clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Which NBA teams actually had cap space this summer, and how are they using it?

It will be a crazy summer in the NBA. Here are the teams that actually had the money for it, and how they used it.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2018 NBA Free Agency is underway, and while you might want your favorite team to go after your favorite player — no ifs, ands, or buts about it — sometimes, it just doesn’t work that way. There’s salary cap, cap holds, luxury tax, and a whole boatload of reasons why some teams can’t or won’t make meaningful runs at free agents.

So instead of bombarding you with numbers and NBA collective bargaining agreement mumbo jumbo, here are all 30 NBA teams, broken up into groups of teams that have enough cap space to sign a maximum free agent, have money to make meaningful signings, have no cap space but enough flexibility under the luxury tax to sign free agents with the mid-level exception, and the many teams saddled in luxury tax hell.

Hopefully, this makes it easier to understand why teams made the moves they did.

Last update: July 2, 5 p.m. ET

The big players

Los Angeles Lakers Introduce 2018 Draft Picks Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

These are the teams that had to sign max-contract free agents this summer. Max contracts vary from player to player depending on years of experience, but these teams generally need to have a $25 to $35.4 million chunk of cap space to sign a free agent.

All salary data via Spotrac.

Los Angeles Lakers: About $10 million

Moves: LeBron James (4-year max), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1 year/$12 million), Lance Stephenson (1 year/$4.5 million), JaVale McGee (1 year, minimum)

LeBron James has arrived, as have a few other players. But the Lakers still have some leftover cap space if they want to keep Julius Randle, and can clear another $12 million if they renounce him.

Philadelphia 76ers: $17 million

Moves: J.J. Redick (1 year/$13 million)

If a superstar wanted to come to Philly, the Sixers could have traded Jerryd Bayless without taking salary back to add another $8.6 million to this total. As it stands, they’re down to $17 million after agreeing to re-sign J.J. Redick.

The active parties

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

These teams had varying levels of cap space, but they do have tools at their disposal to make some noise in free agency. They also had the room mid-level exception starting at $4.4 million and going up to two years.

Indiana Pacers: $13 million

Moves: Doug McDermott (3 years/$22 million).

Thaddeus Young cut into the Pacers’ potential cap space by opting into his $13.7 million player option. Indiana then guaranteed Bojan Bogdanovic’s contract and signed McDermott to a deal that begins at around $7 million.

Indiana could still create enough room to make a splash and/or replace Young with a young, athletic forward who can grow with the team. Aaron Gordon or Julius Randle loom, but there’s less money to offer him now.

Dallas Mavericks: $3.5 million

Moves: DeAndre Jordan (1 year/$24.1 million), Salah Mejri (1 year, minimum)

Dallas used most of its cap space to sign DeAndre Jordan to a deal that’s essentially the same as if he opted in to his contract. The Mavericks tried executing a trade for him that’d preserve their cap space, but failed.

Utah Jazz: None left

Moves: Derrick Favors (2 years/$36 million)

Utah could have cleared $24 million, but elected to re-sign Derrick Favors instead and gain access to the full mid-level exception.

Phoenix Suns: None left

Moves: Trevor Ariza for one year, $15 million

Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson is a good start, and the Suns have interesting young pieces around them, too. They desperately need a starting point guard, but instead chose to spend their cap space on a one-year deal for a solid veteran in Ariza that can help the young kids grow.

Maybe this is a sign that the Suns are keeping Elfrid Payton, or perhaps they’ll acquire a point guard in a trade.

Sacramento Kings: About $17 million

De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, and now Marvin Bagley III. That’s not a bad start. Now add some veteran sharpshooters or an elite rim protector and get this thing rolling.

Have money, won’t spend

Atlanta Hawks: About $20 million

No big-name free agents are headed to the A this summer. This space is reserved for salary dumps and future draft assets only.

Chicago Bulls: Up to $27 million

The Bulls are young and fun and can sign free agents or take on cap before they re-sign Zach LaVine and David Nwaba this summer.

See above, though Chicago also must decide on Zach LaVine’s future.

Could go either way

Los Angeles Clippers: $8-10 million

With DeAndre Jordan’s $24.1 million salary off the books, the Clippers could renounce the rights to free agent Avery Bradley AND waive one of either Patrick Beverley or Milos Teodosic to create about $8-10 million in cap space, plus their room mid-level exception. They could also stay over the cap and get access to the full mid-level exception that starts at $8.6 million.

Orlando Magic: None left

Moves: Aaron Gordon (4 years/$84 million)

Orlando could have let Aaron Gordon walk and free up $15 million in cap space this summer. Instead, they’ll operate as an over-the-cap team, with the full mid-level exception available.

Brooklyn Nets: Depends

Moves: Joe Harris (2 years/$16 million), Ed Davis (1 year/$4.4 million)

Yes, the Nets are still paying Deron Williams. But Brooklyn is orchestrating a buyout with Dwight Howard, and depending how much of his $23.8 million salary he leaves on the table, the Nets could have potentially created $8-12 million to sign a key free agent.

The Nets agreed to re-sign Joe Harris to a two-year, $16 million deal, but because his cap hold is small, Brooklyn could elect to finalize that deal last and use the difference between his cap hold and his first-year salary to sign another free agent.

Brooklyn needs shooters, rim protection, wing talent and/or a veteran backup point guard.

Trying to avoid the luxury tax

(Yup, there are a lot of teams here).

These numbers have been calculated assuming the projected $123 million luxury tax level holds firm. The luxury tax is important to keep in mind because some teams can be taxed more than $3 for every dollar spent over the tax level, even more if the team is a repeat tax offender.

Here’s a breakdown from

If they manage to finish with a team salary of less than $129 million — $6 million over the tax level — , these teams can use the non-taxpayers mid-level exception starting at $8.6 million and going up to four years to sign one or multiple free agents. If they go above that number, they are limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception for about half that figure.

Cleveland Cavaliers: $17.4 million below the tax

Poor Cavs. LeBron James is gone, but the Cavaliers still won’t have cap space and are within striking distance of the luxury-tax line.

Portland Trail Blazers: $9.4 million below the tax

Moves: Nik Stauskas (1 year/minimum)

If the Blazers re-sign Jusuf Nurkic, they will inch closer to the tax. If not, Portland still has a $13 million trade exception from the Allen Crabbe deal, and a $3.5 million trade exception from moving Noah Vonleh. They can use those to take on a contract, and they’ll also have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.

San Antonio Spurs: $17 million below the tax

Moves: Marco Belinelli (2 years/$12 million), Rudy Gay (1 year, $10 million)

Does anything matter if they can’t keep Kawhi Leonard? The Spurs could have cap space, but elected to stay over the cap to keep Gay and agree to a deal with Belinelli using part of their non-taxpayer mid-level exception. .

Detroit Pistons: $2.7 million under the luxury tax

Moves: Glenn Robinson III (2 years/$8.3 million), Jose Calderon (1 year/minimum)

Yes, the Pistons are still paying Josh Smith, but they should avoid the luxury tax after acquiring Robinson and Calderon.

Charlotte Hornets: 11.3 million under the luxury tax

The Hornets need a decent point guard to back up Kemba Walker, too. They could use the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception, so long as that doesn’t take them over $129 million in team salary.

Boston Celtics: $8.5 million under the luxury tax

Moves: Aron Baynes (2 years/$11 million)

Marcus Smart is a valuable player who could receive a large offer sheet elsewhere. Is Boston willing to dip into the tax to keep them?

New Orleans Pelicans: Depends on Boogie

Moves: Elfrid Payton (1 year/$2.7 million)

If the Pelicans let Cousins walk, they’ll be right around the $101 million cap level. If they bring him and Rajon Rondo back, they’ll likely need to make moves to get under the luxury tax.

Milwaukee Bucks: $12 million under the luxury tax

Moves: Ersan Ilyasova (3 years/$21 million)

Bringing Ilyasova back for a big chunk of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception does not bode well for Jabari Parker’s future.

New York Knicks: $19 million under the luxury tax

Moves: Mario Hezonja (1 year/$6.5 million)

There was some speculation that Enes Kanter might opt out of his $18.6 million player option, but he smartly decided to opt in. That means the Knicks won’t have any practical cap space, and thus have the non-taxpayer mid-level to offer.

Miami Heat: $2 million under the luxury tax

Somehow, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson eat up $110 million of cap space by themselves. The plights of a middling team.

Memphis Grizzlies: $18 million under the luxury tax

Yes, Chandler Parsons is still making bank at the Grizzlies’ expense. Memphis will probably try to re-sign Tyreke Evans, and they’ll also have the non-taxpayer mid-level to sign free agents.

Minnesota Timberwolves: About $2 million under the luxury tax

Moves: Anthony Tolliver (1 year/$5.7 million), (Derrick Rose (1 year/minimum)

Acquiring Anthony Tolliver while renouncing Nemanja Bjelica’s cap hold saved the Timberwolves a little bit, but they’re still right up against the tax line.

Toronto Raptors: $16 million OVER the luxury tax

Moves: Fred VanVleet (2 years/$18 million)

If the luxury tax is $123 million, the Raptors are about $16 million over it. How do they get under after re-signing Fred VanVleet? Someone’s must go: Norman Powell, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka or C.J. Miles.

Washington Wizards: $3.6 million OVER the luxury tax

The Wizards need help to get under the luxury tax. They’ll want to stay as far away from the apron — $129 million — as they can, because that’s the only way they could sign-and-trade for DeMarcus Cousins.

Can’t do a damn thing about the luxury tax

NBA: Golden State Warriors-Press Conference Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

These teams, for one reason or another, are saddled in luxury tax hell. Some want to be there. Others have little choice. The only free agent tools they have at their disposal are using Bird Rights to re-sign their own free agents, and using the taxpayer mid-level exception that’s the equivalent of a three-year, $17 million deal. But even those moves adds further to their tax bill.

Denver Nuggets: $22 million OVER the tax

Moves: Nikola Jokic (5 years/$148 million), Will Barton (4 years/$54 million)

The Nuggets will give The Joker a five-year, $148 million max contract. Surprisingly, they paid Barton as well, pushing their luxury tax bill way up. The only way to get out of the tax is to trade Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried without taking any salary back.

Golden State Warriors: At least $20 million over the tax

Moves: Kevin Durant (2 years/$61 million)

They’ll survive.

Houston Rockets: $16 million plus over the tax

Moves: Chris Paul (4 years/$160 million), Gerald Green (1 year/minimum)

This assumes Clint Capela returns for the max. If he leaves, Houston can get out of the tax entirely.

Oklahoma City Thunder: $34 million over the luxury tax

Moves: Paul George (4 years/$137 million),Jerami Grant (3 years/$27 million), Nerlens Noel (2 years, minimum)

Paul George is coming back! That’s great news. The bad news: that’s one giant luxury tax bill to pay for a team that lost to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.

Fun fact: Carmelo Anthony is about to make $27.9 million. Using the Stretch provision on him could save Oklahoma City nearly $100 million once you account for luxury tax payments. Will the Thunder do it?