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Potential 2018 Free Agents Facing Cap Drop

The salary cap is likely to surge for the 2016/17 season, and teams and players anticipate another leap for 2017/18 that would take it above $100MM, as TNT’s David Aldridge wrote this week. However, the NBA and the players union reportedly acknowledge that it’s possible that the second jump is only temporary, and that the cap will return to its 2016/17 level for 2018/19. That would still represent quite a surge from this year’s $63.065MM cap, but with estimates ranging from about $85-90MM for 2015/16, that would be quite a comedown from $100MM-plus.

That’s a potential “recipe for disaster” for players set to hit free agency in 2018, as Aldridge put it. Already, there are 47 such players who can elect free agency no sooner than that summer, as long as their teams don’t cut them loose beforehand. The majority of them are first-round picks from last year signed to rookie scale contracts that would have the players in restricted free agency come July 2018. So, Andrew Wiggins and company could find a free agent market not only mined out from two years of dramatic leaps in the salary cap but further compressed by a suddenly more conservative cap. That’s also true for the 20 who are set for unrestricted free agency that summer, a group that includes James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors. Also among those 20 is Carmelo Anthony, who has an early termination option for 2018/19 that he might be more inclined to take in the hopes that the cap recovers for 2019/20. Paul George, who has a player option for 2018/19, is in the same position.

Here’s the complete list of players set for free agency in 2018, when the cap could shrink. Those with an (R) by their names are in line to become restricted free agents.

Nine others have player or early termination options for 2017/18 that they would seemingly be more likely to opt into if it appears by mid-2017 that there will indeed be a receding cap for 2018/19. The respective values of their options are listed by their names below, rounded to the nearest $1K:

Of course, all of this hinges on negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement that are expected to take place after the 2016/17 season, when the league and the union have a mutual option on the existing agreement. The union, faced with the possibility of a cap that could plummet and surge from year to year, might be more willing at that point to consent to cap smoothing. The league might agree to keep the salary cap from dipping too low if the players are willing to make other concessions. In any case, there’s uncertainty for the players listed above, even if the potential consequences are a few years off.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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