Teams Limited To Minimum Salary Contract Offers

There won’t be many free agents who sign for more than the veteran’s minimum between now and the end of the NBA’s regular season. The majority of the players whose markets exceeded the minimum came off the board pretty quickly in July, and teams aren’t looking to spend big on the players who are still available.

Still, that doesn’t mean every signing for the next seven months will be of the minimum-salary variety. In certain cases – especially on the buyout market in February – being able to offer a couple million dollars more than the minimum could be the difference between a team landing a free agent and missing out on him.

With that in mind, it’s worth checking in on which teams don’t currently have the ability to offer more than the minimum. By our count, about a third of the NBA is in this boat, though some of those clubs could generate some spending flexibility by making cost-cutting trades.

Here’s a breakdown of the teams currently limited to minimum-salary contract offers for free agents:

Teams above the second tax apron:

  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Miami Heat
  • Phoenix Suns

Beginning this offseason, the NBA added a second tax “apron” and introduced new restrictions for the teams whose salaries exceed that apron. In 2023/24, the second apron is set at $182,794,000 ($17.5MM above the tax line) — it will increase along with the cap in future years.

In addition to being prohibited from using the standard mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception, teams whose salaries are above the second apron aren’t permitted to make use of the taxpayer mid-level exception, which is worth $5MM. The Warriors, Clippers, Heat, and Suns all fall into that group and therefore don’t have any cap exceptions available to use on free agents besides the minimum exception.

Teams very close to the second tax apron:

  • Boston Celtics
  • Milwaukee Bucks

The Celtics and Bucks may be able to start the season with team salaries below the second apron, but from a practical standpoint, it will be extremely difficult for them to make use of the taxpayer mid-level exception, which would hard-cap them at that second apron.

Milwaukee, in particular, has several contract bonuses to account for and would find its team salary well above the second tax apron if certain players earn those unlikely incentives. Boston has slightly more cap flexibility, but will still almost certainly be limited to minimum-salary offers for the rest of 2023/24, barring a cost-cutting move.

Over-the-cap teams that have used all their cap exceptions:

  • Denver Nuggets
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Toronto Raptors

The Nuggets are the only team this season to use the taxpayer mid-level exception. It’s the lone cap exception available to them in free agency, since their team salary is above the first apron, so they can’t offer more than the minimum to free agents.

The Thunder, meanwhile, used their entire room exception, while the Raptors used their non-taxpayer mid-level exception and bi-annual exception. Both teams are now over the cap and only have the minimum salary exception left to sign a free agent outright (a sign-and-trade remains possible, but is unlikely at this stage of the offseason).

Over-the-cap teams whose remaining exception money is less than the two-year veteran’s minimum:

  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Sacramento Kings

The Lakers have $1,905,000 remaining on their non-taxpayer mid-level exception, while the Kings have $1,381,536 left on their room exception. Both figures fall short of the full-season minimum salary for a two-year veteran ($2,019,706), so neither club could offer more than the minimum to a veteran free agent at this time.

However, that leftover exception money isn’t useless. Los Angeles and Sacramento could each offer more than the minimum to a rookie free agent, for instance. And their remaining exception money won’t begin prorating downward until after the trade deadline. So if L.A. wants to sign a veteran free agent in December, it could use its MLE to offer more than the player’s prorated minimum salary at that point.

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