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NBA offseason overview for Warriors and Cavs: While We’re Waiting

LeBron James Steph Curry
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The Cavs and the Warriors. The Warriors and the Cavs. Despite the hectic-ness of the past week of NBA news and rumors, the fate of the NBA likely remains hyper-focused on these two super-powers.

Thus, it is a useful routine to see how these two rosters could continue to evolve this summer. What may happen? Who knows exactly what could come next as we soon approach free agency and tonight’s NBA Draft. But we do know generally where these two teams stand in relation to the projected salary cap, tax line, and with all their current contacts.

The 2017-18 NBA’s regular season salary cap is estimated to be $101 million and the tax line projection is $121 million. These are legitimate increases over the $94.1 million and $113.1 million figures, respectively, from the past season. But the jumps aren’t as intense as last summer with the league’s new TV deals. The league’s new Nike contract and jersey sponsorships provide a decent boost of revenue, nonetheless.

*Edit based on some news on late Wednesday* It appears the NBA salary cap may actually only be $99 million for the 2017-18 season, per MassLive.com’s Jay King. Take this into consideration as you read the details below.

There are different sets of rules that prohibit certain player acquisition methods for over-the-cap and over-the-tax teams. The Cavs are facing what would be their third consecutive season over the tax; this presents the league’s daunting repeater tax rates, which go above and beyond the regular tax rates. The Warriors will likely be entering the tax status for the first time in recent memory after signing Kevin Durant to open cap space last summer, as the Cavs did with LeBron James in July 2014.

The Warriors have very few players guaranteed and on the books for 2017-18; the Cavs are nearly the opposite. The Cavs have been rumored in countless conversations over the last week; the Warriors offseason should be relatively ho-hum, besides some end-of-the-rotation decisions.

Here’s a detailed look at where things stand for both franchises today:

 

Cleveland Cavaliers outlook

  • Guaranteed contracts – $125.2 million for eight players (L. James, K. Love, K. Irving, T. Thompson, J. Smith, I. Shumpert, C. Frye, R. Jefferson)
  • Options and non-guarantees – $2.8 million for two players (E. Tavares, K. Felder)
  • Cap holds – $15.9 million for five players (K. Korver, J. Jones, D. Jones, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams)
  • Total currently on the books – $143.9 million for 15 players

Without doing anything, the Cavs are already over the tax line for 2017-18. I had nearly forgotten about the fact that Channing Frye still had $7.4 million guaranteed for this coming season. So alas, the Cavs are still armed with relatively little flexibility, unless they could potentially find takers for Frye and/or Shumpert’s $10.3 million guarantee.

The other big dynamo to potentially fall is Kevin Love, of course. He is owed $46.8 million guaranteed over the next two seasons, with a $25.6 million player option for 2019-20. These are giant potential moving pieces. It’s uncertain exactly who’s running the ship personnel-wise for the Cavs. But they’ll have to be creative if they’re going to avoid a giant tax burden this coming season.

With so many bigger puzzle pieces, it’s difficult to project what may happen with those five cap holds. Maybe they all could return if the Cavs still have open roster spots and they’re willing to take a near-minimum deals? The Cavs will have the taxpayer’s mid-level exception at their disposal (est. $3.58 million), but some of that will likely go to 2015 draft pick Cedi Osman. Everything else is a giant toss-up at this point.

 

Golden State Warriors outlook

  • Guaranteed contracts – $37.5 million for five players (K. Thompson, D. Green, D. Jones, K. Looney, P. McCaw)
  • Options and non-guarantees – $27.7 million for one player (K. Durant)
  • Cap holds – $57 million for nine players (S. Curry, A. Iguodala, S. Livingston, Z. Pachulia, J. McAdoo, M. Barnes, I. Clark, J. McGee, D. West)
  • Total currently on the books – $122.2 million for 15 players

It’s bonkers to see only $37.5 million guaranteed and on the books for the Warriors right now. That’s just barely more than LeBron’s $33.2 million deal alone! But the numbers will soon jump up quickly and extravagantly for Golden State. The biggest reason will likely be Stephen Curry, who is an unrestricted free agent. As a two-time MVP, he’s eligible for the super-max new deal, despite only having eight years of league experience.

Curry’s new maximum deal would start around $35.4 million (edit: now $34.6 million). That’ll happen for sure. Durant is expected to decline his player option, but since the Warriors don’t own his early Bird or full Bird rights, the math gets complicated. If the Warriors clear the open cap space by removing their cap holds, they could potentially pay him up to that $35.4 million max (edit: now $34.6 million). Otherwise, the maximum raise with the non-Bird exception is only 120 percent of his previous salary ($31.8 million). This seems to be the expected route. Add at least $66 million for Curry and Durant and the Warriors are already over the salary cap.

This makes things especially fascinating to watch for the vital rotation cogs Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and the other assorted role player free agents. Will they chase larger paydays elsewhere? Will they take a substantial pay-cut (i.e. mid-level exception-type money) to stay and go for a third title in four years? The early odds would be on mass departures, so stay tuned on whatever other veterans may attempt to take their spot out in the Bay.

 

For good measure, here’s where the two 2016-17 NBA conference finalists also stack up with their current salaries:

Boston Celtics outlook

  • Guaranteed contracts – $69.1 million for eight players (A. Horford, A. Bradley, T. Zeller, J. Crowder, I. Thomas, J. Brown, M. Smart, T. Rozier)
  • Options and non-guarantees – $2.8 million for two players (J. Mickey, D. Jackson)
  • Cap holds – $37.1 million for five players (A. Johnson, J. Jerebko, K. Olynyk, J. Young, G. Green)
  • Total currently on the books – $109.0 million for 15 players

If there’s one team that’s more heavily involved in every single league rumor than the Cavs, it’s the Celtics. One day, there are Isaiah Thomas trade rumors. The next day, they traded the No. 1 pick (expected to be point guard Markelle Fultz tonight) for the No. 3 pick and a future first-round pick (exact year TBD). The Celtics are somewhat stuck between a rock and LeBron James. Do they try and get younger? How exactly do they follow up last year’s big signing of Al Horford, who just turned 31?

The most obvious method is by clearing out those pesky cap holds and freeing up enough open salary cap space for another max free agent. Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin remain in the constant rumor mill. There are lots of available point guards (Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague), but that’s not a likely move considering Thomas’ presence. And speaking of IT, he’s likely due for a giant pay increase next summer.

So the slate remains pretty wide open for Boston. Do they pull the trigger on a mega-deal for Jimmy Butler? Would Butler be interested in departing Chicago? Are there any other candidates that could be a good fit Boston’s short-term and long-term aspirations? Does any of this even matter as long as LeBron James remains in the Eastern Conference?

 

San Antonio Spurs outlook

  • Guaranteed contracts – $70.6 million for seven players (L. Aldridge, K. Leonard, T. Parker, D. Green, K. Anderson, D. Murray, D. Bertans)
  • Options and non-guarantees – $19.1 million for three players (P. Gasol, D. Lee, B. Forbes)
  • Cap holds – $34.4 million for five players (M. Ginobili, P. Mills, D. Dedmon, J. Simmons, J. Anthony)
  • Dead cap – $3.1 million for two players (T. Duncan, L. Jean-Charles)
  • Total currently on the books – $127.2 million for 15 active players

It’s weird to see Tim Duncan’s name still on any NBA analysis, but here’s basketball math at its most football-like. The Spurs have that $3 million-ish in dead cap for the 2017-18 season because of two waives, but they should still have a decent amount of wiggle room to be major players on the open market. That’s along with LaMarcus Aldridge’s name popping up in frequent trade rumors.

Chris Paul is a rumored phenomenal fit as Tony Parker’s potential replacement. If the Spurs let Patty Mills walk, they suddenly become very, very weak in the backcourt. Depending on Blake Griffin’s move, maybe it is in Paul’s best interests to team up with Kawhi and Pop down in Texas. Pau Gasol already has declined his player option and is expected to sign a longer-term team-friendly deal. The Spurs are always finding ways to be more and more creative.

Watch out as well for Jonathon Simmons. The defensive-minded former D-League player could get a big payday on the open market. He’s a restricted free agent, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Spurs could be able to do if they have their sights set elsewhere. This isn’t a very deep, athletic nor young team, but they always keep on winning. The last time San Antonio failed to win at least 61 percent of its games (i.e. a 50-win pace) was in 1996-97. LeBron James was in sixth grade.

 

Various links from around the web

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