Financial figures are gathered from BasketballInsiders.com, RealGM.com, ESPN.com, EarlyBirdRights.com, ShamSports.com, spotrac.com, and in some cases, my own estimates.
How to understand the cap sheet
The cap sheets are built with cap holds included, because when you look at most team salary pages from other websites, only the guaranteed salary is included in the cap sheet. This might lead observers to think a team has X amount of money to use in free agency, but they’re not taking into account the cap holds that might actually push the team OVER the salary cap or the luxury tax.
Here’s an overview of what the abbreviations and colors mean when you see them.
Orange | CH | Cap Hold – A cap hold is basically an amount of money that some teams have as place holders to allow them to re-sign free agents even when they’re over the salary cap. Some teams may keep cap holds from former players on the cap sheet in order to stay over the salary cap, which could unlock access to different exceptions. If a team is going to have less than around $10 million in salary cap space, they’ll usually try to stay above the salary cap to use the exceptions instead. When a team is going to have more than the mid-level exception, usually more than $10 million in cap space, you’ll see them renounce (get rid of) some cap holds, meaning that their former free agent can’t sign with them unless they use cap space, the veteran minimum, or the room exception, which is less money than the mid-level exceptions. First round draft picks also have cap holds until they’re signed.
Purple | TO | Team Option – A team option is set by a certain date a team has to decide whether they’re going to exercise the option and keep the player for that upcoming season. If the team declines the option, a cap hold is put in place, giving the team a chance to still re-sign the player in the offseason.
Red | NG/PG | Non-guaranteed – This means the player has a non-guaranteed or in some cases a partially guaranteed contract. The team has until a certain date to decide if they’re going to keep the player at that amount or waive the player.
Blue PO Player Option – This is similar to a team option, except for this option, the player has the decision making power to decide by a certain date if he wants to remain with the team for the following season or not. If the option is declined, a cap hold is put in place, giving the player and team the chance to re-sign for another season.
Green | QO | Qualifying Offer – A qualifying offer is used in restricted free agency. The way it works is a team has the choice to tender the free agent a qualifying offer or not. If they do tender the option, then that player can either look for a stronger offer from another team or accept the qualifying offer. If another team provides a strong offer sheet, then the player sends the offer sheet to his original team and they have two days to decide whether to match the offer or not. If they match, the player remains with them under the new terms of the offer sheet. If they decline, the player can now sign with the other team to the terms of the offer sheet.
Pink | Waived Player – A waived player is a player who was waived from the team, but the team is still responsible for paying the player for that number over one or several seasons. A waived player does not take up a roster spot.
Italics – This is an estimate number until the precise number is publicly available.
Roster Charge – A team has to have a minimum of 12 slots filled on their salary sheet at all times. That can be a combination of players with guaranteed money and cap holds. In instances where 12 slots aren’t filled, a roster charge used at the veteran minimum. You’ll only see these for teams that have a lot of cap space.
Salary Cap – This is the number set by the league. If a team is over the cap, the number will be red in the Over/Under cap row. If a team is under the salary cap, they’ll have access to the room exception, but they’ll have to renounce TPEs (see below).
Luxury Tax – This is the luxury tax set by the league. If a team is over the luxury tax, the number will be in red in the Over/Under tax row. Teams that are over the salary cap but under the luxury tax have access to the non-tax payer mid-level exception or the bi-annual exception. For teams that are over the luxury tax, they’ll have the otpion of using the tax payer exception, which is worth less than the non-tax mid-level exception.
Hard Cap – This number is also set by the league and is typically triggered for certain teams that use their non-tax payer exception or the bi-annual exception. If the hard cap is triggered, it means no matter what moves the team makes with trades or signing players, they can’t cross that hard cap line for that season.
TPEs | Trade Player Exceptions – Some teams that make trades will have a trade player exception that will available for one year from the date the original trade was completed. A TPE is a tool that teams can use as assistance in trade deals. It DOES NOT allow them to sign players with the TPE amounts.
EB | Early Bird Rights
FB | Full Bird Rights
NB | Non-Bird Rights
A great resource to learn more of this terminology is Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ.