Kevin Durant.

The NBA Salary Cap: Where did it all go right for the players?

Published Add your comment

The NBA revealed over the weekend that the Salary Cap has been set at $94.143 million for the 2016-17 season.

This will come into effect on Thursday, July 7 when the league's "moratorium period" ends and teams can begin signing free agents and making trades.

Due to this spike in the Salary Cap, this year's free agency will be like no other. Expect a number of outrageous contracts to be handed out and numerous players to benefit enormously as a result.

The amount of money that will be handed out by teams is likely to reach an all-time high for one summer period in the league. Let's begin by explaining why.


The NBA signed a new lucrative nine-year television deal with ESPN and Turner Sports in 2014 that is worth around $24 billion and will kick in before the start of next season. 

That's nearly three times as much as the deal that just ended, which was for $930 million a season and expired with the recent Finals.

Under that arrangement, ESPN paid $485 million per season, while Turner paid $445 million. With the new agreement, ESPN will pay $1.4 billion per year while Turner will pay $1.2 billion, according to Sports Business Journal.


As a result of this whopping deal, the league decided to increase the salary cap from $70m to $94m; the $24 million increase is the biggest leap the league has ever seen. 

The cap is calculated on a percentage of revenue, which has exploded by $1 billion in the last three years alone. It's essentially a 50-50 split among players and owners.

This is the start of a new era for the league as the cap will rise again for the 2017-18 campaign, reportedly into the $107-110 million range.


This summer will prove to be a major headache for owners across the league. In 1997, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed a 22-year-old prep-to-pro prodigy named Kevin Garnett to a six-year, $126 million deal after just two years in the league.

Timberwolves V Nuggets

Per CBS Sports, the owners found this deal to be so offensive that they locked the players out on July 1, 1998. It was a long, bitter, ugly fight. When it was finally over, the max contract was born.

The owners were unhappy that a player with just two years' experience could cash in like Garnett did, and so they insisted on a cap for veteran contracts. 

There would no more nine-figure deals for players who'd yet to make the playoffs or lead the league in anything.

19 years on, this free agency period will see max contracts galore. Those owners who are still in the league today from 1997 will be losing their minds.

Toronto Raptors v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Five

Any half decent player who is a free agent in this period will command double the amount of what he's really 'worth'. Any player who doesn't should fire his agent immediately. 

Tristan Thompson's five-year $82m deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer was frowned upon across the league for a player who had never made an All-Star appearance and only made the playoffs once, thanks to the return of LeBron James.

Thompson's performances in the Cavs' championship-winning campaign this year proved that he was worth the outlay and, considering the money that will be given out this week, it will look like a bargain. Things are about to get crazy.


In the days of Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics' payroll was around $500k with the 11-time champion earning around $100k of that.

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

When the large salaries are inevitably handed out once the league's moratorium period ends on Thursday, there are bound to be critics of the new cap and the amount of money that a number of players who aren't considered 'stars' are likely to make.

But, it won't come down to value, it'll be basic maths. On the face of it, the contracts will look huge (and they will be) but fans and those who are likely to criticise it must realise the changing landscape of the cap and come to terms with it. It's only going to get worse.

What was considered as a lower scale max contract in years gone by will become reasonable in this climate and the year to come.  

One can only imagine what the likes of Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul - the latter two having player options that they'll surely opt out of - are likely to make when they become free agents in 2017. 

2016 NBA Finals - Game Seven

The career earnings of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson was a combined $153m. There are countless players across the league, some who may never be All-Stars, that will make much more than that over the course of their careers. 

Again, that's just due to the climate we're in. It's not the players' fault, they're making the most of a great situation like anybody with common sense should do.

"The mechanism in which the cap levels and tax levels are set, that's where the disruption is coming this summer," Adam Silver said before the season. "Arguably a good problem to have. But an unanticipated rise in the cap, as we've talked about many times, [will result in] a free agency market that will be very difficult to predict."

The commissioner has had several people in his ear telling him how much of an effect the increase in the salary cap will have, but Silver prefers to see how this summer plays out before predicting that the flood of money into the system will have a negative outcome.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference

"Let's see what actually happens this summer and let's see just how disruptive it is," he said.

One player who has manipulated the system to good effect so far is the business savvy, LeBron James. Since returning to Cleveland, the four-time MVP has not signed anything more than a two-year deal, with a player option each time which he has opted out of one every occasion so far.

This allows the league's best player to be paid as such, allowing him to increase his salary year-on-year with the rise in the cap.

In 1981, Magic signed the most lucrative contract in sports which was a 25-year deal worth $25m. How times have changed. The moratorium period ends on Thursday and the madness will all be revealed.

Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors
Pacific Division
Western Conference
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Minnesota Timberwolves
Northwest Division
Kevin Garnett

Article Comments

Report author of article

Please let us know if you believe this article is in violation of our editorial policy, please only report articles for one of the following reasons.

Report author


This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

Want more content like this?

Like our GiveMeSport Facebook Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to Facebook, don't ask me again

Follow GiveMeSport on Twitter and you will get this directly to you.

Already Following, don't ask me again

Like our GiveMeSport - NBA Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to G+, don't ask me again