The 2023 NBA offseason is long behind us. Extension season wrapped up over a week ago. Early trade season doesn’t open for over a month, with full trade season opening in mid-January.
That means it’s time to take an initial look at where each of the NBA’s 30 teams project to land as far as spending power for the 2024 offseason. Of course, these projections will change as teams make trades, sign extensions and the like throughout this season. However, it’s still good to have a grounding of where teams stand today.
A few notes:
We are using the NBA’s official projections for the salary cap and tax lines. Some are projecting greater growth than the 4.4% represented here, but we will always use the official projections from the league.
Salary Cap of $142,000,000
Luxury Tax of $172,567,000
Tax Apron of $179,929,000
Second Apron of $190,837,000
Max salary tiers grow with the cap. They are as follows:
0-6 Years of Service: $35,500,000
7-9 Years of Service: $42,600,000
10+ Years of Service: $49,700,000
A projection has been made on all 2024-25 player and team options. Similarly, a projection was made on all partial and non-guaranteed contracts. And, finally, a projection made on renounce free agents has also been made for cap space teams.
2024 NBA Draft picks were based on ESPN’s BPI forecast for expected final record. All conditions on picks owned and owed were then reflected to determine the draft order and the subsequent cap holds.
No trades, extensions or signings have been projected. Essentially, rosters are as they stand at the time of publication.
With the advent of the new CBA, the landscape has changed around the NBA. There used to be three basic categories of teams each summer: Cap Space teams, Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception teams and Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception teams. Each season there would also be a handful of “swing” teams that could fall in one bucket or another.
In this new world, we have a fourth category: Second Apron teams. These are the NBA’s most expensive teams that the new CBA was largely designed to punish.
Under the new CBA, if you are at or over the Second Apron, you lose access to the Taxpayer MLE. In addition, the trade rules tighten up for these teams. Salary-matching in trades is limited to 100%, they aren’t allowed to aggregate salaries together in trades, they can’t sign-and-trade a player way (in addition to being unable to acquire a player via sign-and-trade) and they won’t be able to use TPEs.
Essentially, Second Apron teams are going to limited to making 1-for-1 trades where they take back the same money as they send out (or less), signing their own draft picks and signing players to minimum salaries.
With all that said, here is the projected spending power for each NBA team in 2024 free agency!
Cap Space Teams (3)
This is the smallest group of teams we can confidently project to have cap space in a decade of doing this exercise. As more and more teams prioritize extensions and trades, cap space (and the number of impact free agents) has dried up. Still, as we write every time we talk about cap space, having this kind of room doesn’t just mean signing free agents. Cap space can also be used to facilitate trades, either for yourself or others.
Orlando tops our projections by virtue of having a roster full of players on rookie scale contracts and team-friendly extensions. This includes all of the Magic’s best players. In the recent past, Orlando has eschewed cap space to re-sign or extend their own players. That seems poised to change, as the Magic are finally in position to really push the rebuild forward with an impact addition or two. And they need to do that before they have to start extending players like Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero in coming years.
The Sixers have been bandied about as having double-max cap space and the like for months now, but that’s never really been a thing. Sure, Philadelphia could clear the decks and have only Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey (via his cap hold) on the books. That could create about $65.8 million in cap space, which is still well short of double-max space. Instead, a more conservative approach that sees the 76ers keeping De’Anthony Melton’s cap hold, along with Paul Reed, on the books seems likely. Also, Daryl Morey recently said he would like to spend some of this flexibility early, so don’t rule out Philadelphia taking on money in trades in this season in a form of “pre-agency”.
The Pistons have become an annual staple in this spot. Some years, Detroit has used space to chase veteran free agents. Other years, Troy Weaver has used his cap space to eat contracts and collect some assets. This year’s approach will probably be determined by how this season goes for the Pistons. If they show progress akin to Orlando, Detroit will probably look to add players. If not, another year of renting out cap space to pick up draft picks could be coming. One thing to keep in mind: 2024 is the final summer before a presumably max or near-max extension will be on the books for Cade Cunningham. We’re getting down to “spend it while you can” time for the Pistons.
Cap Space – Non-Taxpayer MLE Swing Teams (6)
This is a pretty large group of swing teams. Some of them are on their way up. Others are just starting the rebuilding process. For a handful, they can create meaningful cap space. For the rest, they are more likely to stay over the cap. It’s really a decision of creating spending power vs retaining your own players.
Charlotte is in a bit of a weird spot. They have some big money coming off the books for Gordon Hayward, which could create a good amount of cap space. Yet, for another season, the Miles Bridges question hangs over this team. He signed the qualifying offer, so Bridges will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If the Hornets move on from all of their free agents, they can reasonably create about $21.8 million in cap space. If they re-sign Hayward or Bridges, they’ll be a Non-Taxpayer MLE team.
The Rockets spent a good deal of money in free agency last summer. Despite that, they could do the same this summer. A handful of the contracts Houston signed players to are non-guaranteed. That means the team could create up to $26 million in space. But that would mean moving on from several rotation players. That amount of cap space is right on the tipping point of being able to replace those players in a meaningful way. Because of that, we’re projecting the Rockets to stay over the cap for now.
The Thunder finally went under the cap last offseason. They used that space to act as a clearing house for some contracts, in exchange for even more draft picks. This summer could go differently. Oklahoma City could create in the range of $20 million of space. But that would mean moving on from a few valuable players the Thunder have been developing. Instead, look for OKC to stay over the cap and maybe use the Non-Taxpayer MLE to bring in a value signing.
As of this writing, San Antonio projects to have the first overall pick in the draft. If Victor Wembanyama and the other young Spurs keep developing so rapidly, that projection will probably change. Running with it for now, that puts the Spurs in range of about $18-to-$20 million in cap space this summer. If they were to re-sign Doug McDermott, or even one of their lesser free agents, then San Antonio would stay over the cap.
Utah is in a fun spot. They could create up to $36 million in cap space. Or they could stay over the cap and retain a few of their own free agents. Given that their own free agents will probably command relatively reasonable contracts, look for the Jazz to go the cap space route…kind of. The guess here is that Utah will create cap space, but will end up using a large chunk of it to renegotiate-and-extend Lauri Markkanen’s contract. Then, whatever is left over, plus the Room Exception, can be used to re-sign their own free agents or to acquire other players.
The Wizards are in Year 1 of their teardown. They took on Jordan Poole’s contract, but that came through the chained-together transactions where they shed Bradley Beal’s contract. Washington also re-signed Kyle Kuzma and extended Deni Avdija, but those were value contracts. If the Wizards want, they can create about $24.6 million in cap space. That would mean seeing all of their free agents leave town, but those guys don’t seem long for D.C. anyway. If Washington chooses to keep Tyus Jones’ cap hold on the books, they’ll be over the cap.
Non-Taxpayer MLE Teams (4)
This is usually the largest group of teams we have, and it may well still end up that way. But for now, we can confidently project only four teams to be in range of using the full Non-Taxpayer MLE.
All four of these teams have two things in common. They look to have only a few roster spots to fill and they have plenty of clearance under the Tax Apron. That puts all of these teams in range to use the full Non-Taxpayer MLE without tripping into any hard cap issues.
In addition, unlike the swing teams, there isn’t a reasonable path to cap space for any of these teams. Indiana would be the closest, but they’d be punting on some very valuable players to create cap space. That seems highly unlikely.
Non-Taxpayer MLE – Taxpayer MLE Swing Teams (6)
This group is close to tripping into the Luxury Tax, or even over the Tax Apron. Most of that is related to pending free agents that these teams could re-sign. And for a handful, they are close enough to the Tax Apron, that the hard cap would become an issue if they used the Non-Taxpayer MLE.
The Hawks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Heat and Pelicans are all going to have free agent decisions to make. If they re-sign, or extend, those players to expected-value contracts, they’ll be butting up against the tax or even the tax apron. That will take them out of range of using the Non-Taxpayer MLE.
The Raptors are in a very different spot. Toronto could conceivably hit a major reset and create up to a whopping $71 million in cap space. But that would mean seeing players like Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. walk away for nothing. That seems unlikely, but Toronto has lost Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet in free agency over the last few offseasons. We’re going to be conservative and suggest that if Masai Ujiri and the Raptors believe they are losing those guys this summer, they’ll trade them for other players (and some longer-term salary) before losing them for nothing.
Taxpayer MLE Teams (2)
The addition of the Second Apron has created a smaller-than-usual window for teams to be in position to use the Taxpayer MLE, but without creating issues against the Second Apron hard cap.
The Mavericks project to be around $16 million under the Second Apron, but they also only have two roster spots to fill. That leaves enough room to use the Taxpayer MLE to add a player, with enough wiggle room to stay under the hard cap that would be created at the Second Apron.
It might be a surprise to see the rebuilding Trail Blazers in this spot, but they took on a good amount of salary in the Damian Lillard trade, and the subsequent Jrue Holiday trade. Portland also re-signed Jerami Grant to a big contract too. As it stands, the Blazers sit just over the Luxury Tax line. That won’t be a thing, as a rebuilding team can’t pay the tax. But it will limit what kind of spending power Portland has this summer. Instead of free agent signings, look for the Trail Blazers to keep retooling their roster through trades.
Second Apron Teams (9)
By far, this is our largest group of teams for 2024 offseason projections. This is a direct result of two things. First, the Second Apron exists now, and some teams are over or up against it. Second, several teams took the “gap year” (or maybe better put the “get your books in order year”) to load up. That’s got us in a spot where roughly one-third of the league will be unable to add a free agent for more than the minimum this summer.
All nine of these teams are already over or right up against the Second Apron. Or they will be once they re-sign some key free agents. From there, this group of nine will be limited to making 1-for-1 trades where they take in similar (but not more) money, signing their own draft picks and signing players to minimum contracts.