Why the latest salary cap projection find the Thunder in good shape

Why the latest salary cap projection find the Thunder in good shape

The NBA issued new salary cap estimates for next season that are a bit lower than previously projected. How this impacts the Thunder and how they could benefit from it.

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

| Feb 1, 2024, 10:11am CST

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

Feb 1, 2024, 10:11am CST

The NBA has notified teams of new salary cap projections for next season, according to newsbreakers Shams Charania of The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The salary cap had been expected to increase from $136 million this season to $142 million next season. Instead, the new projections anticipate a number closer to $141 million.

The drop won’t have much of an impact on the Thunder. If the offseason started today, OKC would be under the salary cap by around $11.5 million under this new estimate, assuming it renounced all free agents and salary cap exceptions. That number would be even larger if they released forward Davis Bertans, whose contract is only guaranteed for $5.25 million next season.

But things could change before next week’s trade deadline, and almost certainly will change around the June NBA Draft. But since the Thunder are unlikely to use cap space as a free-agent signing tool, a dip in the salary cap isn’t going to send an offseason plan into the shred box. Projections tend to nudge up or down around this time of year as the NBA tries to give teams planning information.

The projected 3.7% increase is a big drop from the previous two seasons when the cap increased by 10% each year. It may just be a temporary dip. If the NBA hits the marks it expects to hit on the next round of broadcast packages, expect another jump. The new collective bargaining agreement limits cap increases to 10% per year, though, so don’t expect a repeat of the 2016 cap spike that shook up the league.

The lower salary cap estimate will also drag down the luxury tax line, which could have a bigger impact on some teams. Ducking under the luxury tax line is often seen as team ownership simply being cheap — which could be true in some cases — but there is a strategy to it as well. Teams that frequently spend over the tax line face stiffer penalties. Those who build up heavy payrolls eventually lose access to several team-building tools. Teams that are willing to pay the tax do so carefully.

That’s where the Thunder could find an advantage in all of this. As explained earlier this week, OKC could find an opportunity in another team’s desire to shed salary. Even just a $1 million decrease over previous estimates could cause another team or two to revise its plans.

All told, a lower salary cap projection could benefit the Thunder, not hinder it. The team is still early in its lifecycle and can still be opportunistic with its low payrolls. That might not be the case a few years from now when some of today’s up-and-comers are eligible for rich extensions, but OKC is still in great shape no matter what salary cap number they get to play with next season.

 

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