Observations On 2013/14 Mid-Level Exceptions

August 14 2013 at 3:45pm CST By Luke Adams

Earlier this afternoon, we published a piece detailing the current status of the 2013/14 mid-level exceptions for all 30 NBA teams. While the list is straightforward, for the most part, it's worth examining it a little more closely and breaking down a few issues and questions….

1. Who has the most exception money available?

With all of the major free agents off the board, there likely won't be many more bidding wars for highly-coveted players, but it could still be beneficial for a team to have extra spending flexibility. If a player is bought out by his current team later in the season, for instance, it could take more than the minimum salary to sign him. In that case, the following teams could be in good position:

  • Oklahoma City Thunder: $5.15MM remaining.
  • Memphis Grizzlies: $4.62MM remaining, though a portion will likely be used to officially sign Nick Calathes.
  • Miami Heat: $3.18MM remaining.
  • Boston Celtics: $2.66MM remaining.

Several teams have $2.65MM in leftover exception money, while the 76ers and Bucks also have good chunks of cap space available.

2. Some MLE money technically available can't or won't realistically be used.

Teams using more than the taxpayer portion of the MLE aren't permitted to exceed the tax apron ($75,748,000, or $4MM above the tax line) at any point before next July. That means that if the Celtics were to use the rest of their MLE, their flexibility would be extremely limited, since they'd be left with only about $56K in wiggle room before hitting that hard cap. That doesn't mean the C's can't use the full non-taxpayer MLE, but it makes it unlikely.

Similarly, a few teams have very small portions of their MLEs available. In some cases, those could theoretically be used. A team like the Warriors, for example, could use the $50K remaining on their mid-level to sign a player late in the season — if they wanted to sign that player for three years, rather than the two allowed by the minimum salary exception, they could use the $50K on their MLE, since its value pro-rates starting on January 10th.

On the other hand, the $1,650 left on the Knicks' MLE is too small an amount to even use to sign a player on the last day of the season, so it can't be used.

3. Which form of MLE do the Pelicans have available?

The salary databases compiled by Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com and Eric Pincus of HoopsWorld.com are at odds when it comes to how two teams acquired players this summer. The Pelicans are the first — Deeks has New Orleans listed as having signed Greg Stiemsma using a portion of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, while Pincus suggests the Pelicans have the full room exception available, which must mean Stiemsma was signed using cap space.

The Pelicans pulled off a tricky series of moves in July that don't make the answer obvious, but the deal in which they acquired Jrue Holiday provides a big clue. The Holiday deal couldn't have been consummated using rules for over-the-cap trades, since New Orleans didn't send out enough salary. Therefore, the team must have absorbed Holiday's contract using cap space, in which case, the non-taxpayer mid-level exception was no longer available.

Based on my math, the Pelicans must have finalized the Holiday deal and Stiemsma's signing using cap space before they formally landed Tyreke Evans, Jeff Withey, and Anthony Morrow. If the club made the Holiday and Stiemsma deals official prior to the other moves, team salary would have stood at $58,668,416, just a hair below the league's $58,679,000 salary cap. The Evans deal then could have been completed using over-the-cap trade rules, with Morrow signed using the minimum salary exception.

In short: The Pelicans used cap space this summer, and should still have their full room exception available.

4. Which form of MLE do the Timberwolves have available?

The Timberwolves are the other team on which Deeks and Pincus seem to disagree. Deeks' data suggests the team went below the cap and then signed Ronny Turiaf to a portion of the room exception, while Pincus' numbers have the club above the cap, with Turiaf signing for a portion of the bi-annual exception, while Corey Brewer got most of the MLE. Based on my calculations, it appears the Wolves could have used either approach.

In Deeks' scenario, Minnesota would have renounced Andrei Kirilenko, absorbed Kevin Martin's signed-and-traded contract using cap space, squezed Brewer's deal into the remaining cap room, then gone over the cap to finalize contracts for Chase Budinger, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, Nikola Pekovic, and Turiaf.

In Pincus' scenario, the team would have used over-the-cap trade rules to take on Martin's salary in exchange for Luke Ridnour's contract. That would have allowed the Wolves to keep all their exceptions, including a small trade exception created when they traded Malcolm Lee on draft night. Brewer and Turiaf would have subsequently been signed using the MLE and BAE, respectively.

My guess is that the team opted for the former scenario for a couple reasons. First, by using cap space, the team would be able to avoid using its bi-annual exception this year, keeping it available for next season. Additionally, the Wolves would still have $1.152MM on their room exception to use on a single player, rather than having $650K of the MLE and $516K of the BAE, two amounts that couldn't be combined.

In short: The T-Wolves probably used cap space this summer, and should still have $1,152,000 of their room exception available.

HoopsWorld and ShamSports were used in the creation of this post.

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