This morning, we looked at the 12 NBA teams that dipped below the cap this summer and used space under the cap to sign or trade for players. Because those teams used cap room this year, they lost access to the full $5MM mid-level exception, along with the $1.957MM bi-annual exception.
Teams that remain over the cap, however, have the option to use their full $5MM mid-level. While this exception is available to any over-the-cap team, using more than $3.09MM of the MLE means the club's payroll can't exceed the tax line by more than $4MM at any point during the season. Because the tax threshold is $70,307,000, the "hard cap" for teams spending the full mid-level is $74,307,000.
The Bulls are one notable example of a team up against that hard cap. Because the team spent nearly $4MM of its mid-level on Kirk Hinrich, payroll can't exceed that $74.3MM cut-off at any point before next July. With over $73.5MM currently committed to player salaries, the Bulls don't have a whole lot of wiggle room.
Chicago is one of 13 clubs that should have access to their full $5MM mid-level exception this season. Here's a look at the franchises that fall into this category:
- Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks used their entire mid-level on Lou Williams, but aren't in danger of approaching the hard cap, as their payroll sits around $65MM.
- Boston Celtics: Taking into account their non-guaranteed players, the Celtics are approaching that hard cap, with a cap hit at approximately $71.9MM. They still have room to use their bi-annual exception though, if they so choose.
- Chicago Bulls: As I mentioned above, the Bulls don't even have the flexibility to sign a minimum-salary player, unless he's a rookie.
- Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets only used a small portion of their mid-level to sign Anthony Randolph, so they aren't hard-capped. Still, with $63.5MM in salaries, they're not about to approach that threshold anyway.
- Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have used just $2.5MM of their mid-level, and have the flexibility to use the rest without approaching the hard cap.
- Golden State Warriors: Like the Celtics, the Warriors are slightly over the tax line, but have some breathing room before they hit the hard cap, and could still use their BAE if they want to.
- Los Angeles Clippers: Sitting about $1MM below the tax line, it's unlikely the Clippers add much more salary and risk becoming a taxpayer.
- Milwaukee Bucks: With $4.35MM of their MLE remaining, and a payroll barely over the cap, the Bucks are a decent candidate to add a free agent for more than the minimum salary. A player like Leandro Barbosa could potentially be a fit.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: I expect the Thunder won't be eager to spend the $3MM+ left on their MLE, preferring to play it safe now and open up the checkbooks later, when extensions kick in for Serge Ibaka and perhaps James Harden.
- Orlando Magic: Orlando still has over $4MM remaining on its mid-level, but will likely be trying to shed salary over the course of the year, rather than adding more.
- San Antonio Spurs: Having signed Diaw for $4.5MM of their MLE, the Spurs will be hard-capped, but still have $5MM+ of breathing room, which should be more than enough.
- Utah Jazz: Randy Foye received $2.5MM of the Jazz's mid-level, bringing the team's total payroll to about $66.6MM.
- Washington Wizards: With only about $55.4MM on their books before signing Martell Webster, the Wizards could have claimed a little cap space by renouncing their MLE and BAE. However, it makes more sense to hang on to those exceptions, meaning Webster's $1.75MM salary should come out of the mid-level.