As the Bobcats have moved from cap-conservative to becoming willing spenders this offseason, the salary cap has once again become a major concern. This season's salary cap and luxury tax threshold have just been announced at $58.679 million and $71.748 million, respectively. The Bobcats don't have to worry about the latter number, but they do have to worry about the former.
To preface all this, here's a refresher on the salary cap. It is what they call a "soft cap," meaning teams may spend above the cap in certain situations including spending to retain a player that has been with the team, using the permitted exceptions for free agents or other exceptions. If a team accumulates so much, they take on the risk of hitting the luxury tax, a threshold that charges additionally to permit teams to spend more than others. The intent is to limit richer markets from championing smaller teams on the basis of money alone.
But the cap isn't the only thing to bear in mind. There's also a salary floor: a minimum amount teams can spend on their roster. This has increased over the past few years from 80 percent to 90 percent of the cap. This means every team must spend at least $52.81 million per year. There is an odd exception to this in that if a team amnesties a player, they still must pay them but the cost does not count as a hold against their cap, but it can count as a hold to ensure they're above the salary floor. This doesn't really matter in Charlotte with Tyrus Thomas' amnesty because they're practically above the floor already.
|Total sans Henderson||$52,340,131|
Green = qualifying offer | Red = unguaranteed money
Al Jefferson's contract appears to be backloaded, leaving the Bobcats with some slight help in the present. Gerald Henderson's qualifying offer is included here, as is Jeff Adrien's unguaranteed deal. The Bobcats have 12 players, which is fine going into the season. Teams must have 12 players on their roster, but the maximum is 15. They don't have much room to work with if they want to add a few more players. Some minimum deals could be in order. They could also utilize their mid-level exception to sign a player and go over the cap. There's some flexibility, but not a whole lot. Also if Henderson returns on a bigger contract, the Bobcats would near the soft cap further.
In the scenario that Henderson leaves or is dealt in a sign-and-trade, the Bobcats could be left with less or more space depending on the return. If a deal returns draft picks or cash, they can pick up some room, or if they use him in a S&T to get a player, they could end up with less space.
Red = unguaranteed | Purple = Player option | Blue = Team option
A ton of money comes off the books next season with Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions' contracts expiring. This table also makes some assumptions, however: 1) that Henderson only takes his qualifying offer and does not accept a longer deal this offseason or that he does not re-sign next season if he does take that qualifying offer; 2) that the Bobcats agree to keep all the players that they current have on rookie deals. That's not a big jump to make and we can probably assume that now. That roster would have ample room to sign free agents to fill holes at shooting guard and point guard, not to mention they would have a draft pick or two or three coming in to help.
After 2015, Jefferson has a player option of roughly $14.3 million and the rookie scale players either have team options to stay with the Bobcats or Charlotte can extend qualifying offers or extensions.
The Bobcats have improved their frontcourt depth a lot on offense and though they couldn't really regress much defensively, they didn't improve much defensively in the paint. Depending on Gerald Henderson's return or departure, the Bobcats could possibly add a dozen or so wins, if I had to guess. This likely takes them out of the running for the most elite talent in the 2014 draft with the most elite tankers, but they would possibly still be in the position to have a moderately-positioned lottery pick, similar to the 2012-13 Detroit Pistons. And if we learned anything from this past draft, anything can happen.
But I think the Bobcats front office are fairly confident the four young players in Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller and Biyombo can develop further to form a decent core to build around with Jefferson and other free agents in the future. Another lottery pick could be in the plans, and the Bobcats still have a future first from the Pistons and Trail Blazers, not to mention their own will go to Chicago sometime in the future.
They don't have that much money tied up in the future after this season outside of Jefferson so they at least have financial flexibility for free agency, but the road for the Bobcats is far from paved. Whether they become the new Bucks or the new Pacers will depend on future moves that revolve around how they draft and the talent they sign, as well as the contracts that will impact their cap situation.