Cohen 8-Ball: How to Win the Cap Game
January 21, 2013
Josh Cohen’s Analysis: Managing the NBA Salary Cap and spending judiciously on players is so remarkably important for every team. Especially now with stiffer luxury tax penalties and a very broad gap in player value, NBA general managers have a lot of numbers to crunch and circumstances to evaluate. With the current salary cap set at a little over $58 million and the initial luxury tax level marked at around $70 million, assembling a championship caliber roster in the NBA is often very intricate. Every GM has his own formula. CLICK NEXT to learn how I view player worth.
Cohen’s Analysis: $15-20 Million Per Year – A player earning this much per season – unless it is a player in the final year of his contract and the expiring component of it makes it very valuable – must be someone that is an A+ talent and is either approaching or already in the prime of his career. He is so special that he can potentially single-handedly catapult his team to championship contention. Examples of players in this echelon today – and there are very few -- include LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose (if he is 100 percent healthy), Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
Cohen’s Analysis: $10-15 Million Per Year – A player earning this much per season should be categorized in the A- sector of the league. He is an All-Star talent, but isn’t someone that can exclusively propel his team to a title. A compilation of A- players, however, can potentially be a substitute for having one A+ competitor. The 2004 Pistons, for instance with Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Ben and Rasheed Wallace, are the perfect model for such a theory. Examples of players in this echelon today include Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Blake Griffin.
Cohen’s Analysis: $7-10 Million Per Year – A player earning this much per season should be classified as supreme members of a team’s supporting cast. They usually should have a niche talent, particularly as it relates to defense, rebounding or scoring off the bench. Memphis’ Tony Allen, for instance, who actually makes just slightly over $3 million a year, is probably worth being in this price range because of his relentless defensive contributions. Another example of a player that should probably belong to this group is New York’s Tyson Chandler. However, he actually is making about $14 million per season. So while Chandler is integral for the Knicks, he actually is probably earning more than his overall contributions.
Cohen’s Analysis: The Prized Young Player – If a team drafts well, they benefit from securing a talent that is very salary-cap friendly. Portland’s Damian Lillard, for instance, is already an All-Star caliber talent but because he is on his rookie contract for the next few years, he is not interfering with the Blazers’ cap situation. Until a young player becomes a restricted free agent (usually after four years in the league), they are the idyllic component to help assemble a plethora of superstar talent. It’s one reason why Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic is so valuable. He plays above the norm for someone in his second season, yet he has no obstruction to the Magic’s quest of attaining big free agents over the next few years.
Cohen’s Analysis: The Vets and Fillers – Generally, when a player is at the tail end of his career but is still productive, he will latch on to a title contender. The Knicks compiled several of these types, including Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas. While obviously they are relatively important, they will not be the “main” reasons if New York happens to win a title this season. That honor inevitably is tied to Carmelo Anthony (the A+, $15-20 million player). Then, there are the young hopefuls around the league that hope to stick around for the long haul. Again, like the vets, these are guys who need to be good teammates and never let ego or past success in college/overseas/high school make them think they are more influential than the prized players.
Cohen’s Analysis: With a plethora of salary cap space approaching, a likely high draft selection this June and possibly next year when the esteemed class of 2014 comes along and a collection of potential trade assets brewing, the Orlando Magic are in the perfect position to sculpt a championship contender in the next few years. Once the Magic are financially free to sign one or more max free agents – and we have witnessed in the past how Orlando is a preferred destination for many star players (ex. Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis) to go along with the high draft picks, we will eventually see a variety of these categories applied. Presently, only Hedo Turkoglu is making over $10 million on the Magic’s roster and his contract expires after next season.
Cohen’s Analysis: When you glance around the league and assess which team has done the best job in assembling a financially tolerable and championship contending roster, the Thunder certainly have to be at the top. They have two A+ talents making appropriate salaries. They have arguably the premier defensive power forward (Serge Ibaka), who will earn about $12 million per season starting next year and they have an outstanding compilation of role players that are all generally set at the right price.