NBA PM: Who Survives the Cut?
In most cases, a guaranteed contract means job security heading into training camp. Of course, that didn’t help Kelenna Azubuike of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Jordan Williams of the Atlanta Hawks, who were both waived well before the season starts.
Teams must cut their head count down to 15 before opening night, which means there are still players fighting for spots.
The following is a franchise-by-franchise breakdown of players scrambling to crack the regular season roster.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks have 13 guaranteed contracts along with three playing on partial or non-guaranteed deals. It’s going to be difficult for James Anderson to make a squad that is already loaded at shooting guard. Where are minutes to be found with Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow, John Jenkins and DeShawn Stevenson? Add in Kyle Korver and Devin Harris, both who can play off-guard, and there’s just room.
Rookie Mike Scott is guaranteed but the Hawks would be wise to keep Anthony Tolliver around (to play at either forward position). Damion James is the third without a promise, but he too has a shot to make opening night.
Note that in most cases, teams can keep players through early January before their contracts become fully guaranteed for the season.
Boston Celtics: The Celtics, dealing with an injury to Avery Bradley, picked up Leandro Barbosa to bolster the backcourt. Leading up to the signing, the team waived Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith. Both players had guarantees, including Christmas at a sizable $237k.
The team now has 14 players locked in with three invites left (Kris Joseph, Robert Kurz and Micah Downs). If Boston goes into the season with 15, Joseph appears to be the favorite.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets have 13 guaranteed but it seems like both Josh Childress and Andray Blatche will make the team. That doesn’t bode well for invites Stephen Dennis, Carleton Scott and James Mays.
Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats have 13 guaranteed players with three on the bubble, although Cory Higgins got a multi-year partially guaranteed deal which hints he has the edge over Josh Owens and DeJuan Summers. So far this preseason, neither Owens nor Summers has gotten much of an opportunity to play and Charlotte may go into the year with just 14.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls are in a difficult spot in that they’re right at the hard cap of $74.3 million. They will probably keep Nate Robinson, who isn’t fully guaranteed, but will make $400k if cut. That means there’s only room to hold onto rookie Ryan Allen; although it’s far more likely the Bulls cut Kyrylo Fesenko, Marko Jaric and Allen as well. Once the season progresses and the veteran’s minimum prorates downward, look for the Bulls to squeeze in one more player (possible Fesenko once cut loose, if he’s still available).
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavaliers have a lengthy roster but only 11 players are guaranteed. Daniel Gibson is likely to stick, which leaves three spots for five players (Samardo Samuels, Donald Sloan, Jon Leuer, Michael Eric and Kevin Jones). Samuels, Sloan and Leuer are likely to be there on opening night which means both Jones and Eric may get caught in the numbers crunch. The Cavaliers may look to buy out another guaranteed contract (Luke Walton, Jeremy Pargo or the recently re-signed Luke Harangody) to keep one of their younger prospects.
Dallas Mavericks: Fifteen guaranteed Mavericks probably means the 16th, and lone-invite standing (Josh Akognon), won’t make it to opening night.
Denver Nuggets: There’s only room for one of three invites on the Nuggets, all fighting to be the third point guard. Julyan Stone seems the long shot and Coach George Karl may want a veteran, favoring Anthony Carter over Ben Uzoh.
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have 15 guaranteed players so it’s going to take something out of the ordinary for Terrence Williams and/or Jonny Flynn to make it through the next couple of weeks.
Golden State Warriors: The Warriors have significant depth this season and while just 13 players are guaranteed, the last two spots are near-locks for Charles Jenkins and Kent Bazemore. That would mean the waiver wire for Tarence Kinsey, Lance Goulbourne, Rick Jackson and Carlon Brown.
Houston Rockets: The Rockets, as always this time of year, are an interesting case. The team tends to lock in more guaranteed players than spots although technically this offseason they only have 15 players locked in. Shaun Livingston and Greg Smith have partial guarantees. Rookie Scott Machado is more than a camp invite, with a three-year (partially guaranteed) contract. Three have to go and it might be JaJuan Johnson and Jon Brockman, both paid in full. Otherwise it could be Gary Forbes (who will earn $1.5 million regardless) or Smith. Machado would be the easiest to cut (economically), but has a real fighting chance to make the roster.
Indiana Pacers: The Pacers have 18 players, but only 12 are guaranteed. It’s going to be tricky for Blake Ahearn and Luke Nevill to make the squad but Sam Young is a clear favorite. How much longer does the Lance Stephenson experiment continue in Indiana? Invite Ben Hansbrough may actually have a shot to join brother Tyler on the opening-night roster. Sundiata Gaines may not have shown enough to stick.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers have 14 guaranteed players and just one spot left for four players. Travis Leslie’s partial guarantee will probably make it 15 with Marqus Blakely, Trent Plaisted and Hank Thorns then destined for free agency.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers are locked into 13 guaranteed players while still carrying the maximum of 20 players. Rookie Robert Sacre, playing in Dwight Howard’s absence, seems set to make it 14. Returning Andrew Goudelock will have a hard time making the regular season roster. Invites Reeves Nelson, Greg Somogyi and Ronnie Aguilar are all unlikely to be with the team much longer. That leaves a battle between Chris Douglas-Roberts and Darius Johnson-Odom for the last spot. Douglas-Roberts brings size and experience. Johnson-Odom is short for a two-guard but extremely athletic. Could the Lakers cut a guaranteed player like Earl Clark to make room for both?
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies have 13 locked in and four invites to sort through. With the team in the luxury tax, they may stick with 13 but Jerome Jordan or veteran Flip Murray could have a slight chance at sticking. It’s more of a long shot for Michael Dunigan and Ronald Dupree.
Miami HEAT: The HEAT bring 13 guaranteed players into the season along with a sizable contingent of invites. Veteran Rodney Carney may have played himself onto the roster. Josh Harrelson hasn’t been as strong as hoped but he might make 15, leaving Terrel Harris, Garrett Temple and Robert Dozier on the outs.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have 15 guaranteed which means Eddie Gill, Orien Greene, Alando Tucker and Mustapha Farrakhan are unlikely to be on the roster in a few weeks.
Minnesota Timberwolves: While the Wolves technically have 13 guaranteed players, Chase Budinger is a lock to make the team. That leaves a single spot for Mike Harris, Chris Johnson, Jermaine Taylor and Will Conroy. Of the four, Conroy may have the best shot.
New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets are only carrying 16 players with 12 guaranteed. That leaves up to three spots for Lance Thomas, Brian Roberts, Solomon Alabi and Chris Wright. Thomas and Roberts appear to have earned more time. While there may be room on the roster, Alabi and Wright may still both get the axe.
New York Knicks: The Knicks have the full 20 players still with 13 guaranteed. The one invite with the best chance to stick would be Chris Copeland. It’s going to be difficult for Chris Smith (injured), John Shurna, Mychel Thompson, Henry Sims and Oscar Bellfield. New York is still working toward Rasheed Wallace’s debut. He may get that 15th spot with hopes he can round himself into basketball shape throughout the season.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder have 19 players under contract with 14 guaranteed, which means one spot for Daniel Orton, Hollis Thompson, Andy Rautins, DeAndre Liggins and Walker Russell. Both Rautins and Liggins have played well through a pair of preseason games. Even Orton scored 13 points in 19 minutes in his one stint. The team gave Thompson a three-year deal, using part of their Mid-Level Exception. Russell is on the outside but the Thunder have four legitimate candidates to make the team. Forced to make a guess: Liggins?
Orlando Magic: The Magic are also carrying 20 players but have 15 guaranteed, not including Gustavo Ayon who seems to be a lock to make the team. E’Twaun Moore and DeQuan Jones have played well, which can’t make this an easy time for Orlando. Someone guaranteed is likely to be cut which could mean Christian Eyenga, Kyle O’Quinn or Justin Harper to make room. Both Armon Johnson and Chris Johnson are on the outside looking in.
Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers have 12 under guaranteed contracts, but Maalik Wayans has certainly played himself onto the roster. That leaves a couple of spots perhaps for veterans Dan Gadzuric and/or Damien Wilkins. Devin Searcy isn’t likely to make the cut.
Phoenix Suns: The Suns also have 12 guaranteed along with five trying to make it past camp. Ike Diogu is making a case for himself. P.J. Tucker has a two-year deal (partial/non) and while he hasn’t played particularly well this preseason, he still may get a shot. Luke Zeller and Diante Garrett are long shots.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers bring 15 guaranteed players into camp, which may make the Adam Morrison quest to get back in the league (or retire) a futile one. The Blazers might be willing to let go of a guaranteed player like Sasha Pavlovic or Jared Jeffries but Morrison may not have done enough yet to make the case. It also means Demonte Harper, Dallas Lauderdale, Coby Karl and Justin Holiday are also facing long odds.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings have 14 guaranteed, leaving one spot for Tony Mitchell, Hamady Ndiaye or Willie Reed – although Sacramento may be more likely than not just to stick with 14.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs only have 12 guaranteed but both DeJuan Blair and Gary Neal will be there on opening night, leaving a single spot for Derrick Brown, Josh Powell, Tyler Wilkerson, Wesley Witherspoon and veteran Eddy Curry. Each invite has shown enough in camp to make the battle interesting. Curry has played well and hopes to continue his career revitalization in San Antonio. Powell has played well, shooting 90 percent (!) from the field over three games. The upside with Curry may give him the nod although Witherspoon’s hot outside shooting may warrant serious consideration as well.
Toronto Raptors: The Raptors have three players trying to crack the roster (Jamaal Magloire, Chris Wright and Jerel McNeal) despite Toronto already locked in with 15 guaranteed players. The math doesn’t bode well for the invites.
Utah Jazz: The Jazz have 13 players with guaranteed deals but only 12 will be active on opening night. Guard Raja Bell is away from the team amidst stalled buy-out negotiations. DeMarre Carroll and Kevin Murphy aren’t guaranteed but seem to be on their way to the regular season. It’s going to be difficult for Darnell Jackson, Trey Gilder and Brian Butch. Chris Quinn has shot well in very limited minutes but unless the Bell situation is resolved before then, Quinn may be a casualty.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards have 13 locked under contract and six invites trying to make the team. Shelvin Mack and/or Jannero Pargo may get the nod with John Wall out with a knee injury. Earl Barron, Shavlik Randolph and Steven Gray may get beat out by veteran-forward Brian Cook. It may come down to either keeping two additional point guards or just one, along with the outside shooting of Cook.
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