NBA teams have signed nearly 200 players to new contracts totaling over $4 billion in new money. While that seems like a staggering figure, it’s important to note that the NBA business is as healthy as it’s ever been.
The NBA and NBPA navigated through three pandemic-impacted seasons and have come out of them better than anyone expected. The cap rose from $112.1 million for 2021-22 to $123.6 million for 2022-23.
The cap projects to continue that upward momentum. The conservative projection for 2023-24 is $133 million, with the luxury tax line set at $161 million. By as soon as the 2025-26 season, it won’t be a surprise if the cap is over $150 million.
But that’s something to look at down the line. Even though the 2022-23 season hasn’t tipped off yet, several teams are clearly preparing for the 2023 offseason already. We’re using the conservative cap projection of $133 million as we take our first look at what the landscape might look like in the summer of 2023.
(Note: 2023 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
- Houston Rockets - $70.1 million
- Detroit Pistons - $62.9 million
- Indiana Pacers - $53.1 million
- San Antonio Spurs - $46.3 million
- Utah Jazz - $33.4 million
- Oklahoma City Thunder - $32 million
- Orlando Magic - $31.7 million
- Cleveland Cavaliers - $25.1 million
- Memphis Grizzlies - $19.8 million
- Charlotte Hornets - $19.7 million
- Los Angeles Lakers - $19.1 million
11 teams project to have cap space in the summer of 2023. There’s a good chance a few others could join them too. And, of course, a few teams above could drop off this list as they continue to make roster moves.
The Rockets are looking at hitting the summer of 2023 with seven players on rookie scale contracts, Jae’Sean Tate on a team-friendly deal and another top-five draft pick. Even if Kevin Porter signs an extension, Houston will be in the mix for the most cap space in the league.
The Pistons are in a very similar boat. Six players on rookie scale deals, Marvin Bagley on a fully guaranteed deal and a likely top-10 pick. Detroit feels slightly more ready to take the next step than the Rockets (but only slightly!). That means that after a few years of collecting assets and renting out their cap space, Detroit could be a real player in free agency in 2023.
The Pacers are still sorting through their rebuild. They shipped Malcolm Brogdon off already and could do the same with Myles Turner too. That would leave Indiana without a lot of long-term salary obligations. That could make for a very quick retool of their roster, as opposed to a multi-year rebuild.
San Antonio is tearing things down almost fully. They signed Keldon Johnson to a very fair value extension. They’ve got Doug McDermott on the final year of his three-year deal at $13.75 million. Beyond that it’s basically all rookie deals. The Spurs are tanking, which has historically worked out well for them. The last two times they took this approach they ended up with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Is Victor Wembanyama next?
Utah is in the same boat as the Spurs. This projection doesn’t factor in Donovan Mitchell being traded, but that seems likely to happen. In that case, the Jazz could be up near Rockets/Pistons territory as far as cap space goes. Cap flexibility, a ton of draft picks and some interesting young players? Sounds like a Danny Ainge rebuild is well underway in Utah.
Oklahoma City and Orlando are in the same boat. Great young talent, a few key players signed long-term and a ton of cap flexibility. They’re both on their way back up.
The final four teams are swing teams. If Cleveland re-signs Collin Sexton, they probably drop out of the cap space running. They can then stay over the cap and re-sign some key players. If they don’t re-sign Sexton, or he takes the qualifying offer, the Cavs are probably in the running to push for max cap space with another salary-clearing move.
The Grizzlies have a lot of different ways they can go, same with the Hornets. Memphis is clearly well ahead of Charlotte, because they have Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr and Desmond Bane, who are better than LaMelo Ball and question marks. But both teams could be players in 2023 free agency to add pieces around their young stars.
You might be surprised to see the Lakers land here, but with Russell Westbrook coming off the books, LA is in position to add around LeBron James (this projection reflects him either re-signing or his cap hold being retained) and Anthony Davis. There’s not much else on the books for the Lakers. If they trade Westbrook for a player signed long-term, or for a player they project to re-sign for big money, they’ll be right back in the same boat as the last couple of seasons with the Taxpayer MLE and minimums to fill out the roster.
Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Teams
Cap flexibility is a bit of a division between haves and have-nots in the summer of 2023. That’s reflected by just these four teams looking like they’ll have the Non-Taxpayer MLE to use.
Brooklyn is obviously in a weird spot with the uncertainty surrounding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. If both are gone, the Nets could even end up a cap space team next summer. For now, we’re going to put them here in the middle and, like everyone else, impatiently wait to see how their roster comes together.
The Bulls, Wolves and Kings are all swing teams. If they choose to move on from some of their veterans (Nikola Vucevic, D’Angelo Russell and Harrison Barnes), then they could all be cap space teams. If they retain their rights to re-sign them, or move them in deals to bring in other players, they’ll be over the cap. But all could still be far enough under the tax to use the full MLE.
Taxpayer Mid-Level Teams
- Atlanta Hawks
- Boston Celtics
- Dallas Mavericks
- Denver Nuggets
- Golden State Warriors
- LA Clippers
- Miami Heat
- Milwaukee Bucks
- New Orleans Pelicans
- New York Knicks
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Phoenix Suns
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Toronto Raptors
- Washington Wizards
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.
Of this group, the teams that could end up with a bit more cap flexibility are Dallas, Portland, Toronto and Washington.
The Mavericks have a few key free agents, plus a couple of players on partially guaranteed contracts they could move on from. If so, they’d free up some space to make moves around Luka Doncic.
The Trail Blazers are only going to be flexible if they let Jerami Grant walk. That seems unlikely to happen, unless Portland draws a hard line at what they’ll extend Grant for. They’ll probably be right around the tax.
Toronto could potentially put themselves in position to have cap space, but that would mean moving on from Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. It’s more likely they’ll have those guys back, of have moved them in a trade, and that means the Raptors will be working around the tax line.
Washington has Bradley Beal on his massive new deal, but that’s really their only substantial long-term money. Their summer really hinges on what happens with Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. If either re-signs for big money, the Wizards will be up against the tax.