In previous NBA seasons, there was usually a reasonably balanced split between teams that went under the cap and used cap room to sign free agents or to acquire players via trade and teams that remained over the cap and relied on exceptions to add new players. With the salary cap taking an unprecedented leap this summer from $70MM to $94MM, however, nearly every NBA team renounced its mid-level, bi-annual, and trade exceptions and went under the cap.
While many of those teams have since used up their cap space and gone back over the cap, there are only four NBA teams that have stayed over the cap for the 2016/17 league year so far, and one of those four likely won’t be over the cap for much longer.
Here’s a breakdown of the teams not using cap room in 2016/17:
Will not use cap room in 2016/17:
The Cavaliers could still technically get under the cap, but it would require parting ways with LeBron James, so that’s a non-starter. Without LeBron under contract, the Cavs still have over $81MM in guaranteed 2016/17 salary on their books, and the team would also like to re-sign J.R. Smith. Those two players could cost upward of $40MM combined for the coming season, putting Cleveland back into tax territory.
With no cap room available, the Cavs have had to rely on exceptions to make tweaks to their roster — the team used a trade exception to land Mike Dunleavy and will sign Chris Andersen using the minimum-salary exception. One move to keep an eye on is the signing of Richard Jefferson, which is not yet official. Assuming the initially-reported terms of the agreement – $5MM over two years – are accurate, Jefferson may be receiving a portion of the club’s mini mid-level exception. Cleveland only has Jefferson’s Non-Bird rights, which wouldn’t accommodate a salary worth up to $5MM over two years.
Los Angeles Clippers
With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan combining for nearly $65MM in total salary in 2016/17, the Clippers would have had to part ways with most of the rest of their players in order to create a significant chunk of cap room. Instead, the team re-signed many of its own free agents, including Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Since the Clippers didn’t have full Bird rights on Johnson, the club used its full mid-level exception on him, creating a hard cap of $117,287,000 for the coming season. Los Angeles is currently less than $4MM away from that hard cap.
L.A. is using the minimum-salary exception to fill out the rest of its roster, using that exception to add players like Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton, and second-round pick Diamond Stone.
The Raptors entered the offseason with the opportunity to open up a little cap room, even if they re-signed DeMar DeRozan. But the team wouldn’t have been able to create more than $6-7MM in space, so it made more sense for Toronto to keep its mid-level and bi-annual exceptions.
The Raptors ultimately remained over the cap and used their MLE to sign Jared Sullinger. It appears the rest of the club’s free agent additions to date – Fred VanVleet and Jarrod Uthoff – will be signed using the minimum-salary exception, so the team should still have its bi-annual exception available. Like the Clippers, the Raptors are hard-capped at $117,287,000, but Toronto is currently in no danger of reaching that mark.
Have not used cap room yet in 2016/17:
Oklahoma City Thunder
Having lost Kevin Durant, the Thunder could open up a sizable portion of cap room if they renounce Dion Waiters‘ cap hold, along with their mid-level, bi-annual, and trade exceptions. That may ultimately be the plan, particularly if Russell Westbrook is open to renegotiating his contract, but for now, the team is waiting to see what happens with Waiters.
The Thunder agreed to terms with Alex Abrines on a deal that can be finalized using the mid-level exception if they remain over the cap. If they dip below, they’ll use cap room to complete that signing.
Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post.