The maximum salary a team can pay a specific player in free agency is based on their years of service in the NBA.
With the current salary cap of $63.1 million, the league has three maximum tiers. For players with up to six years’ experience, they can earn up to $14.7 million in the first year of a new contract; seven to nine max at $17.7 million; 10-years or more allows for up to $20.6 million.
The NBA projects the salary cap will climb to $67.4 million for the 2015-16 season, bumping the max numbers to approximately $15.8 million, $18.9 million and $22.1 million.
The league also has a new national television deal kicking in for the 2016-17 season, which is now projected to raise the salary cap to $90 million, along with maximum salaries to roughly $21.0 million, $25.3 million and $29.5 million.
Players, and certainly their agents, are well aware of the expected jump, which could have a significant impact on contracts this summer. Many may choose to sign a “one-and-one” deal, a two-year contract with a player opt-out before the second — allowing them in turn to take home a more lucrative, long-term deal in 2016.
The NBA and players may also opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017, leading to a new set of rules (eventually) that will likely impact salary structure — making the timing of the 2016 goldmine even more vital for players.
The following is a list of many of the top free agents over the next couple of years, and where they land among the maximum-salary tiers:
2015-16 Bottom Tier (~$15.8 Million)
Kawhi Leonard (restricted free agent), Danny Green – San Antonio Spurs
Greg Monroe, Reggie Jackson (RFA) – Detroit Pistons
Jimmy Butler (RFA) – Chicago Bulls
Draymond Green (RFA) – Golden State Warriors
Enes Kanter (RFA) – Oklahoma City Thunder
Tobias Harris (RFA) – Orlando Magic
Brandon Knight (RFA) – Phoenix Suns
Wesley Matthews – Portland Trail Blazers
Omer Asik – New Orleans Pelicans
2015-16 Middle Tier (~$18.9 Million)
Kevin Love (player option) – Cleveland Cavaliers
Marc Gasol, Jeff Green (PO) – Memphis Grizzlies
LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo (PO) – Portland Trail Blazers
DeAndre Jordan – Los Angeles Clippers
Goran Dragic (PO) – Miami HEAT
Roy Hibbert – Indiana Pacers (PO)
Rajon Rondo – Dallas Mavericks
Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 Top Tier (~$22.1 Million)
LeBron James (PO) – Cleveland Cavaliers
Dwyane Wade (PO), Luol Deng (PO) – Miami HEAT
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili – San Antonio Spurs
Monta Ellis (PO), Tyson Chandler – Dallas Mavericks
Al Jefferson (PO) – Charlotte Hornets
Amir Johnson – Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Bottom Tier (~$21.0 Million)
Anthony Davis (RFA) – New Orleans Pelicans
Damian Lillard (RFA) – Portland Trail Blazers
Andre Drummond (RFA) – Detroit Pistons
Hassan Whiteside – Miami HEAT
Bradley Beal (RFA) – Washington Wizards
Harrison Barnes (RFA) – Golden State Warriors
Jonas Valanciunas (RFA) – Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Middle Tier (~$25.3 Million)
Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls
Al Horford – Atlanta Hawks
Mike Conley – Memphis Grizzlies
DeMar DeRozan (PO) – Toronto Raptors
Danilo Gallinari – Denver Nuggets
Ryan Anderson – New Orleans Pelicans
Brandon Jennings – Detroit Pistons
Nicolas Batum – Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 Top Tier (~$29.5 Million)
Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers
Dwight Howard (PO) – Houston Rockets
Pau Gasol (PO) – Chicago Bulls
Nene – Washington Wizards
Joe Johnson, Deron Williams (early termination option) – Brooklyn Nets
Patient Tier Jumpers?
A one-year deal (or one-and-one) for players like Aldridge, Millsap or Rondo this summer will make either eligible for a jump to the top tier in 2016.
The same can be said of Danny Green and Matthews, although neither are likely to get max offers.
Brook Lopez and Love can both wait a year to take advantage of the higher cap, but will stay middle-tier max players for either summer.
Note that if a player is finishing a contract above the league maximum, they can sign a new contract with a five percent bump in pay, even if it’s over the next season’s max.
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