In an earlier fanpost, I considered the possibility of getting under the salary cap in 2012. In which, I used the loosest possible circumstances, and still came out with the answer no. Since the answer we’re hoping for in this question is yes, we have to go the other direction, and assume the tightest possible scenario.
Of course, the NBA and the Players Union are in discussions over this issue right now. And if the Players Union breaks the owners, there will be little change over salary cap issues than we’re already used to. But that doesn’t give us a significant answer to our question. Instead, we’ll use the owners latest proposal. And I think it’s safe to assume that it wont get more restrictive in future offers.
So what is the owners’ proposal? They have proposed a "flex" cap, which in reality is a salary cap like we’re used to with a hard cap placed where the luxury tax used to be. In this system, the salary cap is moved to a median salary level of $62 million. Since the last salary cap was at $58 million, with a luxury tax at $70 million, a $62 million salary cap should hard cap at $75 million.
Admittedly, that’s a guess on my part. It may be more draconian than that (or it may be more lenient). But I want to work with real numbers here, not random guesses.
Also in the owners proposal, the Mid-Level Exception and Bird exceptions are kept. Useable as long as one does not exceed the hard cap. The MLE’s value will likely be locked at 5.2 million, since the $62 million number for the salary cap is based on the median salary in the NBA, as is the MLE. And since the $62 million figure becomes fixed, the MLE will also likely not change much, if at all.
One advantage that the owners’ proposal has, that the players’ proposal does not is the amnesty clause. Under a hard cap, at least one amnesty clause per team will be available. However, the players’ proposal has no maximum salary limits, changing the argument drastically.
So lets walk through the math.
Under contract (thank you Storyteller!) in the 2012-2013 season for the Portland Trailblazers are:
• Roy’s $16.5 Million.
• Aldridge’s $13.5 Million.
• Wallace’s $9.5 Million player option.
• Matthews’ $6.5 Million
• Smith’s $1.2 Million
• Our 2012 First Round draft pick’s $1.1 Million (assuming we pick at near the same place)
• Gomes’ $0.75 Million contract
• We aren’t getting out of free agency without spending the MLE on either a big man, or two big men. whichever way that turns out, it will cost $5.7 Million.
All for a total of $54.7 million.
Here’s what we’re not sure about:
• Oden’s contract. Assuming we keep him, it will cost likely $10 Million in 2012-2013.
• Babbitt’s player option. It will have to be decided on going into the 2011-2012 season (If I remember right). That is $1.9 Million.
• Williams’ player option at $1.4 Million.
• Nicolas’ contract is also up. But this gets even trickier. He can be signed with Bird rights, or he may already have a contract at this point. If he doesn’t, his Qualifying Offer uses $3.2 million in cap space to reserve his rights. If he does, I am going to guess he signs for slightly above MLE level money, at $7 Million. Maybe he makes more, maybe he makes less, but I think this is fair market value for Batum to stay a Blazer today.
• Claver’s $1.1 Million cap hold and Freeland’s $0.9 Million.
• Second round draft picks, minimum salary players, or minimum player cap holds, all ranging from at little as $0.5 Million (rookie scale) to $1.1 Million (veteran scale), bringing our roster up to 13 players.
For the unknown elements, the total ranges from $3.5 Million to $25.6 Million.
Highest cap scenario before signing Felton: $80.5 Million. $5.5 Million over the hard cap.
However, we haven’t used all our variables yet. We could drop Babbitt and Williams. However, that gains us in the best scenario $2.3 million, and at worst $1.1 Million. We could renounce Claver and Freeland. However, that only frees up $2 Million. We could make sure that we get rookie minimums instead of veteran minimums. Saving us $1.8 million.
At best, we’ve gotten under the hard cap by $0.8 million. I’m not sure Felton signs for that. That said, having early Bird rights, we can only sign Felton to an MLE level deal. We can only start his salary at $5.7 Million. This is an issue no matter what the salary cap is. The question that has to be answered is whether there are any other teams below the cap that want him.
Free agents guards include Jason Terry, Eric Gordon, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Jameer Nelson, and George Hill. Some of those are restricted, but even a restricted signing takes money out of the pool. But all of those names are going up against Felton. And some of them beat him out hands down.
So the pool of free agents is large (and also includes Dwight Howard), yet the pool of teams with cap space is going to be far smaller. This isn’t 2010 we’re talking about, where everyone and their dog managed to get space for free agency. In 2008, only three teams were under the salary cap. Golden State, the Clippers and the 76ers. This kind of year is closer to the norm. Perhaps four or five teams get under the cap in 2012. But of those four or five teams, the big names are first in line. And Felton, while not at the bottom of the list, is certainly not at the top either. In otherwords, I don't think getting outbid is a worry in our case.
EDIT: Early Bird rights, if retained as they are under the old CBA, would allow us to resign Felton for up to %175 of his current contract.
So back to Portland. We still need to figure out how to get under the hard cap. And there are only three things left available. Refuse to sign Oden. Refuse to sign Batum. Use the amnesty clause of Roy. All three of these moves would open enough space for Felton. But all three cost the production of a player.
Some people think it’s time to give up of Oden. Doing so would certainly keep room open for Felton. But at the cost of the small chance that he can truly impact the game. Time will tell, but chances, even small ones, don’t present themselves every day.
I don’t think many people will take the Batum option.
The last option is to use the amnesty clause on Brandon Roy. And I’ll be honest, that hurts me. Roy deserves to be a Blazer for all the things he’s done. Roy still has a chance to get his head on straight and be a productive player in this league, even if he has lost his knees. I like the guy for who he is and what he’s done, even if not everyone else is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But if the owners get their way with a hard cap, the team must use the amnesty clause on Roy. That cut of $16.5 Million off the top of the total lets everyone breathe in 2012. Suddenly the total drops, at maximum, without Felton, to $64 Million. And can likely be dropped to $60 million, with the Felton cap hold keeping our salary cap exemptions alive.
That opens may open up the 2012 MLE to be used as well as resign Felton. An MLE that will have some very interesting targets available at that price range.