This season's rise of 7.5 percent will seem trivial compared the expected 2016-17 bump. One team's cap expert I spoke with is currently operating under a salary cap projection of $75 million for the 2016-17, which would represent a 13.2 percent bump compared to 2015-16. That's a huge number and it could soar even higher. A jump to $80 million, the number that Windhorst cited, would indicate an enormous 20 percent hike, larger than anything we've seen in the NBA since 1996 when the cap went up 44.7 percent from $15.9 million to $23 million. It's worth pointing out that while the TV deal jumped 20 percent in 2008, the salary cap moved up only 5.5 percent the next season.
In preparation for a much bigger jump, contracts are becoming increasingly shorter in the NBA, which means teams will repeatedly have cap space galore. That's not a good sign if you recently bought a player's jersey. More flexibility for teams may lead to more player movement. Five years ago, it would be absurd to imagine the league's best player signing just a two-year contract in his prime. But that's a reality now.
You thought the 2014 class boasts star power? Take a peek at 2016.
James is set to join Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Al Horford along with Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley. That's three of the top four vote-getters in the MVP race -- Durant, James and Noah -- all set to hit free agency at the same time. And don't forget about Kobe Bryant. He'll join the party, too, assuming he doesn't retire. In the event he sticks around, we'll see if the Lakers have enough confidence in him again to offer another gigantic deal when he's about to turn 39 years old.
With all the superstars hitting free agency, the league could undergo a makeover in 2016. Durant could hit free agency for the first time in his career and you can bet that several teams will leave room to lure him away from Oklahoma City. Word from James' camp is that he intends to stay with the Cavs long term despite his two-year deal, but James has now made two unexpected free agency moves in his two opportunities. The possibility, however remote, is there for James and Durant to link up in 2016 either in Cleveland or somewhere else.
Not every team is clearing the deck for 2016. The Knicks just signed Carmelo Anthony to a five-year deal that will hold him under contract through 2018-19. Same goes for the Miami Heat who dedicated a slice of their 2016 cap space to Chris Bosh. However, a $23.9 million salary may seem more reasonable if the salary cap rises to $80 million and a max contract could generate a starting salary as high as $28 million.
James is also smart to lock in a short-term deal for another reason: the new collective bargaining agreement could change the game in 2017. Both the players union and the league can opt out of the CBA in 2017, which could scramble how contracts work in the NBA. Everything will be on the table.