There is a perception among casual fans that professional sports teams have to spend money in order to make money and compete for championships. That, of course, is not always the case. The San Antonio Spurs have been playoffs mainstays for well over a decade, and they will be favorites to retain their NBA title despite the fact that they are smack in the middle of NBA team salary caps.
Unlike leagues such as the NFL, the NBA features what is known as a “soft” salary cap. This allows teams to legally bend the rules in order to exceed their salary caps and retain certain players. As you'll see, a team going over the cap doesn't guarantee anything other than excess money being spent and some spring basketball.
These are the 10 highest NBA team salary caps for 2014-15.
10 Denver Nuggets: $83,702,846 w/o holds
Denver had a lackluster 2013-14 campaign. The Nuggets won only 14 of 41 road games. Denver finished the season with a total of 36 victories, and they were 13 games out of a postseason spot.
Denver has over $37 million in dead money tied up on point guard Ty Lawson. While Lawson was sidelined for 20 games, he still managed to have a banner season. He went for career highs in points (17.6), assists (8.8) and also in steals (1.6).
9 Oklahoma City Thunder: $74,174,206
OK City are spending their money wisely these days. The Thunder are seen as one of the best teams in all of the NBA, and they rewarded home fans who paid money to see Oklahoma play in person. No team in the Western Conference had more home wins than Oklahoma last season (both Oklahoma and the Los Angeles Clippers notched 34 home victories in 2013-14).
Superstar Kevin Durant is the top money earner on the Thunder. His cap hit is close to $19 million for the upcoming season, and he is set to earn over $20 million for 2015-16. Durant's current deal runs out after that, however, and there is already speculation that he could be eying a move out of Oklahoma City a couple of years down the road.
8 Washington Wizards: $75,329,792
While the Wizards have talent on their roster, they are not yet “there” among the best of the best in the NBA. They finished fifth in the NBA East last season, and Washington was a consistent side at home and on the road. The Wizards posted home and away records of 22-19.
Point guard John Wall could be on the cusp of becoming a true NBA superstar. A veteran of only four NBA seasons, Wall turned 24 years old this past September. While there are concerns about what have been some issues with his left knee, all indications are that we have yet to see Wall at his basketball best.
Wall is signed through 2019.
7 Boston Celtics: $76,439,296
All good things must come to an end, and Boston basketball fans are dealing with that reality. The Celtics were largely forgettable last season, as they won less than half of their games. Boston was under .500 at home (16-25), and the Celtics ended the campaign at 25-57.
Boston will need to decide on what to do with point guard Rajon Rondo. The 28-year-old will be out of contract after this coming season, and it has been heavily rumored that the Celtics will be shopping Rondo at some point if they aren't already doing so. Where Rondo ends up before the trade deadline could be the most interesting Boston basketball story of the campaign.
6 Toronto Raptors: $76,578,859
48 wins was good enough to get the Raptors a third-place finish in the NBA Eastern Conference standings last season. That would have had Toronto on the outside looking in had the team played in the West. To say that there is a vast difference between the two conferences is a massive understatement.
The Raptors spent good money to keep point guard Kyle Lowry happy and in Toronto. He signed a four-year deal with the club, and Lowry will make a salary of $12 million each season up through 2018. All $48 million of that deal is guaranteed to Lowry.
Toronto also guaranteed $38 million to shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who is signed through 2017.
5 Indiana Pacers: $76,939,274
The Pacers had a rough offseason through no fault of their own. Small forward/shooting guard Paul George was taking part in a United States National Team scrimmage in preparation for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in early August when he landed awkwardly and suffered multiple fractures in his right leg. That gruesome injury that you should avoid seeing at all costs will likely cost George the entire 2014-15 campaign.
The Pacers will be hoping that the 24-year-old can return and turn into the player they believed he would be before that horrific injury. George is signed through 2019, and he will make an average salary of over $18 million per season over that time. He is guaranteed over $91 million per the terms of his current contract.
4 Memphis Grizzlies: $77,689,762
The Grizzlies are spending top money on a team that may be nothing more than middle-of-the-road in the ultra-competitive NBA West. Memphis does not have the star power possessed by teams such as Oklahoma City and the Clippers. The Grizzlies do not have a winning history as do the San Antonio Spurs.
Power forward Zach Randolph will be the highest-paid player on a Memphis team that finished seventh in the conference last season. The 33-year-old who averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in 2013-14 will be looking to impress teams around the league in pursuit of one final massive NBA contract. Randolph is currently set to become a free agent in 2015.
3 Los Angeles Clippers: $79,125,501
Up is down, down is up, Cleveland is the center of the sports universe, and the Clippers are the best team in basketball.
The Clippers made headlines last spring for reasons that had nothing to do with on-the-court action. Former team owner Donald Sterling, who has a history of racist actions and making racist comments that were caught on tape, has been ousted, and he has been replaced by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
A duo of superstars will again play for LA in 2014-15. Both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are featured in national television ads, and both happen to be two of the better plays in the league. Paul, 29 years old, is signed through 2018. The 25-year-old Griffin is also signed through 2018.
2 New York Knicks: $92,738,041
The Knicks being one of the more disappointing teams in the NBA has become a yearly tradition. While New York routinely splashes cash on expensive rosters, no knowledgeable fan has seen those rosters as being squads capable of hanging with competition such as the Miami Heat during that franchise's “Big 3” era. The Knicks have not, simply put, been championship material.
Those running the club will be hoping that arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NBA can bring a title banner to Madison Square Garden. Phil Jackson was named team president last March, and he appointed Derek Fisher as the first head coach of his Knicks era. Jackson and company will have their hands full trying to outdo both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls this coming season.
1 Brooklyn Nets: $94,533,044
The Nets had a clear plan upon making the move from New Jersey to Brooklyn: Try to mimic what the Boston Celtics achieved the previous decade. It didn't work. While a roster of veterans who were proven winners helped lead the Nets to the playoffs, Brooklyn was never a real championship contender in 2013-14. That will likely again be the case this season.
The Nets have over $100 million of dead money tied up on shooting guard Joe Johnson and on point guard Deron Williams. Johnson, who turned 33 years old this past summer, is signed through 2016. Williams is locked up through the completion of the 2016-17 season.