Jazz Free Agency Primer ’13

June 27th, 2013 | by Dan Clayton

Several months’ worth of draft geekery is winding down, which only means it’s time to shift the focus to another crop of players and another set of complicated rules: NBA free agency is days away.

Don’t fear, though. My year-round nerdiness is such that I’m all set to prime any Jazz fans who are just now turning their focus to what could be a massive spending spree for Utah. We’ll start with the cap, then zoom in on Utah’s situation and explore some nuances of 2013 free agency.

The Cap Figure

Experts are guessing that the July moratorium will confirm a $58.5 million soft cap. While that’s about a half million higher than in 2012-13, it’s not the increase teams were expecting. That could shorten the list of potential bidders, which could be good news for Utah..

Based on a cap of $58.5 million, we can project a tax threshold of just under $70M, an “apron” of $74M and a minimum team salary (more on that in a second) of $52,650,000.

Utah’s Cap Situation & FAs

Right now, Utah’s actually over the cap, with $24.9M in guaranteed salary, a $789K team option on Kevin Murphy, cap holds for their  picks, and then over $50M in free agent holds. They can make that last $50M vanish pretty quickly — the cap holds only clog your salary sheet until you renounce the player, sign him to a different amount, or he signs elsewhere. So the Jazz could renounce all their own free agents on July 1 and have roughly $30M under the cap, but more likely they’ll wait until they need that space for a move. This allows them to keep their options open.

Here are the specific holds & salary info for each Jazz free agent.

FAHoldsAl

Nobody’s clogging Utah’s cap sheet quite like Jefferson, who counts for $17.6M until something happens. Here the choice is fairly simple: keep him for eight-figure money, let him walk, or try to use his player rights to get something in return via S&T. You know the drill on Al, so let’s move on.

FAHoldsPaul

I’m really not sure what will happen with Millsap, or even what he wants. At media day, his comments were so ambiguous. He seemed sincere about his appreciation for the franchise and his time here, but skirted any questions about his status or the future. He answered questions with dodges like, “I haven’t thought about it,” “I don’t want to think about it,” or “I’ll have to think about that.”

While he’s thinking about it, the Jazz have $10,800,000 tied up on their cap sheet. My guess is that he’ll find a deal starting in low eight or high seven figures, and personally, I’d pay him if it were a short-term deal. Utah needs a couple of bigs, at least one of which has to be able to play 30 minutes a night.

FAHoldsMo

Williams will draw some interest, although he’ll be in a salary range where a lot of teams will be able to sign him outright and not bother with messy S&T rules. I can’t see him getting anything near his $12.75M cap hold, so the Jazz may just renounce his bird rights and deal with him using their hypothetical cap space, if they want him back at all.

FAHoldsDMC

Carroll is seen as a priority by most fans. I guess I understand why: he endeared himself to fans with his hustle and attitude, and he even kept defenses honest by working on an 18-foot jump shot. I think his skill set is fairly replaceable, but again: I get the love, as long as the dollars aren’t crazy.

Utah will have options on that front. If they’re under the cap, they can sign him to pretty much any amount. Even if they choose to operate as an over-the-cap team (without renouncing their exceptions and player rights), they can sign him in a variety of ways. They could use Early Bird rights to sign him to a minimum 2-year deal starting anywhere up to average salary. They could instead sign him as a non-Bird to get around the two-year minimum, but then only to a max of $1,137,488. They could also use the BAE or part of the MLE, or they could try to negotiate him down to a minimum contract, in which case the league would pick up $63K of his $947K salary. I think he probably played his way into a richer deal than the minimum, but I doubt he gets any offers at the full MLE, from Utah or otherwise.

FAHoldsFoye

As a non-Bird free agent, the Jazz can only sign Foye for up to $3M, unless they have cap space available or use a chunk of MLE to go higher. Honestly, I think that’s about his price range anyway, and there are no indications that the youth-movement Jazz are planning on having him back.

FAHoldsJT

Tinsley is another guy who may not fit with the suddenly very young Jazz. But just for academic purposes, his cap hold is a modest 1.7M as an Early Bird FA, and like DMC, the Jazz could use a variety of means to re-sign him if they wanted to: cap space if they’re below the line, or exceptions including Early Bird, non-Bird, veteran minimum, MLE or BLE. But my guess is the Jazz would only be interested if he’ll sign another minimum deal, because then the league pays $515K of his salary and he only costs the Jazz $884K.

FAHoldsEarl

Watson has very few salary restrictions as a Bird FA, but his market value sets plenty of restrictions. The Jazz could use a plethora of rights or exceptions to keep him on board, but as with Tinsley, I think they’ll only be interested if they can talk him into the minimum so that the cost to employee him runs less than a million. He probably winds up elsewhere, although his rapport with the youngs, and the way he has embraced Utah, make me think I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back, either.

Some other CBA rules that apply to the Jazz in the coming summer:

Sign & Trade

The Jazz may get as much mileage out of the trade market thanks to the player rights they hold. But be cautious when creating complicated S&Ts: the rules just got tougher.

Specifically, new rules apply this year prohibiting teams above the apron – about $74M – from acquiring players in S&T in most situations. There are 11-13 teams who are close enough to that apron that they will likely be functioning under this set of rules. Teams above the apron, though, can make those acquisitions if they haven’t used the taxpayer MLE, and the trade reduces their overall salary commitment and drops them below the apron — meaning the Jazz can deal with some of those teams, but it’s complicated.

Another misconception about S&T is that the Jazz must still hold the player’s rights to orchestrate the deal. You can trade a renounced free agent as long as you have the cap room to accommodate the contract amount and all other requirements of the S&T are met.

MLE

While a few teams have cap space to compete with the Jazz, the majority of the competition for second and third-tier FAs will come from teams that want to use their mid-level exception. That’s where there’s more good news for Utah.

Those same 11-13 apron teams can only spend up to $3.183M on their MLE, not enough to attract even second-tier talent. In the past, the ability to go past the $5-6M MLE was a moderate advantage; now, it’s huge, given the number of teams that can’t even offer that much.

Minimum Salary

Another common myth is that the Jazz have to spend up to the $52,650,000 minimum team salary. They do, but not necessarily up front.

The league will make sure each team hits that salary mark at the end of the season by essentially awarding each player on under-spending teams a proportionate bonus to take the team to the minimum salary level. So if the Jazz spend $45 million and then decide to leave their options open, it’s not like they’ll be kicked out of the NBA.

 

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton