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Commissioner David Stern said Friday that the league is projecting the salary cap to be higher than it expected, good news for teams looking to sign top stars during this summer’s expected free agency bonanza.
The league is projecting the cap to come in at about $56.1 million, though the actual number won’t be determined until early July, before teams can begin officially signing players.
While that figure would still be lower than this season’s $57.7 million cap and only the third time it’s ever fallen, it’s far better than estimates from last summer, when the league sent a memo to teams warning them of a potential sharp drop to between $50.4 million to $53.6 million.
“It’s pretty clear that the revenue projections that we have now, although, you know, they are not as good as last year, and our revenue will still be down somewhat, it will not be as down as much as we had feared at the beginning of the season,” Stern said.
“So overall, it was a relatively optimistic and upbeat season,” he said.
A cap in the $56 million range is a huge break for a team like the New York Knicks — whose president Donnie Walsh was in the room to hear Stern’s news conference following the league’s board of governors meetings.
That would mean the Knicks could now have more than $34 million in cap space, enough to give two maximum-salary contracts to players from the group of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Those All-Stars will be eligible for first-year salaries of about $16.5 million if they opt for free agency this summer.
And it gives the Heat the chance to give Wade a maximum-salary sidekick, and still add another solid player.
The new projected cap would mean nine teams have at least $14 million to spend this summer, when the deepest class of free agents ever could become available.
Stern said at the All-Star break in February that the league was projecting losses of about $400 million this season, and he predicted Friday they would still be close to that.
But he credited teams for their “Herculean” efforts in selling tickets and sponsorships in a tough economy, and gate revenue is a portion of the “basketball-related income” formula that helps determine the cap.
The BRI was originally projected to drop 2 1/2 percent to 5 percent, but is now forecast to fall only 0.5 percent.
The cap still could dip below Stern’s projection, depending on revenues during the playoffs.