LOS ANGELES — Like much of the world, the NBA is on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league will hopefully be able to complete the 2019-20 season, even in abbreviated fashion. It's too early to know the economic impact, but the NBA's most recent salary-cap projection of $115 million for the 2020-21 year is all but guaranteed to take a hit.
The extent will be partially determined by how many games can be salvaged, if any, for the regular season and playoffs. If a limited number are canceled and the remainder played without fans in attendance, next year's salary cap could drop by at least $20 million. The league and the players union can come together to artificially avoid massive swings in the salary cap and luxury-tax thresholds, but the future is concerning from both a widespread health point of view and a business one.
If the 2019-20 season cannot resume at any point, what are the big stories to start thinking about for the upcoming offseason?
Giannis, Giannis, Giannis and Giannis
Milwaukee Bucks All-Star and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a supermax extension this offseason. Given how dominant the Bucks have been all season—they have a league-best 53-12 record—he should have several reasons to stay in Milwaukee.
But if he doesn't sign that extension, what would the Bucks do next?
With several teams lining up to have the spending power in 2021 to steal Antetokounmpo in free agency—or in the case of the Golden State Warriors, gathering assets via trade—Milwaukee will need clarity as early as possible to avoid an Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard or Paul George-esque situation.
Based on the projected $125 million salary cap for the 2021-22 season, Antetokounmpo would have been eligible for a five-year deal worth roughly $253.8 million. If that isn't enough to get his signature on an extension the moment it's available, the Bucks may have a serious problem. Other teams could offer a four-year deal worth roughly $161.3 million based on the $125 million cap, but both figures could drop significantly because of the pandemic's financial effects.
Anthony Davis Stays with the Lakers, Right?
The Los Angeles Lakers gave up a 2020 All-Star in Brandon Ingram to get Davis. They also sent out quality players in Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, along with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 draft (De'Andre Hunter) and two future first-rounders to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers are the first in the Western Conference (49-14), so they will likely have no regrets if Davis doesn't leave as a free agent this offseason. He was almost certain to decline his $28.8 million player option for the 2020-21 season, but will his plans change now that the salary cap may plummet?
Davis might be better off waiting until the cap-figures stabilize before the 2021-22 season and even opting into the final year on his contract. His option may be more than he can get in free agency if the cap drops far enough. Perhaps waiting a season for a post-coronavirus NBA may prove more lucrative.
Los Angeles could reach the 2021 market with just in time for both James and Davis to take a pay cut, if willing, to allow the Lakers to join the Antetokounmpo hunt.
Clippers on the Clock
A lost season would take away one of perhaps only two chances for the Clippers to win the title with Leonard and George. Both can opt out after the 2020-21 campaign. There's no reason to believe either would be itching to opt out of their final years at $36 million and $37.9 million, respectively, but the Clippers need to remain a top competitor.
With the standings frozen, the Clippers are second in the West at 44-20. They have a winning record against the Lakers (2-1) and have a real shot to advance to the NBA Finals if play resumes.
Meanwhile, the Clippers have a decision to make with unrestricted free agent Montrezl Harrell. How much should they invest in a 6'7" center? The 2019-20 playoffs would give them valuable information on whether they can truly compete with Harrell as their primary big man (even in a bench role), but the Clippers may need to choose without a definitive answer.
The Clippers could quickly be a massive taxpayer, especially if the NBA's cap plummets. If JaMychal Green picks up his $5 million player option in 2020-21, the Clippers will have $115.9 million invested in their roster before dealing with Harrell. They can also pay up to $18 million to re-sign Marcus Morris Sr. Additionally, Patrick Patterson, Reggie Jackson and Joakim Noah (currently on a 10-day contract that will take a lot longer than 10 days to complete) will be free agents.
Luxury taxes may not matter much to Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer if the team remains a contender and both Leonard and George are fully committed. But given Leonard's quiet demeanor, will the Clippers really know what he's thinking long term?
Do the Sixers Fit Together?
It's difficult in the modern NBA to feature more than one non-shooter on the court. While Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid's three-point percentage climbed from 30 percent last season to 34.8 percent this season, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons rarely takes shots from beyond the arc.
Embiid is one of the most gifted frontcourt scorers in the league, but he crowds the paint for Simmons, one of the most powerful point forwards in the game. The Sixers are also heavily invested in Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson, to a lesser extent. Philadelphia needs its core to succeed, but that group has struggled to stay healthy this year, which helps explain its 39-26 record (sixth-best in the East behind the Indiana Pacers by tiebreaker).
The future is uncertain for everyone, but especially for Simmons, who is in the last year of his rookie contract at $8.1 million. The max extension he signed in July would start next season at around $28.8 million based on a $115 million salary cap. But if the cap drops by $20 million, Simmons' extension would begin at $23.8 million. If the damage is even worse, he'd earn $18.8 million with a $75 million salary cap.
A swing in Simmons' salary could direct the Sixers' path forward, with several difficult decisions ahead.
The buzz around the league before the work stoppage was that head coach Brett Brown needed a strong postseason run. Otherwise, the Sixers would be reevaluating his position, along with the roster.
Thunder, Blazers, Raptors...
Each team has a story to tell, but the Oklahoma City Thunder jump out as a significant overachiever with a 40-24 record (fifth in the West) despite trading both Russell Westbrook and George over the summer. The team seriously considered sending Danilo Gallinari to the Miami Heat at the trade deadline, but Miami wanted Gallinari to sign a short extension to facilitate a deal.
The Thunder instead kept their thin-but-talented core together for a playoff run, but will they reinvest in Gallinari (who turns 32 in August) this summer? Will they look to trade away veterans such as Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder to rebuild around talented young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? Or will Oklahoma City try to expand upon its success this season?
The Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) were a disappointment this season, sitting 3.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (32-33). Were injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Rodney Hood and Zach Collins to blame? Is it time to break up the talented backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for a more balanced roster?
The Blazers also need to decide on upcoming free-agent center Hassan Whiteside. Only $1.8 million of Trevor Ariza's $12.8 million salary in 2020-21 is guaranteed, though he'd still be a valuable role player (especially defensively) should Portland continue with Lillard and McCollum.
Finally, the Toronto Raptors appear to be one of the many teams with a close eye on Antetokounmpo. They've been the best team this season in the East (46-18) outside of the Bucks. Will they be able to keep their core together for another season with Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka all hitting free agency?
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.