Teams Limited To Paying The Minimum Salary

Free agency in the NBA is a fast-paced game of musical chairs, and every year, it seems, a few noteworthy free agents emerge from the first two or three weeks in July with no deal and not enough bidders with money left over to create a competitive marketplace. The prime example this year is J.R. Smith, since the only teams with the cap flexibility necessary to give him a salary equal to or better than the nearly $6.4MM option he turned down with the Cavs are the Sixers, Trail Blazers and Jazz, a predicament that leaves the Cavs, who have his Bird rights, with lots of leverage.

Players aren’t the only ones who can box themselves in. Some teams rapidly use up any cap space they might have had along with their exceptions, limiting themselves to only the minimum salary exception until the next July. That’s troublesome both in terms of the value of the contracts they can give, as well as their length, since the minimum salary exception only provides for deals of no more than two years.

Clubs that are less than $4MM over the luxury tax threshold can acquire free agents for more than the minimum and more than two years using sign-and-trades, but such deals require multiple teams and the free agent to sign off, and that’s an extra layer of complication.

These are the teams with no more than the minimum to spend on outside free agents:

  • Clippers — They’re over the cap and over the tax apron, the line $4MM above the $84.74MM tax line. They spent the full $3.376MM taxpayer’s mid-level exception on Paul Pierce, and since they’re over the tax apron, they can’t take any player via sign-and-trade.
  • Grizzlies — Memphis is over the cap but out of the tax. Still, they used the $5.464MM non-taxpayer’s mid-level on Brandan Wright, and they don’t have the biannual exception available to them because they spent that on Beno Udrih last year. They could acquire someone for more than the minimum in a sign-and-trade if both teams and the player agree.
  • Knicks — The precise value of Kevin Seraphin‘s new contract has yet to be confirmed, but it appears to be for the $2.814MM room exception. Assuming that’s the case, the Knicks, who used up all their cap room, are limited to the minimum, unless they can find a sign-and-trade.
  • Spurs — San Antonio made the most of its flexibility this summer to sign LaMarcus Aldridge and others, but the Spurs are back over the cap and Manu Ginobili re-signed for the room exception. A sign-and-trade is possible, but extra difficult since the Spurs are close to the tax apron.
  • Raptors — Toronto lavished a four-year, $58MM deal on DeMarre Carroll last month to help extinguish its cap room, and the room exception went to Bismack Biyombo. The saving grace is that the Raptors are well short of the tax apron, so a sign-and-trade is a legitimate option.

The following teams have exception money remaining, but they’ve spent enough on their exceptions that the value of them is less than the minimum salary, at least until the minimum salary starts prorating at the start of the regular season.

  • Bulls — A $2.25MM starting salary for Aaron Brooks came out of the taxpayer’s mid-level exception for Chicago, leaving just $1.126MM of it behind. That’s less than a veteran of six seasons or more would make on the minimum.
  • CavaliersSigning Mo Williams to a $2.1MM salary for this season reduced Cleveland’s taxpayer’s mid-level exception to $1.276MM, less than the minimum salary for a veteran of eight or more years.
  • Warriors Leandro Barbosa‘s new one-year, $2.5MM contract came out of the taxpayer’s mid-level, which only has $876K left on it. Only the rookie and one-year veteran’s minimums are cheaper.
  • Wizards — The $4MM that Alan Anderson will see this year leaves $1.464MM on the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception, enough to exceed the minimum for all but veterans of 10 seasons or more.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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