This is the first part in our two-part series on NBA teams' cap situations heading into the 2011 offseason. Today, we are looking at the teams with the most room to maneuver. Editor's note: The numbers here were compiled and organized completely by ESPN Insider.
The cap is complicated. Just consider all the factors that actually determine a "team salary" for each year. It's no wonder teams have to hire resident capologists to keep it all square. You can't simply add it all up. And dissecting a cap situation can feel like being handed a complex dish and asked to peg the ingredients, and amounts used. Consider some variables:
• The total includes salaries to veteran players on the current roster and money owed to players who have been waived.
• There are cap holds used to replace veteran free agents until they are signed or renounced; there are unsigned past and current first-round picks.
• A rookie minimum cap hold is also included when a roster falls below a combination of 12 players that are under contract and those that have cap holds. For example: A team with just nine players counting against the cap will get three rookie minimum salary cap holds. Those will be eliminated each time a player is signed and the roster gets back to 12.
• Then there's an offer sheet. A team's salary total also will include an offer sheet that has been signed by a restricted free agent.
The new CBA is bound to have new rules moving forward and will partly determine who will have the most salary cap room. But for now, we'll use the old rules, meaning the same salary cap number ($58,044,000) for 2011-12 that was used for 2010-11. The new collective bargaining agreement will have new criteria for determining salary cap room. However, these teams should have the most to spend regardless of the rules. Listed are the likeliest scenarios for each team. Note that free agents that could be renounced by each team are not listed.
Nine players under contract: Omri Casspi, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Francisco Garcia, Donte Greene, Pooh Jeter, John Salmons, Jason Thompson and Hassan Whiteside
Total Payroll: $29.68 million
1 Free-Agent Cap Hold: Marcus Thornton
1 First-Round Cap Hold: Jimmer Fredette (No. 10)
1 Minimum Roster Charge
Estimated Cap Room: $24.89 million
Notes: The Kings will have the most cap room of any team, regardless of the new collective bargaining agreement, after they renounce the rest of their free agents, including Samuel Dalembert, who under the 2010-11 maximum salary slot would have a cap hold of $16,324,500. The Kings have said they'd like to retain Dalembert, however the free-agent center is expected to sign with a playoff contender. Will the team make big moves? Given the ownership situation, it all appears to be up in the air for the Kings.
11 Players under contract: Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Dahntay Jones, James Posey, A.J. Price, Brandon Rush and Lance Stephenson
Total Payroll: $37.09 million
1 Free-Agent Cap Hold: Josh McRoberts
Estimated Cap Room: $20.06 million
Notes: The Pacers finally have cycled out of all their bad high-end contracts and will enter the 2011-12 year with the second-most cap room. Jeff Foster could be re-signed, but his cap hold of $9,982,500 will need to be renounced for the Pacers to open free agency with just over $20 million in cap room. This is a team that can be active, but it also has some nice young pieces, and might be content with the addition of Hill.
New Jersey Nets
Seven players under contract: Jordan Farmar, Damion James, Brook Lopez, Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro and Deron Williams
Total Payroll: $39.81 million
1 Waived Player: Stephen Graham
1 First-Round Cap Hold: Marshon Brooks (No. 25)
4 Minimum Roster Charges
Estimated Cap Room: $16.09 million
Notes: Stephen Graham only has a partial guarantee for 2011-12 and is expected to be waived, so his minimum contract doesn't become fully guaranteed. Sundiata Gaines is currently under contract for next season, however his minimum salary is not guaranteed and he, under this scenario, will be waived to give the Nets a little more cap room. For now he will be listed as a renounced free agent. The Nets are expected to re-sign Kris Humphries, but the Nets will need to renounce his $6.4 million cap hold to have the $16.09 million cap room. Their cap room will be reduced if and when Humphries signs his new contract. Long term, it's obviously all about whether they can keep Williams around.
Seven players under contract: Andray Blatche, Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford, Rashard Lewis, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin and John Wall
Total Payroll: $39.66 million
1 Waived Player: Mike Bibby
2 First-Round Cap Holds: Jan Vesely (No. 6) and Chris Singleton (No. 18)
3 Minimum Roster Charges
Estimated Cap Room: $11.87 million
Notes: The Wizards have tendered qualifying offers to Othyus Jeffers, Hamady Ndiaye, Larry Owens and Nick Young. All four players will need to be renounced to give the Wizards the $11.87 million cap room. It will decrease by $7,891,509 while Young remains on the salary cap. Given the youthful pieces on this roster, we don't expect the Wiz to be too aggressive.
Los Angeles Clippers
10 Players under contract: Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe, Brian Cook, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman, Willie Warren and Mo Williams
Total Payroll: $44.91 million
1 Free-Agent Cap Hold: DeAndre Jordan
1 Minimum Roster Charge
Estimated Cap Room: $11.54 million
Notes: The Clippers could gain a little more room if they waive Warren and his nonguaranteed contract, however, it won't increase their cap room that much if they do. They will have more cap room than Washington and will move up to fourth if Nick Young and the other three free agents are not renounced by the Wizards. They could also move up to third if the Nets do not renounce Sundiata Gaines and Kris Humphries. The hole on this team is clear, and we don't expect the trade talk surrounding a fix at the 3 to subside.
Oklahoma City Thunder
13 Players under contract: Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Royal Ivey, Eric Maynor, Byron Mullens, Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Thabo Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook and Robert Vaden
Total Payroll: $49.85 million
1 First-Round Cap Hold: Reggie Jackson (No. 24)
Estimated Cap Room: $7.19 million
Notes: The Thunder can increase their cap room to $9.18 million if they waive Ivey by Sept. 16, when his contract becomes fully guaranteed, and Vaden, who does not have any salary protection. They won't have that much room and won't make this list if they don't renounce Daequan Cook. While trade talk seems constant around this team, this was still the NBA's youngest team in 2010-11.
10 Players under contract: Solomon Alabi, Leandro Barbosa, Andrea Bargnani, Jerryd Bayless, Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, James Johnson and Linas Kleiza
Total Payroll: $47.18 million
1 First-Round Cap Hold: Jonas Valanciunas (No. 5)
1 Minimum Roster Charge
Estimated Cap Room: $7.47 million
Notes: The Raptors will end up in the top five if the Wizards don't renounce Nick Young and the Thunder don't renounce Daequan Cook and waive Royal Ivey and Robert Vaden.
Chris Sprow is a senior editor for ESPN The Magazine and Insider. He reports and edits across many sports, with an emphasis on the NFL, MLB, NBA and college football and basketball; he also works year-round with Mel Kiper on NFL draft coverage. He also oversees all sports in ESPN's Rumor Central and has been a regular guest on ESPN networks in that role. You can find his ESPN archives here, and reach him on Twitter here.