The NBA salary cap is an extremely complex monster that is almost impossible to solve. The league operates under a "soft" cap, which means there are ways teams can operate and sign players while still being above the salary cap. The league also has a luxury tax line that forces teams to pay an additional charge for any dollar they spend over that threshold.
There are several exceptions that the league allows teams to use despite being over the salary cap or luxury tax. One of those is the bi-annual exception, a tool that can be used once every two years to sign a player to a contract of up to two years and up to an already determined amount. The Charlotte Hornets used theirs to sign Jeremy Lin last week.
Another tool that can be used for over the cap teams is the mid-level exception. There are certain rules as to how much a team's mid-level can be. If the team starts under the salary cap and then goes over it, they can use the room exception and sign a player for up to two years and just under $6 million. If the team starts over the cap but won't go up to $4 million over the luxury tax (a line known as the "apron"), they can use the full mid-level on a contract up to four years and over $23 million. If a team is in the tax and will go over the apron, then they can use the taxpayer's mid-level exception, which allows a team to sign a player for up to three years and close to $11 million. All of these exceptions already have a predetermined dollar amount.
Here is a look at what the current salary structure looks like for the Charlotte Hornets after they used their bi-annual exception on Jeremy Lin.
The Hornets have the minimum 13 roster spots taken up and are still comfortably underneath the luxury tax with two roster spots left to fill. Since they are above the cap and way under the tax, they can use the full mid-level exception: four years and around $23 million. That is a sizable enough contract bring in a worthy contributor. The Memphis Grizzlies used their full mid level this year on Brandan Wright, a high-end backup center who could be a starter on a lot of teams.
In order to think of players that the Hornets should use this exception on, it would be a good idea to highlight some team needs.
The Hornets were dead last in the league last year in 3-point percentage. They have several players in their rotation that are below average 3-point shooters, making life a lot more difficult for guys like Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker to operate. Adding guys like Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, and Jeremy Lin were major upgrades in that department, but you can't ever have enough shooting on your team.
Fifth big man
After the departure of Bismack Biyombo this summer, the Hornets are in need of another front court player to round out the roster. Right now, the frontcourt rotation for Charlotte consists of five guys: Jefferson, Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes, Cody Zeller. They have versatility with these five guys. Kaminsky is a knock-down shooter, Zeller is a mixed bag, but shows promise on both ends of the floor, Jefferson is one of the best post up players in the league, and Hawes is going to try to get back to the 3-point shooting, rebounding force he was in Philadelphia and Cleveland. The one player they don't have, however, is a shot blocker to protect the rim. Those players are hard to find, making the mid-level exception a good tool to use to attract that type of player.
Who is still available?
Kevin Seraphin, C
Seraphin is coming off the best year of his career for the Washington Wizards this last season and is an unrestricted free agent. One of the best free agents still available, Seraphin did more than an adequate job of protecting the rim last season with opponents shooting 47.6 percent at the rim against him, according to NBA.com. Offensively, he is a post player, so there would be a lot of overlap with what Al Jefferson does for the Hornets. That can be a good and bad thing; diversity is good for a roster but it also helps to have continuity from the first and second units so that you can run the same system. This is the absolute best player that the Hornets could get for the mid-level exception, but they would probably have to spend all of it.
Darrell Arthur, PF
Arthur played the last two seasons with the Denver Nuggets, a team that had a crowded frontcourt where he didn't get consistent minutes. Arthur has improved over the course of his career, going from raw and athletic to a guy who can stretch out and hit a jumper. While he struggled from the 3-point line last season, he shot 37.5 percent in 2014. His bread and butter has always been the midrange jump shot, a shot he converted at a solid 44.8 percent from last season. He would be one of the higher-end fifth bigs in the league, and Charlotte most likely wouldn't have to use all of their mid-level to sign him.
Dorell Wright, SF
Wright was a versatile piece on the Portland Trail Blazers' bench the last two seasons. He can play both forward spots and is a great shooter from beyond the arc. Last year, he shot 38 percent from deep, mainly being used as a backup, small-ball power forward behind LaMarcus Aldridge. The Hornets already have Marvin Williams who acts as their small-ball power forward right now, but Williams struggled a bit last year and is in the last year of his contract. Adding Wright for a smaller portion of the mid-level would give them not only a solid player at that position, but someone who can be locked up under contract for a couple years.
Why they shouldn't use their exception
The smartest thing for Charlotte might be to save their money and look ahead to next summer. There are several reasons to do this. First off, it is always nice to have extra space and with the cap supposedly rocketing up to nearly $90 million next summer, Charlotte could be armed with even more space if they don't use their mid-level exception.
More importantly than that, the Hornets will have several free agents next summer that they will have to make decisions on. If things go well this year, they will more than likely try to bring back a lot of their players. Jefferson opted into the last year of his deal to return for this season, but he will be a free agent next summer. He will most likely want a pay raise if he has another season like he did in 2014.
There is also the new guys like Batum and Jeremy Lamb. Lamb will get more playing time in Charlotte than he did for the Oklahoma City Thunder and if he proves to be the 3-and-D wing he was hyped up to be, the Hornets should definitely keep him. Before having an injury plagued 2015 season, Batum was a walking triple-double; one of the best two-way wing players in the entire league. He should have a bounce-back year in Charlotte, making him a prime candidate for the Hornets to re-sign.
Then there is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is eligible for an extension this summer and will be until October of this year. While Kidd-Gilchrist's shooting woes are well-known, he is one of the best defenders in the league already and one of its hardest workers. He should definitely be a piece of this Hornets core going forward. They would be wise to lock him up with an extension before he hits free agency next summer.
Adding another player for this season would be nice, and there are a few candidates left still worthy of the mid-level exception. But as free agency starts to wind down and the better players come off the board, it would be better for the Hornets to save their money, especially given their future cap outlook.