has two big problems with their cap situation. The first is that Dwyane Wade has a cap hold of $30 million. The HEAT have to resolve that first in order to create salary cap room for free agent Hassan Whiteside.

They also likely have to part ways with Luol Deng, Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire. The good news is the HEAT can hang on to Tyler Johnson’s rights with a nominal qualifying offer and word is Udonis Haslem is willing to come back at the NBA minimum to finish his career in Miami.

In a best-case scenario, the HEAT can get to about $41.4 million in cap space if they can off-load the contract of Josh McRoberts. That would give them enough room to re-sign Wade and Whiteside, but do little else. Every dollar the HEAT gives to Wade is one less dollar they have in cap space, so balancing what Wade will need with what it will take to re-sign Whiteside is going to be a small challenge – even more so if the HEAT want to add to the roster in a meaningful way.

The HEAT will continue to hope that Chris Bosh can overcome his health situation. The only way he affects their books is if he is ruled medically unable to continue his career, and even if that occurs, the HEAT won’t see any cap savings for one year from his last game played (which was in early February).

There has been this idea of the HEAT using the stretch provision on Bosh’s contract, which on the surface seems very foolish as it would park a $10 plus million cap charge on the HEAT for the next seven years. It would free up about $12 million in additional space now, but that $10 plus million cap charge would linger for a while.


The Toronto Raptors face a similar cap problem with soon-to-be free agent Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors scooped him up on the cheap last year and he has outplayed his option year and is all but guaranteed to be an unrestricted free agent.

Biyombo recently told reporters in Toronto that he would really like to be back with the Raptors next year and felt like they could work out the economics, hinting that he’d give the Raptors a bit of a discount on a new deal.

Like the HEAT, the Raptors likely open the free agent period with no cap space because of cap holds on their free agents. If the Raptors renounce the holds on Luis Scola and James Johnson and Biyombo opts out, the Raptors could get to $4.14 million in space. That’s not going to be enough room to re-sign Biyombo, who could get free agent offers north of $12 to $15 million per season, according to league insiders.

The Raptors do have the luxury of a lower-than-market cap hold on DeMar DeRozan. His hold will count for $15.22 million, despite his maximum salary being well above that, affording the Raptors the chance to create space and sign free agents and do DeRozan’s deal last and exceed the cap using his Bird rights.

In order for the Raptors to get to the kind of cap dollars it’s going to take to keep Biyombo, they are going to have to offload one of their heftier contracts in trade.

If the Raptors trade, say, Terrence Ross and return almost nothing for his salary, they can free up $10 million more. Historically moving cap money is expensive and usually costs a team a future draft pick or a promising young player. The Raptors will carry a $2.17 million hold on the ninth pick. They could trade down and reduce the cap impact of that pick, or they could use that pick to move a salary. They could also move one of their younger guys like a Lucas Nogueira, who is eager to have a role.

If the Raptors move off Ross and Nogueira, as well as renounce holds on Scola and Johnson, the Raptors could get to $15.22 million in usable space, while maintaining the right to exceed the cap on DeRozan. They would also gain the $2.9 million “room” cap exception.

If the Raptors opted to trade center Jonas Valanciunas and Nogueira, with Nogueira being used as the sweetener to move the salary, the Raptors could get to roughly $19.904 million in space, which should be more than enough to re-sign Biyombo and have a little change to add potentially one or two more lower-level players, keep the right to exceed the cap on DeRozan and keep the $2.9 million “room” cap exception.

All of this is of course predicated on the Raptors finding a team willing to take on their cap dollars without sending anything in return and not fleecing the team of other assets, like rookie Delon Wright or the ninth overall pick.

Cap management and accounting is never an easy task, especially for teams with so much money tied up in guaranteed contracts. Managing the cap holds and the incomplete roster charges can make understanding who has cap space a little challenging; imagine what it’s like for the teams actually having to decide which assets to give up on simply to create space.

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, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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


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Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers

Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.

Spencer Davies



The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.

The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.

With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.

Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.

“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.

Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.

Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.

Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.

LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.

“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”

The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.

The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.

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NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start

Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.

Joel Brigham



There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.

“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”

Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.

“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”

That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.

“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”

As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.

“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”

Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.

“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”

He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.

“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”

The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.

“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”

That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.

“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”

Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.

“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”

He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.

Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.

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Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race

Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.

Jesse Blancarte



When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.

More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.

Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.

Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.

He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”

Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.

“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”

Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.

“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”

Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.

“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”

Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).

The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.

When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.

“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.

He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”

There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.

“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”

Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.

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