Today marks the beginning of NBA free agency, and folks need a primer on which teams will be the biggest players in the open market.
It all depends on how far below the salary cap they can get, and we are here to break those numbers down for you.
Chris Bernucca has done a great job of ranking the NBA’s top 2012 unrestricted free-agents and the league’s top 2012 restricted free-agents, but in addition to checking out either those pieces, it’d be wise to continue reading to find out whether or not your favorite team will even be in a position to pursue players such as Roy Hibbert (who has already received two max offers), Goran Dragic, Ray Allen, or O.J. Mayo.
The salary cap for the 2012-2013 NBA season is expected to be about $58 million. And while we will provide figures for NBA teams that we expect to have cap space, we must point out the following:
The 2011 CBA contains an all-important Amnesty Clause. As you know (or should know if you’re reading this), NBA contracts are fully guaranteed and the salaries that teams promise to pay their players in the future count against the team’s future cap.
Case in point: The Miami Heat already have about $76 million committed in salaries for the 2013-2014 NBA season, and that’s mainly due to the contractual obligations they made to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh back in July 2010.
The reason why the amnesty clause is important here, though, is because in the 2011 CBA, the NBA completely revamped its luxury tax system in an effort to curb the spending of big market teams. In short, under the old system, teams that exceeded the luxury tax threshold had to pay $1 for each dollar by which they exceeded the luxury tax threshold. In other words, if the tax threshold was $65 million and Team X had a payroll of $85 million, it had to write a luxury tax check to the NBA for $20 million.
Ok, so why the hell do you care?
Here’s why: Under the 2011 CBA, the luxury tax is going to become more expensive. Much more expensive. That’s where the amnesty clause comes in. A team’s luxury tax bill is dependent on the amount of its payroll. What the amnesty clause allows, though, is for a team to take one of the contracts (and the salary amount) for any player that was on its team as of July 1, 2011, and strike it off of its payroll.
The net effect is that the amnestied contract no longer appears on the team’s payroll. Yes, the player is still paid by the team, but the salary will not count against the team’s cap or luxury tax bill.
This is important to our free-agency discussion because if Team X has a payroll of $60 million, but owes a player who is eligible to be amnestied $17 million, Team X could amnesty the player and bring its cap figure down to $43 million and facilitate the acquisition of a free agent.
In fact, that’s exactly how the New York Knicks acquired Tyson Chandler back in December 2011. Technically, the Knicks executed a sign-and-trade deal to acquire Chandler, but they were only able to make the deal happen because the team elected to use its right to a one-time amnesty on Chauncey Billups and his $13 million salary.
So, that being said, what is provided below are the teams who currently have less than $58 million committed in salaries for the 2012-2013 NBA Season. But the Potential Cap Space listed below is the maximum amount of cap space a team can manufacture if it elects to NOT re-sign any of its free agents. And in some instances, a team may manufacture more cap space if it uses its amnesty on an eligible player.
As far as restricted free agents are concerned, a team must have submitted a qualifying offer in order to restrict a free agent. However, a qualifying offer may be rescinded so long as the free agent has not yet accepted it. Simply put, the cap space isn’t spoken for until the deal is actually agreed to.
Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, without further delay, here are the teams that can or will get under the cap this offseason.
Brooklyn Nets: $41 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Marshon Brooks, Jordan Williams.
Free Agents: Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez (R), Kris Humphries, Sundiata Gaines, Gerald Green, Damian Jones, DeShawn Stevenson, Armon Johnson, Shelden Williams.
Important: As of right now, the Nets have only five contracts on their books for the upcoming season. The team is hopeful that Deron Williams accepts their maximum contract offer and if he does, it would leave the Nets with potentially $24 million left under the cap. The club has reportedly reached a handshake agreement on a four-year, $40 million deal with Gerald Wallace, but he, Lopez, and/or Humphries could all be shown the door if the Nets are able to make a deal—such as the one they’re mulling for Joe Johnson—that would significantly upgrade their roster. The Nets have a lot of cap space and a lot of flexibility, but they are also hamstrung by the Orlando Magic’s timetable on a Dwight Howard trade. If they can’t get Dwight, they might lose Deron to Dallas. Both Brooklyn and Dallas are expected to speak with Williams on Monday.
Boston Celtics: $24 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Sean Williams, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo.
Free Agents: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic, Mickael Pietrus, Greg Stiesma, Ryan Hollins.
Important: The Celtics could have created enough room to lure a maximum free agent to Boston if the club elected to let Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen take their talents elsewhere. However, Mark Spears reports that Garnett and the Celtics have reached agreement on a 3-year, $34 million deal. It’s also difficult to imagine Danny Ainge allowing both Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma to bolt, since both were major contributors to the team’s success this past season. With the news of Garnett likely remaining, it seems as though the Celtics will probably retain most of their free agents and attempt to add talent and size to its existing core. They have already targeted Jason Terry and Nick Young as possible replacements for Allen, along with Sonny Weems, O.J. Mayo, Kirk Hinrich and Jamal Crawford.
Portland Trail Blazers: $23 million
2012-2013 Contracts: LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Shawne Williams, Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith, Kurt Thomas, Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard.
Free-Agents: Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, Jonny Flynn, Joel Pryzbilla, Craig Smith, Hasheem Thabeet, J.J. Hickson, Nicolas Batum (R).
Important: The Trail Blazers have extended a qualifying offer to Batum, but not Hickson. The team would like to have each of them back, though, and the club has been actively negotiating with Batum and his representatives for a long while. But new GM Neil Olshey opened the door for a major revamping by making a max offer to Hibbert, the Pacers’ restricted free agent, according to Sam Amick of SI.com. The club’s trading of Gerald Wallace had a lot to do with them wanting to clear the way for Batum and his future in Portland, so it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which he isn’t brought back — even if he signs an offer sheet with Minnesota for $45-50 million, which is one of the pieces of news out there today. The Hornets and Raptors also have reached out to Batum.
New Orleans Hornets: $22 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Rashard Lewis, Jarrett Jack, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Xavier Henry, Gustavo Ayon, Greivis Vasquez, Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers.
Free-Agents: Eric Gordon (R), Chris Kaman, Carl Landry, Marco Bellinelli, Lance Thomas.
Important: The Hornets recently traded for Rashard Lewis but bought out the final year of his contract. For that reason, $13 million of his guaranteed salary will count against the Hornets’ cap figure. Eric Gordon was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers, so although he’s a free agent you can expect that the Hornets will match any offer he receives. Chris Kaman will probably end up elsewhere, and the club has some decisions to make on both Carl Landry and Marco Bellinelli. Once Gordon is re-signed, the Hornets will have less than $10 million available to them, so it’s probably likely that they’ll elect to re-sign both Landry and Bellinelli.
Phoenix Suns: $22 million / $28 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Marcin Gortat, Josh Childress, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Sebastian Telfair, Kendall Marshall
Free-Agents: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Shannon Brown, Aaron Brooks (R), Robin Lopez (R), Michael Redd, Ronnie Price
Important: The Suns could elect to amnesty either Josh Childress or Channing Frye and doing so would free up an additional $6 million in cap space. The Suns are expected to attempt to retain Steve Nash, but all indications are that Nash will only stay if they can significantly upgrade their roster, and that’s not likely. They’ve extended qualifying offers to both Aaron Brooks and Robin Lopez. The Knicks contacted Nash shortly after midnight and asked for a meeting Sunday, Chris Sheridan reported early today. The Toronto Raptors also covet him, and can pay twice what New York can.
Cleveland Cavaliers: $21 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Anderson Varejao, Luke Walton, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Omri Casspi, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller.
Free-Agents: Daniel Gibson, Kelenna Azubuike, Samardo Samuels, Alonzo Gee (R), Luke Harangody (R), Semih Erden (R).
Important: If the Cavaliers elected to allow their free-agents to walk, they could free up about $21 million in cap space. They’re fairly high on both Gee and Erden, and even after re-signing both, could have upwards of $15 million to use in assembling a roster around its young nucleus of Irving, Waiters, Thompson, and Zeller.
Indiana Pacers: $20 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Danny Granger, David West, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Jeff Pendergraph, Darren Collison, Miles Plumlee
Free Agents: Roy Hibbert (R), George Hill (R), Leandro Barbosa, Louis Amundson, A.J. Price, Kyrylo Fesenko.
Important: The Pacers have made retaining Hibbert and Hill their top priorities, once they do that, they won’t have much money remaining to be major players in free-agency. Like the Celtics, expect them to spend their cap space retaining their own players.
Houston Rockets: $19 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Shaun Livingston, Chandler Parsons, Jon Brockman, Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrance Jones.
Free Agents: Marcus Camby, Courtney Lee (R), Goran Dragic, Earl Boykins.
Important: The Rockets have just added three first-round picks to their team and roster spots are becoming scarce. Shortly after midnight, GM Daryl Morey tweeted that he was meeting with Bulls free agent Omer Asik. If the Turkish center comes aboard, there will still be plenty of money left to re-sign Dragic, one of this summer’s coveted free agents.
Toronto Raptors: $16 million / $26 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Jose Calerdon, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson, Linas Kleiza, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Ed Davis, Gary Forbes, Terrance Ross, Solomon Alabi.
Free Agents: Jerryd Bayless (R), Aaron Gray, Julian Wright, Jamaal Magloire, Ben Uzoh.
Important: The Raptors would probably like to retain Jerryd Bayless, but doing so might inhibit their ability to make a run at Steve Nash. For that reason, there has been some talk of the Raptors using their one-time amnesty right on Jose Calderon and his $10 million salary, but the club is only likely to do that if it had good reason to believe that Nash would be amenable to ending his career as a Raptor. Also, if Bayless received an offer that the Raptors thought was too rich for them to match, they could elect to let him walk. In other words, they will be a player in free agency, one way or another.
Dallas Mavericks: $12 million / $20 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Dirk Nowtzki, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Vince Carter, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Brandan Wright, Jared Cunningham.
Free Agents: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Brian Cardinal, Delonte West, Ian Mahinmi, Yi Jianlian.
Important: The Mavericks want Deron Williams and could only afford to tender him a maximum deal if it used its one-time amnesty right on either Shawn Marion or Brendan Haywood. Each of the aforementioned players stand to make $8 million next season, and Haywood’s contract runs through 2015-16. If Williams elects to stay in Brooklyn, it will be interesting to see if Mark Cuban is going to retain Terry and/or Kidd or look elsewhere for a high-priced player. Trading Carter could free an additional $3 million of space. The Mavs also have an $8.2 million trade exception from the Lamar Odom deal, and they are taking a hard look at Anthony Randolph.
Minnesota Timberwolves: $20 million / $30 million
2012-13 Contracts: Kevin Love, Martell Webster, Darko Milicic, Brad Miller, Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Berea, Wesley Johnson, Luke Ridnour, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Wayne Ellington, Michael Lee.
Free Agents: Anthony Randolph, Michael Beasley.
Important: The Wolves decided not to extend qualifying offers to Beasley and Randolph, making both unrestricted free agents. They also reached agreements with Webster and Miller to push back the dates by which their team options must be picked up, which gives them the option of using either player in a trade or declining the team options and clearing another $10 million of space. They are one of five teams interested in signing Brandon Roy, who is prepared to make a comeback after undergoing platelet-rich plasma therapy on his knee. Roy also plans to speak with Chicago, Dallas, Indiana and Golden State.
Sacramento Kings: $11 million
2012-2013 Contracts: John Salmons, Marcus Thornton, Francisco Garcia, Chuck Hayes, Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Travis Outlaw, Jimmer Fredette, Hassan Whiteside, Isaiah Thomas, Thomas Robinson.
Free Agents: Jason Thompson (R), Donte Green, Terrance Williams.
Important: After drafting Thomas Robinson, it would be a bit of a surprise for the Kings to match a high offer to Jason Thompson. They have a lot of frontcourt players and might be wise to use some of their manufactured cap space on another ball distributor. Re-signing Thompson would probably leave them with less than $5 million in cap space — although they could double that if they traded Tyreke Evans and did not take back any players in return.
Charlotte Bobcats: $9 million / $17 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, DeSagana Diop, Matt Carroll, Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo, Reggie Williams, Kemba Walker, BJ Mullens, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Free Agents: D.J. Augustin (R), Derrick Brown (R), Eduardo Najera, Jamario Moon, Cory Higgins, D.J. White.
Important: With a fairly crowded backcourt, it will be interesting to see what the Bobcats elect to do with Augustin. Despite finishing last season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, the Bobcats have a pretty high payroll for this upcoming NBA season. They attempted to dump Tyrus Thomas and his $8 million salary by dangling the second overall pick in the draft, so since that was unsuccessful, the ‘Cats could potentially amnesty Thomas to free up additional cap space.
San Antonio Spurs: $7 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair.
Free Agents: Tim Duncan, Danny Green (R), Boris Diaw, Patrick Mills (R), James Anderson.
Important: Don’t expect anything major from the Spurs during free agency. The only way they can manufacture any cap space would be if they elected to not re-sign Tim Duncan, and we all know how likely that is. Jackson, who will earn $10 million this season, can’t be amnestied since he wasn’t on the Spurs roster on July 1, 2011, so look for them to re-sign and add to their core. They have a couple of quality players stashed in Europe.
Denver Nuggets: $6 million / $13 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington, Chris Andersen, Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Jordan Hamilton, Julyan Stone, Evan Fournier.
FreeAgents: Andre Miller, JaVale McGee (R), Rudy Fernandez (R)
Important: The Nuggets are all but certain to retain JaVale McGee, but in the unlikely event that he receives an offer that they do not match, the Nuggets could have cap space. Rudy Fernandez is expected to give serious consideration to returning to play in Europe, and Andre Miller will probably seek to join a contender. The only two players they could consider using their amnesty rights on are Al Harrington ($7 million) and Chris Anderson ($4.5 million).
Milwaukee Bucks: $5 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Monta Ellis, Beno Udrih, Drew Gooden, Samuel Dalembert, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Dunleavy, Ekpe Udoh, Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris, John Henson.
Free Agents: Kwame Brown, Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova.
Important: Ilyasova is one of the most coveted free agents on the market and the Bucks would like to retain him. He’s easily worth sacrificing the right to get under the cap, so don’t look for the Bucks to go that route. It’d also be a bit of a surprise for them to let Delfino slip away, especially since he recently went on the record as saying he’d like to remain a Buck.
Philadelphia 76ers: $3 million / $21 million
2012-2013 Contracts: Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, Mo Harkless, Arnett Moultrie
Free Agents: Spencer Hawes, Sam Young, Lou Williams, Craig Brackins, Tony Battie, Sam Young, Jodie Meeks, Lavoy Allen
Important: Elton Brand is entering the final year of his deal and his production does not warrant his $18 million salary. If the Sixers use their amnesty right on him, they could find themselves with $21 million in cap space. Lou Williams has opted out of his deal and is now an unrestricted free-agent. He’s an important part of the Sixers’ team, but he may have his hopes set on landing a starting job elsewhere. If the Sixers lose Williams, they may be inclined to amnesty Brand and search the market for some new pieces.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com and will be providing the latest news and commentary during the NBA’s free-agency period. Follow him on Twitter to stay up-to date.