For all but a handful of teams, the 2023 NBA offseason has already begun. Not officially, of course, but the focus for the vast majority of the league has shifted toward the summer and all the opportunities it'll bring.
Thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement, some squads have more difficult decisions than others. In particular, the introduction of a "second apron" tier of the luxury tax will place severe limitations on the highest-payroll teams. Its rollout will be gradual over the next two seasons, but the basics are clear: Anyone more than $17.5 million over the tax line can't use the mid-level exception, aggregate contracts in a trade, send out a first-rounder seven years out, take back more salary than it sends in a trade or use cash to "buy" picks. Land above the second apron twice in five years, and your first-round pick automatically moves to the end of the round.
Basically, the cost of operating significantly above the tax line is now far greater than penalty payments. It completely hamstrings the roster-building process.
The new rules won't affect everyone, but where they do, we'll try to forecast the way they'll complicate matters. Otherwise, the focus here can range from a tough contract negotiation to a broader decision about a franchise's direction.
Let's talk hard choices.
Atlanta Hawks: What Is John Collins Worth?
The Atlanta Hawks may need to get comfortable with the idea of salary-dumping John Collins, a painful reality considering they handed the power forward a five-year deal worth $125 million in 2021. Keeping the current roster together will put the Hawks roughly $10 million over the tax line, and we should interpret last offseason's cost-cutting Kevin Huerter trade as a signal ownership isn't keen on paying penalties.
If Collins were worth a first-round pick, you'd think the Hawks would have dealt him by now. But his wayward three-point shooting (career-low 29.2 percent in 2022-23) cratered his value, and he remained on the roster through this past season's February trade deadline.
Atlanta allowed opponents to take the league's second-highest percentage of shots at the rim, an indictment of its perimeter defense. Experiments with Collins at the 5 have also mostly failed over the years. He allowed opponents to hit 62.9 percent of their attempts inside six feet in 2022-23, the worst of any rotation big man on the team.
So if Collins can't hit threes, contribute as a perimeter stopper or defend the basket, it's pretty clear the Hawks would be better off with another combo forward in his place.
They just have to decide if they're comfortable getting nothing in return or even adding some draft capital to get his contract off the books.
Boston Celtics: Grant Williams' Restricted Free Agency
The Boston Celtics will be perilously close the the second apron if restricted free agent Grant Williams' next contract starts at the level of his $12.9 million cap hold, and that's assuming they renounce their rights to Blake Griffin and then trim Mike Muscala ($3.5 million team option), Luke Kornet ($2.4 million non-guaranteed) and Justin Champagnie ($1.9 million non-guaranteed) from the payroll.
Williams' postseason role is smaller this year than last, when he averaged 29.7, 31.5 and 30.4 minutes per game across the first three rounds of the 2022 playoffs. He only saw 12.0 minutes per game against the Hawks in the first round and sits firmly in the teens so far in the second.
That said, he's a dangerous shooter at the 4 whose strength allows him to defend centers. If not for Boston's other excellent bigs, led by Al Horford and Robert Williams III, he'd probably be getting significantly more time.
At 24 and boasting a skill package that comes pretty close to being plug-and-play, Williams is a good bet to command more than $12.9 million on the market. If he gets an offer sheet that comes closer to $20 million per year, the Celtics will have a major decision to make—particularly with Jalen Brown's free agency looming in 2024.