With the NBA playoffs winding down to a final four, the rest of the league has turned its collective attention to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago -- a preamble to next week's draft lottery and the draft itself five weeks later. Translation: the NBA's summer season has begun.
In anticipation of the draft, free agency and all the madness that comes with it, I figured it was a good time to take stock of all the key questions fans typically consider as they ponder which players to draft, which current players to trade, and which free agents might be worth pursuing. So over the next week we'll do our best to preview the summer ahead, including key dates, what the league's changing economics mean for teams, and a detailed look at the Bucks' current and future cap situation.
What are the key dates this offseason?
- May 11 - 14: Draft Combine in Chicago. You can find all the official measurements here and strength and agility testing data here.
- May 17: NBA Draft Lottery in New York. The Bucks are currently projected to select 10th, 36th and 38th, with an 85% likelihood they stay in their current lottery slot and a 6.4% chance they jump into the top three. In other words, don't hold your breath for a surprise.
- June 10 - 12: Adidas EuroCamp in Treviso, Italy.
- June 23: NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
- June 30: Damien Inglis (full $980k) and Johnny O'Bryant ($150k of $980k) salaries become guaranteed. Bucks must make $3.1 million qualifying offer to RFA Miles Plumlee in order to retain their matching rights.
- July 1: Free agency begins, but no official deals can be signed until moratorium ends.
- July 7: Moratorium ends, free agents can officially sign and cap/tax/exception levels for 16/17 season officially released.
- July 9: Trade exceptions for Zaza Pachulia ($5.2 million) and Jared Dudley ($4.25 million) expire.
- July 13: Remainder of Johnny O'Bryant's $980k salary becomes guaranteed.
- October 31: Deadline for 2013 first round picks (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams) to sign extensions and 17/18 team options for Jabari Parker, Tyler Ennis and Rashad Vaughn.
Can the Bucks make any moves right now?
Yes...but don't expect anything to happen for another month or so.
Technically speaking, as soon as a team's season ends they are free to make trades, but it's rare to see much action until closer to the draft (June 23 this year). Much of that is simply because the NBA calendar doesn't end until June 30, which means that 15/16 salaries, cap levels and exceptions remain in effect until that point. That's important in the event that the Bucks attempt to make any trades involving offsetting salaries, trade exceptions or cap room; because the Bucks were around $600k over the salary cap in 15/16, they -- and most every other team in the league -- can't use cap space to absorb salary in a trade until July 1. They also have minimal flexibility to sign current free agents, though the crop of free agents is limited to guys who weren't on a roster at the end of the season (ie no one you'd particularly care about).
However, they can now trade players with deals through 16/17 and beyond (people like Greg Monroe, Michael Carter-Williams and John Henson), and they can also use the trade exceptions from last summer's Jared Dudley ($4.25 million) and Zaza Pachulia ($5.2 million) trades, both of which expire on July 9. While trade exceptions can't be combined with other players for the purposes of aggregating salary (remember: teams above the cap can't bring in more than 150% + $100k of the money they send out), but they can be used to trade for a player with a salary amount of equal or lesser value.
Under no circumstance can the Bucks trade the five current players whose contracts are expiring at the end of June: Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo, Greivis Vasquez, Steve Novak, and Miles Plumlee. However, they can trade players with fully or partially non-guaranteed salaries for next season, which for the current Bucks include both Damien Inglis (his $980k salary becomes guaranteed on 6/30) and Johnny O'Bryant ($150k of his $980k salary becomes guaranteed on 6/30).
How likely is that the Bucks make a trade between now and the draft?
Nothing is likely to happen over the next few weeks, but historically the odds of something happening on or right before draft night are pretty high. Teams generally wait until they're well into the draft evaluation process before moving picks (read: think June rather than May); in most cases trades involving draft picks don't happen until the 24 hours leading up to the draft. That's especially true in Milwaukee, where mid- to late-June has historically been a very active (albeit not terribly productive) time during the John Hammond era.
- June 26, 2008: Richard Jefferson (NJN) acquired for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons.
- June 24, 2009: Kurt Thomas (SAS), Bruce Bowen (SAS) and Amir Johnson (DET) acquired for Richard Jefferson.
- June 23, 2010: Corey Maggette (GSW) and 2010 2nd rounder (GSW) acquired for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.
- June 23, 2011: Stephen Jackson (CHA), Beno Udrih (SAC) and 2011 #19 (Tobias Harris) acquired for Corey Maggette, John Salmons and 2011 #10 (Jimmer Fredette).
- June 27, 2012: Samuel Dalembert (HOU) and 2012 #14 (John Henson) acquired for Shaun Livingston, Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman and 2012 #12 (Jeremy Lamb).
- June 11, 2015: Non-guaranteed deals of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams (DET) acquired for Ersan Ilyasova.
- June 25, 2015: Greivis Vasquez (TOR) acquired for the rights to 2015 #46 (Norman Powell) and the Clippers' 2017 lottery-protected first rounder.
How much will the cap go up this summer?
We won't know the official figures until early July, but it's expected the cap will rise from $70 million this season to approximately $92 million next season, with the tax level also jumping from $84.7 million this past season to around $111 million.
Note that the NBA doesn't set its official cap figure until early July each year, which is when the league tallies up its annual revenues and allocates how money will be split among players and owners. This occurs during the week-long "moratorium" period to start July, which is also why teams can only negotiate but not actually sign new players until the moratorium is over: the league can't allow teams to officially sign free agents when they haven't finalized how much cap space they actually have.
However, to help teams and players better plan for the future, the league provides official guidance on projected cap and luxury tax amounts throughout the year. Given the huge increase in league revenues related to the NBA's new TV deal, the league has also offered projections for cap and tax levels for the next five summers:
This most recent projection comes from mid-April, representing an update on the multi-year projections first released a year earlier. Interestingly, that first projection put the 2016 cap at $89 million and the 2017 cap at $108 million, but since then the league has adjusted its 2016 projections slightly up and its 2017 estimate slightly down (more on why those numbers are linked in a later post).
All of those numbers can go up or down depending on overall league revenues, player salaries and any changes that could be made to the collective bargaining agreement when it's open for renewal in 2017. Still, they're the best figures we have right now.
How much cap space will the Bucks have this summer?
Short answer: Using a $92 million cap estimate and excluding the possibility of trades, the Bucks could have as much as $27 million if they renounce all their free agent cap holds and waive Inglis and JOB. If they keep Inglis, waive JOB and retain Bird RFA rights on Miles Plumlee ($5.2 million cap hold) and early Bird UFA rights on Bayless ($3.9 million), then they'd only have around $18 million. In the space-maximizing scenario they'd have eight guys under contract plus a $2.1 million hold for the projected 10th pick in the draft, as well as two second round picks which don't have a cap hold until they sign. In the second scenario, they'd have 9 guys under contract plus the three picks and the Plumlee/Bayless Bird rights.
Long answer: Let's start by looking at the guaranteed obligations the Bucks currently have for next year, which include eight current players, the stretched amount owed to Larry Sanders as part of his 2015 buyout, and a cap hold worth $2.1 million for their 2016 lottery pick (currently assumed to be 10th overall):
These add up to $63.7 million in guaranteed money that, absent any additional moves, would count against the Bucks' cap figure starting July 1. Add in two minimum salary slots (the league makes you have at least 12 roster slots occupied) and you get to around $27 million in room under a $92 million cap with eight players and three unsigned picks (though only the first rounder counts against the cap immediately).
How does the Bucks' cap flexibility this summer compare to other teams?
Typically, only a fraction of teams enter the summer capable of easily freeing up $27 million in cap room, but 2016 is of course not a typical summer. A projected $22 million leap in the cap means there's over a billion dollars of potential cap room out there, with 24 teams having $20+ million in potential cap space:
Chart: max cap space by team assuming all options declined, cap holds waived, and unguaranteed contracts waived pic.twitter.com/A60SiraMsu— Sam Holako (@rapsfan) May 11, 2016
The key caveat to the table above is "all cap holds waived." While most teams will have significant flexibility simply due to the cap rising by 30% overnight, teams with star free agents like the Thunder (Kevin Durant), Cavaliers (LeBron James), Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons), Grizzlies (Mike Conley) and Hawks (Al Horford) will in practicality have significantly less cap room than the table above suggests because of the huge cap holds that come along with retaining those players' Bird rights. So while they might suddenly have a bunch of cap space if those guys leave for other teams, they'd all prefer to simply re-sign their stars and make do with less cash for other free agents.
Either way, there will be way more cash than good players to spend it on, so start training yourself now to think of deals in terms of their percentage of the current and future cap rather than just pure dollar amounts. With that in mind, here's a quick cheat sheet showing how the cap has evolved since the start of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2011:
Coming up in Part II, we'll explore whether signing another max player this summer makes sense, why the Bucks could face a major cap squeeze in 2019, potential price tags for Miles Plumlee and Jerryd Bayless, and how a Giannis extension fits into the grand scheme of the Bucks' cap future.