Flexibility is a buzzword when it comes to player movement in the NBA. Teams often go to great lengths to make sure their payrolls allow for as much wiggle room as possible when they dip into the talent market, but as complicated as the salary cap can make those efforts, one number is paramount: 15. That’s the maximum number of players a team can carry during the regular season, and a team’s inability to take on additional players can throw a wrench into an otherwise well-constructed trade proposal.
The majority of NBA teams already have 15 guaranteed contracts, as our continuously updated roster counts show. Any of those clubs can still take back more players than they give up at Thursday’s trade deadline, but they’ll have to either finalize another unbalanced trade first, or, more likely, waive a player on a guaranteed deal. Most teams are understandably loath to pay anyone who’s no longer on the roster. There’s also the specter of having to watch the waived player flourish with the team that picks him up, as D.J. Augustin is doing with the Bulls, who signed him after the Raptors cut him to facilitate their December trade with the Kings.
So, the teams with fewer than 15 players are in better position to deal as the deadline approaches. Here’s how they break down:
Teams with three open roster spots:
- Bulls — The league granted Chicago an extension that will allow the team to stay at 12 players through the All-Star break, but they’ll have to add someone before the trade deadline. It’ll most likely be a 10-day contract, given the team’s tax issues. Still, unless the Bulls find a tempting deal that allows them to flip a high-salaried player for multiple guys who combine to make less, it seems improbable that the Bulls will fill their open roster spots at the deadline.
Teams with two open roster spots:
Teams with one open roster spot:
The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts plus a 10-day deal, but their pact with Shawne Williams expires Saturday night, meaning they’re set to have an open roster spot at the deadline. The team probably won’t decide whether to re-sign Williams until after the deadline.
Two additional teams each have 14 guaranteed contracts and a 10-day deal that won’t expire until after Thursday. The Spurs and Hawks can nonetheless unilaterally terminate the 10-day contracts for Shannon Brown and Cartier Martin, respectively, at any time if they want to make a lopsided trade.
It’s highly unlikely any team will add a guaranteed contract between now and Thursday’s deadline. There’s a greater possibility that a player will sign a 10-day deal during that time, since the team can let that player go, but for now, most teams will refrain from dipping into the free agent market until the deadline has passed.