During the first few years of the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, many teams had virtually no chance to open up cap room. The salary cap remained in the $58MM range for three straight seasons, making it tricky for teams to get under the cap unless they were in rebuilding mode and shed high-priced players. However, with the cap now up to $94MM+, and projected to blow past $100MM next summer, that’s no longer the case.
This year, 27 of 30 teams used cap room at some point to acquire players, leaving just three teams that never went under the cap. Plenty of those 27 teams have since used up all their space and gone well over the cap, but not many currently project to be over the cap in future seasons.
The NBA’s most recent estimate for the 2017/18 salary cap, released last month, was $102MM. At this point in the league year, cap estimates are usually on the conservative side, so we can probably expect a slightly higher figure next year, but that’s no lock — particularly since the NBA and the players’ union may make changes to the CBA by next July.
Still, even if we assume that the $102MM projection is accurate, there are currently only two teams whose guaranteed salaries for 2017/18 exceed that figure. Here are those teams:
Projected to be over the 2017/18 cap:
- Portland Trail Blazers: Incredibly, no NBA team has more guaranteed money on its 2017/18 books than the Blazers, whose $123.71MM blows away the competition. That total doesn’t include team options for Noah Vonleh and Shabazz Napier, a qualifying offer for Mason Plumlee, or Festus Ezeli‘s non-guaranteed salary. Throw in those figures, plus a few more non-guaranteed salaries, and Portland’s commitments total $140MM+. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Evan Turner combine to make $86.58MM in ’17/18.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Even without a new contract for J.R. Smith, the Cavs already have more than $113MM in guaranteed salaries on their books for ’17/18. LeBron James‘ $33.29MM salary is the biggest number, but the team has four more eight-digit cap hits, ranging from about $10.34MM for Iman Shumpert to $22.64MM for Kevin Love.
While the Blazers and Cavs are the only two teams whose guaranteed salaries for next year exceed $102MM, there are a few more clubs joining them above that threshold when taking into account non-guaranteed salaries, options, and/or qualifying offers. Here are those teams:
Projected to potentially be over the 2017/18 cap:
- Washington Wizards: After locking up Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi to expensive long-term deals this summer, the Wizards have $94MM+ in guaranteed salaries on their books for 2017/18. The team will have to add another $2MM+ to that total for Kelly Oubre, and then may need to commit more than $12MM in total to qualifying offers for Otto Porter and Trey Burke, potential restricted free agents.
- Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers have less than $60MM in guaranteed money on their ’17/18 cap, but that figure doesn’t include either Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, who have early termination options on their contracts. If both players stay in L.A. – either on their current deals or new ones – the Clippers will remain well over the cap.
- Detroit Pistons: This summer, the Pistons maxed out their cap room, then went over the cap to sign Andre Drummond to a max deal. Once the club exercises its 2017/18 option on Stanley Johnson, it will have about $95MM on the cap for next year. Detroit must also account for qualifying offers for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Bullock, along with Aron Baynes‘ $6.5MM player option, taking the team over the projected cap.
- Toronto Raptors: The Raptors’ current guaranteed and non-guaranteed commitments for 2017/18 total about $104MM, and the team figures to pare down that figure to below $102MM before the season begins. Still, if the club intends to keep Kyle Lowry beyond next season, he’ll likely require a big raise on his current $12MM player option, meaning Toronto’s remaining cap space will be chewed up quickly.
There are some other NBA teams that may not be involved in free agency because they’ll need any cap room they may have to re-sign their own players. Despite only currently having $37.3MM in guarantees on their 2017/18 cap, the Warriors may very well fit into this category, since Stephen Curry will be getting a huge raise, and the team will want to retain Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala as well.
Of course, these outlooks could change between now and next July, depending on in-season trades, draft-day deals, and potential CBA changes. For now though, the teams listed above appear to be the least likely candidates to go below the cap next offseason.
Information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post.