As things currently stand, the Detroit Pistons will shell out
their biggest player paycheck for 2021-22 to someone who isn't on
the roster. The Portland Trail Blazers owe money to one player
through 2024, even though he never played a game for the team. The
Indiana Pacers are still paying Monta Ellis.
In the complex world of the NBA salary cap, "dead money" is one
oft-forgotten consequence of buyouts and cuts around the league.
These situations happen when a player is released with guaranteed
money left on his contract. The team has to pay the rest of the
salary, so they'll either foot the bill as the contract originally
stated, or stretch the remaining salary over a longer period to
make the payments more manageable per-year. These still count
against the team's salary cap (here's a good explainer).
In many cases, the cap and financial impacts look insignificant
on their own. But dead money can range from a nuisance to a
handicap for franchises that often brush right up against
When the league calendar flips in August, half of the NBA will
be completely free of dead money, according to salary figures
provided by Spotrac and Basketball Reference. The Memphis Grizzlies, for
example, had over $29 million tied to Gorgui Dieng and Dion Waiters
through this past season.
However, half of the league remains tethered to players and cap
holds. A browse though the books reveals some surprising names
still on NBA payrolls.
Let's start with the Pistons, who are far and away the most
hamstrung organization. They'll be paying Blake Griffin
approximately $29.8 million next season, easily the highest
dead-money total in the NBA. Unless the franchise makes a major
splash in the offseason, that number shatters the $20 million owed
to Detroit's highest-paid active player, Jerami Grant.
Griffin isn't alone on the payroll. Former 2018 first-round pick
Zhaire Smith is owed $1.068 million and change into the 2022-23
season. Then there's Dewayne Dedmon, who checks in as one of my
favorite players in this unique circumstance.
The Pistons acquired Dedmon via trade from Atlanta last November
and promptly waived the 31-year-old center. But they stretched the
remainder of his three-year, $40 million deal way
out. Detroit plans to pay Dedmon $2.87 million each year through
the 2024-25 NBA season — without him ever suiting up for the Motor
Dedmon is one of two players who will assuredly get a paycheck
from an NBA team without ever playing a game for them. The other is
Andrew Nicholson, who has been out of the NBA since 2017. Still,
the Portland Trail Blazers must pay him $2.84 million per year
through the 2023-24 season. That means he'll still be cashing NBA
paychecks seven years after his last game.
Most dead-contract situations are less complicated than
Detroit's traffic jam. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only other
franchise with three players in dead-money territory. But the
penalties are much less severe; Admiral Schofield will receive
$300,000 next season, Patrick Patterson will make $737,066 next
year, and Kyle Singler (inactive since 2018) will earn $999,200 per
year through 2022-23.
Aside from Griffin, Nicolas Batum wields the largest single
dead-cap hold. When the Charlotte Hornets waived him last November,
they stretched the rest of his five-year, $120 million deal. The
franchise owes Batum a bit over $9 million through 2022-23.
Including Batum, most of the biggest dead-cap condundrums stem
from the lucrative 2016 free-agency period. It resulted in a ton of
eye-popping deals for players, and even after things went south
with the respective teams, they're still making money from that
Batum, Joakim Noah (tied to the Knicks), Ryan Anderson (Heat)
and Luol Deng (Lakers) are all making at least $5 million in
2021-22 because of contracts they signed in 2016.
How are other contenders doing in the dead-money department? Ten
of the 2021 playoff squads are free of dead-cap hits. The Golden
State Warriors owe $666,667 to Shaun Livingston next season, while
the Boston Celtics owe just under $1.2 million combined to
Guerschon Yabusele and Demetrius Jackson.
The Milwaukee Bucks join the aforementioned three franchises
with a notable chunk of dead money; they're giving up over $5
million to the duo of Jon Leuer and Larry Sanders. Five million
dollars may not seem like a ton in the grand scheme of NBA
money-spending. But during the quest for an NBA title, droplets of
cap space matter as teams try to facilitate trades, make small
additions and even avoid the luxury tax.
So next time you hear a buyout rumor, think about the potential
dead-money impact. One case on the horizon could involve Kevin
Love. According to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle,
there is "growing sentiment around the league" that Love and the
Cleveland Cavaliers could reach a buyout
Love still has over $60 million left on his contract over the
next two seasons. As the Cavs eventually try to move from rebuilder
to contender, do they want that kind of money on their books over
the next two seasons? Or, if they waive and stretch Love, how would
the stretched contract affect their cap standing over the next
It's a tricky space to navigate, and only one of the many
challenges on the plates of every NBA front office.