The vast majority of NBA teams operate above the salary cap during the regular season each year, and this season is no different. Only four teams currently have space beneath the $70MM cap, and only three of them have any truly significant amount. Those teams have advantages on the rest of the league, not the least of which is the ability to trade for players without having to match salaries.
The Trail Blazers, who lead the league with more than $20MM in cap space, can trade for David Lee, whom the Celtics are reportedly making available, without relinquishing any salary in return. No other team in the NBA has enough cap space or a trade exception large enough to do that, given Lee’s salary of nearly $15.494MM. The Sixers, Jazz and Nuggets would have to match salaries for Lee, since trading for him straight up would take them over the cap.
Here’s a quick glance at each team with cap space, along with a look at the additional space they can open if they release players on non-guaranteed deals. Note that players with non-guaranteed deals account for a prorated cap hit if they’re waived midseason, so each team’s precise amount of cap flexibility changes daily.
- Trail Blazers — Portland has $20.625MM in cap space, with the flexibility to open up about $1.071MM more if they waive the non-guaranteed contract of Tim Frazier and the partially guaranteed contracts of Cliff Alexander and Luis Montero.
- Sixers — Philadelphia has about $10.838MM in cap space, with the flexibility to open up about $2.077MM more if they waive the non-guaranteed contracts of Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, JaKarr Sampson, Christian Wood and T.J. McConnell. (They can only waive as many as four of them, since the NBA doesn’t allow rosters to shrink beyond 11 at any point during the regular season. That fact is reflected in the amount of additional cap flexibility calculated here.)
- Jazz — Utah has about $7.264MM in cap space, with the flexibility to open up about $1.66MM more if they waive the non-guaranteed contracts of Chris Johnson, Jeff Withey and Elijah Millsap.
- Nuggets — Denver has about $1.384MM in cap space, with the flexibility to open up about $450K more if they waive Kostas Papanikolaou‘s partially guaranteed deal.
One more team is above the cap but has the flexibility to sneak below it. The Magic have a payroll of less than $70MM, but because they claim a trade exception worth nearly $1.6MM, slightly more than their $1.54MM margin beneath $70MM, they’re an over-the-cap team. They could renounce the exception at any time and dip below the cap by that approximately $1.54MM figure, however.
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.