Bernucca: Cap Room, Exceptions, Expiring Deals: Who Has What as NBA Trading Season Begins

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220px-Rudy_GayThe NBA holiday shopping season is upon us a little early this year.

It usually starts December 15, the first day players who were signed in the offseason become eligible to be traded. But after seeing Rudy Gay’s immovable contract somehow sent from Toronto to Sacramento, it is clear that shopping season is under way. 

Come next Sunday, NBA general managers will have increased flexibility when looking to improve their rosters, which was Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro’s approach in acquiring Gay, or their payroll, which was Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s approach in moving him.

In addition to the Raptors-Kings deal, we’ve already heard reports that the Houston Rockets are telling teams reserve center Omer Asik is on the block and they are looking to move him between Sunday and Dec. 19, which is the deadline for any player acquired for Asik to be rerouted before the trade deadline on Feb. 20.

So Rockets GM Daryl Morey may make two deals. Or he may make one deal. Or he may not deal at all.

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Bernucca: Small Market Dilemma is the NBA’s Big Lie

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220px-JoeMaloofByPhilKonstantinThis summer, when your favorite team’s owner or GM tells you a certain player is financially out of reach, here’s how you know he is lying.

His lips are moving.

NBA business is booming, folks. And not just for the so-called big markets. Take a quick look at the conference finals, which feature four teams from middle to small markets collecting millions for every home playoff game.

Take a look at the Sacramento Kings, who were just sold for a record $525 million even though they haven’t been in the playoffs in seven years and play in an outdated arena in a small market.

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Bernucca: Why the Lakers have to trade Dwight Howard

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Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA. Yes, still.

He also is (a) incapable of making an elbow jumper, (b) unreliable at the free-throw line, (c) susceptible to long-term injury, (d) hypersensitive to criticism from teammates and coaches, (e) more interested in becoming the next Bill Murray rather than the next Bill Russell and (f) wondering why no one has handed him the icon status he desperately craves.

But the worst thing Howard is – and unlike the items above, this is a temporary condition – is a square peg in a round hole.

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Hamilton: NBA Teams With Cap and Trade Exceptions

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As August ends and calendars are flipped to September, it dawns on you: NBA training camps will open in a few weeks.

Although the Summer of 2012 will ultimately be remembered for when the Los Angeles Lakers somehow managed to acquire two of the top prizes on the market, there are still quite a few free agents that could ultimately be the difference between your favorite team making a trip to the postseason or anxiously awaiting the results of the draft lottery.

My respective five best available players are Leandro Barbosa, Andray Blatche, Kenyon Martin, Lou Amundson and Mickael Pietrus.  And scores of others – including Matt Barnes, Rasual Butler and Josh Childress – are worthy role players.

As we draw closer to camp, taking note of which teams still have their midlevel, room, and biannual exceptions is a worthwhile endeavor. And to a lesser extent, the same can be said of traded player exceptions. Any of these four exceptions are assets that can ultimately result in the acquisition of a player who can help.

Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers, who used a traded player exception to acquire Steve Nash.

At this point, a surprising number of teams still have available money to spend. Here’s a full account.

Non-Taxpayer Midlevel Exception ($5 million)wizards small logo

This offseason was the first full one in which there were two midlevel exceptions. Entering this offseason, if a team had less than about $70 million in guaranteed salaries committed for 2012-2013, it was granted a $5 million midlevel exception. As usual, the exception can be used to sign one player or it can be split among multiple players. As of today, the only team in the league that has the entire $5 million exception available is the Washington Wizards. Each of the other teams that entered this offseason with the $5 million exception have used a portion of it.

The Milwaukee Bucks ($4.35M), Orlando Magic ($4.21M), Denver Nuggets ($3.33M), and Oklahoma City Thunder ($3.33M) have more than half of the exception remaining. The Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz each have approximately $2.5 million remaining, while the Memphis Grizzlies have $2 million.

Clearly, the Wizards, Bucks and Magic – and to a lesser extent, the Nuggets and Thunder – have the best chance of landing one of the best remaining players. Of those teams, the Thunder are the only one who can offer a shot at competing for a title. However, after recently signing Serge Ibaka to a rich extension, the prevailing thought seems to be that the Thunder will try to curb their spending. That seems especially probable considering that last season’s Sixth Man Award winner, James Harden, is entering the final year of his rookie-scale deal.

Taxpayer Midlevel Exception ($3.09 million)

Teams that entered the offseason with about $70 million or more committed in guaranteed salaries for 2012-2013 were allowed a smaller version of the midlevel exception. The Miami Heat used their taxpayer exception to sign Ray Allen, while the Los Angeles Lakers used approximately half of their exception to sign Jodie Meeks. As of now, the Lakers ($1.4 million) are the only team that has a portion of its taxpayer midlevel exception remaining.

However, after their busy offseason, the Lakers’ 2012-2013 payroll now sits at $100.7 million. This season, its projected starting lineup will earn a whopping $82.5 million. Maybe (just maybe), they’re finally finished spending.

Room Exception ($2.575 million)pacers small logo

The new “room” exception is a salary exception that allows a team to spend all of its room under the salary cap, and then, once at the cap, exceed it using the room exception. In other words, a team that entered the offseason with $8 million under the cap could sign a free-agent for $8 million, and then have the ability to spend an additional $2.575 million using this exception.

Ten teams still have the full exception available. They are the Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings.

Of the teams listed here, it’s probably safe to assume that the Indiana Pacers would be the most desirable destination, perhaps with the Philadelphia 76ers a close second.

Still, it’s worth noting that there’s nothing to say that teams have to spend this money, and we should expect to see some frugality with the new luxury tax era on the horizon.

Biannual Exception ($1.957 million)spurs small logo

The biannual exception is a familiar friend, though the rules that govern it were changed since the enactment of the 2011 CBA. It was only made available to teams who entered this offseason with less than about $72 million in guaranteed salaries committed for 2012-2013. It also is not available to any team that uses the room exception.

At slightly less than $2 million, the biannual exception doesn’t seem like much money when compared to the midlevel and room exceptions. But the minimum salary for a 10-year veteran is $1.35M, so that means that a veteran being paid with the biannual exception (as opposed to the minimum salary) stands to be paid 45 percent higher. That could make a difference with a veteran free-agent such as Chris Andersen, Rasual Butler or Derek Fisher.

Currently, 11 teams can use the biannual exception if they choose. They are the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards.

Traded Player Exceptions

A traded player exception (TPE) is a bit different than the other salary exceptions. The other exceptions can be used to sign free agents, but a TPE may only be used to acquire a player via trade. Despite this limitation, a TPE is a very valuable asset because it allows additional flexibility in deal-making. Under normal circumstances, if two teams are over the cap and wish to execute a trade, the salaries being sent and received must within a certain range in order for the trade to be allowable under the league’s CBA. By using the TPE, teams – under certain circumstances – may execute trades that otherwise could not have occurred.

A traded player exception is most commonly created when a team on one end of a deal trades a player to team that is under the salary cap. The Orlando Magic ($17.816M) currently own the biggest trade exception in league history after consummating their deal for Dwight Howard.

The Denver Nuggets ($13M, via Nene), Chicago Bulls ($5M, via Kyle Korver), and the Golden State Warriors ($3.3M via Ekpe Udoh) also have noteworthy trade exceptions.

Ultimately, this type of exception allows the team to execute a trade in which it accepts salary in return without trading any away. As always, there are rules and caveats (and expiration dates) that govern the exception. Nonetheless, the major point remains: a TPE is an asset that can help facilitate player movement and help a team build itself into a contender.

The 2012-2013 season is right around the corner. But until it actually begins, rest assured that some of these teams will spend some of their available money if they feel it will improve their chances of competing.

Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.comFollow him on Twitter.

NBA Free Agency: Who Still Needs What?

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With the opening of training camps in late September, there is now more offseason behind us rather than in Andray Blatchefront of us.

With six weeks to go, many teams are looking to fill the final spot or two on their rosters. And as we pointed out last week, there is not much to choose from.

Although there has been talk about some of these teams possibly adding another player, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Golden State, Indiana, the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis, New York, Oklahoma City and Phoenix appear to be done and ready to start the season.

Dallas, Detroit and Oklahoma City have 15 players with guaranteed contracts. Chicago, the Lakers and New York are over the luxury tax and Memphis is right against it. And Golden State, Indiana and Phoenix appear to have the roster flexibility to stand pat.

That leaves 20 teams – two-thirds of the league – who need at least one specific player to round out their roster. In our estimation, both Cleveland and New Orleans have multiple holes to fill.

With the gradual trend toward small ball, perhaps we are overreacting a bit. But the greatest positions of need appear to be the big spots of power forward and center. Fifteen teams – half the league – seem to have a roster that is short one big man. One of those teams is the defending champion Miami Heat.

So what does each team need? Let’s take a look.

Who needs a small forward?

ATLANTA: Moving Marvin Williams made financial sense, but it left the Hawks short at the 3-spot. Yes, Josh Smith can play there – and will, alongside Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. But he is more effective at power forward, and his backup is shooting savant Kyle Korver, who has trouble defending the wing.

BOSTON: The Celtics have had a terrific offseason but need some insurance behind Paul Pierce, who turns 35 in October. Bringing back Jeff Green, who can play both forward spots, alleviates part of the problem. But the C’s need a true small forward. Hmmn, perhaps Mickael Pietrus?

CLEVELAND: This is one of two positions at which the Cavaliers need depth. Right now, their small forwards are Omri Casspi and C.J. Miles, who is expected to play some at shooting guard as well. They made a $2.7 million qualifying offer to Alonzo Gee, who averaged double figures last season and is finally getting attention from other teams.

NEW ORLEANS: The Hornets’ current small forwards are Al-Farouq Aminu and rookie Darius Miller. Yes, Ryan Anderson can and will play there alongside Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez in a big format. But he is too slow to defend that position. Bringing back Lance Thomas is an option.

Who needs a power forward?

CHARLOTTE: The Bobcats don’t seem interested in bringing back D.J. White, which leaves them with a power forward tandem of the inconsistent Tyrus Thomas and the learning-on-the-job Bismack Biyombo. With a center trio of perimeter-based B.J. Mullens and the foul-prone Brendan Haywood and DeSagana Diop, they could probably use a thug as a third power forward.

LA CLIPPERS: We have said throughout the offseason that the moves made by the Clippers have given them the best top 10 of any NBA roster. But their personnel shuffle cleared out Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, and LA could use someone behind the injury-prone Blake Griffin and the slender Lamar Odom. Trey Thompkins is not the answer. Maybe the underutilized Ronny Turiaf is.

MINNESOTA: Yes, Kevin Love is penciled in for 40 minutes every night. Behind him, however, are combo forwards Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, neither of whom throw a scare into anyone underneath the basket. What the Wolves really need is a guy who can play both big spots, backing up centers Nikola Pecovic and Greg Steimsma in an emergency.

PHILADELPHIA: No team got bigger in the offseason than the 76ers. Unfortunately, all of the monsters they added or re-signed – Andrew Bynum, Kwame Brown, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen – are centers. They can play a pair side by side, but that will make them a bit slow down low. And given the injury histories of Bynum, Brown and Hawes, Philadelphia could use a true power forward.

TORONTO: You could argue that the Raptors need a center more than a power forward because their long-term look seems to be Andrea Bargnani at center and Jonas Valanciunas at power forward, where Ed Davis is the backup and needs to play. But Toronto may start the season with Bargnani at the 4 and Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray sharing the 5. Whatevere the case, the Raps need another big.

UTAH: C’mon, the Jazz don’t need a power forward! Up front, they’ve got Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and … that’s it, folks. Marvin Williams can play the 4 in a small alignment, but Utah has no 7-footers and clearly needs another power forward.

Who needs a center?

BROOKLYN: Retaining Brook Lopez was a nice consolation prize to losing Dwight Howard, especially given what the Nets have put around their center. But he needs a backup, and after striking out on Nazr Mohammed, Brooklyn has to have a second center because none of its power forwards are big enough to man the pivot.

CLEVELAND: This is the other position the Cavs need to fill. Right now, their centers are rookies Tyler Zeller and Micheal Eric and undersized incumbent Anderson Varejao, who figures to play some at power forward as well. If they add a pivot, they should try to find a veteran.

HOUSTON: The Rockets didn’t get Dwight Howard but they did land Omer Asik, who has averaged 13 minutes per game in his career. His backup appears to be rookie stringbean Donatas Motiejunas. But Houston has a problem because it has the maximum 20 players on its offseason roster.

MIAMI: Many believe the Heat can repeat having added defense-stretchers Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the mix. But they still have a huge hole in the middle that Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman and rookie Justin Hamilton are not going to effectively fill. With Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard as potential playoff foes, Miami needs a center who can walk and chew gum at the same time.

NEW ORLEANS: Top overall pick Anthony Davis will play both big spots throughout his career. But his athleticism and activity likely will be maximized at power forward alongside Robin Lopez, whom we’re not sure is a 36-minute center. The addition of a small forward would help Ryan Anderson play more at the 4, and Hakim Warrick also is here. But the Hornets desperately need another true center; they just don’t have enough size.

PORTLAND: The potential plan is to start two rookies – Damian Lillard at point guard and Meyers Leonard at center. LaMarcus Aldridge and Eurobig rookie Joel Freeland can play the middle in a pinch, but the Blazers need another real center, and preferably a veteran. To add one, Portland could dump Sasha Pavlovic, whose salary is being paid by Boston.

SACRAMENTO: DeMarcus Cousins is a top-three center whose skills also allow him to play power forward, where the Kings are set with Jason Thompson and rookie Thomas Robinson. The backup center is 6-6 Chuck Hayes, whose big heart disappeared as soon as he got a big contract. Sacramento needs a true pivot, and it would help if he had some veteran leadership for this bunch of young bigs.

SAN ANTONIO: The Spurs don’t often play two true bigs together, but when they do, the best tandem is Tim Duncan at power forward and Tiago Splitter at center. San Antonio’s other “big men” are perimeter-based Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner and undersized center DeJuan Blair, who is on the trading block. The Spurs have a roster spot and should use it on a true center.

Who needs a shooting guard?

DENVER: Yes, the Nuggets just acquired All-Star Andre Iguodala to play shooting guard. But shooting is not one of his stronger skills, and his backups are the equally off-target Corey Brewer and rookie Evan Fournier. Denver needs another knockdown guy to take the heat off Danilo Gallinari.

MILWAUKEE: Although Monta Ellis is routinely among the league leaders in minutes played, his backup right now is rookie Doron Lamb. The Bucks let Carlos Delfino walk away and need to replace him with a veteran who can stroke it a little. Milwaukee could give some shooting guard minutes to Mike Dunleavy, but that’s not the best answer.

Who needs a point guard?

NEW ORLEANS: This is the third position the Hornets need to fill. At the most important position on the floor, they plan to start rookie Austin Rivers, with Greivis Vasquez and his vast experience of 136 career games behind him. As a third point guard, New Orleans could use the practice presence and experience of Mike James, who last season showed he can still play a little bit.

ORLANDO: The Magic are somewhat unsettled at many positions but have some stability at the point with Jameer Nelson. Behind him, however, is recently signed speed burner Ish Smith, who has to show he can make the jump from third-string to backup. Orlando needs a third point guard, preferably someone who has seen some court time.

WASHINGTON: Similar to the Magic, the Wizards are set with John Wall. But his caddies are Shelvin Mack, whose point guard skills are lacking, and A.J. Price, who cannot shoot and took a step back last season in Indiana. Washington has the roster room and the cap space to add another ballhandler.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. During the season, his columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.