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NBA PM: How Holds, Rights Affect the Cap

Salary cap guru Eric Pincus explains how cap holds and player rights affect an NBA team’s salary cap.

Eric Pincus

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In July, the NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump from the current $70 million to $92 million, dramatically increasing spending power throughout the league.

Most teams will be armed with cap room, but to project how much exactly will take more than just looking at the salaries of players under contract for the 2016-17 season.

A variety of cap holds factor into a team’s salary.  Some can be removed via renouncement, others are set in stone.

Empty Roster Charges

In fact, a team with absolutely no players has 12 cap holds at next season’s rookie minimum of $543,471.  That’s a total of just under $6 million, which would give a team with no players $86 million in space under a $92 million cap.

The logic behind 12 empty roster charges has to do with the regular-season minimum of 13 players on the roster.  The idea is: what is the absolute most available to that 13th player, if everyone else on the roster is making the least a team can possibly spend?

Of course, no teams have zero players this summer, but they will have empty roster charges to reach 12.

Actual Salaries

A players’ salary counts against the cap, with any incentives earned in 2015-16 considered “likely” for 2016-17.  Unlikely incentives do not go against a team’s cap.

The Indiana Pacers have 11 players under contract for next season.  While both Glenn Robinson III and Shayne Whittington are non-guaranteed, their salaries go against the cap unless waived.

The Pacers have $59.3 million in salaries, and one empty roster charge, leaving $32.2 million in space.

Cutting Whittington would reduce the team’s salary by $980,431, less than an empty roster charge ($543,471) – giving the Pacers just an extra $436,960 in cap space.

First-Round Salary Scale

The Indiana example is not entirely complete.  The team also holds the No. 20 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Until a first-rounder is signed, their base salary, as defined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, is their cap hold for the team.

In most cases, first rounders will sign for the maximum of 120 percent of their scale salary.  Once they do sign, that becomes their cap number.

For the Pacers, their pick has a cap hold of $1.3 million, which takes the place of the aforementioned empty roster charge.

Instead, with 11 rostered players and the draft pick, Indiana has $61.1 million in salary with $31.4 million in cap space.

If a drafted player agrees not to sign for the entire season, in writing, that cap hold can be removed from the books.  The pick can also be renounced outright (an extremely rare occurrence in the first round).

Unsigned second-round picks do not take up any cap space.  In fact, they can be signed at the rookie minimum in place of empty roster charges, without reducing cap room.

Exceptions

Teams over the cap can use a variety of exceptions including the Mid-Level ($5.6 million for 2016-17), Bi-Annual ($2.2 million) and any Trade or Disabled Player Exceptions that may have been generated.

Teams can renounce their exceptions or elect to hold onto them to stay over the cap, although they automatically evaporate if the team is unable to reach the salary cap.

With the Pacers, if they would add the Mid-Level and Bi-Annual to their cap figure, it would take the place of any empty roster charges.

The revised total would be $68.4 million in salary.  Since the team would still be $23.6 million under the cap, the exceptions would automatically expire.

Before they do, free agent cap holds needs to be added to the puzzle.

Free Agents

Teams can spend up to the salary cap but they can also go over the to re-sign their own players.

To do so, the team must account for their own free agent with a cap hold – the number based on their previous year’s salary and the players’ rights.

Players with Non-Bird Rights, after one season with their team, have a cap hold of 120 percent of their previous salary – the maximum a team can pay without using either cap room or an additional exception.

Should Arron Afflalo opt out his contract with the New York Knicks, his cap hold will be $9.6 million – 120 percent of his $8 million salary.

For Early Bird Rights, after two seasons, the cap hold formula is 130 percent.  Players can sign up to 175 percent of their previous salary, or 104.5 percent of the league’s average salary (the exact figure won’t be computed until the end of the July moratorium).

Marvin Williams’ Early Bird cap hold with the Charlotte Hornets, based on his $7 million salary, is $9.1 million.

Full Bird Rights are more complex.  While players can be paid up to the maximum (with the amount determined by years of service), their cap hold is based on the “estimated” average salary, which is currently set at $5.7 million.

Additionally, first-round picks coming off their first contract are treated differently than other free agents.

For first-rounders, if they earned less than the estimated average salary, their cap hold is 250 percent of their previous salary.

Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards had a salary of $5.69 million for 2015-16.  His cap hold this summer is $14.2 million.

If a first-rounder earned the estimated average salary or higher, their cap hold is 200 percent of their previous salary.  No one in the 2012 draft class fits this criterion this past summer. Had Beal earned an additional $44,326 last season, he would have reached the estimated average salary, and his cap hold would have shrunk to roughly $11.5 million.

For players with Bird Rights, who are not first-round picks coming off their first contracts, the percentages are 190 percent for those below the estimated average salary and 150 percent for those above.

Al Horford’s cap hold, with the Atlanta Hawks, will be $18 million – 150 percent of his $12 million earned last season.

Courtney Lee’s cap hold, with the Charlotte Hornets, will be $10.8 million – 190 percent of his $5.7 million earned last season.

Rights transfer via trade, in most cases.  A player’s cap hold will not be more than the maximum salary for the coming season.

A player on a minimum contract works differently; their cap hold is the minimum whether they have Non-Bird, Early Bird or Full Bird rights.

Once that player re-inks, their actual salary is their cap hold; if they are renounced, or leave for another team, their hold comes off completely.

As if it wasn’t already complex, there are other caveats, like declined first-round options, non-first round restricted free agents, and starter criteria that add further wrinkles to computing a players’ cap hold.

Pacers forward Solomon Hill’s option was declined, making his cap hold the $2.3 million he would have made had the team taken the option.

Undrafted Miami HEAT guard Tyler Johnson has a cap hold of $1.2 million, provided Miami makes him restricted with a qualifying offer before July.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson will have a $2.7 million cap hold once he receives a qualifying offer – based on the number of games he started, and minutes played, last season.

Until a team renounces a players’ rights, they have a cap hold.  The Oklahoma City Thunder still have a cap hold for Derek Fisher at a minimum salary of $980,431 for next season.  Renouncing is strictly a clerical task, but by and large, teams don’t take that step until necessary.

Waived Players

The Los Angeles Clippers previously waived and stretched out the salaries of Carlos Delfino, Jordan Farmar and Miroslav Raduljica.

Combined, the team’s trio of former players will take up $1.4 million in cap space.

Example: Pacers’ Cap Position

At the last tally, the Pacers had $68.4 million in salary, including the Mid-Level and Bi-Annual Exceptions.

Indiana also has Non-Bird rights on Jordan Hill, who earned $4 million last season, yielding a cap hold of $4.8 million.

Ian Mahinmi also made $4 million, but with Bird Rights, his cap hold is $7.6 million.

Ty Lawson’s hold is just the minimum at $980,431.  Solomon Hill’s cap hold was previously listed as $2.3 million.

All-inclusive, the Pacers reach just $84.1 million in team salary, which is $7.9 million below the cap.  Since the team is under, they will lose their Mid-Level and Bi-Annual Exceptions, reducing their total to $76.2 million with $15.8 million in spending power.

Indiana can max out their space by waving Robinson and Whittington, while also renouncing their free agents.  The team can also look to draft a player who agrees to stay overseas for a year.

If so, the Pacers would have nine players with three empty roster charges of $543,471 each, $58.9 million in team salary and $33.1 million in cap room.

Perhaps more realistically, the team might keep Robinson, Whittington, along with Mahinmi’s cap hold and will draft a player at No. 20 to join the team immediately.

That combination would give the Pacers $23.8 million in cap space, slightly under the projected maximum ($25.9 million) for players with seven-to-nine years of NBA experience (like guard Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley).

Waiving Robinson and Whittington pushes that space up to $25.3 million, but the Pacers wouldn’t have to make those decisions until they actually have a free agent commitment that requires additional space.

The Pacers can also look to make trades to open up more spending power.  Player buyouts can also be an option.

Should Indiana find a taker for what could be roughly $25 million in spending power, they would then have the ability to go over the cap to re-sign Mahinmi to a contract starting above his $7.6 million cap hold.

Finally, once teams like the Pacers go over the cap, they gain the $2.9 million Room Exception to sign player(s) for a maximum of two seasons.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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