Earlier this month, I looked at Eastern and Western Conference teams that could create room for a maximum contract this offseason. With more punitive luxury-tax penalties on the way, and CBA rules in place that restrict flexibility for taxpaying teams, more clubs are looking to maintain cap space, or at least stay well below the tax line.
Still, there are plenty of teams whose commitments for 2013/14, the first year that those more punitive tax penalties will take effect, already put them well into tax territory. We won't know for sure until the summer what the tax line for '13/14 will be, but it's unlikely to be too much higher than this season's $70.307MM mark.
In addition to facing increased penalties for being in the tax, taxpaying teams will lose the ability to make certain roster moves. Any club that spends more than the taxpayer mid-level exception, uses its bi-annual exception, or acquires a player via sign-and-trade next season won't be permitted to increase its team salary more than $4MM above the tax threshold — those clubs will face a hard cap similar to the one the Bulls have been up against this year.
There's still plenty of time between now and the start of next season for teams to cut salary, whether that means making trades, using amnesty clauses, or reaching buyout agreements with players. But for now, here are the teams projected to be in tax territory for 2013/14:
- Boston Celtics: If Paul Pierce chooses to turn down his $15.33MM player option, or the team buys him out for the guaranteed $4MM on that option, perhaps the Celtics can avoid the tax, but both scenarios are improbable. With Pierce's full salary on the books, the C's have $72.77MM committed to 11 players, which will put them slightly over the tax threshold. The C's could be candidates to explore a trade or two that would help them slide back below that line.
- Brooklyn Nets: With over $84MM in guaranteed money on their books for 2013/14, the Nets are on their way to becoming perennial taxpayers — incredibly, the club also has $76MM+ committed for '14/15, and potentially close to $73MM for '15/16.
- Chicago Bulls: Poised to pay the tax for the first time this season, the Bulls might have to do it again next year if they don't make any cost-cutting moves. The team currently has more than $74MM committed to eight players.
- Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers' current commitments total $77.63MM, which doesn't seem too bad until you consider that a maximum-salary contract for Dwight Howard will likely be added to that figure. If the Lakers don't make any trades or use the amnesty clause, their tax bill will end up being nearly as large as their team salary.
- Miami Heat: The Heat will rack up a significant tax bill in '13/14, but ownership should be happy to pay that price for what could be the team's last run together. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all the have the ability to opt out of their contracts in the summer of 2014.
- New York Knicks: Interestingly, the six teams that look like near-locks to be in the tax next season are the same six that will be taxpayers this season. Considering the looming repeater tax that takes effect in 2015, some of these clubs have to be prioritizing getting below the tax line by '14/15. It won't be easy for the Knicks to do that though — they no longer have the amnesty clause, and don't have many trade assets. New York has $74MM+ in commitments for '13/14 (assuming J.R. Smith declined his player option) and $76MM+ for the following season (assuming Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire exercise their player options).
- Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets' position in relation to the tax will depend in large part on Andre Iguodala's contract situation. If Iguodala were to pick up his player option or sign a long-term deal with a similar starting salary, Denver would be up to nearly $68MM in commitments for 11 players, meaning minimum-salary players might be necessary to fill out the roster and avoid the tax.
- Golden State Warriors: Player options will also have a significant impact on the Warriors' team salary, as Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush all appear to be near-locks to opt in. If Carl Landry does too, Golden State's salary would be about $73MM for 11 players, making it tricky to get out of the tax.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Avoiding becoming a long-term taxpayer was a primary motivation in the James Harden trade, so one would assume the Thunder will do everything they can to stay out of the tax next season. Still, if the team hopes to bring back Kevin Martin, they'll have to add him to a roster that already includes $65MM+ in salary commitments.
- Toronto Raptors: Currently projected to be in the tax, the Raptors could easily avoid it by amnestying Andrea Bargnani ($10.75MM), but will likely amnesty Linas Kleiza ($4.6MM) instead. That should be enough to sneak below the tax line, but it won't give them a ton of flexibility to make additional moves without going back into tax territory.
Storytellers Contracts was used in the creation of this post.