While the NBA's salary cap is set at $58.044MM for the 2012/13 season, there are enough ways around the cap that the Lakers are currently flirting with a nine-digit payroll. Still, not every NBA team goes over the cap, or even uses all its available cap space.
As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are eventually required to spend at least 90% of the salary cap on player salaries, a rule that's set to go into effect for the 2013/14 season. During the transition period, teams were required to spend at least 80% of the cap last season, and will have to spend 85% in 2012/13. 85% of the $58.044MM cap amounts to $49,337,400.
No team besides the Lakers has doubled that amount, but most franchises are at least comfortably above that threshold. Which clubs may still have to spend some money to avoid being penalized for being below the minimum payroll? At the moment, it appears there are just two borderline teams….
Taking into account the reported $848K buyout for Brad Miller, the Suns' current commitments total $49,795,445, barely above the required 85%. However, Sebastian Telfair's $1.57MM salary is only partially guaranteed, as is P.J. Tucker's minimum-salary deal, worth about $762K. If the Suns decide to part ways with either player, their payroll figures to slip slightly below the floor. Still, it shouldn't become a major issue unless the team trades away more significant salary.
The Cavaliers currently have a payroll of $44,290,184 for 16 players. That number figures to get a bit of a bump if and when the team eventually agrees to terms with Alonzo Gee. Let's assume Gee gets a slight raise on his $2.7MM qualifying offer, to $3MM. That would mean $47.29MM for 17 players, meaning at least two of the team's non-guaranteed contracts would have to be cut or moved. When the dust settles, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Cavs hovering around $46MM, more than $3MM below the 85% floor.
Now, for the Suns, the Cavs, and a team that may cut salary later in the season and approach the minimum payroll, none of this is a real concern yet. Teams have until next June 30th to add payroll in order to reach the 85% minimum. Cleveland could, for instance, take on a big salary at the trade deadline in order to receive assets of value, and finish the season well over the minimum.
Additionally, even if the Suns or Cavs finish the NBA year below the floor, the penalty isn't overly harsh, as Larry Coon explains in his CBA FAQ: "If a team doesn't meet its minimum payroll it is surcharged at the end of the season for the shortfall. That money is distributed among the players on that team." Still, it's something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Update: As reader Aaron McGraw rightly notes in the comments section, amnestied salary may not count against a team's books for cap and tax purposes, but it is taken into account when considering the minimum payroll threshold. Because the Suns and Cavs are still paying Josh Childress and Baron Davis, respectively, neither team is in danger of being below the threshold at this point, though that could change later in the year if they shed additional salary.