Top 10 #NBA Teams facing Salary Cap Apocalypse

kobe bryant shrug

It’s that time again, where NBA teams are going to try to clear out their cap space to free money up for big-name free agents. But, what’s often overlooked is how bad the cap situation is in the NBA, even for some middle-of-the-road teams. So let’s take a look at the top five NBA teams that are facing what I term, the Salary Cap Apocalypse.

According to, the top ten NBA teams that were in salary cap prison (also known as the luxury tax territory of  $70.1 million) this past season were:

1. Brooklyn Nets at $102,589,967$89

2. New York Knicks $88,188,494

3. Miami Heat $80,698,486

4. Los Angeles Lakers $77,423,614

5. Chicago Bulls $73,363,715

6. Los Angeles Clippers $73,049,774

7. Golden State Warriors $72,503,122

8. Memphis Grizzlies $71,992,885

9. Toronto Raptors $71,429,136

10. Oklahoma City Thunder $71,283,121

The Boston Celtics were barely above the luxury tax threshold at $70.88 million, meaning that there were 11 teams in the NBA that paid a luxury tax. For each dollar over the luxury cap threshold, these NBA teams paid an equal amount in taxes to the league. As noted, ” [The] tax charge was one dollar for every dollar of payroll above the threshold. If the tax threshold was set at $65 million and a given team’s payroll was $75 million, that team would be charged $10 million.”

2014 nba playoff bracket

Of all these top ten teams, only 2 were in this year’s conference finals for each conference: the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Grizzlies exited the first round, as did the Raptors, Warriors and Bulls. The Knicks and Lakers did not make the playoffs, which hurts, and the Clippers and Nets only made it to the second round, losing to the Thunder and the Heat (see bracket above).

According to recent history, paying the luxury tax can help win a NBA title. For example, the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks, who were paying the luxury tax with a $85 million roster and a $58 million luxury tax threshold in the 2011 NBA Finals. But, Heat have been paying the luxury tax with their Big Three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh (as this chart shows from the 2011-2012 season).

Nets v Magic

Of the top ten teams, Brooklyn looks like they’re in big trouble (according to HoopsHype). Next year, even with Paul Pierce coming off the books, have $89 million in guaranteed salary. With the salary cap floor at $52 million and luxury tax at $70 million this past season, they’ll be paying that luxury tax next year (barring a major trade). I mean, they’re paying Joe Johnson $23 million and $24 million the next two years and Deron Williams (a glorified bench player with the Nets) a whopping $19, $21 and $22 million the next three years. Oh, don’t forget Brook Lopez, a center who will be paid $15 million and $16 million the next two years.

Next up, the Knicks. Amar’e Stoudamire will pick up his $23 million player option and Carmelo Anthony could do the same next year. Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani have one year left and will earn $14 million and $12 million respectively. If Stoudamire and Anthony opt in, that leaves a guaranteed Knicks roster worth $91 million and would be a $2 million increase from this past season at $89 million. OUCH!

kobe bryant mad on the bench

The Lakers have everyone off the books this season, as do the Miami Heat. The Lakers have three players with guaranteed contracts (including the hurt Kobe Bryant) and one player with a player option in Nick “Swaggy P” Young for $1.2 million.

big three miami heat

The Heat? Only Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Norris Cole are signed for this year, with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem with player options. Chris Bosh has told the media that he plans on opting in for this year at $20 million.

The Chicago Bulls are in semi-dangerous territory since Derrick Rose is signed for the next three seasons at $18 million, $20 million and $21 million apiece. That’s a lot of money to an oft-injured point guard. Carlos Boozer has a $16 million contract ending next season, Joakim Noah at $13 million and $14 million the next two years, Taj Gibson at $8 million the next three years apiece and only one year left for Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler. That’s still $64 million guaranteed for next year, but that’s under this year’s cap. If you project a year forward, they should be okay for next year.

blake griffin dunk

The LA Clippers have an astounding $72 million guaranteed next year, which still can’t touch the Nets’ insane salary next year. Still, they’re paying Chris Paul $20 million next year and $21 million and $22 million the following two years. Blake Griffin, the powerful dunker and polished shooter, will be paid $17 million next year, $18 million in 2015-2016 and $20 million the year after that. DeAndre Jordan will be paid $11 million next season, which is DeAndre’s last season on the books, for now. Next year, JJ Redick will earn $6 million, Jamal Crawford $5 million, Jared Dudley $4 million and Matt Barnes $3 million. Reggie Bullock will earn $1.2 million, while Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Darren Collison have player options for $1.4 million and $1.9 million apiece. They’ll most likely be paying a luxury tax, but to only make the second round? Something has to change, or at least improve, for this team.

golden state tshirt

Golden State are in an ok place, too. Andrew Bogut has three years left at $11-12 million a year, David Lee 2 years at $15 each, with Stephen Curry and Andrew Iguodala at three years and both earning between $10-12 million each year. Marrese Speights and Harrison Barnes have one year left with a team option the following year, but Klay Thompson in 2015-2016 has to receive a qualifying offer of at least $6 million. Other contracts are almost minimal at around $1 million for three players (Festus Ezeli, Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic). The real question is what will they pay Klay Thompson after next year, and whether an injured Bogut is worth $11-12 million the next three years.

Memphis has $64 million guaranteed for next year, which is not a bad situation. They’re like the Bulls, with several guaranteed contracts (eight to be precise), but none taking up too much cap space. Zach Randolph will probably pick up his player option next season for $17 million, and their next highest-paid player is Marc Gasol at $15 million next year (which is his contract year). Mike Conley is earning $8 million and $9 million the next two seasons, while Tayshaun Prince will get $7 million in his last year next season. Tony Allen will earn $5 million the next three seasons, Courtney Lee a little over $5 million the next two, and Quincy Pondexter $3 million the next four seasons. Jon Leuer and Jamaal Franklin earn under $1 million and have team options next year, while Kosta Koufos has a team option this year for $3 million and Ed Davis a qualifying offer of $4 million. With their coaching drama over, sort of, this roster could get blown up sooner rather than later.

Toronto is in a VERY GOOD place. Only two players under contract after next season: DeMar DeRozan at $9.5 million the next two with a player option for the same amount after that, and Steve Novak at an affordable $3 million each of the two years left on his deal. They have $41 million signed into next year, but with three players having a team option so that could be $14 million easily eliminated (John Salmons and Amir Johnson $7 million apiece next season and Dwight Buycks at $814K). Jonas Valanciunas is earning only $3 million next year, and he’ll no doubt get an extension for his play this season. They also have a steal in former Maryland Terrapin Greivis Vasquez, who has a cheap qualifying offer next year for only $3 million. They’re in a great place regarding their cap situation down the road.

kevin durant

Oklahoma City has to do some serious restructuring of their bench after falling short in the Western Conference Finals to San Antonio this year. Although they have $67 guaranteed next year, it is hard to keep their core together and have unreliable bench spots on their team. Kevin Durant will earn $18 and $19 million the next two seasons, Russell Westbrook $15-17 million the next three, and Serge Ibaka $12 million the next three as well. Kendrick Perkins’ last year is next season at $9 million, but after that, things are sort of easy. No one is signed on after next season after their big three stars. Of all the bench players, Reggie Jackson will probably be extended, along with Nick Collison and Steven Adams. Caron Butler is not signed for next year and neither is Hasheem Thabeet (team option next year). Andre Roberson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones may not be on the roster in 2015-2016. They have to find the right pieces, but with $67 million guaranteed next year, that will be hard to find.


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About Spencer Irvine

Fun loving, D.C. area sports fan, which means I'm frustrated and still can't get a grip on what a win truly means (or a championship for that matter).

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