While NBA teams can carry 20 players on their rosters for the time being, that limit will shrink by opening night next Tuesday. Before the regular season gets underway, clubs will be required to have no more than 17 players on their roster — 15 on guaranteed contracts and two on two-way deals.
For most teams, that won’t be a problem. Six NBA clubs are currently carrying exactly 15 players with fully guaranteed salaries, while 21 more have between 10 and 14 guaranteed contracts on their books for 2020/21. For most of those 27 clubs, setting their roster will simply be a matter of cutting a few players with non-guaranteed salaries, and won’t require eating any dead money.
However, there are three clubs that currently have more than 15 players on guaranteed contracts on their rosters and will have to either trade or release one or more of those players before opening night. Here’s a look at those three clubs:
Let’s start with the simplest situation of the three. At one point, the Grizzlies were carrying 17 players with guaranteed salaries, but they quickly tipped their hand on which two would be the odd man out by not bringing Mario Hezonja and Marko Guduric to training camp.
Hezonja has since been waived. Barring a major surprise, Guduric, who is on an expiring contract, figures to be released in the coming days as well.
The Pistons have 16 players with fully guaranteed salaries. However, despite the fact that the team is in the midst of a retooling period, not many of those players look like candidates to be cut. Many of them were either specifically targeted by new GM Troy Weaver this offseason, or – in the case of incumbents like Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, and Sekou Doumbouya – have too much value to be simply released.
While Dzanan Musa and Wayne Ellington may be on the fringe of the roster, Rodney McGruder looks to me like the probable odd man out. There were rumors last month that he might be waived and stretched to allow the Pistons to complete their series of offseason moves, and while that wasn’t necessary at the time, the fact that it was under consideration suggests that he’s probably not part of the team’s long-term plan.
McGruder’s $5MM salary for 2021/22 is non-guaranteed, so Detroit wouldn’t be on the hook for any dead money beyond this season if he’s released.
Oklahoma City Thunder
After having arguably the most eventful offseason of any NBA team, the Thunder are also the trickiest club to figure out heading into the regular season. They have 17 players on guaranteed contracts, so at least two cuts will be required.
Many of Oklahoma City’s newcomers were acquired in trades in which another asset (a draft pick or a player) was clearly the primary motivator for the deal, meaning it’s hard to say exactly what the team thinks of those players.
Kenrich Williams, Admiral Schofield, Darius Miller, and T.J. Leaf all fit this bill, and I’d expect the two cuts to come from that group. Isaiah Roby could also be a release candidate, though he started the team’s first preseason game and played pretty well, with seven points and 11 rebounds. None of Miller, Williams, Schofield, Leaf, or Roby have fully guaranteed salaries beyond 2020/21.