The National Basketball Association features what is referred to as a “soft” salary cap system. While league franchises are discouraged from spending an infinite amount of money in order to build rosters that can compete for championships, there are rules in place that allow teams to get around the cap.
Five teams are, according to Spotrac, set to begin the upcoming season above the NBA Luxury Tax threshold. At the opposite end of the spectrum are clubs spending well under that luxury tax value. Contrary to a belief held by some fans that teams must spend big bucks to win titles, one of the clubs showcased in this piece will, so long as the key players on the roster remains healthy, hold a high playoff seed next spring.
Here are the 10 lowest NBA team salary caps for 2014-15 (without holds.)
10 New Orleans Pelicans: $68,605,883
2013-14 was a rough season for those who follow New Orleans basketball. While the Pelicans did post a winning home record of 22-19, they won only 12 of 41 road games. An overall mark of 34-48 landed New Orleans 15 games back of a postseason spot when all was said and done.
25-year-old shooting guard Eric Gordon will be eating up the most cap space at New Orleans. His cap figure will hover around $15 million for the upcoming season, and he has a player option following 2014-15. Gordon averaged 15.4 points per game in 64 appearances last season.
9 Chicago Bulls: $66,932,537
Chicago has a message for everybody penciling the Cleveland Cavaliers into the next NBA Finals: Not so fast.
LeBron James ditching South Beach and the Miami Heat to return to the Cavs was the sports story of the summer. James recruiting Kevin Love to join the party in Cleveland, and also other moves made by the team, have made the Cavs the favorites to emerge as the winners of the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls have quite the talented roster, one that includes a true difference-maker so long as he can avoid problems. Derrick Rose has a well-documented history of knee injuries, and nobody should expect him to be there for Chicago in the spring until he proves himself.
Rose also possesses MVP talent. He has the goods to carry the Bulls past the Cavs.
8 Charlotte Hornets: $63,713,162
Charlotte was one of the eight teams to advance to the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring. The former Bobcats officially reclaimed their old name earlier this year, and part of that deal with the NBA included Charlotte once again possessing the history and records of the old Hornets. It is a situation similar to what occurred when the Cleveland Browns returned to the National Football League in 1999.
Charlotte's financial splashes in free agency were the acquisitions of shooting guard Lance Stephenson and power forward Marvin Williams. Stephenson netted a three-year contract that could earn him over $27 million total. Williams will get $14 million guaranteed over two years from the Hornets.
7 Detroit Pistons: $60,850,926
The Pistons were a downright mess – again – last season. Head coach Maurice Cheeks didn't make it through February before he was shown the door. Stan Van Gundy was ultimately brought in to be the savior of the team. Van Gundy will serve as both head coach and president of basketball operations for the Pistons.
Forward Josh Smith is the leading earner on the Piston. He is signed through 2017, and Smith will make a total of $54 million from that deal. Van Gundy recently spoke with the forward about taking less attempts from three-point land this season. Smith converted just 26 percent of shots taken beyond the arc in 2013-14.
6 Phoenix Suns: $58,852,749
Oh, what a difference one game can make. The Suns felt that pain and then some last spring. Phoenix ended the campaign at 48-34, one game out of the playoffs. What's even more depressing about that fact is that the Suns would have been a top-four playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
It may be time to rethink your playoff system, NBA.
Point guard Eric Bledsoe got paid in a big way by the Suns this past offseason. The 24-year-old put pen to paper on a deal that will keep him in Phoenix through 2019. Bledsoe is set to make $70 million total, and his annual average salary will be $14 million.
5 Orlando Magic: $57,793,687
One could politely say that Orlando are looking toward the future and what will hopefully be brighter days for the club. The Magic matched a 19-22 home record with a horrendous 4-37 road tally last season. No team in the NBA had fewer road victories in 2013-14.
After opting out of his Phoenix contract, forward Channing Frye chose to join Orlando. The 31-year-old and veteran of eight NBA seasons inked a four-year deal with the Magic. Channing got himself $32 million guaranteed from that deal. His cap hit will go down each season over the next four years.
4 Atlanta Hawks: $56,704,711
Just how bad was the Eastern Conference in 2013-14? The Hawks finished at 38-44, and they still managed to sneak into the postseason. Two Western Conference sides – The Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves – finished the season with better records than the Hawks without earning a postseason berth.
Life's not fair in many ways.
There are rumors that Atlanta could be looking at trading center Al Horford at some point over the next several months. Horford is signed through the end of the 2015-16 campaign. He will make $12 million a season per the terms of his current deal.
3 Milwaukee Bucks: $53,428,590
There is bad, there is dumpster-fire awful, and then there are the Bucks of 2013-14. Milwaukee won under 19 percent of the team's regular season games, ending the campaign at 15-67. No side in the NBA had a worse overall record than the Bucks, who didn't even go on to win the first pick in the NBA Draft via the lottery.
The Bucks will be hoping to have a future savior in rookie Jabari Parker. Parker was selected by Milwaukee with the second overall pick of the draft. The Bucks have guaranteed Parker a little over $10 million over the next two seasons, after which Milwaukee will hold club options for 2016-17 and 2017-18.
2 Utah Jazz: $53,428,590
The Jazz were the Bucks of the Western Conference. While Utah was not as awful as Milwaukee, the Jazz finished dead last in the west. They went 25-57, but they did not have the worst home record in the conference. That mark belonged to, of all teams, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Utah will be paying big bucks to shooting guard Gordon Hayward and power forward Derrick Favors. Hayward will make over $62 million guaranteed through the 2017-18 season. Favors is also on a four-year deal, and he could earn around $48 million from his contract. The 23-year-old is guaranteed $46.95 million.
1 Philadelphia 76ers: $38,326,999
“You play to win the game” taught former NFL head coach and current ESPN television personality Herman Edwards. That lesson has apparently been lost on the 76ers. Philadelphia entered full-on tank-mode last season in an attempt to secure a first overall draft pick. The sports gods were not fond of this tactic, however, instead awarding that selection to Cleveland.
Get ready for history to repeat itself.
Philadelphia was terrible last season, and the 76ers may even be worse this time around. Things have, in fact, gotten so ridiculous that the NBA is considering changing the league's draft system so that teams won't be potentially rewarded for putting together a roster that cannot possibly achieve anything of merit.