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NBA AM: Who Should Have Serious 2016 Cap Space?

The NBA’s salary cap is set to explode in value next season, but who will have the most cap cash to play with in free agency?… Is Dario Saric ready for the NBA?

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Looking Ahead to 2016’s Cap Space:  In the next year, the NBA is going to see perhaps the largest jump in the salary cap in its 32-year history. The cap has swelled in recent years from $35.5 million in 2000 to what could be as much as $89.5 million or more next July, which would be a $19.5 million jump from this year’s $70 million cap line.

While actually projecting future cap space is not easy, there are dozens of variables that impact a team’s cap space such as which players a team opts to retain rights to, which team options get exercised and what kinds of cap clearing trades a team makes between now and the trade deadline.

However, Basketball Insiders’ salary cap guru Eric Pincus has been adding cap space projections to the individual team salary pages, and it seemed prudent to take a look at what kind of space teams have next summer, assuming they keep everything they currently have on their books right now.

Again, it’s important to note that these cap space projections reflect teams keeping everything they currently have on the books and do not reflect cap holds for pending free agents, which could radically impact these numbers.

Franchise 2016 Total Salary 2016 Cap Room
Los Angeles Lakers $32,832,396 $56,667,604
Philadelphia 76ers $37,487,358 $52,012,642
Charlotte Hornets $45,640,861 $43,859,139
Memphis Grizzlies $53,937,140 $35,562,860
Portland Trail Blazers $58,086,856 $31,413,144
Washington Wizards $60,352,183 $29,147,817
Milwaukee Bucks $60,873,898 $28,626,102
Atlanta Hawks $61,248,989 $28,251,011
Indiana Pacers $61,566,956 $27,933,044
Utah Jazz $62,443,346 $27,056,654
Brooklyn Nets $62,583,851 $26,916,149
Boston Celtics $65,072,273 $24,427,727
Detroit Pistons $65,546,595 $23,953,405
Phoenix Suns $66,709,887 $22,790,113
Dallas Mavericks $66,872,382 $22,627,618
New Orleans Pelicans $67,132,770 $22,367,230
Denver Nuggets $67,221,447 $22,278,553
Sacramento Kings $68,119,512 $21,380,488
Orlando Magic $70,279,298 $19,220,702
New York Knicks $71,200,065 $18,299,935
Chicago Bulls $74,375,045 $15,124,955
Oklahoma City Thunder $76,171,890 $13,328,110
Minnesota Timberwolves $77,375,127 $12,124,873
Toronto Raptors $80,820,912 $8,679,088
Cleveland Cavaliers $87,441,305 $2,058,695
Houston Rockets $87,860,888 $1,639,112
San Antonio Spurs $88,155,780 $1,344,220

As things stand today, the Lakers could have the most cap space of any team in the league with just $38.832 million in cap commitments; however, that figure includes qualifying offers on player like Jabari Brown, Tarik Black and Jordan Clarkson as well as a non-guaranteed deal for Jonathan Holmes. The Lakers could get even more space by passing on some of those players.

The biggest wrinkle for the Lakers is the future of Kobe Bryant, who will have a $26.25 million cap hold until the Lakers either sign him to a deal or renounce his rights. Bryant has said he won’t make a decision on his future until after the upcoming season, which puts a huge chunk of the Lakers’ potential cap space on hold, unless the Lakers want to cut ties with Bryant.

Another big block of future cap for the Lakers will be tied up in center Roy Hibbert’s cap hold, which is $23.388 million. Like Bryant, the Lakers must renounce Hibbert or sign him to a new deal to remove that hold.

The Grizzlies face a similar cap hold situations with forward Jeff Green ($14.325 million), guard Courtney Lee ($8.512 million) and point guard Mike Conley ($14.382 million). They too could have a substantial amount of cap space once they deal with their cap holds.

With marquee players such as Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Houston’s Dwight Howard and Atlanta’s Al Horford all expected to hit free agency in July, having ample cap space will likely become a focal point for some teams, especially if their season starts to slip away. A ballooning cap may impact how that plays out too, as the appetite for taking on salary in trade, especially for teams in the hunt for a championship should be higher as may be the willingness to take on a larger longer-term salary from a team looking to create more space.

In short, with a number of game-changing stars potentially hitting the market next July and plenty of teams with money to spend, this could make a for a busy trade season, especially as the pecking order of the NBA starts to shake itself out.

Saric Ready For The 76ers?:  There has been considerable debate on the future of Philadelphia 76ers draft pick Dario Saric. Just prior to the draft in 2014, Saric signed a multi-year deal with Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League, basically ensuring he would not be in the NBA for at least two years. During pre-draft interviews, Saric hinted that he would likely be ready for the NBA in 2016, but there have been conflicting reports suggesting Saric may wait until he can by-pass the NBA Rookie scale and receive a larger NBA payday.

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, first-round draft picks are tied to the Rookie Scale contract system for the first three years after being drafted, but in the fourth year they can be signed using cap exceptions or cap space to get a larger deal. A few draft and stash players have cashed in on this loophole, most recently Chicago Bulls big man Nikola Mirotić.

Given the financial gains for Saric, it’s been assumed that the earliest he’d end up in the NBA would be in 2017; however in a recent interview with a Croatian news outlet, Saric hinted that he may come over next season.

It’s believed that Saric’s buyout with Anadolu Efes is just under $1 million USD, of which the 76ers can pay upwards of $675,000 toward the buyout so the cost to Saric is fairly nominal in the grand scheme and could be negotiated downward, as is fairly common.

Saric has hinted a few times since the draft that if he wanted to leave for the NBA, it could be worked out. It seems that he may be closer to that point than some had expected, which means the Sixers could add another promising young player next season regardless of how their current season plays out.

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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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