The 2022 NBA trade deadline is closing in. We’ve already seen several big trades, including the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers kicking off major resets. On the other side, the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings have made moves that should help them now and in the future.
There’s likely more moves to come. Ben Simmons for James Harden, anyone? But the summer of 2022 landscape is already coming into focus for cap space as we approach the deadline.
In general, teams slot into one of three categories in the offseason. There are Cap Space teams, Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level teams (can use the full $10.2 million MLE) and Taxpayer Mid-Level teams (can use the “mini” $6.3 million MLE).
Here’s where each team stands before the trade deadline passes at 3:00 Pm ET on Thursday:
Cap Space Teams
- Detroit Pistons - $31.4 million
- Orlando Magic - $28.1 million
- San Antonio Spurs - $22.5 million
- Indiana Pacers - $20.8 million
- Portland Trail Blazers – $20.3 million
These five teams are all in line to have cap space this summer. Detroit, Orlando and San Antonio all seem like locks to go the cap space route. Barring something unexpected with their own free agents, or with trades before the deadline, these three will be in position to do the spending in the offseason.
Indiana and Portland could both choose to stay over the cap via keeping free agent rights and or trade exceptions. It’s not really clear if either is done dealing before the deadline either. Further moves could change this projection by a considerable amount.
Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Teams
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- New York Knicks
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Sacramento Kings
- Toronto Raptors
- Washington Wizards
This group of eight teams is a mixed bag. Teams like Cleveland, Memphis, Minnesota and Toronto have their cores locked in. They’ll be looking to use the $10.3 million Non-Taxpayer MLE to supplement that group.
New York is a bit harder to project. They could be a team that makes a major pivot after a disappointing season following their 2021 playoff appearance. Look for whatever the Knicks to do to come via trade vs clearing enough salary to get in the cap space derby.
Some may be surprised to find Oklahoma City in this group. The Thunder have a major contract extension kicking in for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander next season, plus they project to have three first-round draft picks. That’s got them over the cap, despite still being early in their rebuild. OKC will continue to build through the draft and through trades and may just sit on the MLE for now.
Then you have the factories of sadness that are Sacramento and Washington. Both have All-Star level players. Both have solid role players. Yet, it never quite seems to come together for either franchise. In an offseason that will feature yet another retooling, these teams will spend the MLE on a player or players they hope will push them firmly into the playoff picture.
Taxpayer Mid-Level Teams
This group is so big we’re going to sub-divide them. The two categories will be “Close to the Tax” and “Over the Tax”
Close to the Tax
These four teams will be dancing around the tax line. Charlotte (Miles Bridges) and Chicago (Zach LaVine) have free agents to re-sign who are going to eat up most of their room under the tax line.
Houston is still carrying John Wall’s sizable contract, which has them tighter to the tax than they would like.
New Orleans is probably a move away from joining the teams who can use the full MLE and stay under the tax. They have 13 players under contract and are only one small salary-shedding deal from opening up full MLE space.
Over the Tax
- Atlanta Hawks
- Boston Celtics
- Brooklyn Nets
- Dallas Mavericks
- Denver Nuggets
- Golden State Warriors
- LA Clippers
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Miami Heat
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Phoenix Suns
- Utah Jazz
This is potentially the largest group of tax-paying teams the NBA will have ever seen. It may not end up playing out this way, as some may shed salary or make free agent decisions that allow them to duck the tax. But as it stands, all 13 of these teams are currently over the tax, or project to be after they fill out their rosters for the 2022-23 season. That’ll have them limited to spending the $6.3 million Taxpayer MLE for help, or upgrading their rosters via trades. Since all fancy themselves as somewhere between solid playoff teams and title contenders, don’t expect to see a lot of salary-shedding from within this group.
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