What will next summer's salary cap be?

By Chris Sheridan

With NBA gate receipts down less than anticipated, the doomsday scenario of a $6-7 million drop in the salary cap for the 2010-11 season now seems overly pessimistic.

Everyone still expects the cap to go down heading into the summer of 2010 when the league will have one of its strongest free agent classes in years, but by how much?

ESPN.com has been digging around for preliminary cap projections, and here is what we have uncovered:

The Miami Heat are the most conservative in their estimates, basing their planning for next summer's cap at $52 million.

The New York Knicks are using $53 million as their operating number, and the New Jersey Nets are being the most optimistic, expecting the cap to come in between $54 and $55 million.

The league office told teams at the Board of Governors meeting on the eve of the season opener to expect the cap to come in somewhere around the $52 million range, but agents who have been briefed on updated financial receipt figures now are using $54 million as their operating number.

The salary cap dropped from $58.68 million in 2008-09 to $57.7 million for the current season, and the league issued a memo in early July projecting that Basketball Related Income -- the formula through which the cap is calculated -- was expected to drop 2.5 to 5 percent this season, hence the doomsday scenario of a cap drop all the way down south of $51 million.

Gate receipts over the remainder of the season will impact the cap calculations going forward, so the numbers listed above are merely the best guestimates available at this time. But one thing is certain: The Knicks, Heat and Nets -- the teams who will have the most cap space -- are all hoping that ticket sales and gate receipts continue to come in stronger than originally forecast, which will give them more money to throw around when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer and a host of others become unrestricted free agents.