While the 2023 NBA offseason is far from resolved, this is a good time to take a preliminary look ahead to next summer, when the league’s 30 franchises will have a much clearer idea about the next media rights deal and the league’s finances.
One important thing to remember is that, typically, teams lose spending power and flexibility from now until next July as extensions, new signings and sometimes trades add multi-season commitments. As such, expect what is already a narrow list of cap space teams to thin even further over the next 11 months.
While these are far from set in stone, this is the projected breakdown of the 30 NBA teams by 2024 spending power:
Cap-space teams: Magic ($45 million to $80 million), Spurs ($50 million), 76ers ($40 million to $50 million), Wizards ($40 million), Jazz ($38 million to $43 million), Pistons ($25 million to $61 million)
Uncertain: Raptors, Pacers
Full non-taxpayer midlevel exception: Nets, Thunder, Rockets, Hornets, Bulls, Knicks
Less than non-taxpayer MLE: Cavaliers, Kings (if they retain Monk), Hawks, Trail Blazers, Pelicans (if they retain Jonas Valančiūnas)
Luxury-tax payers: Bucks, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Heat, Warriors, Lakers
Over the second apron: Suns, Celtics, Nuggets, Clippers
Below are my team-by-team projections for 2024-25, incorporating estimated draft pick salaries, cap holds and roster charges when necessary.
Unfortunately, shipping out John Collins was not nearly enough to get the Hawks out of their salary predicament beyond this season even with Dejounte Murray signing a reasonable extension that kicks in for the 2024-25 campaign. They are over the cap and roughly $20 million below the tax with nothing for pending restricted free agents Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey, so expect Hawks GM Landry Fields to have to offload at least one more big-ticket player over the next year-plus unless success this season makes ownership more willing to pay the tax.
The Celtics are unsurprisingly miles over the tax and into the second apron after Jaylen Brown’s huge extension unless they shed salary between now and then, but the more interesting question centers around ownership’s willingness to stomach the cost of their core when Jayson Tatum gets his massive new contract, which will kick in for the 2025-26 campaign.
Incredibly, the Nets could actually be a cap space team in 2024 after their dramatic roster turnover. That said, the more likely path is them staying over the cap to retain key free agents such as Nic Claxton and possibly Spencer Dinwiddie then jumping in the free-agent pool in 2025 when Ben Simmons’ contract comes off their books but Mikal Bridges’ team-friendly deal is still on the ledger. Those opportunities in 2025 could make the Nets front office significantly more reluctant to sign multi-season contracts next summer outside of key contributors like Claxton.
P.J. Washington’s extension clarifies the Hornets’ situation quite a bit because, even if the Hornets lose their 2024 first-round pick by making the playoffs, they would still have less than $20 million in spending power even if Miles Bridges and Gordon Hayward both leave as unrestricted free agents. There are ways for the Hornets to clear additional space by declining rookie-scale options (James Bouknight’s $6.1 million stands out there), but opening up a max slot would take shedding even more salary. It seems more likely they either stay over the cap to retain Bridges and/or Hayward or open up a modest amount of space to replace them at forward.
The Bulls have some big pieces in the air with DeMar DeRozan’s upcoming free agency and Patrick Williams’ pending restricted free agency. Unless either signs an extension, all signs point to Chicago living above the cap but below the tax unless EVP of basketball operations Arturas Karnišovas green lights a larger overhaul. The other key variable is whether the Bulls will be able to get Lonzo Ball’s final season worth $21.4 million wiped off their books with a long-term injury exclusion. But that probably only shifts their spending power if DeRozan is playing elsewhere for 2024-25, as re-signing DeRozan likely keeps them over the cap for next season anyway.
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Next season will be huge for the Cavs, as Donovan Mitchell will be just one year away from potential free agency unless he surprisingly signs an extension before the season starts, but they have an unusually stable salary structure for the near term. Management faces a tough negotiation with Isaac Okoro because they are approximately $10 million below the tax and the 2020 lottery pick will presumably be looking for more via an extension or restricted free agency. That may lead president of basketball operations Koby Altman to choosing between Okoro and the projected $12.2 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception unless ownership is willing to pay a modest luxury-tax bill, which they should do if the Cavs have a strong season. The other path would be avoiding the tax by shedding existing salary, with Caris LeVert’s then-expiring $16.6 million standing out as an option.
Even without their first-round pick (assuming the top-10 protected selection goes to the Knicks), the Mavericks are still over the tax line if Josh Green gets a reasonable salary via extension or restricted free agency. There would be ways to duck a modest tax bill if ownership demands it, but the better path would be using the projected $5.2 million taxpayer MLE to have the best team possible in the years before Luka Dončić’s 2026-27 player option decision.
The Nuggets are close to the tax line even if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope declines his player option and leaves, so the reigning champions will almost assuredly be paying the tax for 2024-25 as well. How much they end up spending depends primarily on Caldwell-Pope but also pending restricted free agent Zeke Nnaji and whether the front office chooses to use the taxpayer MLE again next summer, which depends on how close they are to the second apron and ownership’s willingness to pay for additional exceptions.
The Pistons only have $67 million in guaranteed salaries at the moment but carry two huge cap holds for 2024-25 in lottery picks James Wiseman and Killian Hayes. Removing both of those opens up about $45 million in space even with Bojan Bogdanović’s full salary (he is only partially guaranteed for $2 million of $19 million). The most likely scenario is that one or both of Wiseman and Hayes stick around, but their actual salary replaces those gigantic cap holds and the Pistons have a more moderate amount of cap space to work with. If GM Troy Weaver lets everyone walk, they could be looking at over $60 million in space, but don’t expect that to actually happen, particularly since $60 million is not even close to two max slots with the cap this high.
Golden State Warriors
With Jordan Poole gone, the big variables for the Warriors’ books are Klay Thompson and Chris Paul. Thompson will hit unrestricted free agency without an extension and the Warriors have full Bird rights, so they can re-sign him at any starting salary from his minimum to the 35 percent max ($49.7 million at the current league cap projection). Paul is actually the more interesting question because GM Mike Dunleavy Jr. could use him as matching salary in a trade between now and the deadline or keep Paul around for the entire season before either waiving him or picking up his $30 million non-guaranteed contract. Paul’s final season being a non-guarantee rather than a team option complicates matters because he and the Warriors cannot simply opt him out and negotiate a new contract, identical to the problem former teammate Eric Gordon and the Clippers dealt with this summer. The Warriors are presumably looking at a much more manageable luxury-tax bill in 2024-25 and beyond, but it depends on the resolutions with Thompson and Paul.
Even though the Rockets have an unusually high volume of non-guaranteed contracts, their only path to significant cap space in 2024 is by cutting Kevin Porter Jr., and even that gets them closer to $20 million than a max slot. That means GM Rafael Stone can presumably decide on non-guarantees for Jeff Green and Jock Landale with the knowledge that they will stay over the cap and under the tax either way. That does not make either a sure thing to be picked up, but it’s more likely because the Rockets do not gain much flexibility letting them go. The more fascinating year is 2025, when the Rockets have a team option on Fred VanVleet the same year Jalen Green and Alperen Sengün’s next contracts will kick in, providing a vast array of different scenarios.
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The Pacers are one of the franchises with the most variability in the 2024 offseason because of their $23 million team option on Bruce Brown, significant cap holds for pending restricted free agents Obi Toppin, Aaron Nesmith and Buddy Hield potentially returning via extension or free agency. The most ambitious scenarios have them opening up more than $40 million in space, but expect it to be much less than that, and the Pacers could even operate over the cap if they pick up that team option on Brown.
If Kawhi Leonard and Paul George return (both have player options for 2024-25), expect the Clippers to be over the second apron again even if they let some of their other veterans walk. A mass exodus feels unlikely, especially with a new arena under construction, but the Clippers only have around $53 million in guaranteed salary outside Leonard and George for next year, so they could pivot remarkably fast in that unexpected scenario.
Los Angeles Lakers
It feels unlikely that LeBron James just picks up his $51.4 million player option for 2024-25, even if both sides want him in a Lakers uniform after this season. Anthony Davis’ extension does not change this math since it required him committing to play for $43.2 million for 2024-25 before his new money kicks in. With Davis committed, the Lakers’ only path to significant cap space in 2024 is both James and D’Angelo Russell opting out and leaving. Otherwise, they stay over the cap and presumably pay the tax if James returns.
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Having a large number of capable players is absolutely a positive in the NBA, but it is more than a little stunning that the Grizzlies are about $20 million over the tax line if they keep Luke Kennard while picking up all of their rookie-scale options, especially since that figure does not include anything for pending unrestricted free agent Xavier Tillman. Unless ownership is ready to take on that kind of a bill, expect a cost-cutting move or two, like declining their $14.8 million team option on Kennard and/or shipping out a big man like Steven Adams or Brandon Clarke at some point between now and the 2025 trade deadline.
There are a lot of moving pieces for the Heat, but they are roughly $14 million below the tax line with nothing for Kyle Lowry or Haywood Highsmith, plus Caleb Martin seems likely gets a pay raise by declining his player option. In case it ends up being relevant, most reasonable formulations of a Damian Lillard acquisition also have the Heat paying the tax in 2024-25.
The Bucks are basically at the tax line with just their six most expensive players, so even filling out the roster pushes them well over and re-signing Grayson Allen makes the second apron a significant possibility. Jrue Holiday’s player option is the largest variable, and his decision comes weeks after his 34th birthday. That said, we could see a situation where Holiday exchanges a lower 2024-25 salary for a longer commitment, reducing the Bucks’ immediate financial burden while pushing out their overall obligation.
Incredibly, the Wolves are only $20 million below the tax with nothing for pending free agents Jaden McDaniels and Mike Conley, and that includes waiving both 2023 signings Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr. It is difficult, if not impossible, for them to avoid paying the tax without a massive talent exodus, so ownership and the front office have some big decisions to make over the next year.
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New Orleans Pelicans
Signing Herb Jones a year earlier than anticipated clarifies matters, but there are still tough choices and negotiations ahead. The Pelicans are over the cap and roughly $22 million below the tax, but either re-signing Jonas Valančiūnas or replacing him with the projected $12.2 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception gets them very close to the threshold in the year before Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III both get raises for 2025-26. Do not be surprised if EVP of basketball operations David Griffin considers following the path he took with Jones next summer with Jose Alvarado, particularly since Alvarado would be an unrestricted free agent in 2025 otherwise.
New York Knicks
With Josh Hart’s inevitable extension inked, expect the Knicks to operate over the cap for 2024-25, but their ability to use the non-taxpayer midlevel exception depends on the resolution for free agents Immanuel Quickley (restricted), Isaiah Hartenstein (unrestricted) and Miles McBride (restricted). It looked very unlikely that Knicks president Leon Rose was going to have the non-taxpayer MLE to work with before they traded Toppin, but now it is potentially a choice between the full exception and retaining Hartenstein; the second path likely allows them to also sign someone with the projected $5.22 million taxpayer MLE.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The last offseason before Josh Giddey’s pay raise presents a different challenge for GM Sam Presti, but it is hard for the Thunder to clear significant cap space even if they waive Dāvis Bertāns between now and then as expected. Without offloading existing salaries, they project to be around the cap line depending on the final position of their three first-round picks. As such, there might be a window to use the non-taxpayer MLE and retain Aleksej Pokuševski if the two sides can agree to an extension now or new contract via restricted free agency, but going after big-ticket free agents would require a sign-and-trade or serious salary shedding next summer.
The Magic can make their big free-agent swing in either 2024 or 2025 depending on who hits the open market and shows interest in joining their franchise. Even if we pick up all of their rookie-scale options plus Caleb Houstan’s non-guarantee, they only have $55 million in committed salary and thus could open up around $45 million to $80 million depending on a ton of variables: their restricted free agents Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke; whether they pick up non-guarantees on Jonathan Isaac, Joe Ingles and/or Moritz Wagner; and the unrestricted free agency of Markelle Fultz and Gary Harris. That would open up a lot of holes to fill, and the 2024 free-agent guard class looks frustratingly weak, but it could be a huge offseason in Orlando.
As of now, Joel Embiid is the only player on a fully guaranteed contract with no options for 2024-25, so the 76ers’ books are wide open. Even so, we can assume Tyrese Maxey and likely De’Anthony Melton will stick around, so the 76ers are looking at more like $40 million to $50 million than anything resembling two max slots. Still, if they can avoid taking on long-term money over the next year, the 76ers have a pretty clear path to offer a 30 percent max salary to a player with nine or fewer years of experience and a plausible one to the 35 percent max too, depending on who wants to join Embiid, Maxey and company.
The Suns’ top four players will make a combined $185 million in 2024-25 using the current estimate for Devin Booker’s salary, and that is more than $13 million over the tax without even counting minimum roster holds. This is going to be a very expensive team.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers appear to be in a state of flux, but the current roster is over the luxury-tax line in 2024-25 counting their projected draft pick with almost all of their major salaries on fully guaranteed contracts. Things can and likely will change before then, but as presently constructed, even using the taxpayer MLE would be pretty expensive, though ownership could take on a small tax bill if desired, even if that feels incredibly unlikely.
The Kings have around $20 million in wiggle room below the luxury tax, but that is probably not enough to retain Malik Monk using early Bird rights and sign a new addition with the projected $12.2 million non-taxpayer MLE. Unless ownership is willing to take a dip in the deep financial waters, expect GM Monty McNair to choose Monk or that MLE unless he finds a way to offload some money to open up enough flexibility to make both possible.
San Antonio Spurs
While there are variables in place like a potential Devin Vassell extension, expect the Spurs to wield around $50 million in cap space next summer. Hopefully this season provides the opportunity for the front office to evaluate what type of players make the most sense around Victor Wembanyama, but the Spurs could easily wait until 2025 or possibly 2026 to make their next big splash.
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At present, the Raptors’ situation primarily depends on negotiations with Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby. If both stay, expect the Raptors to pay the tax while one departure opens up modest cap space and both leaving pushes the franchise over $50 million in space. There’s a lot of discrepancy from one extreme to the other.
The Jazz are looking at roughly $38 million in space if they retain their top-10 protected pick and over $43 million if they send it to the Thunder. Expect a significant portion of that to be used to renegotiate-and-extend Lauri Markkanen a year before his free agency.
Even with Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma making significant salaries, the Wizards are still looking at $40 million in space not including Deni Avdija’s big cap hold. If they retain Avdija, expect a resolution to happen quickly unless he has a breakout season and projects to make more than his $18.8 million placeholder.
(Photos: Cary Edmonson, Trevor Ruszkowski, Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)
Danny Leroux theathletic.com
2023-08-28 10:00:50 , Suns – The Athletic