Clips complete deal; now have room for Kobe

The NBA salary cap reared its ugly head again, but it hasn't deterred the Clippers in their pursuit of Kobe Bryant.

The league announced Tuesday evening that the cap will be set at $43.87 million. Insider first reported Tuesday afternoon that the number would come in at $43.88.

The cap number, up just $30,000 from last season, meant the Clippers needed to do some trimming in order to get to $14.175 million under the cap to sign Bryant to a max contract.

In an attempt to free up cap space, the Clippers traded forward Melvin Ely ($1.75 milion) and guard Eddie House ($825,000) to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats for future second-round draft picks. The deal left the Clippers with $14.25 million in cap space, far enough under the cap to offer Bryant a six-year, $106.3 million deal -- the most any team (other than the Lakers) can sign him to.

Before the deal, the Clippers had $11.65 million in cap room. That would have meant that the most the Clippers could have offered Kobe was a six-year, $84.4 million contract. The Lakers, on the other hand, can offer Bryant a seven-year contract worth $136.4 million.

Kobe's agent, Rob
Pelinka, said early Wednesday, "I'm not commenting to the media at
this time."

The Suns could also run into trouble with the cap. They agreed to terms with two free agents, Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson, over the past two weeks. However, given their cap situation now, the team will only be able to offer Richardson a contract for a little more than the mid-level exception. If the Clippers don't land Kobe, it probably make Q's contract (he's a restricted free agent) much more matchable for the Clips.

The league has spent the past two weeks crunching numbers to determine what the cap should be next year. Teams having been waiting for two weeks to officially sign free agents while they waited for the league to come up with official numbers.

Among the other numbers that will impact the free agent process?

The mid-level exception is $4.9 million -- the same as last season. Teams over the salary cap are given an extra $4.9 million to use to sign free agents. They can use it to sign one or multiple players.

A six-year contract for the full mid-level will be worth $37 million for teams signing another team's free agent. For team's resigning their own free agent, the full mid-level will be worth $38.4 million.

The luxury tax threshold will be approximately $54.6 million this year. Again, the figure is around a two million dollars lower than what teams had anticipated. Teams that had a payroll in 2003-04 over $54.6 million will have to pay the league a dollar for dollar tax on every penny spent over the threshold.

The total taxes paid by NBA teams this year totaled $157 million. Twelve teams will be taxpayers this year. Who are they? The Knicks will have the highest tax bill, an estimated $39.8 million. The Blazers ($28.8 million), Mavericks ($25 million) and Timberwolves ($17.6 million) also have enormous tax bills. The Kings ($9.7 million), Lakers ($8.3 million), Nets ($7.3 million), Sixers ($5.5 million), Raptors ($4.1 million), Pacers ($3.2 million), Celtics ($1.6 million) and the Pistons ($800,000) were the other taxpayers.

The 2004-05 minimum team salary, which is set at 75 percent of the salary cap, will be $32.90 million next season.

The Bobcats, who begin play in the 2004-05 season, will have a salary cap and minimum team salary equal to two-thirds of the salary cap, and a minimum salary that applies to the rest of the league. The Bobcats' salary cap in 2004-05 is $29.25 million and their minimum salary is $21.94 million.

Total basketball related income for the year (BRI) was $2.756 billion.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.