Checking In On NBA’s Open Roster Spots

Nearly two months into the NBA’s 2023/24 season, there are only eight open roster spots available across the league. Each team is permitted to carry up to 15 players on standard contracts and three on two-way deals, so that means 532 of 540 total roster spots are occupied.

All 90 two-way contract slots are currently filled, which means that each of the eight remaining openings is a standard slot.

Here are the teams that are currently carrying only 14 players on their respective standard rosters:

  • Boston Celtics
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Miami Heat
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • New Orleans Pelicans

The Celtics, Warriors, Lakers, Heat, and Pelicans are all currently over the luxury tax line and presumably aren’t eager to increase their projected end-of-season tax bills without a very good reason to do so. It seems likely that all five teams will fill their 15th roster spots by the end of the regular season, but there has been no urgency to do so yet.

While Boston, Golden State, and Miami have team salaries well beyond the tax threshold, Los Angeles and New Orleans aren’t far above that cutoff, so if the opportunity arises at the trade deadline, we could see them try to make cost-cutting trades in order to duck the tax. That figures to be more of a priority for the Pelicans, who have never been taxpayers, than it will be for the Lakers, who will likely be willing to take on additional salary for the right upgrade.

As for the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Timberwolves, all three teams entered the season close enough to the tax line that it didn’t make sense to carry a 15th man who would’ve pushed team salary above that threshold.

Chicago and Minnesota have a little more breathing room than Cleveland and could sign a free agent today without going into the tax, but I expect they’ll be patient — both teams are candidates to make trade deadline moves, so if they have to take back an extra $1-2MM in salaries in a deal, that breathing room below the tax will come in handy.

The injury-ravaged Cavaliers could benefit from adding a 15th man, but they’re less than $800K away from the tax line and have no interest in becoming a taxpayer, per Chris Fedor of A trade or buyout involving Ricky Rubio, which they’ve reportedly begun looking into, could generate some additional flexibility to fill out the roster, but there has been no indication anything is imminent.

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