For NBA franchises, the idea of having cap space is often more conceptual than it is literal. For instance, the Boston Celtics headed into the 2012 offseason with only a handful of contracts on their books and the opportunity to clear $20-25MM in cap room. However, the team never actually used any cap space during the summer, instead opting to re-sign its own players, use cap exceptions, and complete sign-and-trade deals to fill out its roster.
Not every team used the same approach as Boston this summer though -- plenty of clubs dipped below the cap, and took advantage by offering players contracts that they would have been unable to offer using cap exceptions. Listed below are the teams that have used cap space at some point during the 2012/2013 season. These squads are no longer eligible to use the $5MM mid-level exception or the $1.957MM bi-annual exception, and may have renounced traded player exceptions in order to claim cap room. They could still have cap space or the $2.575MM room exception available, however.
- Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats' major free agent signing (Ramon Sessions) was only for two years and $10MM, which could have been achieved using the mid-level exception. However, being below the cap allowed them to claim and acquire Brendan Haywood after he was amnestied by the Mavericks. The Bobcats have less than $2MM in cap space remaining, but do still have their $2.575MM room exception.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs haven't taken advantage of their huge amount of cap room yet this season, but their approximate $11MM in space could come in handy later in the year, if they agree to take on a bad contract and acquire assets of value in the process.
- Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks entered the offseason having cleared just enough cap room to make Deron Williams a maximum-salary offer, but when D-Will returned to the Nets, the Mavs used that money to add a handful of other players. Chris Kaman's one-year, $8MM deal wouldn't have been possible without cap space, and neither would the team's amnesty bid on Elton Brand.
- Houston Rockets: At one point, the Rockets were so far under the cap that they appeared to be a frontrunner for Dwight Howard, considering they could take on virtually all of the Magic's bad contracts. Much of that space was chewed up on big deals for Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik though -- the two players will earn close to $17MM annually between them.
- Indiana Pacers: Most of the Pacers' big deals this summer involved re-signing players with Bird Rights (Roy Hibbert, George Hill) or acquiring players via sign-and-trade (Ian Mahinmi). Still, it was necessary to use cap space in order to sign both D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green to $3.5MM salaries, something that wouldn't have been possible with the mid-level exception.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves were very active this summer, attempting to clear every last dollar from their books to make a big offer to Nicolas Batum. When the Blazers matched their offer sheet for Batum, the T-Wolves used their plethora of cap room to sign Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, and Greg Stiemsma.
- New Orleans Hornets: You could argue that the biggest move of the Hornets' summer was drafting Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers in June, or matching a max offer sheet for Eric Gordon. But their big move with cap space involved acquiring Ryan Anderson from the Magic in a sign-and-trade for four years and $34MM, a figure that wouldn't have been possible without cap room.
- Philadelphia 76ers: I didn't love the Sixers' decision to amnesty Elton Brand and clear cap space when the team ended up using that space to sign Nick Young and Kwame Brown. The Andrew Bynum acquisition makes the team's offseason look much better, but cap room wasn't necessary for that deal. The Young signing was the only move that required the space, since his one-year contract exceeds the $5MM mid-level.
- Phoenix Suns: After employing their cap space to make a maximum offer to Eric Gordon, the Suns turned to Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, and a handful of other free agents when Gordon was retained by the Hornets. The Suns still have over $8MM in space remaining, so like the Cavs, they could take on salary later in the season.
- Portland Trail Blazers: Like the Suns and Eric Gordon, the Blazers used their cap space to make a failed bid for Roy Hibbert. After that didn't work out, re-signing Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson took up a good chunk of their room, leaving them only about $2MM under the cap.
- Sacramento Kings: The Kings slipped below the cap, but didn't appear to have big plans for that space -- they re-signed Jason Thompson, which could have been done without cap room, and Aaron Brooks' deal was for a modest $3.25MM.
- Toronto Raptors: The Raptors' cap space was necessary to make a run at Steve Nash. While that bid failed, the team made the most of its space when they acquired Kyle Lowry from the Rockets without sending out any salary, simply absorbing Lowry's deal under the cap. Landry Fields' three-year, $18MM+ contract also wouldn't have been possible without that cap space.