Eastern Teams Expected To Have Max Cap Room

Earlier this week, I looked at Western Conference teams expected to have room to make a maximum-salary offer to a free agent this summer. The Jazz, who could have about $30MM in cap space, led the way, followed by the Mavericks, Hornets, Rockets, and others. Before we switch our focus to the Eastern Conference, a reminder of a few factors we had to consider when looking at those Western teams:

  • A team's projected 2013/14 salary can change significantly between now and the free agent period in July. There likely won't be any major shake-ups before season's end, but trades made before or during the draft could affect a team's '13/14 outlook, so the clubs expected to have max cap room now may not be the same ones that actually have it when July arrives.
  • As was the case earlier this week when I estimated maximum salaries for Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith yesterday, some guesswork is required here. The salary cap will almost certainly increase for next season, but we won't know by how much until July. For argument's sake, I'm going to predict that the cap will increase from about $58.04MM this year to an even $60MM for next year.
  • If a team has less than 12 players under contract for next season, cap holds worth the rookie minimum for empty roster spots must be taken into account. For instance, if a club has five players on their books for $30MM, we'd have to add seven cap holds worth $490,180 (next year's rookie minimum) before considering how much room the club truly has. Cap holds for 2013 first-round picks must also be considered.
  • As I outlined on Monday, not all maximum contracts are created equal. A max deal for Jennings will likely start with a first-year salary between $14MM and 15MM, while Dwight Howard's first-year salary in a max deal will be over $20.5MM. So a team may have room to offer Jennings the max, but not Howard.

Listed below are the Eastern teams expected to have room for a max-salary free agent this summer. Their current guaranteed commitments for 2013/14 are noted in parentheses.

Atlanta Hawks ($18,583,800 for three players)

With Al Horford on the books for $12MM, Louis Williams for $5.23MM, and John Jenkins for a modest $1.26MM, the Hawks have the fewest guaranteed commitments for 2013/14 in the NBA. That flexibility can be attributed to Danny Ferry's ability to clear Joe Johnson's massive contract from the team's books in exchange for a number of contracts that will expire this season. After taking into account cap holds for empty roster spots, the Hawks may not have quite enough room to make max offers to both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but it's awfully close, and no other team can make that claim. Howard and Paul are long-shots, of course, but all that potential cap space will give Atlanta plenty of options this summer, whether that means exploring the market, or focusing on their own free agents, like Josh Smith and Jeff Teague.

Milwaukee Bucks ($29,555,523 for seven players)

Assuming Monta Ellis opts out of the final year of his deal, as we've predicted he will, the Bucks will have three starting-caliber guards hitting free agency, in Ellis, Brandon Jennings, and J.J. Redick. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported earlier this week that Milwaukee intends to bring back two of those three guys, and I think the smart money is probably on Jennings and Redick. If we assume those two players will earn a combined $20MM+ annually, suddenly the Bucks don't have nearly as much cap space left over.

Detroit Pistons ($29,756,686 for eight players)

Our estimate here for the Pistons assumes the team will buy out Rodney Stuckey, saving $4.5MM on his 2013/14 salary. Even if they don't do that, the Pistons could still pick up even more cap space if they decide to amnesty Charlie Villanueva and clear his remaining $8.58MM from their team salary, which seems like a good bet. Either way, the Pistons will not only have a ton of room under the cap, but they also won't have to add many players to fill out the roster. That bodes well for the pursuit of a max free agent, though it's hard to see an ideal, realistic fit.

Smith and Andrew Bynum may be open to signing with the Pistons if Detroit makes the highest offer, but the team already has a solid young front line pairing in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Maybe the Pistons enter the mix for Jennings, though it seems as if the club would prefer to bring back a less expensive veteran point guard in Jose Calderon.

Cleveland Cavaliers ($31,998,284 for seven players)

The Cavaliers will have the opportunity to clear even more space should Marreese Speights decide not to pick his player option. Given his increased role and improved play since he was traded by the Grizzlies, that's a real possibility. In any case, the Cavs will have more than enough room to make a run at a max free agent, should they so choose. As long as rumors linking LeBron James to the Cavs for the summer of 2014 persist though, it's extremely unlikely that the Cavs compromise their future flexibility by completing a major signing this summer. Even if the team wanted to make a splash, I don't think Cleveland will be on Howard's or Paul's lists of desired destinations.

Charlotte Bobcats ($40,011,207 for eight players)

The amount of Howard's max salary for 2013/14 in millions ($20.51MM) exceeds the Bobcats' win total over the last two years (20), which in itself speaks to Charlotte's chances of landing a marquee free agent this summer. Even a potentially massive overpay, like a four-year max to Bynum or Smith, may not be enough to bring those one of those guys to Charlotte — not only that, but it wouldn't be the best use of the Bobcats' resources, as the team continues a lengthy rebuilding process. It's probably safe to rule out Charlotte as a suitor for any potential max free agents.

Orlando Magic ($42,552,972 for eight players)

The $42.55MM figure for the Magic here includes a lot of dead money — it assumes the team will buy out Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington, and includes Quentin Richardson's $2.81MM cap hit, despite Richardson no longer being on the team. I think it's more likely that the Magic try to trade Turkoglu and/or Harrington and get anything they can for them, so Orlando's eventual 2013/14 team salary could look much different than this. Regardless, the Magic will be entering the second year of a total rebuild, so the club is very unlikely to be in the mix for top free agents anyway.

Honorable mention:

  • The Sixers are expected to have $44,482,742 committed to eight players, which would put them right on the cusp of being able to make a max offer to a free agent with less than seven years of experience.
  • If Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza were to turn down their pricey player options for next season, the Wizards would have max room, but that's extremely unlikely to happen.
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