Now that the Golden State Warriors’ season is over, we can start to figure out what the offseason could hold in terms of on-court personnel. Having a clear understanding of the starting point for the summer makes a huge difference, especially given the NBA’s soft salary cap system.
The 2014-15 Salary Cap and Luxury Tax
While we will not know the exact lines until early July when the moratorium is lifted, the league informed franchises in mid-April that their projection is that the cap will be at $63.2 million and the luxury tax at $77 million for the 2014-15 season.
Golden State’s guaranteed (and near-guaranteed salaries)
Now that we know the number the Warriors have to work with, we should assess what they already have on the books for 2014-15.
In terms of guaranteed salary, Golden State has ten players on locked-in deals: Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights (whose final year is a team option, as opposed to what some are saying), Nemanja Nedovic, and Ognjen Kuzmic, along with Draymond Green’s partially guaranteed $915,243 salary.
Their combined salary for those 11 players comes in at $61,429.008. That by itself nearly puts the Warriors over the salary cap. It should also be noted that moving slightly under the cap in terms of total salary makes no difference since exceptions like the Mid-Level actually count against a team’s cap number unless renounced. That means Golden State would have to make dramatic moves shedding major salaries to generate any usable cap space.
Other salary cap factors to consider
The Warriors have cap holds for Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford (a Restricted Free Agent) and Jermaine O’Neal. However, these do not have any effect unless the Warriors go far under the cap because holds only matter for the salary cap and make no difference in terms of the luxury tax. Jordan Crawford’s status as a Restricted Free Agent opens up some possibilities in terms of a sign-and-trade as well.
Additionally, the team still has a little time on one Trade Exception generated in the Andris Biedrins/Richard Jefferson deal last July with the Jazz. The remaining portion of the Richard Jefferson exception amounts to a little over $9.8 million and expires July 10th. That means the Warriors can use some or all of that to acquire players currently under contract. Interestingly, the Warriors can actually use that exception between now and July 10th as long as the other team’s season has concluded as well and none of the players involved will be free agents. That gives Bob Myers a little more time to make a larger improvement if desired.
The luxury tax
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement substantially changed the way that being in the luxury tax affects NBA teams. Teams above the apron ($4 million above the tax line) cannot acquire players via sign and trade, have a smaller Mid-Level exception, and cannot use the Bi-Annual exception (which the Warriors used last season on Jermaine O’Neal and thus do not have any way for 2014-15).
These restrictions illuminate what teams are choosing to do earlier on because using any of these tools puts a hard cap on the team for the rest of the league year. For example, the Warriors acquiring Andre Iguodala via sign-and-trade last summer meant that they could not go over the luxury tax apron for any reason, even using the Trade Exception discussed earlier. This prevents franchises from playing games with the flexibility offered to below the tax teams and then moving over.
As such, we could end up having a solid idea of whether Joe Lacob intends to pay the luxury tax by the moves the Warriors make early on. If they use the larger Mid-Level or a sign and trade, the most they could go is in the tax but below the apron. Moves that do not violate the terms for taxpaying teams could indicate that the Warriors will go into the tax for the first time under this ownership group.
The Warriors will be over the cap for 2014-15 barring a shocking series of trades but have a choice to make when it comes to being over the luxury tax. If ownership is willing to go into the tax, they should use the trade exception remaining from the Utah deal before it expires July 10th and then build from there since it allows them to add another useful piece while keeping the Mid-Level to sign another player.