With recent reports of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony respectively exercising their Early Termination Options, this inevitably gives more excitement for the offseason. The mere thought of two of the top 6 most popular players in the NBA changing team gives hope to swarths of fans around the NBA. #EventheHawks fans have a glimmer of hope for one of these players to sign on with the Eastern Conference Team with the most consecutive playoff appearances. That's how you measure success, right?
Let's take a look at what free agency entails for LeBron and Melo, then we can assess a few ideas of making this happen.
The idea of a maximum contract is a bit of a misnomer. This is not one number for the entire NBA, it is a player specific number defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The maximum starting salary for an individual player is based on either a player's experience or their previous contract. This value is the greater of:
- 105% of a player's previous salary
- 25%, 30%, or 35% of the Salary Cap depending on years of experience (0 to 6, 7 to 9, and 10+) in the league
Barring some sort of massive windfall in revenues for the NBA1, the maximum starting salary for both LeBron and Melo will be based off of their previous salary. LeBron had a salary of $20,590,000 while Melo had a salary of $21,388,954. This puts the maximum starting salary for LeBron at $21,619,500 and for Melo at $22,458,402.
We will use these numbers and go from there -- here's how one or the other, or both(!) can happen.
Hawks Have to Clear Some Cap Space
We have detailed the Hawks Team Salary situation before, but it's a good idea to go over potential moves to clear enough Cap Space to offer a Max Contract to Melo. Of course, being able to offer Melo a Max Contract implies the Hawks could have offered LeBron a Max Contract but not necessarily at the same time.
With no moves, the Hawks have a Team Salary of $61,226,787. This includes Cap Holds for all Free Agents and Draft Picks but does not assume the Hawks make Qualifying Offers to any of their Free Agents. Projecting a Salary Cap of $63.2 million, the Hawks would need to get down to a Team Salary of at most $40,741,598 just to sign ONE of these guys. So let's take a few logical steps of how we can achieve this:
- Renounce all Free Agents. This is Elton, Gustavo, Shelvin, Mike, and Cartier. Collectively, they count against the Hawks' Cap Space at $9,495,729. This will drop the Team Salary to $51,731,058. About another $10 million to go.
- "Draft-and-Stash" our First Rounders. This will include Lucas Nogueira and whoever the Hawks select at #15 this year. Doing so, the Hawks will save ($3,015,000 - 2*$507,336 =) $2,000,328. We need to account for the roster only containing 10 Players after stashing the draft picks. Team Salary down to $49,730,730. Almost there.
- Waive Pero Antic (Ed. Note: Massive sad face) as he has a non-guaranteed contract. Doing so saves the Hawks ($1,250,000 - $507,336=) $742,664. Team Salary at $48,988,066.
At this point, it is tempting to think the Hawks should waive Mike Muscala. This is a bad idea. Mike has 50% of his $816,482 Salary guaranteed. So the Hawks are already committed to paying him $408,241. If the Hawks then waive Mike, they lose a player on their roster and are then charged for an incomplete roster at $507,336. So by waiving Mike, the Hawks would actually increase their Team Salary by $99,095. It is safe to assume that Mike Muscala is unwaivable for this Summer.
So what we are left with is a scenario where the Hawks need to clear $8,246,468 after getting their roster down to the following:
- Al Horford $12,000,000
- Paul Millsap $9,500,000
- Jeff Teague $8,000,000
- Kyle Korver $6,253,521
- Lou Williams $5,450,000
- DeMarre Carroll $2,442,455
- Dennis Schröder $1,690,680
- John Jenkins $1,312,920
Keep in mind that if the Hawks trade away a player and do not take one back, they will still be charged $507,336 for the roster spot.
One option is for the Hawks to Amnesty Al Horford. He is the only Amnesty candidate available (ed note: deadline is July 18th) on the Hawks and such a move would clear $11,492,664 in Team Salary for the Hawks (or $12,000,000 with a full roster, which would allow the team to keep Pero and their Draft Picks). I present without opinion as to the likelihood of this event.
Realistically, however, the Hawks would need to trade away some combination of salaries that clear . This could be Horford/Millsap/Teague and anyone else. Kyle and Lou. Lou and DeMarre and Dennis/John. You can be the judge as to the likelihood of these events occurring, but we know that the Hawks would have to clear that bit of space.
Now it is possible that the Hawks clear their Team Salary and then engage in sign-and-trade talks with Miami or New York for their free agent superstar. In doing so, this would not give LeBron or Melo any more money like what was previously the case before the new 2011 CBA. The advantage to doing this from the perspective of Miami or New York is that they would not lose their free agent for nothing. The advantage for the Hawks is that they would be clearing Team Salary. As shown above, the Hawks can trade away a player (or set of players) to Miami or New York that would give them enough Cap Space to absorb the Max Contract of LeBron or Melo. This is certainly possible, although I give no claim or how probable this is.
Another scenario for a sign-and-trade is that the Hawks make a credible threat to Miami or New York that they could clear enough Cap Space to sign their superstar outright, but the Hawks do not actually go through the steps of clearing Cap Space. This could leverage Miami or New York to decide that they should engage in a sign-and-trade. If this occurs, then the Hawks can acquire LeBron or Melo through a sign-and-trade provided that the Hawks do not exceed the Apron (Luxury Tax + $4 million) and are trading away at least $17,458,402 for Melo or $16,619,500 for LeBron. These values assume each player gets their Max and the transaction only involves Melo/LeBron.
One key mechanism in the potential sign-and-trade would be Elton Brand. The Hawks have Non-Bird Rights on him and would be able to sign him to a deal starting at $4,800,000. This would act as the ever so popular "Cap Filler" in a trade. A Brand and Horford combo ($16,800,000) could net the Hawks LeBron at his Maximum. Adding in one more contract would be enough for Melo. So this option is there, you'd have to use your judgement on the likelihood of such a deal.
Acquiring Both LeBron and Melo
Still, I know there are those of you out there wondering what it would take for the Hawks to acquire both LeBron and Melo. Adding both of them on to the Hawks, at their respective Max, would be adding on $44,077,902 in Salary. For this to happen with Cap Space, the Hawks would need their Team Salary to be at a paltry $19,122,098 for this to work. What might a roster of this magnitude look like?
Consider we need to account for incomplete roster charges, the smallest possible Team Salary is actually (12*$507,336 =) $6,088,032. In the event that Al Horford stays on the roster (and only Al Horford), the Hawks would be sitting at $17,580,696. If the Hawks kept Al and Dennis, then their Team Salary sits at $18,7640,040.
I could list other options of what the roster would look like with enough Cap Space cleared. But the point is that if the Hawks acquire both of these stars at their respective Maximum Contracts, then the roster would be gutted. At that point, the Hawks would be able to fill out the rest of their roster with the Room Mid-Level Exception and minimum salaried players.
So what say you, Hawks fans? Is this at all realistic? Leave your own suggestion for the Hawks to pursue either of these superstars below.
UPDATE: This, from Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:
Atlanta has one of the most flexible rosters in the league, with multiple options to move attractive players to other teams to create space. The Hawks, however, have been somewhat reluctant to completely gut their roster as they hope to build off some success from last season.
1. My back-of-the-envelope calculation for the 35% Max is around $20.67m with current Cap Projections.↩