Yesterday, I looked into maximum-salary contract scenarios for this summer's marquee free agents, exploring how the amount of a max contract can vary significantly from player to player. Now that we have an idea (or at least a ballpark idea) of what sort of salaries 2013's top free agents will be looking at if they receive maximum offers, let's figure out which teams will actually be able to offer max money to this year's top guys.
A few things to consider before we dive into the Western Conference teams expected to have max cap room:
- A team's projected 2013/14 salary can change significantly between now and the free agent period in July. There likely won't be any major shake-ups before season's end, but trades made before or during the draft could affect a team's '13/14 outlook, so the clubs expected to have max cap room now may not be the same ones that actually have it when July arrives.
- As was the case when I estimated maximum salaries for Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith yesterday, some guesswork is required here. The salary cap will almost certainly increase for next season, but we won't know by how much until July. For argument's sake, I'm going to predict that the cap will increase from about $58.04MM this year to an even $60MM for next year.
- If a team has less than 12 players under contract for next season, cap holds worth the rookie minimum for empty roster spots must be taken into account. For instance, if a club has five players on their books for $30MM, we'd have to add seven cap holds worth $490,180 (next year's rookie minimum) before considering how much room the club truly has. Cap holds for 2013 first-round picks must also be considered.
- As I outlined yesterday, not all maximum contracts are created equal. A max deal for Jennings will likely start with a first-year salary between $14-15MM, while Dwight Howard's first-year salary in a max deal will be over $20.5MM. So a team may have room to offer Jennings the max, but not Howard.
Listed below are the Western teams expected to have room for a max-salary free agent this summer. Their current guaranteed commitments for 2013/14 are noted in parentheses.
Utah Jazz ($25,327,916 for six players)
No Western Conference club has less salary committed to 2013/14 contracts than the Jazz, as the team's three highest-paid players (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Mo Williams) prepare to hit unrestricted free agency. Even after taking account cap holds for open roster spots, the Jazz could have about $30MM of cap room available if they let their free agents walk. Still, the Jazz aren't expected to be in on top-tier guys like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul — I'd expect Utah to re-sign a couple of their own free agents, which would cut into the team's cap space significantly, but still could leave room for a few moves.
Dallas Mavericks ($36,965,449 for five players)
I'm going to assume Shawn Marion exercises his $9.07MM player option, while O.J. Mayo turns down his $4.2MM option in search of a larger payday. That would leave the Mavericks with five guaranteed contracts, and the option of bringing back Bernard James at the second-year minimum. Throw in cap holds for the empty roster spots and for the team's first-round pick, which looks as if it will be in the lottery, and it may be difficult to squeeze in a max offer for top free agents like Howard and Paul. Trading Vince Carter or their first-rounder would likely give the Mavs space to make a run at those top guys, but the team probably won't make a move like that unless it believes it has a real shot at landing one of them.
New Orleans Hornets ($38,577,093 for six players)
The Hornets actually have closer to $33.5MM in guaranteed salary, but I'm assuming the team will bring back Robin Lopez ($5.12MM), who has enjoyed a breakout year in New Orleans. Throw in a cap hold for what could be a top-five pick, and the Hornets may not have enough room for a max offer to an unrestricted free agent, but I doubt that concerns the team much. The next step of the rebuild likely doesn't involve overpaying someone like Andrew Bynum or Josh Smith, so I'd expect to see a series of smaller moves from the Hornets.
San Antonio Spurs ($38,721,028 for nine players)
The Spurs' estimated salary figure assumes that Boris Diaw and Patrick Mills exercise their player options, and that the team doesn't fully guarantee Matt Bonner's $3.95MM salary. Still, I'm not sure it's worth discussing the Spurs as a real contender for the summer's big-name free agents, considering the club is more likely to use its flexibility to bring back its own free agents. Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal all seem like strong bets to return to the Spurs, and I could see the club working something out with Stephen Jackson as well. By the time all those guys re-sign, the Spurs may not have any cap space at all, let alone max room.
Houston Rockets ($39,665,022 for eight players)
Virtually half the Rockets' team is on non-guaranteed contracts for next season, so it's hard to know exactly which players will be back. It's safe to assume Chandler Parsons' contract will be guaranteed, and that Francisco Garcia's team option will be declined. But when it comes to Carlos Delfino, Aaron Brooks, Greg Smith, Tim Ohlbrecht, and James Anderson, I don't think we can be 100% certain, so they're not counted in my estimate for the Rockets' salary.
Like the Mavericks, the Rockets may have to move a small amount of salary to be able to make a max offer over $20MM for Howard, but still have the flexibility to make a play for most of this summer's top free agents. However, it's worth noting that James Harden's 2013/14 salary won't be known until July. My figures here assume that the max salary will stay the same as 2012/13, which won't happen, so we'll probably have to add a few hundred thousand dollars to the Rockets' team salary. Additionally, Houston's first-round pick is ticketed for Atlanta if the Rockets make the playoffs, so there won't be a cap hold to consider for that selection.
Sacramento Kings ($41,399,659 for nine players)
With the amnesty clause still available, the Kings could decide to clear John Salmons' $7.58MM salary from their books and leave no doubt about their ability to offer a max contract to anyone. And I suppose it's possible that if the sale to the Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer group goes through, the idea of being the face of a Seattle franchise might appeal to free agents, and new ownership could try to make a splash. But for now at least, these are still the Kings, so a major expenditure in free agency is unlikely, even if the team has the space.
Portland Trail Blazers ($43,240,658 for eight players)
The Trail Blazers' spot in the standings will be interesting to follow over the next few weeks for draft-pick purposes. The club will keep its pick if it lands in the top 12, but it's currently projected to be No. 13. Without that pick, the team would be right on the cusp of being able to make a maximum offer to a restricted free agent, assuming our cap projections end up being close. GM Neil Olshey has frequently talked about using that room to add two or three players though, so Portland isn't likely to be in on any max guys.
- Even if the Suns get out of Shannon Brown's and Hamed Haddadi's partially-guaranteed contracts, the team still has $44,420,504 committed to nine players for next season. Phoenix also figures to have a pair of first-round picks in June's draft. Barring cost-cutting trades, that would likely take the team out of the running for any max offers.
- The Clippers will have close to max room, but unless something goes horribly wrong between now and July, they'll be taking advantage of that flexibility to re-sign Paul for as many years and as many dollars as they can give him.