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Since the last time we did this at the opening of trade season in mid-December, quite a bit has changed. The Indiana Pacers used a chunk of next year’s cap space to renegotiate-and-extend Myles Turner’s contract. The Los Angeles Lakers made several trades to prop up this season’s roster, while also adding players they could keep long-term. The San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons both took on money that carries into next season and, just as importantly, didn’t trade some players who now project to stick around.

There are more moves to come, as teams are in the midst of buyout season for about two more weeks. However, buyout season rarely changes much as far as next summer’s spending outlook goes.

With all that in mind, it’s time to look at some updated 2023 cap space and exception projections.

(Note: 538’s 2022-23 NBA standings projections have been used here to determine 2023 NBA Draft selections and their corresponding cap holds. Projections on options, guarantees and renouncements have also been made. No trades have been projected for any teams.)

Cap Space Teams

  1. Houston Rockets - $56.2 million
  2. Utah Jazz - $53.8 million
  3. San Antonio Spurs - $46.0 million
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder - $30.4 million
  5. Detroit Pistons - $27.9 million
  6. Indiana Pacers - $26.6 million
  7. Sacramento Kings - $21.5 million
  8. Orlando Magic - $21.1 million

Only eight teams project to have cap space, and it could end up being fewer than that. Some of these teams are in the running for Victor Wembanyama. If they land him, then pressure to spend to win right could increase. Or the pressure could be off for a year of watching the generational prospect develop.

The Rockets projection shouldn’t change much. Houston has seven players on rookie scale contracts and two others playing out the deals they signed as second-round picks. Only Kevin Porter (his rookie scale extension kicks in next year) and Jae’Sean Tate are signed to long-term non-first contracts. Look for Houston to decline KJ Martin’s team option, in order to make him a restricted free agent. But that move won’t push the Rockets out of the top spot in available cap space.

Utah moved out some of their pending decisions at the trade deadline. They don’t have to decide on keeping Mike Conley or Jarred Vanderbilt anymore, and that increases their cap space projection by quite a bit. Even if bit players like Rudy Gay, Talen Horton-Tucker and Damian Jones opt in, the Jazz still have the second-most projected cap space in the league. Without a ton of roster spots to fill, Utah could take a major swing this summer. Keep an eye on a potential Jordan Clarkson extension to eat into a bit of their projected space.

The Spurs added some money into next year by taking on Devonte’ Graham and Khem Birch’s deals at the deadline. That’s fine, as San Antonio seems to be at least on more year out from trying to move things forward in a significant way.

The Thunder are in a really fun spot. They’ve got about $30 million to spend, and no really tough decisions to make on pending free agents. That could make Oklahoma City a threat to spend big on one major addition to a young roster that is ready to start winning at a higher rate.

Detroit kept Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks at the deadline. That changed their projection a bit for the summer. Instead of being up around the Rockets/Jazz territory, the Pistons should be middle to the pack. But with some good, young players and keeping the couple of vets, Detroit might not need to spend on a lot of players. One big addition could be in play for a roster that’s almost there.

The Pacers chose to eat into their cap space by extending Myles Turner. By using a chunk of this season’s leftover space, Indiana was able to give Turner an immediate bump in salary, while also keeping his number down for the future. This is another roster this is mostly full. Indiana could use one more forward with size. They’ve got the spending power to get that done this summer.

Sacramento is a swing team. They could easily create about $21 million in spending power. Or the Kings could stay over the cap and choose to retain a few of their own free agents. Sacramento could also make this whole thing moot by agreeing to an extension with Harrison Barnes before July. A lot might depend on how this playoff push turns out for the Kings.

Orlando didn’t trade Gary Harris at the deadline, and they won’t just waive him. That’s now the biggest difference between the Magic having in the mid-$30 million range in cap space and being in the low-$20 million range. In order to get in the mix for a $25-$30 million point guard, as has been rumored, there will have to be another move or two coming from Orlando. And that move isn’t an obvious one.

Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Teams

  1. Charlotte Hornets
  2. Chicago Bulls
  3. Memphis Grizzlies
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. New York Knicks
  6. Portland Trail Blazers

Cap flexibility is a bit of a division between haves and have-nots in the summer of 2023. That’s reflected by just these six teams looking like they’ll have the Non-Taxpayer MLE to use.

The Grizzlies remain easiest team to slot in here. They’ve got a mostly full roster after extending their own players over the years. The only real free agent of note is Dillon Brooks, and there’s a decent chance he could be the next player to extend. But even with Brooks at a fair number for both sides and Memphis should have enough room to use the full Non-Taxpayer MLE. The real question for the Grizzlies is about having enough roster spots to re-sign Brooks, add a free agent and bring in another drafted player.

The Hornets are a real swing team. A lot hinges on what happens with P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges. Washington wasn’t traded, so that assumes Charlotte wants to keep him. The “Hornets are ready to re-sign Miles Bridges” trial balloon was a massive miss a couple of months ago. But that situation still needs resolved. If those guys move on, the Hornets will be a cap space team.

Chicago mostly depends on how far they go to re-sign Nikola Vucevic. They didn’t trade the veteran center at the deadline, which means he’s probably getting a contract offer. Keep an eye on a potential extension for Vucevic, ideally a somewhat team-friendly one. That could clear things up for Chicago heading into what’s shaping up to be a very important summer.

Minnesota is in a good spot. They’ve got one more year before the team gets really, really expensive with Karl-Anthony Town’s supermax extension kicking in, and likely a Designated Rookie scale max extension coming for Anthony Edwards. If Naz Reid doesn’t break the bank, the Wolves should have enough room to use the full MLE this summer for the last time in a few years.

New York’s roster is mostly defined. That’s a good spot to be in, while also having access to the full MLE. Look for the Knicks to make a targeted signing to fill out their rotation.

Portland’s flexibility mostly revolves around what happens with Jerami Grant. He could extend, or he could command a big deal as a free agent. Add in some uncertainty with Cam Reddish and Matisse Thybulle as restricted free agents, and the Trail Blazers are in a bit of a weird place. They could just as easily slip into having only the Taxpayer MLE, pending new contracts for Grant, Reddish and Thybulle.

Non-Taxpayer or Taxpayer Mid-Level Teams

  1. Brooklyn Nets
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Dallas Mavericks
  4. Los Angeles Lakers
  5. Toronto Raptors
  6. Washington Wizards

No team did more to change their future at the trade deadline than Brooklyn. The Nets now have a roster full of good-but-not-great players. Cam Johnson is the only major free agent for Brooklyn too. But the roster feels unfinished. With so many good players at the same positions, there’s going to be more movement coming here. If enough salary goes out, that could put the Nets in range to use the full MLE.

The Cavs outlook depends solely on what happens with new deals for Caris LeVert and Kevin Love. If those players re-sign for even semi-team-friendly terms, Cleveland will have the Non-Taxpayer MLE. If those deals push the team salary up, then the Cavaliers will have the Taxpayer MLE.

Dallas is now beholden to the Kyrie Irving experience. Irving says he doesn’t want to talk about his contract until the summer, but it’s the key question for the Mavs. If he re-signs, Dallas is likely to be a tax team. If Irving walks, the Mavericks could be a potential cap space team.

The Lakers made a bunch of moves ahead of the trade deadline and all seem to have a long-term bend to them. Los Angeles could still create $30 million in cap space, but for now they’ll probably focus on re-signing guys like D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura, while also picking up Malik Beasley’s team option. That means it’s just the Taxpayer MLE to work with again, but this time it’s with a far-more fleshed out roster.

Despite being in a million trade rumors, Toronto only brought back Jakob Poeltl and called it a deadline. Trading for Poeltl signaled the Raptors intend to re-sign him, but they still have major decisions to make with Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. Re-signing either probably makes Toronto a tax team, or really close. Letting them go would give the Raps access to the full MLE.

Much like Toronto, Washington chose to hang onto their pending free agents in Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis. This one is pretty simple: Re-signing Kuzma and Porzingis will put Washington close to the tax. Losing either will give the Wizards the full MLE. Losing both means Washington is a very unexpected cap space team.

Taxpayer Mid-Level Teams

  1. Atlanta Hawks
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Denver Nuggets
  4. Golden State Warriors
  5. LA Clippers
  6. Miami Heat
  7. Milwaukee Bucks
  8. New Orleans Pelicans
  9. Philadelphia 76ers
  10. Phoenix Suns

This is a pretty huge group of teams dancing around the luxury tax line. The thing all of these teams have in common is that they’re already locked in to the core of their rosters for at least the next two seasons.

Many of these teams have re-signed players to max or near-max deals in recent years. A few have pending free agents who will be pushing for a max deal next offseason. And a handful are already all but guaranteed to be over the tax.

The Celtics, Nuggets, Warriors, Clippers, Heat and Suns are all going to be tax teams, barring something really unexpected. That leaves four teams from this group with some unanswered questions.

Atlanta didn’t make any major moves. That’s got them staring at being a tax team next season. If they move John Collins (don’t laugh!) the Hawks could create enough flexibility to have the Non-Taxpayer MLE. But they also have to figure out what to do with Bogdan Bogdanovic, who will be looking to cash in on one more big contract.

The Bucks will probably be deep in the tax again next season. The only way they aren’t is if Khris Middleton leaves town. That would have Milwaukee in a completely different position of having to rebuild a bit of their top-end depth, instead of figuring out how to improve on the edges of the rotation.

The Pelicans have a mostly full roster. That’s good news, as they won’t have much spending power this summer. With Zion Williamson’s max extension kicking in, New Orleans is sitting on three $30 million-plus players. Despite that, keep an eye on the Pelicans adding even more salary, as they’d be smart to decline their team option for Naji Marshall. That would get Marshall paid a year early, but by making him a restricted free agent this summer, it would remove a potentially dangerous situation with the important forward hitting unrestricted free agency in 2024.

The 76ers being a taxpayer or not is tied to James Harden’s free agency. If Harden signs for the max, Philadelphia will be deep into the tax. If Harden takes less again, the Sixers will have some flexibility. If Harden were to walk (and that buzz keeps getting a little louder), the 76ers will find themselves retooling the roster around Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and the final year of Tobias Harris’ contract.