August 20, 2022

Unlike its football counterpart, NBA teams must use nearly all of their salary cap space in any given season. The Detroit Pistons have a lot of cash to burn and, in a way, it needs to be spent.

While the Pistons, at the moment, have more salary cap space than almost any other NBA team, there will come a time when Detroit will have to fill its space.

In the NFL, teams can carry over unused salary cap dollars to the next year. If the Lions don’t have anyone to spend a lot of money on, they can hoard their money until the next season. It can’t happen in the NBA.

The rule of the collective agreement is that each team to have to spend at least 90% of that season’s salary cap.

The Hoops Rumors Glossary put it well:

There is a specific low-end threshold that teams must meet each NBA season. The league’s minimum salary floor requires a club to spend at least 90% of the salary cap on player salaries. For example, with the 2021/22 cap set at $112,414,000, the salary floor for that season is $101,173,000.

This rule brought about strange circumstances.

Oklahoma City once paid a late-season foreign player $15 million just so he could hit the salary cap.

JJ Redick, the former three-point shooting specialist now on ESPN, has signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, making him one of the highest-paid players in the league, for the 2017-18 season. They had so few major contracts left from Sam Hinkie’s “process” era that they had to find ways to get to the ground.

The salary cap for the 2022-23 season has been set at $122 million. That means every NBA team, including the Pistons, must spend at least $109,800,000 in salaries over the coming year.

The floor rule is why general manager Troy Weaver made many short-term deals with players. He hasn’t signed anyone for more than a three-year contract as a free agent. Salary cap space is used primarily on the front end, during free agency and draft and off-season trades. Cap flexibility is really early in the offseason.

The penalty for not reaching the ground? Not exactly as tough as Milwaukee and Miami getting stripped of draft picks for tampering. The difference in money between actual salaries and the cap floor is simply distributed among players who were on the roster for at least 41 games.

So, hypothetically, if Detroit spent $105 million in salaries this season, the players would split $4.8 million between them. This is probably why you rarely hear players on non-competing teams complaining about not spending enough, because they get more money in their pocket if they don’t.

Now most NBA teams are busy finding ways around the cap and spending more to get better players. But, there are some small market teams, especially those rebuilding, who may need to monitor how many dollars are being spent.

How does the ‘floor salary’ rule affect the Detroit Pistons?

Basically, this puts a time limit on what they can do to build the team. There’s no reason for Detroit to keep its cap space in the season. They probably won’t be part of the buyout market.

So this chasm of ceiling space that they currently have has got to go somewhere. Yes, players would enjoy a small bonus, but Weaver is expected to try to put that money to good use to help the team.

Since the money spent on salaries is regulated, to keep future options open, Weaver could offer players one-year contracts, or one year with a club option (although somehow another, Cory Joseph got a 2 year player option, which he exercised)

Of course, if Detroit inks a big-name free agent like Deandre Ayton or Miles Bridges, that cap space is going to be totally utilized. The floor rule is respected.

But remember, the ceiling space pretty much has to be used anyway. So if you’re seeing a slew of short-term offers for players you think are overpaid, now you know why.