The JBL Junk Yard: 1.1: The Champ, The Contender, and a Salary Cap Question
- By Jeremy Munson, Day 1, 2026
In an effort to get some more content (other than our fine podcast), out to the JBL masses, the Junkyard hopes to provide some interesting material for your reading pleasure.
In the first edition, we sat down with our current JBL Champ Aeon to discuss his title run, and get his thoughts on his team for the upcoming season. But we didn’t just stop there, we also sat down with Andrew to get his perspective on being the favorites to come out of the East, and to hear how he thinks JaMarcus Thybulle’s recent arrest could affect his team’s chances of possibly running it back.
Lastly, we asked the question, is it possible to be under the 80 million salary cap and be in contention for the title? Two anonymous GM’s think that it’s basically impossible, and we would love to hear your thoughts all up in the #general chat.
I am still not sure how the Junkyard and formatting will play out for the year, but if you have some thoughts on content, or have some suggestions please do hit me up.
Interview with Aeon, GM of the Denver Dragons
Reporter-First, congrats on last season’s title. Your boys had a hell of a run. What do you think were some key moments that lead you to hoisting up that beautiful trophy?
Aeon-I'd say most of the key moments were trades to acquire key players, but I went over that enough in my post-season review. Taking a different angle, a key moment was switching to the Balanced offensive scheme midway through 2024 and sticking with it. I fiddled with several schemes before that but the Balanced offense really took off, and then focusing on it in training camp really let it gel for the 2025 season. My struggles out of the gate in 2025 were partly because of a 12th hour offensive switch that was a poor choice, and quickly rectified, but I believe if I had left everything alone, we might have stumbled a bit less adding Honeycutt and taken the #1 seed. Sticking to something works!
Other key moments were of course squeaking by with Game 7 wins against the Jaguars and Fireballs. Having the Lumberjacks go down to the Fireballs, giving us home court, was out of our control but vital to our success. You can't underestimate luck. Being a double-overtime Game 7 winner in the conference finals is exciting and fun, but doesn't say much about your inalienable right to the trophy. We were one shot more or less away from another Western Conference Finals loss. And I'll give a shout out to Isaac Foster who was a min-sal free agency signing who ended up starting quite a bit in both the regular season and playoffs due to Sherman's injuries. And in that double-overtime Game 7, Novak's 49 points in 53 minutes was all the talk, but Foster put up 26 points on 13/18 shooting to go with 15 rebounds. That's a big-time game from a guy who wasn't even supposed to be there. He shoots 12/18 and we don't make it to the Finals.
Reporter- You have had a very interesting offseason that saw you ship out numerous star players that were beloved by you and the community. Walk us through that decision and are you happy with the returns you ultimately got for them?
Aeon- Aside from Honeycutt, who was a free agent, all of my main players were contracted for at least this year, meaning it was a possibility to try to bring them all back and make a run at a repeat. There were several issues I had to think through when choosing whether or not to do that.
One was age. All of my players were at their peaks already and so I did not anticipate any improvement on the squad other than from cohesion, but the danger of aging-related drop-offs was real.
The second was Honeycutt--I was not guaranteed to bring him back, as I knew he was a valued player who was young enough to receive real interest in free agency. Bringing him back would likely mean signing him to a max-salary deal for probably three years at best, perhaps longer.
Third was my bench. I felt I had threaded the needle in putting together a bench of minimum-salary players for 2025 which was good enough to get me through to a title. Bedouin in particular had been irate that I had been able to sign a few of those guys given that my competitors knew I was on shaky ground with my depth. The question I had to ask was if I could repeat that again--sign another crop of min-sal bench players that could get me through to the Finals, given that other teams might be more motivated to make that difficult this time around.
Fourth was Wesley Sherman. The bench depth had been particularly crucial to me this year because with Sherman's injuries, Isaac Foster turned out to be a starter for us for half the season and the playoffs. I knew there was 0% chance I got Foster back on a min-sal deal. If Sherman had injuries again, could I find the depth to pull that off again?
Fifth was the salary cap penalties. Was it worth it to lose a first-round pick in order to win a championship? Absolutely. The issue was, because I had already traded away my current pick, the pick lost was from the next season. If I signed Honeycutt again and broke the $105 million cap, I would lose another pick and it would be yet another season into the future. Most total rebuilds are based on the idea that if you have your pick, doesn't matter if you're awful. But I couldn't build that way, as I was pushing those picks further and further into the future.
Threading the needle to avoid cap hell while going for a trophy meant not signing Honeycutt and instead trading for a cheap SG to take his place. We had enough talent that I thought going that route could get us under the penalty and maybe win 50 games. But I thought the chances of winning a championship with a cheap replacement at SG were very low, and any such move would cost us assets. I looked into it, but found nothing that I thought could keep us at the same performance level but get us under $105 million.
Looking at all these issues, I weighed it all. A Honeycutt contract and another lost pick would mean that the rebuild would be even tougher, and take even longer. It would be worth it for a trophy, yes, but simply a good season wouldn't be worth it given that the team would be on the decline. This would be our best and only chance with this squad.
In the end it came down to the bench. I did not think I could pull off the same magic twice in a row. Tarvis McWilliams was likely to retire or fall off a cliff. Foster had played himself to a real salary. I would have to find brand new guys. And given the aging of my stars, the bench would likely be even more important this season. I decided that while there was a chance I could repeat, there was probably a higher chance that I don't quite get the bench depth, Honeycutt requires a long contract, I lose another pick, and one or more of my players declined. Given that the Kings, Jaguars, Fireballs, and Lumberjacks were all younger and getting better by the day, I did not feel my chances were good.
The final part of the equation is that it just didn't sound fun. Going that route felt stressful, like a chore having to grind through free agency losing out on targets and possibly cringing every time I picked up an injury. Anything other than a Finals win would feel like a disappointment. Given how satisfied I was with our championship win, I felt fine with moving on.
The last key part which led to me moving all of my guys rather than perhaps retooling was the chance to get value while I could. With my pick already gone for this season I couldn't simply rely on selling off players and sucking to get me a top pick. And my players were all on either 1- or 2-year contracts. Meaning if I wanted value for Fortier, Honeycutt and Novak, I had to move them this season. I could conceivably hang on to Hall and Sherman until next season but I felt their value was only going to go down with each season that passed. These guys were all at their peak, each had just demonstrated their worth in the Finals, and so it only made sense to get what I could from them now rather than start a partial rebuild, get through another season and sell the rest for less. While I was willing to wait until the trade deadline if necessary, to find the right deal, I was determined to trade these guys now if I could get value out of them.
Am I happy with the returns? I think the returns were fair. The fact is, my guys were old enough that it only made sense to take them on if you were a contender who wanted to go all in. My guys were expensive enough that you had to have the cap space for a max-size contract. That Venn diagram doesn't have a lot of overlap. I wasn't going to get a lottery pick for any of these guys, but if I waited too long, I would get nothing as that kind of cap space doesn't just sit around. I looked at a lot, a lot of offers and went with what were the best. I would have loved to get more and in one case there was a bit of a mix-up that resulted me in getting a bit less than intended, but I'm happy with what happened.
Reporter- Given all the changes that have gone on within your organization, do you think a repeat is in the works, especially, with a perceived down Western Conference?
Aeon-Nope. I fully intended to just stink this year and start slowly collecting a piece or two for the long-term rebuild. That kind of went sideways and I found myself with enough pieces to actually field a decent team. But I don't have any plans to contend right now. Farmer will be too raw, cohesion will be less than zero, our bench is untested, we're experimenting with a brand-new system, and we're still missing at least one key piece. I think we'll be halfway decent given the sheer talent on the court, but a goal would be .500 not a championship. I'm not sure we could have beat Portland last season, we definitely wouldn't this season.
Reporter- You recently just landed PG- Brandon Terry from Toronto, how do you see him fitting in with your new roster and what are your expectations for him?
Aeon- Like I said, I had expected to take my time with the rebuild. And one of the things I had begun to do was crunching some stats and putting together a guide to the type of players I thought would succeed in this league and in my system. I have two jobs and am going to grad school, so I only was able to get through the stats on point guards before the offseason was over. But I was able to put together a short list of the point guards in the league who I would want. I then began looking into what chances there were of getting any of them--whether they'd be in free agency this year or next or the year after, were they starters or bench guys on their current team, was their team contending or blowing up?
Terry was on a list of about 5 or 6 PGs who I wanted, and so when he was shopped on the trade block, I immediately made an offer. My overall goal with the rebuild was to grab the perfect pieces when they were available, and so while Terry's age accelerated our timeline for a rebuild, I didn't hesitate to do so. With Farmer I'm going back to the idea of a fast-based transition-focused offense, and Terry is the sort of athletic playmaker that will work in that system. Terry is also one of the few point guards who plays some real defense, and I can't let go of my defensive focus. Terry can be a dangerous scorer, which will help with spacing, but is primarily a floor general. With Stone and Farmer and now Curry flying down the court, I think Terry is perfectly suited for finding the right guy to hit in stride. It will be quite a change from Novak but I think he will really make these players click and help Malique succeed sooner than he might have.
Reporter- Speaking of PF- Malique Farmer and his potential to be a star, and just how much time do you think he gets in Coach Winter’s rotation this season?
Aeon- I'm very, very excited about Famer. A lot of GMs offered me trades for him during and just after the draft and I'm glad I didn't take any of them up on their offers because I think he looks better than I anticipated. He needs development but my coach is an Instructor and excels at coaching forwards, so I think his chances are good here.
We will be playing Farmer as much as he can handle this season--any future success of this lineup really depends on him developing, and while I hope to win games this year, I don't consider myself a contender so there's no reason not to give him a full run at it. His weakest aspect is his endurance, so I imagine his minutes will be limited by that, and if I think any other players are balking at not starting, I might give him backup minutes, but plenty of them. But my plan right now is to start Farmer and let him work right through his growing pains. This team is already being formed around him, so I suppose that shows my faith in what he could do in the JBL.
Reporter- Based on the landscape of the West currently, who do you think has the best shot at landing the top seed?
Aeon- I still put my money on the Lumberjacks. They were the best team in the West last season, are young enough to have improved from last season to this, did not make any big moves and so will have improved cohesion. I don't think there's any reason to expect anybody else will get that top spot. I expect they'll start hot, out to avenge their early playoff out, and have a shocking record. The other Western contenders are generally dealing with some developing players or some cohesion issues, so I think Tim's patient philosophy in Portland pays off this year.
Interview with Andrew, GM of the Cincinnati Kings
Reporter- You had a stellar performance last season, and unfortunately lost in the finals. What do you think was key (or what were your Keys) to your run last year?
Andrew- Being together for a long time and buying into the system were the two keys, I think. People didn’t think of us as an offensive team but we had the #2 ortg in the league. That was cohesion and players learning how to play in our system. For The Legion of BOOM (Benson, Owens, Olojakpoke, Mason) it was their fourth time starting in the playoffs together despite their young ages, and they had their first two game sevens.
Then we laid an egg at home in Game 1 of the Finals, which was all the difference. I think the young players’ lack of experience really hurt us that first game. They weren’t ready for the moment. Everyone recovered, but the damage was done.
Reporter- How do you feel about being the recognized favorite to come out of the East this season?
Andrew- I think it makes sense that we are favorites in the East, we had the best record in the league and are returning the entire rotation, all of which are under 25. And we don’t shy away from the favorite label like some other teams do. But when was the last time the preseason favorites won the East? That’s not rhetorical, I really don’t know, it was before my time. It’s why we made offers on Harrell (and others), why we went after Craig week 1 of FA, why Northwood is on the team (see below). So, I’m glad to be in the position of East favorites, but I’m not sure it means anything. We didn’t want to rest on our laurels and I think we both improved the team and also set us up to make some changes down the road.
Reporter- You brought in Tezale Craig and Kyle Northwood this offseason. How do you see them fitting into your team and do you think they can get you back to the finals and over the hump?
Andrew- I am really excited to bring in Tezale. I’ve seen 6 championships since I’ve been here, and he has dragged his team to win two of them. I had been trying to put together deal for him since his days on the Stars. Averaging 19-8-5, he was a deserving all-star last year—and 13 of the past 14 years—and I had the only bid on him for the first several days of FA. I’m glad his past issues drove other bidders away. The only questions now are how many minutes to give him, and where. He had a good audition at PF during preseason, so there might be more small ball lineups in the Kings’ future.
Northwood brings some experience to the team, but his main role is salary fodder if I need to make a deal later, since I can only reduce salary in any deal. It makes it possible for me to pick up, say, Sowder at the deadline.
Reporter- What are your thoughts on JaMarcus Thybulle’s recent arrest, and how much of a distraction could that be in your locker room that wants to make that title run?
Andrew- When word reached the front office that JaMarcus had gotten arrested for DUI, there was a big split as to what to do about it. This is not something that we take lightly. There were some that wanted to trade him straight away, but the ones that wanted to give him a second chance won out for now. We’re glad that the league took action to suspend him. If he was eligible, he would be spending a week or two down at the J League, and we are seriously considering trading him.
Reporter- You traded up in the recent draft to select Center Joseph Turner. What do you like about him and how much of an impact do you think he could have this season and in the future?
Andrew- I did an article midway through the college season about players rising up the draft lists, and he was one of the players featured. I noticed his media description was “rim-protecting power stretch five.” Is that not the best descriptor? A guy that has the potential to be a plus-plus defender that can both overpower you inside and make you come out to the perimeter to defend is tough to pass up. I immediately started scouting him. I think that if his outside shooting grade was higher, he could have been a lottery pick, but he shot 39% from 3 in college and I decided to trust that he could make the improvement there. Because we focus on shots at the rim and from deep, our offense requires the center to be able to play away from the post. What good does driving to the basket do if you are met there by Haslem? But bring Haslem out to the top of the key, and everything opens up.
We drafted Joseph with the intention of playing him in the J League all of this year and be ready to take over as backup C next year, however if he plays well for the Royals, he could see a lot of action in the JBL this year.
Reporter- The pundits have basically declared that Chicago had the best offseason within the JBL. How do you see them fairing this season and do you see them as a legit threat to your title hopes?
Andrew- Getting Carter to return for the minimum and, most importantly, having Willis agree to that team-friendly contract were really great for the Jailbirds. Novak is a gamble, you’re talking about two of the top four usage guys, two dominant ball-handlers, on one team. I have no idea how that will work out. But he is a champion, and, for that, I will always hate him.
However, I think the loss of Stone will really hurt them. They are replacing MVB and Stone with Novak and Washington/Cage. That will likely hurt their defense, which wasn’t top 10 to begin with last year. Also, this is the Jailbirds’ year, but they’ve had 5 first round picks the past three drafts, and they’ve chosen four raw 18-year olds and a raw 19-year-old. I don’t know if any of them will be in a position to give positive minutes this year. Howard is going to be good one day, but in the conference semifinals he will be lining up against the likes of Sowder, Olojakpoke, Weaver, Rush, and Barry, and I don’t think he is on that level yet.
That being said, if they had stood pat, I wouldn’t have considered them a legit threat, but they have added some dice rolls, and if they come up in their favor, they could be very good.
The Salary Cap Snapshot; The 80 million and under conundrum
As the season inches closer to starting I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the teams that are under 80 million cap and ask the question; Does anybody think that it’s possible to win a title or at least come close to it by staying under the salary cap threshold?
In posing the question to two high level GM’s within the league the first response back was “Anything is possible. Given pigs could fly one day, I guess it’s possible a team could win with a team under 80m. Under 95 yes, but under 80 I just think there is such a small window of opportunity as there is literally almost zero margin for error”.
The second response I got was “Probably not, that would be such a unique scenario. You would need a player on a rookie contract to quickly become a Top 3 player in the league while the team also has good or very good surrounding talent."
It seems that there is a belief without surveying the entire league, that this would be a tremendous feat, and one that would require things to align perfectly.
In order for us to try to answer the questions ourselves, we contracted out for a mathematical formula in order to come up with a simple, yet sophisticated way to break teams down to figure out who stacked up well and who possibly needed to do some more work. I am sure the formula will need some more tweaking as seasons progress, but we needed to start somewhere and I am no Andrew with his King O Matic. Hence me contracting the work out.
That being said, the first thing that I noticed is out of the 12 teams that are currently under the 80 line 7 out of them come out of the East. New York and Boston from the Atlantic, Pittsburgh from the Central, and then 4 teams in the Southeast in Atlanta, Miami, Nashville and New Orleans.
From the West we have 5 teams which include Kansas City, Houston and Oklahoma City from Midwest, Dallas from the Southwest and Las Vegas from the Pacific.
The second thing that jumps out to me, is that I need to somehow incorporate a bonus into the equation if we think that the team has players that fit the team’s system, has some cohesion, and meets a level certain level for star players. I am going to be adding those into the wish list moving forward, but it did not have any affect on this current version of the rankings.
Armed with that knowledge though, Boston, New York and Pittsburgh from the East just do not have what it takes as currently constructed to play with the big boys so says the formula. None of that should really be surprising as Boston is in total rebuild mode, NY is shaky at best on the defensive end and Pittsburgh has some offensive questions that need to be addressed before making the jump into contender status. From the West, Kansas City gets ruled out as well as they too should struggle a bit on the offensive end in order to looked at for contention status.
That leaves us with Atlanta, Miami, Nashville and New Orleans from the East and Houston, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Vegas from the West.
Mathematically speaking, Atlanta, Miami, and Oklahoma City all fell into that second tier of teams who seem to be better than the first group on paper. They all seemingly having some good defense above some of their counterparts, but like them all fall short of contender status.
That leaves us with Nashville, New Orleans, and Houston from the East, and Vegas from the West.
I know, I know, you are probably thinking the same thing that I was thinking typing that list of teams out. How in the hell did that happen, but remember we only have 12 teams that fall under the 80 million cap threshold.
Putting this into perspective, so nobody out there thinks this is a total crap pot system, the highest ranked team was the Kings, so there might be reason to pause before jumping to that crack pot conclusion.
Nashville graded out well on the offensive and the athletic ends while being a little bit above average defensively.
New Orleans graded out well on the defensive and athletic ends, while being a little bit above average offensively.
Houston graded out well or was above average in all three categories.
Vegas graded out well on the defensive and athletic categories while they look to be below average offensively.
Back to reality for a second, while the 4 teams that I just listed above have some good ratings from the formula, the simple eye test says none are championship caliber teams, but very well are all up and coming teams.
It would not surprise me in the slightest to see these teams have a jump in win totals, but again championship caliber is a stretch.
So, if that is the best set of teams that we can assemble in the JBL right now under the 80 million cap, does that answer the under 80 question? Can a team under 80 win a title within the JBL?
From my perspective, it can be done, I mean, we just had a 16 seed UMBC team beat a number 1 seeded Virginia in the NCAA tourney 2 years ago. That however, was the first time that has happened ever, and not something that will be the norm. So, while I think a team pulling of a title under 80 can be done, its not something we are going to see a lot of, nor should we, but I am not going to go out there and say it won’t ever happen. The reality is it just might take the next 75 years to see that pig fly here and I wouldn’t count on seeing that happen anytime soon.
However, on the flip side, A high level GM does think there is one team that has a shot at it. "Seattle can come close if Walcutt takes the leap over the next 2-3 seasons and they can get Rowland back on a price similar to Vidmar, but even in that scenario, I think they are over $80 million."
So if the answer to the original question is it can be done, but only if everything comes together at the right time and only on the godliest of all days, the next question that needs to be asked from a pure competitive standpoint is, does it make any sense for teams to be under 80 if they are not in total full on rebuild mode?
That question my friends might get a run for the next article. As always, good luck with the upcoming season and may the JBL gods shake off that rust and give you a great start to the season.