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NBA Salary Cap even bigger than previously expected, Utah Jazz flush with cash they can't possibly hope to spend

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Last night something crazy happened.

Miss you Z
Miss you Z
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Last night we all got that alert from NBA news master in training Shams Charania (studying under the great guru Adrian Wojnarowski) that said the NBA was making so much money. In fact, the NBA is making so much money that it's even more than they thought they would. I guess this is what happens in a season where the Golden State Warriors shoot their way to 73 wins -- a new historical record -- in the same season where the East Playoffs (where most of the people live) include big media markets like the worldwide Boston Celtics fans and captures the imagination of all of Canada, because once again Canadian teams under-perform in the NHL, but the Toronto Raptors were two wins away from the NBA Finals. It was also Kobe Bryant 's last year as a player and his finale was one of the most watched television experiences in America. The NBA has made a lot of money this last year, and it's not all conspiracy theory related Ayesha. Game 7s do happen, even if they seem to happen to the most marketable teams out there.

So the end result of all of this wealth is that the money has to trickle down. No, really. It has to. It's in the bylaws of the league and the ownership's numerous lockouts of the players. And the Basketball Related Income (BRI) has blown up due to "business outperformance since the previous estimates." (The NBA, 2016 -- via this Yahoo! Sports article by Shams Charania) This means that more money than we thought has to trickle down to the players.

For the 2015-2016 NBA Season the Salary cap was a tidy $70 million -- a mark the Utah Jazz were well under even after the revolving door of 10-Day contracts and eating of guaranteed money (like they did with Grant Jerrett, who did not play a single minute for the team). Including training camp roster additions the team spent $64.8 / 70.0 of their available capspace in 2015-2016. It's clear that the team could -- in theory -- spend more money on the roster to actually upgrade it.

The previous projection for the 2016-2017 season was $89 million, then $92 million, and now here we are with one more televised game to play and the cap is now a whopping $94 million.

If the Utah Jazz guarantee the non-guaranteed contracts for this upcoming season (Shelvin Mack, Jeff Withey, Chris Johnson), and add in an estimated lotto pick salary (for the #12), and add up all of the money on the books the team will have 15 men on the roster, and a inclusive total of about $63 million and change.

That would be fielding a roster that is $31 million under the cap. (And a little past the halfway mark to the Luxury Tax rate of $113, according to Charania.)

As it stands the Jazz only have one free agent right now, Trevor Booker, and he's not worth more than $8 million a year. And the team, the agents, and the fans all know that Utah is not an attractive destination for the top level free agents (the guys who are actually worth the big bucks).

It's likely then that Utah will remain below the cap -- no matter what kind of crazy things Dennis Lindsey has in store for the team on Draft Night. (And we're assuming some sort of trade of players, assets, and picks for an actual human being veteran who can help the team today.)

Of course, as fate would have it, a top tier free agent going to a new team would have a starting salary off $31 million dollars now.

So, yeah . . . there's some money there if the Jazz were ever able to land "the big one", like a Kevin Durant or someone out there. Of course, the more realistic idea here is that Utah will strike out on the actual All-NBA level Free Agents. And that's expected. And as a result, they will tread a more conservative path towards:

  • staying under the cap (for goal #1: flexibility, winning a championship isn't goal #1);
  • slowly adding depth over the years so that the team is never an actual contender when the drafted Jazzmen are still in their physical primes (see: John Stockton and Karl Malone -- team did not really build around them until after a decade of Stockton-to-Malone, look it up. I did.);
  • save money for the depressing exercise of trying to pay everyone market value -- and having to go 7+ deep on the roster to do so because you haven't actually developed an Alpha Dog who can overcome a less deep team and achieve greater on-court success (e.g. carrying a team to wins vs. being a team of 2nd and 3rd bananas who cannot, and you need more depth to even go .500)

These are three 'downer' points for sure. But on the eve of Jazz free agency years and years of experience have led me to this conclusion -- save for that one year where the team paid Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Arroyo, and Gordan Giricek the same off-season where they poached "free agent" Carlos Boozer from the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons did not match the offer for their Restricted Free Agent bigman Mehmet Okur. To balance that one year of opening the vault we've had generations where our best free agent signings have been Chris Morris and John Lucas III. And the immortal Josh Howard.

Effectively, a larger cap doesn't directly help the Utah Jazz -- a team that has been under the cap for a long time. It does offer the Jazz more room to play with. But that space has been used for some fruitless endeavors recently, like taking on Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, and Brandon Rush for some future picks, the first of which is realized this year as the 2nd round, pick #60. Utah has also used their cap space in recent times to help trades go through without any potential future benefit on the horizon (the GSW/DEN/UTA trade at least dangled the carrot of future picks). The Enes Kanter liberation trade (OKC/DET/UTA) had the Jazz take on Kendrick Perkins ' contract, and even WORSE potential future picks (which default to two 2nd rounders down the line).

If you don't use your cap space you lose it. But you just can't use it poorly like this year after year and expect the on-court results to change.

The bottom line here for a team that can't attract the big fish in free agency is to try to draft well and then have enough money to go around and pay -- at best -- four of your best developed players going forward. If they are stars then they will perform like them on the court, and want to be paid like them. This is what Utah is angling to do here: have the cap space necessary to pay the players who may become stars. So there's money out there, earmarked, for star Gordon Hayward (opting out after this upcoming season, by the way; even guys like Dirk Nowitzki opted out, and he has no desire to leave the Dallas Mavericks; it's just economics), star Rudy Gobert, star Dante Exum, and star Derrick Favors and/or Rodney Hood.

I'd rather the team save their nest egg cap space for paying the guys who we love, our Jazz players since their rookie season. But I sure hope that they are worth it. And this is where it gets a little Daoist.

The NBA players, as a whole, are the people putting in a lot of the work -- if not all. They are the actual commodity here. They make the system money. (That "business outperformence" from the beginning of this story.) Because the system is making so much money, hand over fist, they have to raise the salary cap. (It is a fixed formula related to the BRI) In order to field a strong team and manage the pressures from their employers and the agents, General Managers give players big contracts. The owners may not like such big contracts for what, in a few cases, is just a luxury purchase (a sports team), and eventually the GMs have given out so much money that the Owners lock the players out.

[EPIC TANGENT ALERT]

By the way, the owners control the message so well the majority of the sports fans I interact with think it's the players being greedy -- when it's not a player's strike for more money EVER, it's always been the owners (those who control the means of production) locking out the employees (the players) in order for them to take less money to return to work. The "Players" have lost every single NBA lockout over time, and returned to work for lower wages. The contract values have gone up as part of a natural increase of the league's profitability. That profitability is DUE to the players, by the way. But the piece of the pie they are getting now is much less than NBA players did in the 1970s, when the league had a serious image problem. Crazy.

[END OF EPIC TANGENT]

So the success of the players means more money for the league. And that money needs to trickle down back to the players. And in a few cases, guys who do not deserve big bucks will get big bucks because you have to use your cap space. But the owners don't like that, and that's why you get a lock out. A lock out related to success.

And finally, that leads to the Utah Jazz with $31 million (and change) that they can spend this off-season.

There's no way the Jazz go over the salary cap or ever get close to the luxury tax again when the team is "playoff competitive" (read: doldrums between being bad enough to get a Top 3 draft pick, and good enough to actually be in "win now" mode). Utah has rolled the dice with fractured development and all of the young players from that period are either gone, or having their first post-rookie deals end in the next two years (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks). The new coach (*cough* Quin Snyer *cough*) who understands that his job is related to something other than just winning every game possible in the short term, no matter what, could be a huge difference maker for the franchise. However, with the ages of some of these cats (lots of people don't know that Trey Burke is younger than Rodney Hood, by the way), it's a real possibility that the team isn't going to be a contender for a while.

And a lack of contention means that you're not yet able to attract top tier free agents to help a winning squad. Ultimately, that means that the Utah Jazz are likely to play the "lemme hold some cap space" game for another season or two. The overwhelming financial success of the league, which precipitates a larger salary cap, just means that our franchise has space for a larger deck of differed cap to hold.

Personally, I know a lot of ways to spend $31 million dollars. I don't want to use it up now on over-the-hill vets who can help you "win now" while meaning that the team has to say "goodbye" to young talent after their rookie contracts expire. Sadly, the "win now" drums are beating pretty loudly after the Arena Upgrade deals have the ink dried on them. No one wants to support a loser. And this team has been for a while. Real Jazz fans (TM) know that there's no place where the Jazz have been losers for longer than in Free Agency though.

Hopefully all of this cap space will finally lure a big fish. I really don't want to see the team spend $20 million of that $31 on Trevor Booker and Jared Dudley. That's signing off on purchasing the S.S. Doldrums in my books. That would be giving away big money to guys who do not deserve it, which leads to the next lockout. Better to save your cap than waste it. Especially if our younger guys will one day earn it.