For two years, the Space Race columns have helped set the table for the offseason to come, first with the $1 billion projection in 2016, then the much smaller $400 million this June.
The 2017 offseason is not done yet, but the transition from July to August and slowdown of signings made this a good time to take an early look ahead
Using the same methodology of the last two years, the current estimate for the Summer of 2018 is $400 million, basically the same as June 2017. That may look like a stabilizing cap, but teams will take many actions between now and June 2018 that will almost exclusively reduce that number, making it look like an even leaner offseason for free agents.
A significant factor in this dynamic is that existing contracts are rising faster than the salary cap now that the national TV deal is fully incorporated. An increase from about $99.1 million to the current 2018-19 estimate of $102 million is just under three percent when raises can be up to five or eight percent, depending on how the player signs.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how the offseason elements below will affect what could be a summer full of intrigue and player movement.
The first big reduction in that $400 million figure will come from the free agents still on the market. The unrestricted free agent market has largely wound down, but a few prominent restricted players are still out there.
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Nerlens Noel, JaMychal Green, Mason Plumlee, Nikola Mirotic and Alex Len all began July expecting lucrative long contracts, and some of that group will still receive them, though probably at a smaller amount than originally anticipated. Four of those five players are also on teams that currently project to have significant cap space in 2018 with Green and the Grizzlies standing as the lone exception. That means any multi-season commitment reduces the league-wide estimate, substantially in some cases.
One or more of that quintet electing to take their qualifying offers would change the 2018 offseason, too, as they would be unrestricted free agents.
The 2014 draft class is the first affected by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s increased cap holds for restricted free agents, inspired by how many teams (including the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard, Wizards with Bradley Beal and Pistons with Andre Drummond) aggressively wielded the lower cap holds to maximize their cap space in recent seasons. This affects available space already, since high picks like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have numbers on their teams books above $20 million.