Analysis: Milwaukee’s cap space and Denver’s trade exceptions

The Milwaukee Bucks have completed most of their positive summer business, re-signing Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and George Hill and getting a first and two seconds to move Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers. Robin Lopez will take their Room Exception and Wesley Matthews is on board in a minimum slot. The issue for the Bucks now surrounds how to create enough cap space for Lopez and Hill, as they don’t have the space right now to pay Lopez the $12.09 million they’ve promised him as the starting salary on a four-year, $52 million contract to which he’s agreed and pay Hill his $9.21 million in the first year of a three-year, $29 million deal. The difference is negligible, though, because Hill’s contract may well have been rounded up in its reporting – as things stand, they have enough room to give him a three-year deal worth $28.77 million.

Before making these two signings, they’ll have $14.64 million in cap space, which is more than enough for Lopez’s first-year salary, but doesn’t leave nearly enough room for Hill’s as well. Signing Lopez will leave them with $3.44 million in cap space (since they’ll get back a roster charge after making Lopez official), so they’ll need to open up another $5.76 million for Hill’s opening salary. The obvious candidate is John Leuer, whose $9.51 million base salary can be stretched over three years, but that only gets them to $8.41 million in cap space, since moving on from Leuer would add another $898k roster charge to their books. Starting Hill at exactly this amount would limit his three-year contract to $28.77 million, which could have easily been rounded up in the reporting that he will be paid $29 million over three years.

After signing Lopez, stretching Leuer, and signing Hill, they’ll complete the rest of their business by signing Robin Lopez to the Room Exception and Matthews to the minimum. Neither of those moves require cap space.

The Denver Nuggets have been entirely inactive in free agency thus far, save for the max extension they on which agreed with Jamal Murray. The clock is ticking for them to add significantly to their team, both because a lot of the best players are already off the market and because the trade exceptions they generated in last summer’s salary dumps are set to expire in the next couple weeks. The $12.80 million exception for Wilson Chandler’s 2018-19 salary will expire as the moratorium ends on Saturday, while they have another six days to use the $13.76 million exception generated by the Kenneth Faried trade and the $7.46 million exception created by Darrell Arthur’s salary.

As things stand, the Nuggets are $12.5 million from the tax and have two or three roster spots open, depending on what they do with second-round pick Bol Bol. They have their full mid-level and bi-annual exceptions available to them on top of these three monster trade exceptions, though if they were to truly go all out and use the three exceptions, they would exceed the apron by enough that the mid-level and bi-annual would disappear in exchange for the taxpayer mid-level. Additionally, if they use one of the trade exceptions on a sign-and-trade, rather than a player who is already under contract, they would be hard-capped at the apron and have to curtail spending.

The Nuggets have multiple ways to add to their roster significantly, but at this point it’s unclear if they’re going to do so. These exceptions cannot be combined together in order to take on one player making, say, $25 million, but they can each be used individually to add solid role players to their roster in the hunt for a championship. Denver is much further along than they expected to be at this point, and while it’s commendable that they want to take things one step at a time and grow their young core together, they do have a real chance at winning the West and competing for a title if they’re willing to spend through the tax to add to their team.