Nearly two-thirds of the NBA’s 30 teams are carrying some sort of “dead money” on their salary cap for 2018/19. This dead money is created as a result of having, at some point, waived a player who had guaranteed money left on his contract.
In some cases, teams are carrying cap hits for players even though they released them several years ago. That’s the case in Detroit, for instance, where the Pistons have a $5,331,729 cap charge for Josh Smith this season — the Pistons cut Smith in 2014.
In other situations, the dead money is a result of having waived a player within the last couple months. The Mavericks, for example, created $1,544,951 in dead money when they released Chinanu Onuaku earlier in August.
The dead money total for most teams will increase over the course of the season. A few players on guaranteed contracts will be cut when rosters are reduced to 15 players in October. Some clubs will carry players on non-guaranteed contracts for a little while, then waive them before their full salaries guarantee, leaving a partial cap charge on their books. Expired 10-day contracts are also a common source of dead money later in the season.
Even at this point in the offseason though, there are several teams with a substantial amount of 2018/19 dead money on their cap. This isn’t necessarily a sign of cap mismanagement — the Hawks, for instance, lead the way with nearly $28MM in dead money on their books, but those charges are a result of acquiring and waiving Carmelo Anthony and Jamal Crawford. Both of those players came with first-round picks attached, so Atlanta doesn’t mind the fact that they’re taking up a chunk of the team’s cap room this year.