The NBA’s maximum salary isn’t just a single number. It’s an individualized figure that depends on a player’s years of experience and prior salary. That’s why it’s quite conceivable that Andre Drummond will receive a maximum-salary contract this summer that gives him less money for next season than what Al Horford gets for a starting salary on a new deal, even if Horford signs for less than the max. Drummond will enter the offseason with four years of experience against nine years of experience for Horford. Kevin Durant and LeBron James will both almost certainly sign for the max, but Durant is in line for less than James because of the difference in their respective levels of experience.
The NBA’s maximum salary jumps from a figure of about 25% of the cap to one that’s approximately 30% for players who have between seven and nine years of experience. It goes up even farther, to about 35%, for those with 10 or more years in the league. A player can sign a new contract with a starting salary of up to 105% of what he made in the final season of his previous deal, regardless of experience, but with the salary cap projected to surge to $89MM, if not higher, it’s likely that maximum salaries, which are tied to the cap, will surge beyond the threshold necessary for the 105% rule to come into play.
The maximum salaries, like the salary cap, depend on league revenues, but the NBA uses a formula for determining the maxes that’s different from the one that produces the cap. So, that’s why the 25%, 30% and 35% figures don’t line up precisely with those corresponding percentages of the cap. In most cases, the maxes are less than the true cap percentages. For instance, 35% of this season’s cap is close to $24.5MM, but the 35% maximum salary is $22,970,500.
We’ve put together a list of some of the top free agents for next season, categorized by the maximum salary bands in which they’ll fall. That’s not to suggest that all of these players will necessarily be in play for the max this summer, but we’ve tried to cast a wide net, given the heavy volume of teams that are expected to have maximum-salary cap flexibility come July.
The following players are eligible for the 25% max next season, which came in at $16,407,500 for this year. That figure is projected to surge to $20.4MM this summer, so that’s the number these players are shooting for.
- Harrison Barnes (restricted)
- Kent Bazemore
- Bradley Beal (restricted)
- Andre Drummond (restricted)
- Festus Ezeli (restricted)
- Evan Fournier (restricted)
- Terrence Jones (restricted)
- Donatas Motiejunas (restricted)
- Timofey Mozgov
- Chandler Parsons (player option)
- Jared Sullinger (restricted)
- Dion Waiters (restricted)
- Hassan Whiteside
This next group of players are some of those eligible for the 30% max, which is $19,689,000 this season. The projection for this summer’s 30% max is $24.9MM.
- Arron Afflalo (player option)
- Ryan Anderson
- Nicolas Batum
- Mike Conley
- DeMar DeRozan (player option)
- Kevin Durant
- Eric Gordon
- Jeff Green
- Roy Hibbert
- Al Horford
- Brandon Jennings
- Joakim Noah
These players can receive the 35% max, which the league set at $22,970,500 for this season. The projection for 2016/17 is $29.3MM.
- Luol Deng
- Tim Duncan (player option)
- Pau Gasol (player option)
- Dwight Howard (player option)
- LeBron James
- Al Jefferson
- Joe Johnson
- Kevin Martin (player option)
- Dirk Nowitzki (player option)
- Rajon Rondo
- Dwyane Wade
- David West
- Deron Williams (player option)
The following soon-to-be free agents are subject to the Gilbert Arenas Provision, limiting their maximum-salary earning potential, as I explained last week.
Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ was used in the creation of this post.