The construction of NBA rosters differs across past champions. If you look at teams of the past, some instances feature a barrage of defensive talent or a deep bench filled with shooters. Combining the two forces is usually the most effective in roster construction, but the proof to a perfect answer is far from solidified. The current pace and performance of the league's talent pool is also something to take into consideration. The current NBA is more skill-based than it is fundamental. Players stuff the highlight reels and are limited to offensive playsets. They continue to run base offensive sets, but who needs defined play-calling when you have the likes of LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis in the league? There is only so much preparation and counter to a player's skill set in today's league, making roster construction a telling piece of the longevity of a franchise.
A team is allotted the maximum of 15 players on the active roster. 1 of these players must be inactive, meaning he cannot play during a game on any given night, unless activated 24 hours before a contest. These slots are usually filled by players recovering from injury or veteran players who have run their course in the league. A good practice of depth is to roster at least one back-up for each position to feature the desired rotation of players. The remaining 5 spots can be filled with areas of weakness or counters to opposing competition. The Detroit Pistons of the past used their role spots to add players that weren't afraid to get physical or spark the team via vocal means. This is subjective across each team. The Miami Heat team that utilized most of their cap room to sign LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh filled their roster with league minimum, shooters. To each their own as they would say.
Speaking to the salary cap of the NBA, a differing breakdown is utilized when compared to other professional sports. The NBA operates on a soft cap, meaning they set a level that teams are allowed to exceed. For the 2018-19 NBA season, teams were capped at just under $102 million, a couple million higher than last year’s average. This amount is forwarded throughout every organization. Any amount the team spends over the cap is known as the luxury tax. Luxury tax affordances are different for each team. For example, a team spending $90 million on roster construction would have just over $30 million leftover for contract renewals and in-season signings. The NBA Roster salary cap for the 2019-20 season is $109 million and a tax level of $132 million. Teams that exceed the luxury tax, take the New Orleans Pelicans at $117 million as an example, will be afforded an additional amount of cap space. The team possesses homegrown talent in Anthony Davis, which can be used to increase the amount the team has to spend thanks to set ruling within salary affordances. A second influencer to going above and beyond this yearly amount is the deep pockets of ownership.
The collective bargaining agreement does keep teams within regulations, preventing super teams from building on a contractual basis. This has been stunted by teams who have found players willing to take salary cuts to play with guys they think can help win that team a championship. It is hard to regulate a league that revolves around one thing: winning a championship. There are many other complexities mixed into the NBA salary cap, such as an obligation to keep your fan base happy with local talent signings, signing veteran players, and other such stipulations. The cap is allowed to be broken in the NBA, leading to roster construction that allows teams to build around the mold they are looking for to define their franchise.
How NBA Free Agency Works
NBA Free Agency has become one of the more exciting parts of the NBA season, even though it comes right after the Finals. Each year on July 1st at midnight, the NBA Free Agency kicks off. The NBA has a salary cap, which is the same as the rest of the US major sports, outside of baseball. The reason this was set in place was that so teams wouldn’t just outspend every other team and this was supposed to create a more level playing field. Each year a salary cap is set in place which is based on the income of the league. This ranges from things like broadcast rights to concession sales. This gives a team a set amount of money to aim to stay under, and their current roster’s salaries will dictate how much they can spend in free agency. However, they go over
resulting in a luxury tax.
Now teams can start recruiting players to verbal agreements before the July 1st date, and the grey area of tampering is not followed that closely these days. A player can reach a verbal agreement with a team before the July date, and then officially sign when that date comes about. We have seen some chaos in the past where a player has verbally agreed, and then backed out.
Unrestricted Vs. Restricted Free Agents
If you are an unrestricted free agent, this means you have the right to sign anywhere without a team being able to match and retain your services. Becoming a restricted free agent usually happens when a first-round pick is about to enter his fifth overall year. A player drafted outside the first round who has been in the league for three years and then receives a qualifying offer at 125% or higher than his previous year’s salary will make him a restricted free agent. Now these restricted player’s teams will have a chance to work out a deal internally, or be able to match any team’s offer.
Seniority in the NBA is going to dictate how much money you can make. Minimums and maximums are going to change each year due to the salary cap changing. The maximum you can make is going to be spread out by how many years you have been in the league. If you have been in the league less than six, your max is 25% of the cap. If you have been in the league 7-9 years, it is 30%, and anything more it is 35% of the cap as a max. Rookie contracts have some incentives if you win awards within that rookie contract. It can dictate how much you can make in the year’s prior.
Now there is a thing called “Bird Rights” which stems from Larry Bird staying in Boston, which his contract exceeded the salary cap which was then allowed instead of having made Boston rework their entire roster to make it work. A player can make more money staying with a team because there is an increase in his pay. This also encourages players to stay with a small market team instead of moving to the larger markets.
Some contracts work like veteran minimums, where we see usually super teams fill out their roster with cheap names because they have devoted most of their salary cap to just a few players.
How Is The Salary Allocated?
The salary grab has been rapidly growing with the rest of the league, and franchises are worth more now than they ever were before. You might be wondering how positions are paid, especially as we move into an era where guards are more important than ever. That is shown in how salary has been distributed. Point guards on average have taken up about 23% of team salaries. Shooting guards are at 21%, and small forwards are at 22%. Both power forwards and centers are below the 18% mark. This may not have been the case in the past, but it is now. However, it is worth noting that the average salary is higher for centers because the depth of them on a roster is not as high.
Some teams are devoting much more of their salary cap to the point guard position than others. Of course we look at Stephen Curry in Golden State, who is one of the higher paid point guards in the league. James Harden in Houston is taking up over 40% of the salary cap on his own. If you are a star center, then you are getting paid, but only a few are making big enough money to make a dent in the salary cap. They are also being paid to suck up a majority of the minutes and not paying the backups much money.
Big Market Vs. Small Market Teams
If you are wondering what determines how a market is referenced as big or small, it has a lot to do with their market. Ticket sales, broadcast sales, and other various factors go into determining these labels. Looking at the smaller markets, we point to Memphis, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Utah as some of the more popular smaller markets. We have seen them have success, but championships have largely been dominated by bigger markets. A team like Utah has a slight advantage over some of the others because they don’t have any other professional team to compete with. New Orleans has the Saints and a passionate following for their college football team, LSU. Memphis still has NFL at least nearby and a growing hockey fanbase as well within Nashville.
Hitting on draft picks becomes more important for small market teams, as that will give them control of their guys for the next four-five years before the chance of them parting ways occurs. This tends to happen more often, as the lure of a Los Angeles or Miami is always more lucrative for them. We saw this with Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. Instead of letting him walk away for free, the Pelicans shopped him around for the best possible return they could get. This is another way of staying competitive if you have a general manager who knows what he is doing.
Small market teams are at a disadvantage when it comes to free agency. The chances of landing that superstar is slim to none. Did you think Kevin Durant was going to sign with a Utah or Memphis? No, he ended up going to New York, although not the team all the Knicks fans believed he was going to. LeBron James moving to the Lakers and Heat in his free agency terms was partly because they could deploy a strong roster around him, but his image is too big for a smaller market team.
Landing those tier two and tier three free agents is a crucial part of a small market team having a chance of competing. Utah has been able to land a few free agents and has drafted well. They may not be the most notable names, but being competitive, Utah has done that of late. It makes you think if these teams like Memphis and Utah had the big market appeal, what they could do. Being well-coached and having savvy general managers who make it work with a little is quite impressive in comparison to just landing the superstars and filling out rosters with veteran minimums.
NBA Rosters Frequently Asked Questions
When Are NBA Rosters Finalized?
NBA rosters can be altered throughout the season, but over the offseason, rosters will be finalized for the start of the new year just a few days after NBA preseason ends. There is no set date, each season will have its own set date.
What Is The NBA Roster Size?
During the regular season and playoffs, an NBA roster is set at 15 players. Over the offseason it can be up to 20 players, but must get down to 15 before the start of the season. Teams will generally carry a few extra players over the offseason and early into preseason.
Best NBA Roster Of All-Time?
The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors had a deeper roster than most of the teams throughout history. They had three players average over 20 points per game, but names like Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Shaun Livingston all played their part. Curry, Durant, and Thompson headlined this best roster of all time.
What Is The Best NBA Roster In 2020?
The best overall roster belongs to the Los Angeles Clippers. The excellent starting five with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is just the start of it. They have strong depth in the backcourt with Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Reggie Jackson. Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell are also key players.
What NBA Roster Is The Youngest?
Phoenix has the youngest roster in the NBA currently, with an average age of 24.4. A lot of the names on the roster are on the younger side from recent drafts, and the Suns haven’t made many veteran signings over the past few years.
What NBA Roster Is The Oldest?
The Houston Rockets have the oldest roster in the NBA, with an average age of 30.2. Russell Westbrook and James Harden aren’t getting any younger, but Houston’s rest of the roster is a bit older with more experience built in.
About a week before the All-Star Weekend, the NBA rosters for the All-Star game will be selected. Within the next few days, chosen captains will then draft their team for the All-Star Game. The captain’s draft is usually just a few days after.
What Is The NBA Salary Cap For The 2019-20 Season?
The salary cap was set at $109.14 million for the 2019-20 NBA season. This is determined by things such as broadcast rights, ticket sales, concessions, and other financial incomes that help determine how much each team can spend on their roster for the upcoming season.