When it comes to NBA team building, there’s a six-degrees-of-free-agency component to moves that get made all season long.
The level of talent available — or not available — in free agency often informs decisions that precede the frenzied time of year. Witness these past several months, where teams like Toronto, Dallas and Miami set their cap situations up to potentially chase plum free agents like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Paul George, then had to correct their course when those players signed extensions.
This latest trade deadline that came and went on March 25 was no different. And with that in mind, it’s time to look ahead and figure out what options are out there for teams that didn’t manage to fill their roster holes.
This debut free agent ranking will be one of five on this front, as we’re taking a top-down approach by highlighting the top five players who should be most coveted. This season’s play was a major factor in the evaluation because, well, recency bias among NBA executives is a real phenomenon. But there’s this question that’s always crucial in free agency too: Which teams have the cap space to make some big-time moves here?
Things can and will change before free agency starts, particularly on draft night where some teams will flip picks and contracts to better set up their free agency situations. Additionally, a team’s draft position affects its cap space, as the cap hold for a first-round pick increases the higher the pick goes. But as of now, here’s what we’re looking at:
Five teams are assured of having significant cap room.:
Three of those teams — the Knicks, Spurs, and Thunder — will have enough cap room for a max contract even if they win the lottery.
A fourth, the Mavericks, project to have about $35 million in room if Josh Richardson opts out of his $11.6 million player option, which would put them in play for the max contract for a player with nine or fewer years of service (currently projected at $33.7 million).
One other team, the Hornets, will have significant cap room, but probably not quite enough for a max. We project them to have about $26 million below the cap line.
Three others teams seem likely to have room if they want it:
The Raptors will be about $25 million below the cap if they don’t re-sign Kyle Lowry and waive the non-guaranteed deals of Aron Baynes, Rodney Hood, Paul Watson and DeAndre’ Bembry. This includes Gary Trent, Jr.’s cap hold. They could generate another $7 million in room by waiving or trading Chris Boucher.