It has been reported in recent weeks that the NBA salary cap will rise by roughly $5 million this off-season,1 which is about $1 million higher than previous projections. This may not sound like much, but with a marquee free agent or two on the market, some teams will need every bit of that cap space to have a chance at making offers worthy of attention for these free agents.
You won’t see teams like the Lakers in the five most interesting teams with cap space in the 2014 NBA free agency period, despite their immense amount of it. But that is exactly why they are so uninteresting. They have so much cap space and so much need.2 The Lakers will likely offer Melo the max, and they’ll likely be a contender for him.
Here are the five most interesting teams based on their ability, needs and cap space heading into the 2014 NBA off-season.
5. Toronto Raptors – Projected Total Salary: $41,380,4603
Let’s get the math out of the way first, skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to see man behind the curtain. If you look at the HoopsHype page, you’ll see that the Raptors have two team-options to consider, Amir Johnson and John Salmons, both at $7 million. Both seem fairly self-evident, Johnson will be exercised while Salmons likely will not. Now the Raps have $34,380,460. Take off Dwight Buycks4 and they sit at $33,563,978. Add in their draft pick hold5 and we can “finalize” their total salary going into free agency at $34,738,178. FINALLY, we can project the cap space to be $28,461,822. Don’t worry, we will just do the math without you for the rest, but for anyone that is interested, I wanted the steps to be available.
Projected Cap Space: $28,461,822
The first major decision, point guard Kyle Lowry. After becoming an 18 pts/game scorer to go along with 7.4 assists/game from average-to-better three-point shooter for a paltry $6.21 million this season, Lowry is likely looking for a raise. It seems apparent that Lowry will be looking to get more than the 4-year, $28 million that Jose Calderon got from Dallas. His up-and-down playoffs may make that a bit of an issue, but DeMar DeRozan’s presence also makes things interesting as I could see Lowry’s value rising to the $9.5 million/year level if other teams get involved.
Let’s pencil him in for the high end just to see what happen. With a $10 million/year Lowry, the Raps sit with about $18,461,822 in cap space remaining. Do I think they could lure Carmelo Anthony north of the border? Hell no. But stranger things have happened. The need to take less than the max, the change of country and the increased taxes, for multiple reasons, would make it a difficult sell. However, this is a young, rising team that could give Carmelo the chance to be the scoring leader and still control the ball at times, an option he may not be granted on other teams. If the Raps let Lowry walk, they can sign Melo outright, an easier sell, but a riskier one as well.
Another interesting addition would be that of small forward Luol Deng. A true lead by example type as opposed to the Anthony lead by scoring the most points type. DeRozan is a bit of a swing wing player, but a true small forward with defensive stopper potential would be critical to take the next step in the east and stop players like Melo, LeBron and Joe Johnson. Deng could likely be signed for between $10-$14 million/year.
4. Dallas Mavericks – Projected Total Salary: $26,556,2356
That’s their projected total salary…not their cap space. Without the gory math, that’s a lot of cap space; $36,643,765 to be exact. It seems like the Mavericks and Mark Cuban are perennial players in free agency, despite never landing that marquee free agent they covet.
Projected Cap Space: $36,643,765
This is a mirage as Dirk Nowitzki is not included in this assessment, his contract runs out this season, and he will be back. The issue is that there is an enormous range of what Dirk may make on his next contract. He is likely still worth north of $18 million/year and would get that on the open market. But fellow Texas based forward/center, Tim Duncan, creates an interesting case. Dirk may take less7 to keep the Mavs competitive instead of locked into a situation like the Lakers with Kobe Bryant. If the Duncan model sticks, Dirk will likely make around $10 million next season.
Let’s take a bit of a risk and assume the $10 million for Dirk as well and put the Cap space at $26,643,765. This is enough space to offer Carmelo the max, and this is the type of team I think could, would and may land Melo if he decides to opt out.8 No state taxes,9 a surprising playoff run and several contributory stars would make this an ideal landing spot for a player like Melo if he is willing to play in a less prestigious market.
The reason the Mavs have so much cap space despite signing both Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon last off-season is because Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are both free agents this season. Their contributions cannot be forgotten. Vince Carter should really be a dark horse for sixth man of the year.
If Melo arrives, that likely spells the end of Shawn Marion in Dallas unless he wants to take a severely reduced role and salary to return. Carter, on the other hand, may be willing to stay on a similar salary structure. Although Carter has recovered his image and can probably make a decent amount on the open market, a lot of veterans are being bitten by the bug of taking less to make a run. Carter could keep his salary at or around the $3.1 million he is making and retain his sixth man role if he wants it.
3. Chicago Bulls – Projected Total Salary: $64,352,65310
Projected Cap Space: -$1,152,653
Ahh, another mirage for projected cap space. This one is even more hard to pin down than Dirk re-signing for less because it involves a decision by a GM that has so many factors involved that it can definitely go either way. The amnesty of power forward Carlos Boozer. Everyone with an NBA based account on social media assumes this one is going down, just like last off-season mind you. But, let’s look at the factors involved in this decision.
One; is Nikola Mirotic ready and willing to come to the Bulls this year? I won’t speculate on his ability to contribute at this juncture, that’s just not within my ability. If he is, then it makes the decision much easier to swallow for the Chicago brass.
Two; will the cap space be used effectively? If Boozer gets the amnesty axe, the Bulls sit with about $13,004,947 in space after accounting for all cap holds. That’s a lot of cap space…but it isn’t enough for Melo. I’m sorry Bulls fans, but unless Dunleavy ($3,000,000) or Gibson ($8,000,000 – not going to happen) see the door as well, the cap space just doesn’t exist to entice a player of Melo’s caliber. He has stated he is willing to take less, but $9 million less in the first year? Not going to happen.
So what do the Bulls do with that $13,000,000? Well, helping Mirotic foot the bill for the large amount of his international buy-out that he is going to have to pay himself is a necessity to getting him to cross the pond. Likely in the range of a $2.8 million signing bonus on top of his contract.11 Bump that cap space down to about $9 million. Do you get a better player than Boozer with $9 million? Maybe, maybe not. But you can probably get equal value at a more needed position.12
It doesn’t look like such a sure thing to amnesty Boozer anymore does it? Still likely I suppose. The Bulls could get as close to the salary cap as possible this off-season and get out of the Repeater Tax before Jimmy Butler’s contract situation rears its head. Something the Bulls have shown a strong desire to do.
In the end, I think we see a Repeater Tax-motivated move, especially after this year’s attempt to stay below the Luxury Tax is looking like it will fail because of Joakim Noah earning Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA First Team Center honors, activating escalators in his contract.
2. Portland Trail Blazers – Projected Total Salary: $56,840,32013
Projected Cap Space: $7,274,923
Well that’s not very exciting…$7 million? So what. While I don’t think they will, the Blazers could increase their space by over $5 million by denying Robin Lopez’s team option. This team has so much going for it right now, Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge…I mean, the rest is just gravy. But this could be the last year the Blazers have any cap space to speak of for some time. Aldridge is up for what will likely be a max extension coming, Wesley Matthews deal runs out after next year, Lillard will be starting extension talks after next season. The $7 million in space that Portland has, gives them a step up on competition that is above the salary cap and can only use the $5 million mid-level exception.
OK, I admit it, this may be a salary cap nerd’s enjoyable team to watch because they have such little room to work with, but this is their last shot improve their team before their core starts to get locked in for years to come. I’m not sure what move would be best. Let Lopez go and bring in a new center like Gortat. Keep Lopez and bring in a guy like Drew Gooden to lengthen the rotation. Use some assets and take a run at Greg Monroe if Detroit is ready to move on from their three-bigs attempt.
It could get interesting in Rip City in the off-season, and this team is already so exciting to watch in the playoffs as it is.
1. Washington Wizards – Projected Total Salary: $45,683,76014
Projected Cap Space: $21,414,931
I think the Washington Wizards will deny a qualifying offer to Kevin Seraphin and extend the offer to Trevor Booker. They have no cap hold for a draft pick, having traded it to Phoenix, which leaves them with JUST under the max-level cap space for Carmelo.15
I keep hearing, if Melo wants to win, he needs to go to Chicago. This playoffs is clearly showing that to be false. He certainly has a great chance with Chicago, but he has chances elsewhere, and the team beating Chicago in the playoffs right now is one of them. Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat both come off the books this season. Both have been great contributors to the Wizards unlikely playoff run and playoff fight against the Bulls. But all 30 NBA GMs would trade both of them for a chance at Melo.
Martell Webster seems to be a decent clone of Ariza to take minutes off the bench as Melo would be the direct replacement of course. The Wizards could then use the mid-level exception of five million to attempt to sign a PF and move Nene to center or vice versa. Gortat may even be willing to stick around for such a contract. Otherwise, Drew Gooden could be an option to return or a possible Chris Kaman, though it would be risky.
Overall, this is a young team that could have title aspirations with the addition of a superstar. In my humble opinion, Washington seems like 1b to Dallas’s 1a as far as best destinations go. He could get roughly the max, be with a contending team with a great, young point guard and still be in a market that could satisfy him.
Though assumed a lot throughout this article, it is anything but a certainty right now ↩
Hello Dwight to Houston ↩
PF will be filled most minutes IF Mirotic comes over and IF he is ready ↩