The collective bargaining rules that govern the NBA are so complex this time of year that even looking at a 124-frequently-asked-question set can seem unsatisfying. But for the Miami Heat, their salary cap situation could soon become very simple.
Pat Riley's decision to sign Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger to the full mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, respectively, indicates that Riley plans to use his salary cap space to re-sign his players. A team cannot go under the salary cap, sign outside free agents with that cap space and subsequently use the mid-level exception. The mid-level exception only is available for teams that operate above the salary cap -- that's why it's called an exception in a league with a salary cap structure.
The collective bargaining agreement that was brokered after the 2011 NBA lockout includes what essentially is a hard cap for certain teams, which could soon become the Heat. The CBA sets an "apron" $4 million above the luxury tax threshold, which is expected to be set at $77 million for next season. Therefore, the apron would be set at $81 million for this upcoming season. Here's the important part: teams that use the full mid-level exception are prohibited from exceeding the apron. Miami would not be able to spend more than $81 million on player salary next season then.
Riley agreed to these deals with McRoberts and Granger assuming (or hoping) that James and Bosh will decline max offers elsewhere and re-sign with Miami. Under Riley's plan, the Heat will sign James, Bosh, Wade, Shabazz Napier and Udonis Haslem up to the salary cap -- projected to be $63 million. The two exceptions would go to McRoberts and Granger. Miami would therefore be able to sign any remaining players with minimum-salary deals and use a $2.2 million trade exception from the Joel Anthony deal to acquire a player in a trade. This hard cap of $81 million could put Miami in a tough position to re-sign Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, free agents who each may demand more than minimum-salary deals.
We should know a lot more tomorrow, after James' meeting with Riley Wednesday. But if James (and Bosh) decide to stay, the landscape would become very simple, very quickly.