Note: This was written before Luis Scola signed with the Raptors and has been adjusted to reflect that deal.
The NBA has officially set the salary cap for the 2015-16 NBA season, and the ridiculous but necessary July moratorium that led to the Clippers holding DeAndre Jordan hostage (take notes for the Andrew Wiggins chase) is over. Signings and trades can now be made official, and the cap situation of every NBA team is now more clear.
The cap came in at $70 million, topping expectations by roughly $2.9 million. That’s great! But it’s great for all 30 teams – those with cap space have a shade more, those over the cap have more room to breathe beneath the luxury tax, and those in the tax have to pay a little (or in some cases substantially) less. The bump may mean the Raptors can get in on a free agent they couldn’t previously, but any teams they were bidding with have likewise been given more flexibility.
Now, nothing is ever simple with the salary cap. What follows is my best attempt at figuring what amount of cap space the Raptors could get to if they needed every penny available. I made a few stated assumptions, I checked with the best online resources, and conferred with some who know the collective bargaining agreement better than myself. The CBA is a beautiful, nearly inconquerable beast, and while the intricacies and complexities are sure to frustrate some, they’re kind of a fun challenge. NBA teams hire full-time employees as capologists, so apologies if this best attempt proves flawed in any way.
Let’s get on with it.
The Raptors can find their way to $2,591,566 of cap space.
The table below shows the team’s current salary commitments, and several important notes follow.
Bismack Biyombo: Was signed using the room mid-level exception, the version of the mid-level given to teams who drop far enough below the cap to lose their other mid-level exceptions and the Bi-Annual Exception (the Raptors have no BAE, is what I’m saying). Biyombo will count for total team salary in trades and any luxury tax considerations, but it does not eat into cap space if the Raptors time things properly.
A quick aside: The “MLE” as most know the term is for teams who are over the cap to sign players up to the tax apron. That’s not afforded to teams above the tax, who get a smaller MLE, or to teams below the cap, who get a Room Exception. Essentially, “exceptions” exist to help teams work around the cap – if you’re under it, there’s less of a need for an exception, and giving the Raps a full MLE would basically be giving them free cap space. Back to Biyombo.
Essentially, the Raptors are likely to delay signing Biyombo until their other shopping is done. If his $2.8-million salary won’t push the Raptors over the cap, then he’s just absorbed into cap space. For now, when considering maximum potential space, he can instead count as a minimum roster charge (because without him and Luke Ridnour, the Raptors would only have 11 players, you have to have 13, and you have to have 12 counting on the cap). It’s minutiae and a little confusing, but basically, Biyombo doesn’t count against the cap unless the Raptors don’t use their cap space before officially signing him.
Luis Scola: The deal is said to be for a hair under $3 million, so maybe the cap room bumps up a bit. He also becomes the 12th player under contract, so no minimum roster holds are required any longer. That doesn’t mean much, but it means his $3-million salary only cut the cap space by about $2.5 million. Also, hey, Luis Scola signed! Happy 1:30 a.m. with a 6:30 a.m. rise to you, too.
Luke Ridnour: Salary is non-guaranteed if waived by July 11. If they can’t find a taker for him in a trade by end of business Friday, he’ll almost certainly be waived.
DeMar DeRozan: Cap hit is $9.5 million rather than $10.05 million, as All-Star incentive is now deemed “unlikely” after failing to make the team last season. (Per the indispensable Dan Hackett.)
Delon Wright: Signing his rookie deal early at 120 percent of scale (something 90-95 percent of all rookies do) pushed his cap number from $1.26 million to $1.51 million, costing the Raps a quarter-million in space.
DeMarre Carroll: Deal includes the maximum raises allowable, so the first year salary is $14.05 million instead of the $14.5-million annual average. (His full deal is slightly below the reported $60 million, per Basketball Insiders.)
Cory Joseph: Deal includes the maximum raises allowable, so the first year salary is $7 million instead of the $7.5-million annual average. (His full deal is slightly below the reported $30 million, per Basketball Insiders.)
Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross: Get the extend-and-trade idea out of your head. The rules around such deals are far too restrictive and skew too far from a player’s best financial interests to make them a realistic possibility. If the team signs them to an extension to their rookie contracts – the deadline is Oct. 31, otherwise they’ll be restricted free agents next summer – there will be no change to their cap number for this season.
Norman Powell and DeAndre Daniels: Second-round picks do not have cap holds associated with them, and they can’t be signed using a special exception. If either player is to make the team, they’ll need to be signed with cap space or with a minimum salary exception. In this case, either is represented by the minimum roster charge cap hold in the table, as the charge is equivalent to the rookie minimum salary that either player would likely sign for – that amount is not included in the table calculation because the Raptors have enough players signed, but it’s there for informational purposes.
Because I’m a Powell fan, I’d probably consider using some of the remaining cap space to sign Powell to a three-year deal so that the Raptors have his Bird rights. They can sign second-round picks to two-year deals using a minimum salary exception, but using cap space on a three-year deal improves the chances of keeping the player later and avoids the Gilbert Arenas provision. A three-year deal for Powell starting at the minimum would cut another $525,093 from cap space, dropping it to $2 million and change.
Cap Holds: The Raptors had cap holds for all of their outgoing free agents, along with Mickael Pietrus ($947,276) and Nando De Colo ($1.9 million). Pietrus may be an accounting mistake, as teams can no longer sign-and-trade a player who is out of the league, ala Keith Van Horn. De Colo seems unlikely to return to the Raptors but retaining his rights until they absolutely need the cap space makes sense, because why not? The assumption below does NOT include Pietrus and De Colo, as it’s a look at potential cap space, not the exact current state of the cap.
Salary Cap and Luxury Tax: A league memo released Wednesday indicated a $70-million salary cap and $84.74-million luxury tax threshold, which would in turn mean an $88.74-million tax apron. It’s unclear if the exact cap number is an even $70,000,000 or rounded, but we’ll assume all zeros here. The tax line is worth noting but unlikely to impact the Raptors without some serious movement on the trade market or some other unforeseen event.
What else can the Raptors do?
Beyond using their $2.5 million and change on a free agent (I see you, Dorell Wright; I wish I could see you, Darrell Arthur and K.J. McDaniels), the Raptors can also use that space to absorb a player through trade. Because the Raptors are a non-taxpaying team, they can take back up to 150 percent of the salary they send out, plus $100,000, so long as they send out $9.8 million or less. The rules change beyond that amount: From $9.8-19.6 million outgoing, the Raptors could take back that amount plus $5 million; beyond $19.6 million outgoing, they could take back 125 percent of what they send out, plus $100,000; and this would all change if a trade pushed Toronto above the tax.
To keep it simple, and because it’s hard to see what deal would exist that would see the Raptors send out $10 million, what you need to know this this: The Raptors can use their cap space to absorb a player without sending a roster player out (a pick or the rights to DeeAndre Hulett will do), or they can take back roughly 1.5 times the amount of salary they send out in a deal. So there’s a path in which they could use their remaining cap space to sign a player, use the exception on Biyombo, and still add another player by trade
Ridnour, for example, could return $4,225,000 in salary from a team looking to shed a deal, though it’s worth noting he can’t be combined with another player in a trade. A hypothetical Ross-Johnson package could return $9.180,875 in salary. And so on. There are avenues to adding salary through trade, separate of the team’s available cap space.
Exceptions remaining: The Raptors don’t have a BAE (sigh, them and Will Lou both), or the MLE, and they’ve used the Room Exception. They can still sign players to a minimum salary commensurate with their level of experience – all teams can do this to fill out their rosters, regardless of cap or tax status.
Should they go that route, the Raptors now have several picks in hand to deal. Along with all of their own first-round picks, the Raptors own a 2016 first from either the Knicks or Nuggets (whichever is less favorable), and a lottery-protected 2017 first from the Clippers from the Greivis Vasquez trade. With the cap rising quickly and rookie scale contracts set in stone until at least the summer of 2017, when the CBA can be renegotiated, draft picks have the potential to be incredible values and, therefore, appreciable trade chips in the next few years. Personally, it’d take me a lot to deal first-round picks for this same reason, but if the right deal is there, sure.
Reminder: Picks this year and next could be HUGE values the next few years. pic.twitter.com/4lbghtnEFa
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) June 25, 2015
Current roster and potential targets
Most of the coverage on the site of late had been about potential targets, specifically at power forward, and the market’s pretty thin and uninspiring. I really, really liked Darrell Arthur as a flier at the four, and while a full case requires it’s own post, he’s a great defender who improved the defensive numbers of every Nuggets frontcourt partner last season, he’s got range out close to the 3-point line, and has improved as a passer. He’ll be 27 when the season starts, it seems likely he’ll come cheaply given how quiet his name’s been on the rumor mill, and while the boxscore stats (and PER) don’t speak highly, I’m a big fan and think he’d be a nice fit. I may have tunnel vision a bit here, but “my guy” last summer was Al-Farouq Aminu, so I’m trusting my gut here.
Alas, the preceding paragraph was written pre-Scola. Now he’s here, the Raptors are at 13 players (14 if Powell makes the team), and have a fairly balanced roster. Without considering another signing (other than Powell) or trade, here’s what the Raptors roster looks like:
PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Joseph, Wright, (Powell)
SF: Carroll, Ross, Johnson, (Powell), Caboclo
PF: Patterson, Scola, Carroll, Johnson
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira
There’s no longer a clear need anywhere, but depending on how much the team wants to trust a pair of rookies or rely on Johnson, another wing or power forward wouldn’t hurt. There’s also a nice offense-defense balance at several positions, though another frontcourt defender would be a good use of resources (I wish I thought Arthur would come cheap enough). A bit more shooting could help, too. Point guard and center are probably set with three at each spot (sorry, Jeff Withey). My guess, by the way, is that Daniels is headed for the D-League or back overseas (I’m skeptical he’s an NBA player but hope I’m wrong), and that Powell makes the team unless a superior external option materializes.
So, yeah…there’s all of that.
*The Raptors have 14 players under contract, but Ridnour is likely to be waived, making that number essentially 13.
*Only 12 count for the cap right now because Biyombo will be signed using the Room Exception. It’s complicated.
*The Raptors could find their way into roughly $2.5 million in cap space still. They can also absorb additional salary by trade, or fill the roster out with players at the minimum.
*The Raptors have 13 players signed and likely to stay signed, with up to roughly $2.5M to spend, plus any minimum deals, and can add salary by trade.
*There’s flexibility here. They have tradeable contracts and assets, and aren’t restricted by many bad deals or tax concerns or roster surpluses/deficits, so few things are off the table. And the roster is pretty solid as is. Things are good, mostly.