Salary Cap Best/Worst Case Scenarios: The East
The 2012 NBA free agency period begins in just 76 days. Some teams are understandably still preoccupied with the 2011-12 season, but others have already turned their primary focus to draft preparations and working out a strategy for the offseason.
HOOPSWORLD takes a look at all 15 teams from the Eastern Conference to give a best case/worst case scenario for each with regards to the salary cap (next week we’ll do the same for the Western Conference teams). What happens if all options are declined? Or invoked?
The best case below describes the maximum amount of cap space the team could have if all options are declined.
The worst case describes the maximum amount of space the team could have if all options are invoked (the deadline is no later than June 30).
Cap holds are the amount each team’s free agents count against their cap. This does not include draft picks, but to get an idea you can see which picks have been traded here and what the 2012 rookie scale is for first-round picks here. Cap holds stay in place until the player is re-signed by his current team, signed by another team or the rights to that player are renounced. These count against the cap and reduce a team’s available cap space. The numbers listed can change depending on if Qualifying Offers are issued by June 30 to eligible players. The dollar amount listed assumes QOs will be issued to players finishing up their rookie scale contracts (first-round picks) and not issued to other eligible players, neither of which are guarantees.
Some of these teams also have the option available to use the amnesty provision. Click here for more discussion on that and which players are eligible.
Contracts signed under the new collective bargaining agreement (anything after 12/7/2011) can also be waived using the stretch provision. This allows teams to waive the entire contract but stretch the cap hit out over double the amount of years left on the deal plus one. For example, if a player has two years and $5 million left on his contract, a team could use stretch and have a $1 million cap hit for each of the next five seasons.
Best Case: $60.9 million (6)
Worst Case: $60.9 million (6)
Cap Holds: $18.9 million (9)
The Variables: The Hawks have no wiggle room. They are not a team interested in paying the luxury tax so just as in 2011-12 when they filled out the rest of their roster with minimum salary players (hence the large number of holds for such a low amount), that will be their only option again. If the Hawks aren’t happy with their core, their only option is to make a trade or use amnesty. Marvin Williams would be the most likely choice there, but even then they don’t get under the cap because minimum salary holds (even if they renounce all their free agents) and the Mid-Level Exception push them back over the cap. It’s time for the Hawks to make a major trade to bring in multiple young players. No one wants Joe Johnson’s contract and Al Horford is a cornerstone, so trading Josh Smith is the team’s only path to change.
Best Case: $31.3 million (5)
Worst Case: $35.5 million (6)
Cap Holds: $65.0 million (10)
The Variables: The Celtics will likely be working from the best case. Brandon Bass has a $4.3 million Player Option, but is worth more than that on the open market (maybe in Boston, maybe not). The Celtics could bring back stars like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen at drastically reduced costs, perhaps signing each of them to their final contracts, but the franchise most likely will look to move on. Jeff Green counts as a $13.4 million cap hold and, assuming he’s healthy, they will look to retain him (for far less) and then go into free agency with plenty of money to spend.
Best Case: $32.2 million (7)
Worst Case: $43.0 million (9)
Cap Holds: $22.8 million (5)
The Variables: Charlotte will be working from the worst case because DeSagana Diop ($7.3 million Player Option) and Matt Carroll ($3.5 million Early Termination Option) won’t touch those amounts in free agency. Don’t be surprised if the Cats use amnesty, maybe on Diop or Tyrus Thomas if they draft Anthony Davis. Their only free agent of note is D.J. Augustin ($4.4 million Qualifying Offer, $9.7 million cap hold), but with Kemba Walker on the roster his value to the franchise could be more about what he could fetch in a sign-and-trade deal. Issuing the QO handcuffs the Cats a bit in free agency and Augustin isn’t going to be in the top-tier. Not issuing the QO would be a mild surprise, but gives the Cats more flexibility.
Best Case: $63.9 million (7)
Worst Case: $76.0 million (10)
Cap Holds: $4.8 million (4)
The Variables: Chicago can cut $12.4 million by waiving Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson, paying only $500,000 to Korver. Should they? Probably not. They are still over the cap after that and have to replace the contributions of those three. That’s 25.6 points per game on a team with the best record in the NBA and a legitimate title contender, so it’s unlikely they are waived. Instead, look for the Bulls to try and keep Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, plus add another player via their $3 million mini-MLE.
Best Case: $28.5 million (5)
Worst Case: $31.6 million (7)
Cap Holds: $29.0 million (7)
The Variables: The Cavs get to the best case by waiving Daniel Gibson and Samardo Samuels, paying just $2.5 million of $4.8 million to Gibson. In fact, waiving Gibson is a recommended course of action as the Cavs look to rebuild around Varejao, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and another lottery pick.
Best Case: $58.4 million (9)
Worst Case: $63.4 million (10)
Cap Holds: $5.1 million (4)
The Variables: The Pistons have been in a bad place cap-wise the past few years and that’s not going to change. Don’t expect Jason Maxiell to decline his $5.0 million Player Option because there really isn’t a market for his 6.5 points and 5.2 rebounds a game at $5.0 million. So close to the tax already, don’t expect the Pistons to make a splash anywhere unless they use amnesty, and even then they won’t get actual cap space (when taking exceptions and holds into account). The light at the end of the tunnel in Detroit is still very dim.
Best Case: $32.5 million (6)
Worst Case: $36.3 million (8)
Cap Holds: $29.3 million (6)
The Variables: The Pacers will primarily be focused first on signing Roy Hibbert to a new deal. He’ll eat up at least $10 million of that cap space, which will probably be the worst case since Dahntay Jones won’t get $2.9 million in free agency. Then the Pacers have to decide what to do with the valuable George Hill. Do they issue the Qualifying Offer and try to keep him? The rumors say they have their sights set on Eric Gordon, another likely restricted free agent who went to Indiana University. They should also look to keep Louis Amundson, but not until the other work is done.
Best Case: $77.2 million (10)
Worst Case: $78.1 million (11)
Cap Holds: $3.3 million (4)
The Variables: There are none. Miami can save a tiny bit of cash by waiving Dexter Pittman, but all it means is they pay slightly less tax. Of course, when they use the mini-MLE again that becomes moot. These are the HEAT barring a trade, because they have zero cap flexibility and aren’t going to use amnesty because the only players it would make sense to do it for – Joel Anthony or maybe Mike Miller – don’t gain them anything by removing their salary. It’s time for the Big Three to do another recruiting job like they did on Shane Battier in December.
Best Case: $38.4 million (9)
Worst Case: $49.0 million (12)
Cap Holds: $20.2 million (3)
The Variables: The Bucks get to the best case by waiving Shaun Livingston (and only paying him $1 million of $3.5 million) and Beno Udrih declining his $7.3 million Player Option. The latter is not going to happen, because no team is going to pay Udrih that amount over two years, let alone one. They will look to keep both Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova. If they do that, their only way to add another player is with the MLE. It might be time to start thinking trade for the Bucks.
Best Case: $9.4 million (4)
Worst Case: $41.0 million (7)
Cap Holds: $28.3 million (7)
The Variables: The Nets will be somewhere in the middle of best and worst case. Deron Williams will become a free agent, cutting off $17.8 million. Jordan Farmer, with a $4.3 million Player Option, may elect to do the same, but Gerald Wallace ($9.5 million PO) is still on the fence. The bottom line is even if the Nets lose Williams, they will have a boatload of money to spend in free agency. If they re-sign him they still have the ability to add a top-tier free agent and then re-sign Brook Lopez, who has a $9.2 million cap hold.
Best Case: $58.8 million (5)
Worst Case: $63.0 million (8)
Cap Holds: $7.0 million (7)
The Variables: The only variable is whether or not J.R. Smith invokes his $2.6 million Player Option. Could he get more on the open market? His talent says yes, but the question has never been about Smith’s talent. The Knicks will issue a Qualifying Offer to Jeremy Lin and likely look to keep for the max amount they can, which is the $5 million MLE. After that, the Knicks are stuck filling out the roster with rookies, minimum salaries and the Bi-Annual Exception. The only way to make a drastic change would be to trade Amar’e Stoudemire because of his injuries, but that seems very unlikely.
Best Case: $50.44 million (7)
Worst Case: $66.7 million (11)
Cap Holds: $9.7 million (4)
The Variables: Orlando will be near the worst case. Jameer Nelson declining his $7.8 million Player Option isn’t likely, but they could waive J.J. Redick’s $6.2 million and pay him nothing. Thing is, that doesn’t help because they are still just over the cap and have the same options as if they keep him. It’s likely the Magic keep all 11 players, re-sign Ryan Anderson to push them over the luxury tax line and then try to find someone to help with the $3 million mini-MLE. They could use the stretch provision Chris Duhon’s $3.5 million, but that does little for them cap-wise (in the locker room it would help).
Best Case: $32.4 million (5)
Worst Case: $56.0 million (7)
Cap Holds: $14.2 million (6)
The Variables: Philly will be closer to the worst case because Elton Brand will not invoke his $18.2 million Early Termination Option. Louis Williams likely will for his $5.4 million ETO, but the Sixers will look to keep him. Look for Philly to use Spencer Hawes in a sign-and-trade deal to bring them more depth.
Best Case: $41.0 million (8)
Worst Case: $41.9 million (9)
Cap Holds: $22.7 million (5)
The Variables: The biggest question is whether or not to issue a $4.2 million Qualifying Offer to Jerryd Bayless. If they do, they won’t be able to offer a free agent max money, but keeping Bayless makes a lot of sense when looking towards the future. Expect the offer to be issued, a deal worked out in that range and then the Raptors are going shopping.
Best Case: $45.5 million (8)
Worst Case: $58.6 million (10)
Cap Holds: $2.6 million (3)
The Variables: By waiving Rashard Lewis ($10 million guaranteed) the Wizards can get to the best case. Should they? Do they get more out of spending the difference of $12.7 on other players than on Lewis? At this point in his career, the answer is probably yes. The Wizards could get all the way down to $35.5 million if they use amnesty on that $10 million. Considering the youth on this team led by John Wall and the middle anchored by Nene, it’s best to clear as much space as possible.
Next week we’ll take a look at the teams of the Western Conference.
What should your team do? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter @jfleminghoops and hit up his weekly chat Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern.