The NBA salary cap for 2012-13 is set, the league's moratorium on new business is over and the Amnesty window is closed. This sequence can only mean one thing: NBA free agency is in full swing.
The salary cap for next season will be identical to last season's $58.04 million, with the luxury tax holding at $70.3 million. The current landscape of the league shows roughly half of its franchises over the cap, and a select few big spenders in trouble with the tax.
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement ready to swallow luxury tax violators whole beginning next summer, cap space has arguably never been more valuable and necessary for survival. Many teams are now pursuing dichotomous goals as part of their long-term plan: field a championship-caliber roster while in pursuit of luxury tax asylum.
For some, time will tell if those goals are mutually exclusive. For others, like the Lakers, Knicks, Magic, Nets and Heat, the time to purge is now before they lose too much leverage and are forced to foot a tax that might triple or quadruple their penalty.
Some shrewd general managers have spent the last two to three years pruning their rosters, pooling draft picks and letting overpaid players walk away in preparation for the moment when a competitive young roster would meet financial freedom.
For these eight teams, the time to climb the NBA ladder is now. These teams aren't simply the lowest spenders in the league for the upcoming year; in fact, a few of them are over the cap and rank in the upper middle of the payroll ladder.
Note: because free agency and player movement are ongoing, most payroll and contract terms are estimates or prospective in nature. They should thus not be considered final.