The upcoming 2020 offseason won’t be nearly as fruitful as 2019. Right now only seven teams are projected with the ability to generate cap space that exceeds the amount of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (NT-MLE). Only two of them, Atlanta and Detroit, are projected to generate maximum cap space. All together they combine to generate just over $200 million in cap space. That figure pales in comparison to the more than $600 million that was available in 2019.
After the NBA trade deadline passed, several teams made moves that helped settle the cap landscape. For the most part, the amount is set but there could be some more teams creating or reducing cap space ahead of June 30.
The 2020-21 NBA Salary Cap is currently projected at $115 million. All projections include the 120 percent rookie scale amount for the pick each team is projected to finish with according to Five Thirty Eight’s Elo Forecast.
CAP SPACE TEAMS
Atlanta Hawks: $51 million
The Atlanta Hawks are set to have the most cap space this summer with $50.9 million available. This would be assuming they renounce all cap holds and waive Brandon Goodwin. Prior to trading for Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon, the Hawks were projected to have more than $70 million in cap space, which was way too much to spend in this free agency.
$50 million can also be considered too much for the Hawks given their current team. Atlanta has point guard and big men needs filled, so they could use their cap space on wing players. They also can’t spend too much on wings because they need to reserve playing time for Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and Cam Reddish. They could also look to acquire bad contracts with a future first-round pick attached to get more trade assets. It’s also possible they don’t spend all their cap space and roll it over into the season, like they did this year. With no particular targets for them right now, it will be fascinating to see how they utilize money.
New York Knicks: $46 million
The New York Knicks are the other team that has maximum cap space. If they waive all players on non-guaranteed deals except Mitchell Robinson, and they decline Bobby Portis‘ $15.75 million player option, the Knicks are projected with $45.9 million in cap space.
It is unclear if the Knicks want to maximize their cap space this summer, as waiving Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, and Reggie Bullock would be required to get them to $46 million. All four of those players become fully guaranteed on June 28th, so the Knicks will need to decide before the start of free agency just how much cap space they want to have. If they do utilize cap space, they will probably only offer one-year deals in order to maximize their 2021 cap space.
Detroit Pistons: $32 million
The Detroit Pistons are projected to generate as much as $35 million if they maximize their cap space. They are likely looking at a little closer to $32 million assuming they keep Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk (both earning $1.7 million) and they hold onto Christian Wood and Jordan McRae’s early bird rights.
Prior to the trade deadline, the Pistons weren’t guaranteed to be a cap space team because of Andre Drummond‘s impending decision on his player option. After trading him and buying out Markieff Morris, who declined his contract option as part of the buyout agreement, the Pistons now have enough cap space to offer a maximum contract worth 30 percent of the salary cap for players with 7-9 years of service. Very little has been said about their free-agent targets, but according to James L. Edwards III of The Athletic, they plan on pursuing Fred VanVleet.
Charlotte Hornets $28 million
The Charlotte Hornets are projected to generate $26.7 million in cap space assuming Nicolas Batum opts into his $27.1 million salary and they renounce all cap holds. They remained quiet at the deadline and there is no indication they’ll waive the non-guaranteed deals of Caleb Martin or Jalen McDaniels ($1.5 million each) which would increase their cap space to $28.5 million.
Miami Heat: $26.5 million
The Heat are now projected to have cap space after their big trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. Prior to the deadline, the Grizzlies were projected to have $52.8 million available, but instead transferred a large portion of it to the Heat by taking on Dion Waiters and James Johnson in order to acquire Justise Winslow. The Heat are projected to generate $26.5 million in cap space assuming Kelly Olynyk opts-in and they hold onto Derrick Jones Jr.‘s bird rights.
With their eyes set on 2021 maximum cap space, they are unlikely to offer free-agent targets more than a one-year deal. One player they can target with all their cap space is Danilo Gallinari, whom they pursued in February. $26.5 million is close to the maximum amount Gallinari can receive in a contract extension. If they can’t sign any of their targets, they could operate over the cap to re-sign free agents like Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder and also have the mid-level exception to use.
ON-THE-FENCE CAP SPACE TEAMS
Phoenix Suns: $25 million
The Suns can generate as much as $24.6 million in cap space if they renounce all their free agent cap holds and decline all their player options. This would mean likely parting ways with Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Elie Okobo, and Cheick Diallo. They could opt to keep a combination of these players, but with the chance to have close to $25 million in cap space they might not hesitate to let them all go. Other than Baynes, none of the players have made a strong impression for the Suns. They can hold onto his bird rights which would put their cap space in the $15 million range, but it could be a worthwhile bet for them to let him to test the market, spend cap space, then try to re-sign him for the room mid-level exception projected at $5 million.
New Orleans Pelicans: $17 million
The Pelicans could generate $16.8 million in cap space if they waive the non-guaranteed contract of Darius Miller ($7 million), and hold onto Brandon Ingram‘s cap hold ($21.8 million. This means the Pelicans could spend that much cap space and then re-sign Ingram, but it would mean renouncing Bird rights to other free agents such as Derrick Favors, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, and Kenrich Williams. It’s unlikely the Pelicans go the cap space route unless they can sign a player they covet over their free agents.
The rest of the league is likely looking at operating over the salary cap. These teams’ largest means for signing free agents will mostly come through the nontaxpayer mid-level exception projected at $9.8 million, and for few, the taxpayer mid-level exception projected at $6 million. More teams can jump into the mix if they reduce significant salary or if a player with a large player option unexpectedly opts out.