At this point in the season, most teams aren’t going to do much with any leftover cap room. Teams are no longer able to make trades, and most free agents still on the market won’t demand more than the minimum.
Still, there’s reason to consider which teams remain below the cap after this week’s trade activity. With useful veteran players potentially hitting the free agent market as a result of contract buyouts, a team with some extra cap room might have a leg up on teams without any spending flexibility.
For instance, if the Rockets and Warriors were to pursue the same free agent – perhaps Andrew Bogut, if he’s bought out by the Sixers – Houston could offer a deal worth up to about $3.5MM with cap room, while Golden State would be limited to offering a prorated minimum salary worth closer to $400K. That’s a significant difference.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on teams that remain below the minimum salary floor, since those clubs could enter the bidding for a bought-out player or could claim a player off waivers. The Jazz, for instance, probably don’t need a big man like Bogut, but if they wanted him and he became available, Utah has enough cap room to claim his entire $11MM+ contract. That would keep him off the open market and allow the Jazz to surpass the salary floor.
Using our Salary Cap Snapshots, let’s take a closer look at the teams below the cap, starting with teams still below the salary floor:
Teams below the salary floor:
- Utah Jazz: $13.64MM below cap ($4.23MM below floor)
- Minnesota Timberwolves: $12.66MM below cap ($3.24MM below floor)
- Denver Nuggets: $11.56MM below cap ($2.15MM below floor)
- Brooklyn Nets: $10.21MM below cap ($793K below floor)
Less than a month ago, there were six teams below the salary floor. Since then, the Nets and Nuggets have taken major steps toward the floor, while the Suns and Sixers have gotten above it entirely. That leaves the Jazz and Timberwolves as the clubs furthest below the salary floor.
As we’ve noted in the past, there’s no real penalty if a team remains below the floor — the team simply has to make up the difference by paying their current players a little more money. However, the Jazz and Wolves figure to be mulling other opportunities to reach the floor. That could mean placing a waiver claim or – in Utah’s case – renegotiating a contract.
We haven’t heard any rumors lately about the Jazz discussing a new deal with an extension-eligible veteran like George Hill or Derrick Favors, so that seems like a long shot. But the team does have until the end of February to renegotiate and extend either player’s contract, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Teams below the cap, but above the floor:
- Phoenix Suns: $9.226MM below cap
- Philadelphia 76ers: $8.62MM below cap
- Indiana Pacers: $4.14MM below cap
- Boston Celtics: $1.11MM below cap
Although the Suns and Sixers have inched above the salary floor, they’re not necessarily out of the woods quite yet. Phoenix needs the contracts of Jared Sullinger and Mike Scott to pass through waivers unclaimed, while the Sixers will require the same for Bogut if they eventually cut him. If any of those deals are claimed, they’ll move to another team’s cap, pushing Phoenix or Philadelphia back below the floor.
Teams that could clear cap room by renouncing exceptions:
- Houston Rockets: $3.54MM below cap if TPEs are renounced (largest TPE: $3.33MM)
- Oklahoma City Thunder: $3.05MM below cap if lone TPE ($4.94MM) is renounced
- Milwaukee Bucks: $1.75MM below cap if TPEs are renounced (largest TPE: $5MM)
- Chicago Bulls: $1.59MM below cap if lone TPE ($5.46MM) is renounced
These teams are technically over the cap, but could go under if they chose to renounce their trade exceptions. In some cases, that might not make much sense. For instance, the Bucks and Bulls would have less than $2MM in cap room if they renounced their exceptions. Both teams have trade exceptions worth at least $5MM, so it probably makes sense to stay over the cap for now and see if those exceptions come in handy around the draft.
On the other hand, the amount of cap room the Rockets would have if they renounced their trade exceptions would be greater than the amount of their largest TPE, so it makes sense for Houston to dip below the cap, expunging those TPEs from their books. That would also allow the Rockets to use cap room to sign a free agent, something they couldn’t do using a trade exception.
The rest of the NBA’s 18 teams don’t currently have cap room. That includes the Lakers, whose moves this week took them over the cap by just $316K.