New York Knicks and 9 Other Financially Restricted Teams for the Future

Joshua J Vannuccini@@jjvannucciniSenior Analyst IIIJune 27, 2012

New York Knicks and 9 Other Financially Restricted Teams for the Future

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    It is no secret that NBA teams need the right personnel to succeed. Most often this is attributed to the players, yet their grouping comes from team management. They draft, trade and sign players to their respective franchises in hope of winning the ultimate prize: the Larry O’Brien trophy.

    However, poor choices of pairing stars or overpaying players can derail the dreams of securing a championship. Several teams find themselves restricted in terms of basketball operations. The salary cap is predicted to be about $58 million for next season. Here are the 10 NBA teams who are the most restricted financially.

10. Miami Heat

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    Despite defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder and winning the NBA championship this season, the Miami Heat still make this list. Their salary cap sits at $78.5 million, and will rank first in terms of being over the cap for next season. With a potential signing of Ray Allen on the horizon, it would push the Heat’s cap to about $81 million, approximately $23 million over the limit.

    Yet as aforementioned, Miami secured its second championship in franchise history and could easily repeat with an extremely talented core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and rookie Norris Cole.

    With the addition of a sharp-shooter like Ray Allen off the bench, the Heat could certainly add another championship banner to the rafters of the American Airlines Arena. Either way, Miami’s cap situation is both a blessing and a curse as they move forward as defending NBA champions. 

9. Washington Wizards

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    It is generally a rule of thumb that your best players take up the most cap space on your team. However, this is not the case for the Wizards and it is for this reason they rank ninth on this list.

    The team recently traded the bloated (albeit expiring) contract of Rashard Lewis to the New Orleans Hornets for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. While New Orleans received a big contract, they rid themselves of two awful ones in the process.

    Okafor is owed $27 million over the next two seasons, while Ariza is due to receive almost $15 million for the next two years with a player option on the final year. Washington currently sits at $56.1 million for next season, which sounds tolerable until you look at the books.

    The four highest paid players for the Wizards are Nene, Okafor, Ariza and Andray Blatche. They have a nice young group in John Wall, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker and Jordan Crawford on the roster. However, all their contracts have a team option for the 2013-14 season. This severely restricts their moves going forward, unless management decides to amnesty either Okafor or Blatche.

8. Dallas Mavericks

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    The Mavs were unable to defend their title this season for one reason: financial restrictions. Dallas had a remarkable team last year with Tyson Chandler, J.J Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson as key players. Although Butler was injured for the entire postseason, he expressed interest in returning to Dallas, only to be denied the opportunity.

    The Mavericks would not commit to the aforementioned players, despite their contributions to winning the championship, in hope of signing Deron Williams in free agency this offseason. There were poor decisions made, and Dallas makes this list at No. 8 for this reason. They currently reside with $41 million in salary locked up for next season. This excludes the team options for both Lamar Odom and Vince Carter, so in reality, the Mavericks have just five players on the roster.

    Ultimately, Dirk Nowitzki deserves his salary. Yet a player like Brendan Haywood, a center who averaged 5.2 points and 6 rebounds for the season, is overpaid at approximately $27.2 million over the next three seasons, with a potential extra $10.5 million in the final year (team option).

    Dallas saw their second-most valuable contributor in Chandler walk in free agency when management could have amnestied Haywood and used the space to lock up Chandler. It will be interesting to see their moves going forward.

7. Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Clippers had a mostly impressive season. They were able to pair the explosive Blake Griffin with arguably the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul. Management surrounded them with solid players like Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Kenyon Martin and DeAndre Jordan. LA also made the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

    Conversely, all these spectacular turnarounds, for one of the most unsuccessful teams in the NBA for the past few decades, overshadowed some problems. During last free agency, the Clippers were forced to match the offer sheet signed by DeAndre Jordan with the Golden State Warriors.

    He is owed $32.9 million over the next three seasons, which severely confines the team’s ability to build around Paul and Griffin. Jordan is no doubt an athletic, defensive force down low, but not at the aforementioned price tag. The Clippers cap consequently sits at $49.2 million for next season.

    The team still has roughly $9 million in cap space to sign additional pieces, yet this is not where their major dilemma lies. For the 2013-14 season, both Paul and Griffin will become free agents. Unless the team can sign either or both to extensions, management will be hard-pressed to make the numbers match.

    Griffin will be a restricted free agent, but will no doubt be offered a max deal by someone, and the same applies for Paul. To estimate their future cap, it would have Paul at approximately $17 million, Griffin at $16 million, Jordan at $10.9 million and Butler at $8 million. This would place LA at $51.9 million, with just four players on the roster. After this, the team would have just $8 million to add pieces needed to make the NBA Finals, ultimately every general manager's goal.

    However, surely both all-stars will be offered more than previously mentioned by other teams. It is for this reason that the dynamic duo need to sign extensions as soon as possible, to avoid the arduous process that is free agency. 

6. Orlando Magic

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    The Magic have been through all sorts of ups and downs the past few seasons. They won’t free themselves from this turmoil anytime soon either. Despite Dwight Howard’s indeterminate decision to stay or go, the team has several over-priced contracts on the books.

    For next season, their cap will sit at $55.9 million, inclusive of Howard’s contract. When the team decides where to trade the all-star center, they will surely receive equal or more value than that of Howard’s deal. Yet putting that aside, the contracts of Hedo Turkoglu, J.J Redick, Glen Davis and Chris Duhon are troublesome to say the least. They will contribute to $27.4 million of next season’s cap, which is far too much.

    The team still needs to attempt to re-sign Ryan Anderson, who proved to be a legitimate three-point shooter and decent power forward. He will be a restricted free agent if the Magic extended a qualifying offer, and he will no doubt find suitors willing to pay for his services. Orlando will then have to gamble whether they should match his offer, putting them over the cap, or letting him walk and having close to no impact players on the roster. It will be a task new general manager Rob Hennigan will have fun with.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    OKC has done nothing but improve every season since the arrival of Kevin Durant. Last season’s loss in the Western Conference Finals against the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks proved to be a lesson for the Thunder. The team stormed through the playoffs, all the way to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Miami Heat.

    They are no doubt the best team in the Western Conference and have a very bright future, yet it is marred by their salary cap situation. As much as a blessing it is to have a talented core of Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, it is also a curse. Straight off the bat, OKC is already over the cap for next season at $63.7 million.

    However, their problem lies with the 2013-14 season, where Harden and Ibaka will become restricted free agents. Even if the team is able to sign both to extensions before then, they will be even further over the cap, thereby restricting their ability to add players. They are in a similar situation to the Miami Heat in this aspect, but are further up the list, due to the fact that they need to lock up two additional players to ensure their future success, whereas Miami already has their three stars signed long-term.

    The Thunder could consider amnestying the contract of Kendrick Perkins, who is due to earn $25.4 million over the next three seasons, which would create room for Ibaka's contract. 

4. Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Grizzlies are in the same situation as the Thunder, only worse. With their current roster, they will be over the cap for the next three seasons without making any moves whatsoever. The core of Zach Randolph ($16.5 mill.), Rudy Gay ($16.4 mill.), Marc Gasol ($13.8 mill.) and Mike Conley ($7.1 mill.) takes up $53.8 million for next season.

    There is still the prospect of re-signing O.J Mayo by matching his offer sheet as he is a restricted free agent, yet it appears unlikely, as management has attempted to trade the guard multiple times already, to both Boston and Indiana. However, the team should look to match it nonetheless, as it will give them a solid piece, regardless of their cap space. Piling on more salary is a better move for Memphis than trying to find an equal player for the mini mid-level exception of $3 million of free agency.

    Memphis still hasn't had a completely healthy season from its core players, so it is difficult to tell what the ceiling for this group is. Yet for the team going forward, the moves to build around their stars will be challenging.

3. Atlanta Hawks

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    Atlanta is infamous for signing Joe Johnson to a max level deal in 2010, which equated to $119 million over six years. Perhaps at the time it was necessary to lock up their franchise player.

    Yet looking to the future, the Hawks' roster moves are strict. Johnson’s contract is so damaging that it makes him untradeable. He is currently owed $19.7 million for next season, a third of the entire team’s salary cap. If he were still producing at a high level, this discussion would not exist. He averaged 18.8 points for the Hawks this season, and is all but a shell of his former self as he turns 31 at the end of the month.

    Nonetheless, the fact remains that Johnson is past his prime and not to the value of his contract. After next season, he and center Al Horford are the only two players on the roster, where the cap hovers around the $35 million mark for the next three seasons. There is obviously a large amount of cap room to add pieces, but like the next team on this list, the looming contract of Johnson impedes on the development and progression of the organization.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    LA is in the second worst situation in terms of roster movement. For next season alone, the team has a whopping $63.3 million invested in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Considering their main weakness right now is a lack of help on the wing, they virtually have no leverage to make some roster moves.

    The only hope they have is trading away Gasol for an average power forward and a small forward, and amnestying Metta World Peace. Even so, LA would still be in a deep hole of salary debt. It is largely due to Bryant’s huge contract, where he will be paid $27.8 million for next season, and $30.4 the year after. No doubt he is one of the best players in the league, but he is extremely overpaid at this point.

    The best move the franchise could possibly do, yet will not happen for obvious reasons, is amnesty Bryant. Albeit, the general manager would be crucified for cutting a future Hall of Fame player from the roster, but it would place LA below the cap by about $8 million. However, it is ridiculous to even consider such a move.

    LA’s best bet is to trade either Gasol or Bynum for contributing players, amnesty World Peace and attempt to re-build with younger talent. A surprising matter is that the Lakers have not one player signed after the 2013-14 season. Perhaps it will be until then when management can take a deep breath and try again. 

1. New York Knicks

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    The Knicks take the grand prize in this race for most restricted teams. They have a solid core of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. However, the team can make literally no signings unless it is for the mini mid-level exception.

    New York received a miracle when Jeremy Lin was granted Bird Rights and is able to re-sign, meaning the team can breach the salary cap limit to put him back on the roster. Before NY even signs Lin, they sit at $59.1 million for next season, $57.2 million for the 2013-14 season and $61.5 million for the 2014-15 season.

    For 2013-14 and 2014-15, Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler are the only players on the roster. Add in Lin’s contract, in addition to the potential long term deal for J.R Smith, and Anthony’s ‘time’ sure looks distant. The entire cap will be breached before the team can even assemble a bench. It will be very interesting to see how New York handles this situation, or we could very well see the ‘Melo-drama’ repeated all over again.