We knew coming into the 2018 NBA free agent period that there may not be enough cap room to go around for all the players who hoped to sign lucrative new deals. Now, on the fourth day of the new league year, that’s more true than ever.
Teams like the Lakers, Sixers, Pacers, Nets, Mavericks, and Suns have devoted most or all of their projected cap room to free agent commitments or agreed-upon trades. While many of those clubs could theoretically open up more space with certain moves, they currently don’t project to have a ton of room available once they complete their reported deals.
The early activity from those clubs leaves just three teams with substantial projected cap room for 2018/19. These teams will be worth watching closely in the coming days – and perhaps weeks – to see how they intend to use their remaining cap room.
Will any of them make a run at one of the many intriguing restricted free agents still on the board, such as Clint Capela, Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine, Marcus Smart, or Jusuf Nurkic? Will they want to collect assets by taking on another team’s unwanted contracts, with into-the-tax clubs like the Thunder, Nuggets, and Raptors perhaps looking to cut costs? Their cap room will give these three teams some leverage no matter what path they choose.
Here’s a breakdown of the three clubs in question:
It’s been a quiet July so far for the Hawks, who signed their three first-round picks and inked Jaylen Adams to a two-way contract, but have otherwise stayed out of the fray. That’s no surprise, as GM Travis Schlenk said last week that the team expected to take a wait-and-see approach to free agency.
Currently, the Hawks have about $22.1MM in available cap room. They could increase that number to approximately $24.8MM by cutting Jaylen Morris and Antonius Cleveland, who are on modest non-guaranteed deals.
The Hawks are the midst of a rebuilding process and will be very patient as they put together their roster. That could mean wanting to use their cap room to take on a bad contract or two, adding more picks to their cache of draft assets. However, if they think the time is right to make a swing for a young restricted free agent who could be a cornerstone piece, they’re in position to do so. One weekend report linked them to LaVine.
Speaking of LaVine, the Bulls‘ projected cap room will be impacted by what happens with the RFA guard. With or without him though, Chicago will have plenty of flexibility.
Currently, with cap holds for LaVine and fellow RFA David Nwaba on their books, along with non-guaranteed contracts for Sean Kilpatrick and Paul Zipser, the Bulls project to have approximately $22.6MM in cap space. The team could increase that number to $26.2MM by releasing Kilpatrick and Zipser. Waiving those players and renouncing their two RFAs would get the Bulls up to about $37.5MM, though that scenario is unlikely.
If the Bulls decide to use their space to pursue an outside RFA target, Chicago native Jabari Parker could be an option.
The Kings have been linked to both LaVine and Parker during the free agent process, but may no longer be eyeing Parker.
Assuming they renounce the cap holds for free agents Vince Carter and Bruno Caboclo, the Kings will have about $18.2MM in cap room. Waiving Nigel Hayes, who has a non-guaranteed contract, would bump that number up to approximately $19.5MM.
If they plan to keep Hayes, the Kings are already 14 players on their roster, so it could make sense for them to use their remaining cap room in one fell swoop if there’s an opportunity they like.
Other teams that could create flexibility
While there are a number of teams that could theoretically clear cap room if they’re willing to waive or trade players on guaranteed contracts, there are a couple clubs whose path to space is quicker and easier than most.
The Nets are one such team. Once they complete their acquisition of Dwight Howard, the Nets project to have approximately $6.6MM in space. That doesn’t include Ed Davis‘ new $4.4MM deal, since Brooklyn figures to complete that signing using the room exception. It also include Joe Harris‘ modest $1.5MM cap hold rather than his new $8MM-ish salary, since the Nets will likely use all their cap room before going over the cap to re-sign Harris.
With a buyout agreement in place for Howard, the Nets are in position to increase their cap room. While it’s not clear how much Howard will give up in his agreement with Brooklyn, let’s say he gives back $5.337MM, the amount he’s reportedly receiving on his new deal with the Wizards. In that scenario, the Nets could add that amount to their $6.6MM in space, getting up to approximately $12MM.
The Lakers are another team to watch. Based on their roster moves to date, they project to have approximately $5.7MM in space. While it looks like they’ll avoid taking on multiyear deals, preferring to preserve cap flexibility for 2019, they could create significant flexibility right away if they’re willing to waive and stretch Luol Deng. Doing so would increase their cap room to about $15.5MM.
Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post.