With the NBA salary cap for the 2020-2021 rising to only $115 million, cap space will be at a premium. Whether it’s to compensate for another governor’s struggling business or a fringe team deciding to lean toward the lotto rather than the playoffs, the cap space teams can use their room to take in bad contracts in return for something exciting.
The Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings lead the way with projected cap space above $30 million and no discernible playoff hopes next season. (Sorry, the Hawks finished worse than the Knicks; I’m not buying Trae Young as the star on a playoff team yet.)
These 10 contracts will weigh especially heavy on their team’s payrolls in the coming months.
Terry Rozier: 2 years, $36,805,263
Sweetener assets: Future firsts
The Hornets already tried to move Rozier in year one of his deal, so it seems in the battle of Rozier vs. Devonte Graham, Charlotte wisely chose Graham. If the Hornets moved Rozier, their 2021 offseason could be wild. They would have nearly $90 million in cap space plus this year’s third overall pick (James Wiseman?), PJ Washington, Miles Bridges, and Graham’s RFA rights (a measly $2 million cap hold). Maybe Michael Jordan could lure three starters to form a super team in Buzz City? Wishful thinking…
Kevin Love: 3 years, $91,500,000
Sweeteners: Kevin Porter, 2022 Milwaukee FRP
Love isn’t a bad player. He actually had his second-best shooting season last year — .599 TS%. But the Cavs aren’t going anywhere. They have no use for Love, yet alone the combo of Love and Andre Drummond.
Blake Griffin: 2 years, $75,553,024
Sweeteners: Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya
Imagine the cap space if the Pistons didn’t need to pay Griffin next season. Blake shot career highs in 2018-19 with .581 TS%, but that number dipped to a career low last year while only playing 18 games. A healthy Griffin would be better suited as a third option at this point, not the highest-paid player on a team. And with the emergence of Christian Wood, the Pistons should look into moving on from Griffin.
Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins: 3 years, $94,738,170
Draymond Green: 4 years, $99,666,362
Sweeteners: 2020 second overall pick, Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole
The Warriors want Giannis Antetokounmpo next offseason. Their options are simple: Sign-and-trade or move Wiggins and Green to open-up cap space. Unless the Warriors use the Andre Iguodala trade exception for a third co-star, they will need to use the 2020 second overall pick (Deni Avdija?) to get off Wiggins and/or Green.
Russell Westbrook: 3 years, $131,516,000
Eric Gordon: 3 years, $54,500,000
Sweeteners: None. They’re screwed.
The Rockets have nothing to attach to Westbrook or Gordon unless they include James Harden and tear it all down. For the next three years, the Rockets should try to maximize the mid-level exception to sign a playable big man and ride these contracts out.
Tobias Harris: 4 years, $148,965,517
Al Horford: 2 years, $54,500,000 + $12,000,000 guaranteed in year 3
Sweeteners: Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, 21st overall pick, Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons
Harris is 28. He’s been in the league for nine seasons. He is on his fifth team. Four teams had Harris and decided he wasn’t someone to build around. The Sixers instead made him their highest-paid player. This albatross — coupled with Jimmy Butler’s success — make this upcoming season a make-it or break-it campaign for Elton Brand.
The Al Horford fit was confusing. The Sixers are nearly paying 49.6 percent of the cap to centers next season. It’s hard to picture a Finals contender with so much invested in Horford and Embiid.
John Wall: 3 years, $131,544,000
Sweeteners: It would take everything short of Bradley Beal.
We haven’t seen Wall play in the NBA since he was 28. When Wall returns to the court this winter, he’ll be over 30 years old, fresh off a ruptured Achilles. The price to move a Wall, who also missed half of the 2017-18 season, would be so high that the Wizards would be better off praying to the gods of amnesty clauses.