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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NBA Daily: With Harden in Tow, it’s Championship or Bust for Brooklyn
Adding another former MVP to an already talented Nets team means higher expectations in Kings County. Drew Maresca identifies the major challenges remaining for the Brooklyn Nets.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you already know that the Brooklyn Nets pulled off what will go down as the blockbuster deal of 2020-21. Just last week, the Nets added James Harden for Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and future draft swaps and picks. While the deal was more complicated than even that sounds, the fact of the matter is that the Nets added another superstar– and you know what they say, the team that gives up the star rarely wins the trade.
With Harden in tow, the Nets are now equipped to compete with anyone in the NBA thanks to its newly-minted big three. But there is a downside to the Harden deal, too. The Nets entered the season with incredible depth. But after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a knee injury and trading away LeVert, Rodions Kurucs and Allen, they’ve thinned out, probably too much, for their own comfort.
The Nets’ depth is an issue that will be challenging to solve. What’s more, how will they arrange Kyrie Irving and Harden to get the most production out of them? And how does rookie head coach Steve Nash respond to the first-time challenges of overseeing a championship-caliber team?
Regardless, our first look at the Nets was pretty darn impressive. Brooklyn beat the Orlando Magic on Saturday, getting 42 points from Kevin Durant and a 30-point triple-double from Harden that also included 14 assists. The Nets will boast one of the league’s most talented starting lineups once Irving returns– which could happen as soon as today – but don’t be fooled, there are still challenges on the horizon, and they’re all internal.
How do Irving and Harden fit together?
Harden might look like a shooting guard and Irving is obviously a point guard, but that doesn’t mean that they fit together. Harden is at his best initiating the offense, and since joining Houston in 2012-13, he hasn’t posted a usage rate lower than 27.8 but has gotten as high as 40.5 (2018-19). Further, he’s averaged 9.5 assists or more in each of the last five seasons, tallying at least 10 assists per game in three of the last five. While his style is clearly isolation-heavy, it looks like he’s finally willing to take a bit of a backseat now that he’s playing alongside his buddy and former-MVP in Durant.
Irving is another player high-usage player, with a usage rate of 30 or more in four of the past five seasons. While he looks more like a traditional point guard than Harden, his career totals don’t necessarily back that up. Unlike Harden, Irving has never averaged 10 assists per game. He averages only 5.7 assists per game for his career with a high of 6.9 in Boston during 2018-19.
Maybe the solution is letting Irving play off the ball. But there’s a problem with that initiative, will Irving accept it? Irving hasn’t been heard from since leaving the team for personal reasons following the Jan. 6 event in Washington D.C. Has his absence been a social commentary? Was it a power play forcing Brooklyn’s hand to trade for Harden? Or maybe it’s all enigmatic of a bigger personal problem with which Irving is dealing? Only time will tell, but Brooklyn can’t be too comfortable – unless they already know the answer.
Lack of depth is a problem
Obviously, the Nets are more than Durant, Harden and Irving. But do they have enough to get over the hump? After all, fair or not, it’s championship or bust. Yes, the Nets also have Joe Harris, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan. And, sure, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has been a great surprise, while lots will be expected of Landry Shamet. But that’s it.
There’s also Nic Claxton, but there are two main problems with expecting significant contributions from him – Nash said he isn’t expected back soon and he’s extremely untested. Sure, Claxton is talented, having drawn comparisons to Chris Bosh, but he only appeared in 15 games during his rookie season, averaging just 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds over 12.5 minutes of action.
But the idea that the Nets are undermanned is about more than a missing piece. Firstly, the Nets don’t have a reliable scorer in the second unit. If Dinwiddie were healthy, they’d be in significantly better shape with him anchoring the second team. Granted, if managed correctly and everyone stays healthy, one of Irving, Durant and Harden will be on the floor at all times. But it’s impossible to ensure that health will prevail and Irving hasn’t even rejoined the team yet, so there is deeper uncertainty around their rotation and the fit for now.
Focusing on health for a moment, we’re still dead smack in the middle of a pandemic. And in 2020-21, teams can’t operate under traditional norms. Losing a player to COVID would do the Nets a huge disservice, losing two or three nearly renders them unable to play. But more importantly, losing any one of their big three hurts badly and changes the entire makeup of the team. The Nets are incredibly top-heavy and once they establish chemistry amongst their three stars, proceeding without one would of them will be a major hindrance. Losing two of them would be a death blow.
Nash’s first rodeo
On top of all of the team’s issues, Nash is in his first season as a head coach – or even being a part of any coaching staff whatsoever.
Throughout his 18-year career, Nash developed a reputation as an extremely high-IQ player – but how will that convert to leading a team from the sideline with such high expectations? Granted, he knew exactly what was expected of the Nets when he accepted the position – but the Harden trade comes even more pressure.
As of the deal, the Nets became easily the most polarizing team in the association. Even before adding another former MVP, the Nets did their best to better position Nash by adding two-tie Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni to their bench, which already featured an experienced assistant in Jacque Vaughn. But while the team may have a disproportionately accomplished coaching staff, all of the questions will be directed squarely at Nash come the playoffs and beyond.
For what it is worth, rookie coaches have fared pretty well of late. While it might not affect the Nets directly, three of the nine rookie coaches to go on to win a championship in their first season did so in the past six seasons – Steve Kerr, Ty Lue and Nick Nurse. While no two coaches are the same, the fact that rookie coaches have been so successful of late speaks to the idea that teams are doing a better job of identifying raw coaching talent – and Nash is as raw as it comes.
It’s hard to find fault in Brooklyn’s desire to add Harden and the fact that they just added another top-five player to an already insanely-talented roster is flat-out unfair. But now the bar has forever changed: anything less than an NBA Finals’ appearance will be judged as a failure, even that could be deemed an underperformance. While greater expectations mean you’re closer to success in the NBA, the team also ponied up its future through 2026.
Good luck, Brooklyn, no pressure.
NBA Daily: First Time All-Star Watch
From Christian Wood to Jaylen Brown, these are the breakout players reaching for their first-ever All-Star appearances.
In this feature for Basketball Insiders, we will take a look at players who have started hot out of the gate, and have vastly improved. The article will touch upon new faces in new roles, as well as players who have expanded their previous roles with their teams. The league has a pretty good amount of guys who have earned All-Star appearances previously in their careers, but the players in this article are ready to add their name to the list 𑁋 so without further ado 𑁋 let’s take a look at five players who are cementing their names around the league.
To the casual fan, Christian Wood is having a huge surprise season. But for the people who had him on their radar, and knew he could succeed with more minutes and a larger role, you were right. The 25-year-old began his journeyman career with the Philadelphia 76ers as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV. He then played for the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit Pistons and now the Houston Rockets. In his first 10 games this year, he is putting up 23.2 points per game to go along with 10.9 rebounds per game and 1.9 blocks per game, per NBA.com. This is a major improvement for a guy who only averaged 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year as a rotational player for the Pistons. Wood’s remarkable season thus far has put the league on notice and shown he is the clear frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award.
In his seventh season, Julius Randle has finally become a star in the Big Apple for the New York Knicks. Randle spent the first five seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, before signing with the Knicks before the 2019-20 season. This year, Randle has taken the lead role on the team becoming an above-average facilitator, while also raising his shooting percentages and totals.
According to Basketball-Reference, Randle is having a career-best season so far averaging 23.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, and 6.7 assists per game along with shooting 50.2 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from three and 78.2 percent from the free-throw line 𑁋 all career highs. Randle’s play helped the Knicks get off to a 5-3 start before a recent five-game losing skid. Randle’s ascension as a player, as well as providing Knicks fans with a glimmer of hope, make him a good bet to represent the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game this season if there is such an event.
Yes, CJ is the well-known sidekick to Damian Lillard for the Portland Trail Blazers, but this season has seen him steal some of the spotlights. Through the first 12 games of the season, McCollum has three 30-point games –including a 44-point and 8-assist performance against the Rockets – plus another 37-point outing to boot. His per-game numbers increased in points, assists, steals and three-point percentage, thus resulting in a very impressive 27.6 PPG, 5.3 APG, 1.4 SPG and 43.4 percent from deep.
McCollum has done enough as a player to this point to establish himself as an above-average player in the NBA – but with the way he’s playing this year, he could be in line for his first All-Star selection. The lethal backcourt of Lillard and McCollum has led to a hot start this year – but the injury bug continues to haunt the team again this year. Already, they’ve lost Jusuf Nurkic for eight weeks and potentially now McCollum with a left foot sprain too, per Chris Haynes.
The Detroit Pistons made a really good decision to bring in free agent Jerami Grant on a three-year deal. The 6-foot-8 small forward has been putting up career-best numbers and his play for the Denver Nuggets during their Western Conference Finals run at the bubble helped get him this deservedly big contract. In the team’s first 12 games this season, Grant is averaging 24.8 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game, while also improving his free throw percentage and shot-creating opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s likely that he’ll miss out on any real All-Star chatter, given his place on one of the worst teams in the league – but the all-around improvement is there.
Jaylen Brown, the former third overall pick out of California, has molded himself into a star this season for the Boston Celtics. Brown’s improvement has been no secret around the league, especially after an Eastern Conference Finals run this past season – but this year he looks like he belongs up there with the best. Brown has been relentless in taking the ball to the rim and using his body to create contact when going up. He has also boosted his points per game from 20.3 to 25.8, while also adding more assists to his game with 3.9 per game. Brown should be a first-time All-Star this season with the Celtics currently sitting atop the conference.
These players are all having breakout seasons and have well-earned consideration for their first All-Star appearances this year. Of course, the game is not happening this year with the pandemic, but the players will still be recognized and added to the history books for their achievements, so the honor remains large all the same. Whether they make it or not is yet to be determined – but with the sample size of games played to date, they’re right in the conversation.
NBA Daily: Are the 76ers a Legit Contender?
Do the Philadelphia 76ers have the roster necessary to compete for a title? Basketball Insiders’ Quinn Davis goes in-depth on one of the league’s most polarizing teams.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are no strangers to a spirited discussion at their expense. In each of the last three seasons, fans and pundits alike have wrangled over their potential as a championship-winning duo. Different sects have formed, sometimes resembling political parties in their rigid viewpoints.
The arguments branch off into granular takes on things like the viability of an offensive engine that can’t run a pick-and-roll, but they center around a simple question — can Embiid and Simmons be the two best players on a championship team?
Since their partnership came to be, the Philadelphia 76ers have been a playoff lock, but they have yet to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Their 2018-19 iteration was one Kawhi Leonard shot away from the third round (and potentially more), but that team featured Jimmy Butler who handled much of the team’s offensive burden.
Their fourth season together may bring the most clarity on that all-important question. General Manager Daryl Morey used the short offseason to reconfigure the roster, finding shooters and drafting a ball-handler to maximize the duo’s strengths while mitigating their weaknesses. And the early returns have been promising; the team is off to a solid 9-5 start, with two of those losses coming with half of the roster out due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. In fact, the team is undefeated when all five of the usual starters are active, albeit against a weak schedule.
Still, many question whether the current roster can compete when defenses tighten in the postseason. The obvious comparison is the 2017-18 version of the 76ers when Simmons and Embiid were surrounded solely by shooters like JJ Redick, Marco Bellinelli and Robert Covington. That team went on a 16-game winning streak to end the regular season but faltered in the second round of playoffs, as the lack of ball-handling outside of Simmons led to the team’s demise.
A few of those doubters might even exist within Philadelphia’s front office. The team was reportedly very close to sending Simmons and other assets to the Houston Rockets for James Harden. The aggressiveness pursuing the star guard would seem to confirm the reservations about the team’s current duo.
But, with Harden now playing for a fellow Eastern Conference contender, those reservations no longer matter. And the road to a title is now just a bit harder.
All of this leads to the important question: is Philadelphia, as currently constructed, a true title contender? With the evidence we have available — or lack thereof — the answer would have to be no. There is just too much uncertainty to place the 76ers into the inner circle alongside the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and maybe even the Los Angeles Clippers.
That said, this team can join that group. And some early-season trends foster hope for a leap to true contention.
The success of the starting lineup has come largely on the back of Embiid’s dominance this season. The big man’s efficiency is way up — so far, he’s shot at a career-high mark from every area of the court. His 39 percent three-point shooting in particular has been a major addition to his all-around game.
Outside of the hot shooting, Embiid looks fit and motivated as well. He’s taken on a huge role offensively while still managing to anchor one of the NBA’s top defenses. Philadelphia has crushed teams when he’s on the court — and nearly collapses whenever he rests.
Embiid has also significantly improved his passing. While his assist numbers are mostly stagnant, it is clear on tape that Embiid has lost little sweat over a constant stream of double teams. Meanwhile, the shooting around him has given Embiid space inside and the confidence that a pass out will not only reach it’s intended target, but could lead to the best possible outcome for the team.
It’s still early, so whether he can keep it up remains to be seen. That said, if the 76ers are now led by an MVP candidate rather than another run-of-the-mill All-Star, it would bode well for this group to advance further than ever before.
Similarly encouraging has been the play of Shake Milton. Milton has provided a huge boost off the bench, scoring 17 points per game on 62 percent true shooting.
If Milton is truly a sixth man of the year candidate — and, right now, he is — it could solve one of Phialdelphia’s biggest question marks; the lack of a secondary creator around Embiid. The team is currently posting a robust 1.17 points per possession when Milton handles the ball in a pick-and-roll, per NBA.com. That number falls in the 90th percentile league-wide.
While many had hoped that Simmons would evolve into a player who could create offense in crunch-time situations, his game has yet to allow for that dimension. That isn’t to say that the 76ers would be better off trading Simmons for the first decent guard they can find, though; Simmons is still extremely valuable and someone who can drive winning basketball even if it’s in unconventional ways.
The best role for Simmons is that of a supercharged Draymond Green. In the half-court he would mostly be tasked with setting screens and cutting rather than serving as on offensive initiator, ceding that duty to Milton or perhaps the hot-shot rookie, Tyrese Maxey. It would avoid Simmons’ biggest weaknesses, but it would still allow him to leave his mark on the game by dominating on the defensive end, rampaging down the court in transition and zipping passes to open shooters.
In fact, having Simmons initiate less of the offense has already paid dividends. When Milton has played with the starters in the place of Danny Green, Philadelphia has outscored opponents by 60 points per 100 possessions, posting on an offensive rating of 143.1, per Cleaning the Glass. Those numbers are clearly unsustainable — that lineup has played just 65 possessions together — but it’s a sign that having a pick-and-roll creator alongside Simmons and Embiid may work wonders for an offense that could struggle against a set defense, particularly in the playoffs.
If the team doesn’t want to bank on the internal improvement of Embiid and Milton, then it may still look to improve the roster via trade.
Of course, Harden would have been their best bet, but a name to watch here might be the newest Rocket: Victor Oladipo. A solid defender with some serious pick-and-roll prowess, Oladipo could be a perfect fit alongside the nominal starters. It’s unclear whether Houston would be open to moving Oladipo, who is 29-years-old and on an expiring contract with no promise of staying with the team long-term. If he isn’t a part of the Rockets’ plan for the future, Philadelphia could certainly offer an interesting package to try and bring him in.
Bigger names could also become available. Bradley Beal’s name will continue to be mentioned as long as the Washington Wizards continue to struggle. Kyle Lowry could be another option if the Toronto Raptors can’t right the ship and decide their run is over. Both of those are highly unlikely but, in a league where circumstances change by the hour, anything is possible.
The 76ers have flaws to figure out. The play of Simmons has been somewhat concerning thus far. But, when everyone has been available, the team has looked elite.
And, while that small-sample size isn’t enough to lump them in with the best of the best, Philadelphia’s potential paths to get to the top of the NBA are more plentiful and plausible than they were six months ago.