Bird rights help teams re-sign their own players, but cap holds are what prevent the same teams from loading up on high-salaried players of their own while also spending lavishly on free agents from other teams. It’s still possible for teams to do that to a degree, depending on the amount of cap flexibility they have, their willingness to renounce their Bird rights to some of their players, and just how high the cap escalates from one year to the next. Cap holds will be less troublesome after next season, when the cap is expected to surge into $90MM territory.
Still, for this year, cap holds are what stand between the illusion of cap space and reality. The Grizzlies have only about $38MM in guaranteed salary for next season, but the notion that they’ll enter the summer with significant cap room is far-fetched if they have designs on keeping Marc Gasol. The sought-after Spanish center will represent a cap hold of about 30% of the salary cap, equivalent to the maximum salary he can make next season. For the right to give Gasol a fifth year in his next deal, along with higher annual raises than he can see elsewhere, the Grizzlies have to keep that maximum amount, likely to be in excess of $18MM, on their books, and they wouldn’t be able to use it to sign other free agents. The Grizzlies surely wouldn’t renounce their Bird rights to Gasol, and the cap hold that comes with it, unless he commits to another team. Those rights are automatically renounced if he signs elsewhere, but that’s clearly not the ideal outcome for Memphis. Factor in Jeff Green‘s $9.2MM player option, and it seems certain that the Grizzlies would only get to use cap space to replace players who depart this summer, not to build around them.
The Knicks are in a different situation with Andrea Bargnani. There’s apparently mutual interest in a new deal, but likely at a drastically reduced price compared to the $11.5MM he’s making this season. Cap holds usually represent much higher amounts than a player’s previous salary, to account for the potential of a raise, so Bargnani’s cap hold will come in at $17.25MM. New York, with only about $32.4MM in guaranteed salary for next season, would surely prefer to use most of that $17.25MM worth of potential cap space on others. Thus, it seems likely that unless the Knicks and Bargnani agree to a new, cheaper deal during the July Moratorium and quickly finalize the contract at moratorium’s end, the team would renounce his Bird rights. The team could still circle back to sign him using a smaller chunk of cap space or the room exception.
Here’s a look at every soon-to-be free agent whose cap hold will represent at least $10MM on the books for their respective teams this summer. Players who have options on their contracts aren’t listed, so conceivably, this list could be even longer. In any case, the players atop the list will likely represent cap holds equivalent to the maximum salaries, which are based on experience and a percentage of the salary cap. The precise values of the maxes won’t be known until after the moratorium, so we’ve included last year’s figures as a guide. Those numbers are likely to escalate this season with the rising cap.
- Tyson Chandler, Mavericks — Cap hold likely to be 35% max ($20.644MM this season)
- LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Cap hold likely to be 30% max ($17.695MM this season)
- Marc Gasol, Grizzlies — Cap hold likely to be 30% max ($17.695MM this season)
- Rajon Rondo, Mavericks — Cap hold likely to be 30% max ($17.695MM this season)
- Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves — $18MM
- Andrea Bargnani, Knicks — $17.25MM
- DeAndre Jordan, Clippers — $17.160MM
- Tim Duncan, Spurs — $15.542MM
- Steve Nash, Lakers — $14.552MM
- Marcus Thornton, Suns — $12.863MM
- Derrick Williams, Kings — $12.663MM
- Omer Asik, Pelicans — $12.562MM
- Jeremy Lin, Lakers — $12.562MM
- Paul Millsap, Hawks — $12.35MM
- Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers — $11.916MM
- Tayshaun Prince, Pistons — $11.562MM
- Enes Kanter, Thunder — $11.389MM
- Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers — $10.868MM
- Manu Ginobili, Spurs — $10.5MM
- Amir Johnson, Raptors — $10.5MM
- Greg Monroe, Pistons — $10.412MM
- Brandon Bass, Celtics — $10.35MM
Note: The figures here are rounded to the nearest $1K.
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.