For most of the week, as players have been waived or bought out, we've heard that only teams with cap space can claim those guys off waivers. As last night's J.J. Hickson claim exhibited, this isn't entirely true. According to Storytellers Contracts, the Trail Blazers' player salaries for 2011/12 already sat at $66MM+, with cap holds taking their total hit up to $68MM+. This is well over the salary cap ($58.04MM), so how was Portland able to claim Hickson?
In his CBA FAQ, Larry Coon outlines four ways in which teams are able to claim players off waivers:
- The team is far enough under the salary cap to fit the player's entire salary.
- The team has a disabled player exception for at least the player's salary.
- The team has a traded player exception for at least the player's salary.
- The player's contract is for one or two seasons and he is paid the minimum salary.
At this point in the season, very few clubs have the space to fit a waived player's salary under the cap. While teams like the Cavaliers and Raptors are thought to be under the cap, both clubs would have to renounce their cap holds in order to place a claim on any player earning more than the minimum. Only the Pacers and the Kings currently have enough room to absorb any significant salary under the cap. Because waiver claims mean a team inherits that player's contract (paying the remainder), most players clear waivers without any issue. Boris Diaw, for instance, should have no problem passing through waivers, since no team will want to take on his full $9MM cap figure for this season.
Inexpensive players are more likely to be claimed, however, and over-the-cap teams claiming players on minimum salaries isn't uncommon. The Hornets did that earlier this week, when they claimed Chris Johnson off waivers from the Blazers. While New Orleans is over the cap, Johnson was on a minimum-salary, two-year deal, so the Hornets were able to place a claim.
Hickson, however, isn't a minimum-salary player. In the fourth year of his rookie scale contract, his 2011/12 cap figure is about $2.35MM. With no cap space and no disabled player exception available, Portland could only have used a traded player exception to absorb Hickson's salary. Fortunately, as I noted after last week's trade deadline, the Blazers created a trade exception when they dealt Marcus Camby to Houston, and Hickson's salary fits nicely into that $2.68MM exception.
The Warriors had hoped to sign Hickson after he cleared waivers — following Portland's winning claim, Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group explained that Golden State didn't have the cap space to absorb Hickson's salary, and therefore missed out. But if the Warriors broke down the Andrew Bogut as we assume they did, the team should have received a trade exception of its own, worth $3.29MM. If they wanted Hickson badly enough, the Warriors could have used that exception to grab him.