2023 NBA Offseason Financial Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers

2023 NBA Offseason Financial Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers
Breaking down the upcoming offseason for each 2023-24 NBA team, including cap space figures, free agents, draft pick scenarios, & thoughts on potential trades, exceptions, & plenty more.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Offseason Approach: Fill out the rotation around the core

Actual Cap Space: -$50.6M

Practical Cap Space: -$43M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$37M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Sam Merrill (non-guaranteed), Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman (non-guaranteed), Ricky Rubio, Dean Wade

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Mamadi Diakite (restricted – two-way), Danny Green (unrestricted), Caris LeVert (unrestricted), Robin Lopez (unrestricted), Isaiah Mobley (restricted – two-way), Raul Neto (unrestricted), Lamar Stevens (restricted – team option), Dylan Windler (restricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer ($12,221,000), Bi-Annual ($4,448,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Ochai Agbaji ($3,918,360)

First Round Draft Picks: None


The Cleveland Cavaliers are coming off their best season of the second post-LeBron era. Cleveland made it back to the postseason, and they seem like a lock to be there for years to come. The Cavs have a nice young core of Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.

Now, it’s about fleshing out the depth around that foursome.

The Cavs have basically half of a roster to fill out. That’s not terrible, because they have a lot of rotation spots spoken for. But that’s still a lot of work to do.

Of their own free agents, the main player is Caris LeVert. The veteran wing is coming off one of the most efficient seasons of his career, as he maintained his scoring, while upping his three-point percentage to 39%.

LeVert basically split the season between starting and coming off the bench. He was more efficient as a starter, but remained plenty effective while leading bench units. Ideally, he’d probably come off the bench, as a high-usage playmaker. That removes some of the awkwardness of him, Garland and Mitchell all being best with the ball in their hands.

That leaves the question: What can you pay a sixth man on a contender? LeVert made $18.8 million last season. He’ll be 29 years old ahead of next season, so this is probably his last chance to cash in. Almost all of the cap space teams could use an on-ball creator of his ilk. All of that means the Cavaliers will likely have to pay to keep LeVert.

Cleveland has preferred to lock in players long-term when they can. Given the roster is heading towards a new level of expensiveness, there are two schools of thought on how to handle LeVert. You could offer him less money per year, while trying to sign him for the next four or five years. Or you could offer him a bit more money, with the idea that he becomes a nice part of salary-matching in a deal, should the team trip into Super Tax territory over the next few seasons.

Something around $80 million guaranteed probably makes sense for LeVert. In an ideal world, the Cavs would frontload the deal and have it descend over the next four to five seasons, and the final season would either be non-guaranteed or a player option. But LeVert may have enough options that he could force a more standard-type of contract.

Cleveland will probably pick up their team option for Lamar Stevens. He’s a good bargain for wing depth at just above the minimum.

That leaves the Cavaliers with needing to add another big wing, fill out their frontcourt depth, while also adding another backcourt option. They could run it back with Robin Lopez and Raul Neto for the minimum, as both were good locker room vets

If that’s the approach, along with re-signing LeVert to a reasonable deal, GM Koby Altman should have enough room to squeeze in a full Non-Taxpayer MLE signing. And that $12 million is a nice chunk of spending power this summer.

Cleveland needs to get better on the wing, with or without LeVert. Isaac Okoro (more on him later) hasn’t been the answer, despite slow and steady improvement each season. That leaves the Cavs with needing a wing that can start alongside the core four and, ideally, close games too.

Wing options that could make sense for the MLE could include Bruce Brown (who is likely to get priced out in Denver), Dillon Brooks, Kelly Oubre Jr., Donte DiVincenzo and Gary Trent Jr. (if his market doesn’t develop as he’s hoping for). All of those players would bring either defense, size, shooting or some combination of those skills to the Cavs.

If Cleveland wanted to go a little bigger and to fill out the frontcourt with some or all of the MLE, Georges Niang, Trey Lyles, Jalen McDaniels or Christian Wood could make sense. P.J. Washington and Grant Williams would also be good targets, but the $12 million the Cavaliers can do in an offer sheet probably isn’t enough to get their incumbent teams to balk on matching.

As far as extensions this summer go, keep an eye on LeVert. If he’s not looking for a very big enough raise that he has to hit free agency, LeVert could be one of those late extensions that keeps him from hitting free agency at all.

Donovan Mitchell is also extension-eligible, but it’s probably a year too early for that. Mitchell is more of a logical extension candidate a year from now.

Okoro is the only other reasonable extension candidate for Cleveland. He’s up for a rookie scale extension. The Cavs would probably like to keep Okoro, but they’d need his extension to be fairly team friendly to make it feasible. Think of something like the four-year, $28 million extension that Nassir Little inked with the Portland Trail Blazers a year ago.

Okoro has improved year over year, but that improvement has been incremental vs leaps and bounds. He’s also best as a shooting guard, and that spot is filled with Mitchell. That puts both Okoro and Cleveland in a tough spot. He’s probably best to bet on himself and see if he can make a real jump next season. That would put him in the driver’s seat in restricted free agency in 2024.

Cleveland is a good team, playoff disappointment aside. They have a real chance to contend in the Eastern Conference in the coming years. Eventually a max, or near-max, extension will be coming for Evan Mobley. And then Donovan Mitchell will need a new deal shortly after. That’s how tight this window is for the Cavs. Nailing some value signings this summer will go a long way towards giving the Cavaliers the depth they need to go from good to great.

LA Clippers

Offseason Approach: Run it back and hope for better health

Actual Cap Space: -$95M

Practical Cap Space: -$91.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$42.3M

Under Contract (13): FULL ROSTER
Nicolas Batum, Brandon Boston Jr. (non-guaranteed), Amir Coffey, Robert Covington, Paul George, Eric Gordon (non-guaranteed), Bones Hyland, Kawhi Leonard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Norman Powell, Jason Preston (non-guaranteed), Ivica Zubac

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Moussa Diabate (restricted – two-way), Xavier Moon (restricted – two-way), Mason Plumlee (unrestricted), Russell Westbrook (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: None (due to being over the Second Tax Apron)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Reggie Jackson ($2,134,843)

First Round Draft Picks: #30


The new CBA is set up to punish the most expensive teams in the NBA. For now, the Super Tax penalties have turned their Sauron-like eye towards the LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors. While the Clippers don’t have the immediate concerns of the Warriors this summer, the eye is trained on them for the longer-term.

In a regular offseason, LA would be in a position to re-sign Mason Plumlee using his Bird rights and then to give Russell Westbrook the Taxpayer MLE. Outside of a smaller trade or two, this team would probably mostly run it back.

But the Super Tax is coming and it’s going to hit the Clippers hard. This season is their last chance at making significant changes under the current rules surrounding trades, signings and the draft. Or LA could take this opportunity to get their books in order and try to shed some of their less-desirable salary that stretches beyond this season.

Let’s start with what’s most likely to happen. That’s re-signing Mason Plumlee and trying to re-sign Russell Westbrook.

Plumlee was productive in the backup center behind Ivica Zubac. It would make sense to bring him back on a two-year deal that gives him around $10 million in guaranteed money. Ideally, that second season would be either non-guaranteed or a team option. That would allow the Clippers to move on. Given he has a guaranteed 20-24-minutes per night in LA, Plumlee would probably return for that $10 million or so.

Westbrook is a little harder to peg. He was much better with the Clippers than he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. Westbrook started and did a nice job running the team and shot far better after his move down the hall. He’s got enough left to be a decent starting point guard, especially on a team where his roll can be slightly lessened.

The challenge for LA is that they can only offer Westbrook a minimum contract. Because the one Super Tax penalty that starts this offseason is the loss of the Taxpayer MLE, the Clippers won’t be able to bump Westbrook’s salary at all.

Because he’s a 10-year-plus veteran. Westbrook’s actual salary would be $3.1 million on a minimum deal. Unless a guard-needy team was to offer him more than the Taxpayer MLE amount of $5 million, that $1.9 million might not be a deal-breaker. The guess here is that staying home in Los Angeles and coming back to a team where he’ll start, will win out over the opportunity to make a little bit more money.

The Clippers will also have a first-round pick, and it’s pretty important the they do one of two things with that pick: Either nail it and get a low-cost rotation player for the next few years (hugely important for Super Tax teams). Or LA can put that pick in a package to try and clear off some long-term salary. (This pick would have to be traded after the selection was made due to the Stepien Rule, but that’s a very common thing.)

The long-term salaries that the Clippers could be looking to move off of could include Norman Powell, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey or possibly Zubac. Powell, Mann and Zubac are all key rotation guys, but something has to give eventually. And both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard could opt out for bigger and longer deals in the summer of 2024. This is a chance to re-set the books a little bit.

Powell’s situation could be complicated by the presence of Eric Gordon. Gordon is likely to see his deal get guaranteed, because cutting him loose doesn’t create enough flexibility for LA to do much. And Gordon can still play. Having all of him Powell and Mann coming off the bench seems like a bit of overkill.

Moving Powell would free up a little flexibility this summer (if combined with another move), but would really free up a long-term salary commitment moving forward. If Gordon holds up, and nothing suggests he won’t for another couple of years, he could be re-signed after this season, or possibly even extended, for less that Powell is set to make.

The other option is to laugh in the face of the Super Tax and to take on even more long-term salary.

Given the limitations of aggregating salary together in trades starting with the 2024 offseason, this is the Clippers last chance to go big in a trade. They’ve got $40.5 million in expiring salary for the trip of Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington and Marcus Morris Sr. If you add Powell to the mix, that’s over $58.5 million in tradable salary.

The Clippers aren’t really scared of the financial penalties that come with the super tax. What’s scary are the limitations on filling out the roster. Because of that, this is their last chance to go big. If a star unexpectedly shakes loose, the Clippers can get there with the matching salary with relative ease. They’ve also got a couple of tradable picks in the outer years, that might not be quite as tradable when the full Super Tax penalties kick in.

The Clippers have to hope for better health next season. It’s also important to value the regular season a bit more, if for no other reason than making their path easier They’ve tried the load management approach and they weren’t any healthier for it. Next season is probably going to see them push a bit harder during the regular season.

This season seems like the “all-in” year for LA. George and Leonard aren’t getting any younger they can both be free agents. The depth is there, and so are the trade opportunities. This could be the year the Clippers turn that potential into production and make a real run. If not now, it might be never.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Offseason Approach: Extensions and rebuilding depth around an All-Star trio

Actual Cap Space: -$66.7M

Practical Cap Space: $62.8M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $18M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Kyle Anderson, Mike Conley ($14,320,000 guaranteed), Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, Jaden McDaniels, Jordan McLaughlin (non-guaranteed), Josh Minott, Wendell Moore Jr., Taurean Prince (non-guaranteed), Karl-Anthony Towns

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (restricted), Luka Garza (restricted – two-way), Nathan Knight (restricted – team option), Jaylen Nowell (unrestricted), Naz Reid (unrestricted), Austin Rivers (unrestricted), Matt Ryan (restricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer ($12,221,000), Bi-Annual ($4,448,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: D’Angelo Russell ($3,688,117), Jarred Vanderbilt ($4,374,000)

First Round Draft Picks: None


The Minnesota Timberwolves overcame a rocky start and injuries to make it through the Play-In Tournament and into the playoffs. That stay was short, but just making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons was an accomplishment for the Wolves.

Minnesota is looking for more moving forward. Just making the playoffs is no longer enough.

Such is life when you have three players who are closing in on making as almost as much as the entire salary cap by themselves.

Karl-Anthony Towns is signed long-term, as he has one year left before his four-year, $224 million extension even kicks in. Rudy Gobert has three years and $131.5 million left on his deal. And Anthony Edwards could hit Designated Player status by making All-NBA, which would qualify him to extend for almost $250 million over five years.

That’s where we’ll start, as extensions are the most important order of business for Tim Connelly and the Timberwolves front office this summer.

Edwards is a bona fide super star. He’s one of the league’s best scorers already, and he’s continually becoming a better shooter. He’s also an improved playmaker and rebounder too. Edwards is going to get a max extension. Whether that extension will be for $250 million or $207 million will be dependent on Edwards making All-NBA or not.

But Edwards isn’t the Wolves only extension candidate. Jaden McDaniels is also due for a new deal. McDaniels went up several levels a player in his third season. He became a full-time starter and delivered career-best almost across the board. The most exciting improvement came with his shooting, as McDaniels almost hit 40% from behind the arc and nearly 52% overall.

To add to that, McDaniels should have garnered an All-Defense nod. He was a shutdown guy on both perimeter players and interior players. In fact, you can make a case that he was the Timberwolves best all-around player, as the rest of the roster leans heavily towards offense or defense.

McDaniels deserves a big extension too. The four-year, $90 million deals that Mikal Bridges and De’Andre Hunter previously signed should be the baseline. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see McDaniels get even more, given where the salary cap is headed over the life his extension.

After they take care of extending their young players, Minnesota needs to turn to rebuilding some of their depth. It’s not likely that both Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid will be back. Nowell seems stuck behind Edwards on the wing, and they aren’t a great pairing together. He’ll probably move on for a bigger role elsewhere.

That could be the same issue for Reid. He’s a good player, but he’s behind both Gobert and Towns for frontcourt minutes in Minnesota. The Wolves also have to be careful in how much they invest in a backup big man, given the rising costs for the rest of the roster. Reid may just have more money and more minutes available to him with another team.

The other two main free agents are Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Austin Rivers. The veteran Rivers is the easier case. If he wants to come back for the minimum, there will probably be a spot for him.

Alexander-Walker’s situation is a little harder to project. He’s coming off his best season in the NBA, but that bar was pretty low. He got minutes in the postseason after McDaniels fractured his hand, but the fourth-year guard’s performance was pretty mixed. If the Wolves can get back Alexander-Walker on a small enough deal that they can still use the full Non-Taxpayer MLE, then he’s worth bring back. If it gets to be more $4 or $5 million, Minnesota can find better options in free agency.

That leaves the Wolves having to add a backup big man, some depth on the wing and, ideally, another backup for Mike Conley at point guard.

The Wolves should have the full MLE of $12.2 million to spend this summer. That’s a nice piece of spending power and could get them a valuable player. For example, the Denver Nuggets wouldn’t be able to match that salary for Bruce Brown, and Brown’s versatile game would fit Minnesota’s rotation perfectly, while weakening a division rival. If not Brown, someone like Donte DiVincenzo, Max Strus or Lonnie Walker would make sense. If they wanted to go with more of a veteran option, Josh Richardson or Seth Curry would add depth to the guard group.

Up front, the Timberwolves should be able to pick off a bargain signing, if Reid leaves town. Someone like Drew Eubanks, Thomas Bryant, or Moritz Wagner could be good minimum signings. Oddly enough, Kevin Love could make sense, if he wanted to finish his career where it started for the minimum. With Towns and Gobert already in place, we’re talking about a 10 to 15 minutes a night player, who could also step up if either of the All-Star level bigs needed to miss time. This should be a minimum signing, unless it’s bringing back Reid on a team-friendly deal.

Behind Conley, Minnesota should be able to find a value veteran. Reggie Jackson, Jevon Carter, Dennis Smith Jr. and Cory Joseph could all make sense. Jordan McLaughlin should also be back, but one more solid guard to round out the depth makes sense for the Wolves.

Minnesota took their big swing last summer with the Gobert trade. That deal didn’t take the team to new heights, but they also got only 29 games out of the twin towers pairing, because of Towns’ injury. Better health, solid point guard play for a full season (which Conley should deliver) and further growth from Edwards and McDaniels, and it’s all right there for the Wolves.

The big key? Adding depth now. By the time the 2024-25 season starts, this squad could be very, very expensive. By that point, it will be hard for the Timberwolves to add much else to this roster. And they don’t have all of their picks to work with moving forward either. This is the year to flesh out the roster in hopes of contending in the Western Conference over the next three to four seasons.

Brooklyn Nets

Offseason Approach: Resetting around young talent and flexibility

Actual Cap Space: -$66.6M

Practical Cap Space: $64.8M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $7.1M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Mikal Bridges, Nicolas Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, RaiQuan Gray (two-way), Joe Harris, Patty Mills, Royce O’Neale ($2.5 million guaranteed), Day’Ron Sharpe, Ben Simmons, Edmond Sumner (non-guaranteed), Cameron Thomas

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Seth Curry (unrestricted), David Duke Jr. (restricted), Cameron Johnson (restricted), Dru Smith (restricted – two-way), Yuta Watanabe (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer ($5,000,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Kevin Durant ($18,131,946), Kyrie Irving ($4,494,702)

First Round Draft Picks: #21, #22


The Brooklyn Nets are once again attempting to reset after seeing their stars leave town. Only this time, the Nets are doing it with good talent already and with some future draft picks in hand.

When he traded Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ahead of the trade deadline, Brooklyn GM Sean Marks brought back good talent in the form of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, as well as solid role players in Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie. Those four combined with Nicolas Claxton, and some veterans, to get the Nets into the playoffs. That stay was short-lived, but Brooklyn has a lot to build around moving forward.

Bridges and Finny-Smith are both signed for at least two more seasons, and Brooklyn can match any offer that Johnson gets this summer. Those three, along with Claxton, are likely to make up the new core of the team over the next few years.

The Nets would like the fifth member of that core to be Ben Simmons, considering they owe him $78.2 million guaranteed over the next two years. To this point, Simmons has appeared in only 42 games in a season-plus with Brooklyn. If, and it’s a pretty big if, Simmons gets healthy and regains his form, the Nets will be set with a pretty good group of wings and forwards.

Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, once the jewels of Marks’ first Brooklyn rebuild, both have one season left on their deals. They could either be back as rotation players, or packaged together in a trade to get the team some win-now help. Royce O’Neale will probably be back, as he should have his deal guaranteed. And Patty Mills has one more year left on his contract too. If nothing else, this veteran foursome adds up to $56.6 million in expiring salary for the Nets to use in trades.

One minor challenge for this coming season, in no small part due to Simmons’ $37.9 million salary, is the luxury tax. Brooklyn is likely to go back over the tax line next season, if only temporarily, once they re-sign Johnson. It’s unlikely a team will be able to craft an offer sheet enticing enough to get the Nets to blink on matching a deal for Johnson. But this could be a chance for rival teams to force Marks to pay up, after the Brooklyn GM forced so many of his peers to match offer sheets the first time he rebuilt his team.

Because of that looming tax bill, the Nets will likely only have the $5 million Taxpayer MLE to work with this summer for signing free agents. Given they are probably a middle-of-the-pack team in the Eastern Conference next season, it’s unclear if ownership will want to further add to an already expensive roster.

The good news? Brooklyn’s cap sheet clears up considerably after this season. They’ll still have one more year of Simmons, but after that it’s likely Bridges (on a very team-friendly deal), Finney-Smith (fairly paid) and probably a re-signed Johnson and Claxton on new contracts. Add a few players on rookie scale deals, and the Nets are in pretty good shape.

With their two 2023 draft picks, it’s important Brooklyn finds players who can be contributors by the end of their rookie deals. Having rotation players on the value rookie scale contracts provide, will be key as the team looks to sign and re-sign players in the future.

Of their other current free agents beyond Johnson, it’s likely that Seth Curry will move on. A contender will probably value his shooting ability more than the Nets will want to re-sign Curry for heading into his age-33 season.

Yuta Watanabe could be re-signed as he brought great energy to the team, as well as much-improved shooting. The forward rotation is getting a little full, but there should be room for Watanabe, if someone else doesn’t offer him a richer deal.

This season for the Nets is likely to be a bit of a step backwards. Instead of competing for homecourt advantage, Brooklyn will probably be fighting around the Play-In Tournament line. Such is life when you trade away three superstars in the span of one year.

But that’s ok.

The Nets have done well in this spot before. Marks and team have done a good job mining for diamonds in the rough before. And that was without any draft picks to work with. This time around, Marks is down a couple of his own picks (from the James Harden acquisition), but he does have some picks coming from Phoenix and Philadelphia going forward.

The cupboard isn’t nearly as bare as last time Marks had to rebuild the Nets. There’s good talent in place, along with some draft picks. If Marks can do some diamond-mining again, along with making some smart trades to shed some salary and smart signings, the Nets will be back in contention quickly.

The real questions then become: Will the Nets stay patient with what they’ve built this time around? Or will they bend to the next set of stars that want to play together in Brooklyn?

Oklahoma City Thunder

Offseason Approach: Plenty of spending power without many holes to fill

Actual Cap Space: -$29M

Practical Cap Space: $32.2M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $60.2M

Under Contract (13): FULL ROSTER
Ousmane Dieng, Lu Dort, Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Isaiah Joe (non-guaranteed), Tre Mann, Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (non-guaranteed), Aaron Wiggins (non-guaranteed), Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams, Kenrich Williams

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Jared Butler (restricted – two-way), Dario Saric (unrestricted), Olivier Sarr (restricted – two-way), Lindy Waters III (restricted – team option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($7,609,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #12


The Oklahoma City Thunder took a big step forward last season. They were competitive until the very end of the regular season, before falling in the Play-In Tournament.

That progress has everyone rightly excited for this young, talented group. Now, they have an offseason without a lot of decisions to make, but one that’s filled with potential too.

On first glance, there aren’t any clear needs for the Thunder. They’ve got some really good guards and wings. The bigs are probably a position of need, but they’ll also have Chet Holmgren debuting next season. The depth is a work in progress, but there are a lot of players who show real promise.

The Thunder have 13 players under contract already for next season. No one projects as an easy cut either. Isaiah Joe had a breakout season, becoming the efficient volume shooter that everyone hoped he could be. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl didn’t have as good of a sophomore year as his rookie season, but he can still play. Aaron Wiggins became a rotation regular, as he put together a 51/39/83 shooting season. All three project to stick on the roster for next season.

Of the free agents, Jared Butler and Olivier Sarr were fine as two-way players. Either one, or both, could return on another two-way deal. Dario Saric played well for the Thunder and looks like he’s regained his form his ACL tear in the 2021 Finals, but he’ll probably get squeezed by the roster crunch.

Lindy Waters III is probably in the toughest spot. He earned a standard NBA deal, but didn’t do a lot with the minutes he got. But he’s got good size for a guard and he can shoot it a bit. His team option will probably get picked up, and Waters will go to camp to fight for a roster spot.

All of that leaves Oklahoma City with precious few roster spots. At most, they might have two or three spots open. One of those will presumably go to their 2023 first-round pick at #12 overall.

From there, the Thunder project to have more than $32 million to spend in free agency. That’s…a lot.

If we think back to 2017, the Philadelphia 76ers were ready to push things forward. They had a lot of young talent in place and had some cap space. That summer the Sixers gave J.J. Redick a one-year, $23 million contract. Most screamed overpay, and it probably was, but that move served as a stabilizer for Philadelphia. Redick filled a need and helped the young 76ers grow into a playoff team.

Oklahoma City is positioned to make a similar type of move this summer.

The Thunder don’t have to spread their cap space around to fill four or five roster spots. They also don’t have to go all-in on handing a veteran player a big four-year deal in excess of $100 million.

The Thunder can do something similar to the 2017 Sixers. They can target a single player to fill a need and they can overpay that player for a year or two, if necessary. The key is to keep a deal short enough doesn’t eat into any of the flexibility long-term.

For example, let’s say Thunder GM Sam Presti and coach Mark Daigneault (one of the up-and-coming best coaches in the league) decide what they need is true five to help Chet Holmgren transition to the NBA. (Or maybe they decide Holmgren is more of a four than a five, which is still an open question). The Thunder could hand a contract worth $25 million or more per season to Brook Lopez or Nikola Vucevic or Jakob Poeltl. The key will be to keep that deal short enough (no more than two seasons), that if it goes sideways, OKC isn’t on the hook for very long.

If the Thunder feel good about Holmgren at the five, they could turn towards bringing in a true four to play next to him. In that case, veterans like Jerami Grant or Harrison Barnes could be in play. If they wanted to play in the restricted market, Oklahoma City could craft big enough offer sheets for Grant Williams (this team is cornering the market on Williamses), P.J. Washington or K.J. Martin that their teams could be in a tough spot to match.

Despite a good collection of wing talent, maybe a swing forward like Kyle Kuzma could be a target, or restricted free agent Cam Johnson.

In the case of the restricted players (Williams, Washington, Martin or Johnson) or Kuzma, you could feel good about going to a longer deal, because they are young enough to stay good investments throughout three or four years.

The main point is that the Thunder are in a great place with cap space to spend. And now is the time to spend that cap space.

The cap sheet stays pretty clean for Oklahoma City for as far out as salaries currently go. The only players locked in to long-term salaries who aren’t on rookie scale or minimum deals are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (worth every penny of his max deal), Lu Dort (worth every penny of his four-year, $67.2 million that he’s owed) and Kenrich Williams (worth every penny of his great-value four-year, $27.2 million extension).

The challenge for the Thunder is going to rapidly become roster spots. They’ve got 13 players under contract for next season already and 13 (including their 2023 first-rounder) for 2024-25. And OKC could also have up to four picks in the 2024 NBA Draft.

Eventually, Presti is going to have to do a consolidation trade or two. You can only roster 15 players on standard contracts, and the Thunder are pressing up against that marker. That’s why the Thunder can, and should, spend big to bring in a targeted veteran free agent this summer. That signing, combined with Holmgren and continued improvement from a young roster, can help Oklahoma City go from fun up-and-comer to a real problem in the Western Conference.

The scary part? It won’t even cost the Thunder any long-term flexibility to do it either. As the roster develops, they’ll still be able to fill whatever needs emerge. The next big extension (Josh Giddey), won’t kick in until the 2025-26 season. That’s a two-year window to figure out who fits with the core and what holes Oklahoma City has to fill.

The Thunder got good at least a year ahead of schedule. But they’re here now. They can’t, and won’t, go backwards. The roster and Daigneault are too good for that. With the right addition, Oklahoma City won’t be messing around in the Play-In Tournament next spring. They’ll be hosting a first-round playoff game.

Chicago Bulls

Offseason Approach: Run it back, retool or reset?

Actual Cap Space: -$63.4M

Practical Cap Space: -$59.8M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $46.5M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Carlik Jones (non-guaranteed), Zach LaVine, Marko Simonovic (non-guaranteed), Dalen Terry, Patrick Williams

Potential Free Agents (9): FULL LIST
Patrick Beverley (unrestricted), Ayo Dosunmu (restricted), Andre Drummond (unrestricted – player option), Javonte Green (unrestricted), Derrick Jones Jr. (unrestricted – player option), Justin Lewis (restricted – two-way), Terry Taylor (restricted – two-way), Nikola Vucevic (unrestricted), Coby White (restricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer ($12,221,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,448,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: None


The Chicago Bulls are sitting in a kind of tough spot. They aren’t a bad team. They have productive talent. They are playoff contenders.

On the flip side, the Bulls aren’t a very good team. The talent they have is aging or injury-prone. And they aren’t title contenders.

There’s no easy path here for the Bulls. If they were to let Nikola Vucevic walk in free agency, trade DeMar DeRozan and/or Zach LaVine, they’d be hitting a major reset. If they re-sign Vucevic and keep the All-Star wings, they’re locking into a team that will probably push for a playoff spot, but not much more.

The major problem for Chicago with either path is that they’re going to have to work around Lonzo Ball and his contract. Ball has two years and $41.8 million left on his deal. It’s unclear if he’ll make it back on the court from his latest surgery. However, it is clear that Ball is going to keep trying and seems to have no intention of retiring. And that $21.4 million player option for 2024-25 is as good as exercised already.

The guess here is that the Bulls re-sign Nikola Vucevic to a reasonable contract that rewards his production, while remaining tradable. Something in the two- or three-year range with about $50 to $60 million guaranteed feels about right. Vucevic isn’t perfect, but he’s a walking double-double and an efficient offensive player.

From there, Chicago seemed to like what Patrick Beverley brought to the team. It’s possible that they could give him a chunk of the MLE, but getting him back on a minimum deal would be best. He shot terribly while with the Bulls, and that’s unlikely to get a whole lot better. But Beverley was a good defender and a solid locker room presence.

The other free agents are more of a mixed bag. Coby White put together his most efficient season, but he looks like he might top out as a reserve combo guard. Ayo Dosunmu didn’t do enough to build on an encouraging rookie season, but he has shown that he can play. The guess here is that one is back, while the other one moves on.

Up front, Andre Drummond would be fine as a backup five for $3.4 million. He remains an elite rebounder and solid finisher inside. Drummond’s fate could be tied to that of Vucevic. If the Bulls are re-signing Vucevic, Drummond might look for a bigger role elsewhere.

Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green are coming off productive, but imbalanced seasons. Jones sort of found a role late in the year as a super small-ball five. Green was good when he played, but missed considerable time due to injuries. Both players are probably in the same spot where they could be back, but the Bulls aren’t going to extend very far to do so.

As far as outside talent goes, getting another playable wing, a playmaker at point guard and a backup combo big seem like priorities. Chicago should have the $12.2 million MLE available. That should be enough to fill one of those spots, if not both with value signings. Bruce Brown would be an ideal wing target, if he gets priced out of Denver. Same with Max Strus, if Miami can’t afford him. If Miami keeps Strus, Gabe Vincent would be a logical MLE candidate for Chicago. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice comeback season, and he could make sense given the Bulls shooting around him. Up front, guys like Georges Niang, Trey Lyles and Jalen McDaniels could all fill a role. If he got priced out in Minnesota, Naz Reid would make a lot of sense for a chunk of the MLE too.

Of the team’s younger players, Patrick Williams has to have a bigger role next season. He upped his three-point shooting in both volume and percentage. Williams also improved his off-the-dribble game. This season is an opportunity for the team’s veterans to cede even more responsibility towards Williams, as his growth is paramount.

Dalen Terry’s rookie season was mostly spent watching. He rarely played meaningful NBA minutes. In the G League, Terry flashed the ability that made him a mid-first-round pick. There’s talent there, and Terry should be ready to take on a bigger role.

The guess here is that Chicago isn’t ready to hit the reset button. LaVine is signed long-term and has been terrific. DeRozan has at least another good year in him. Vucevic should be productive on a fair value deal. If Williams can take on a bigger role, so much the better. The ability to fill out the bench is there, provided they use the MLE smartly.

The albatross remains Ball’s uncertain future. The hope is that he can make it back and resume a productive career leading Chicago’s offense. If not, Arturas Karnisovas needs to figure out how to work around Ball’s contract. The Bulls also finally paid off the remaining debt to the Orlando Magic, but they now transition into owing a future first to the San Antonio Spurs. Far from impossible, but just another thing they have to work around.

The relative lack of immediate flexibility makes it unlikely Chicago makes major changes this summer. As long as they don’t give out deals that are too large or too long, that should be fine. The core is solid for at least another year or two. Hit the right role players around them, combined with growth from the kids, and this team should be in the playoffs next season.

New Orleans Pelicans

Offseason Approach: Minimal ways to add to a roster that needs to get and stay healthy

Actual Cap Space: -$79.4M

Practical Cap Space: -$68.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $7.7M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Jose Alvarado (non-guaranteed), Dyson Daniels, Brandon Ingram, Kira Lewis Jr., E.J. Liddell (two-way), C.J. McCollum, Trey Murphy III, Larry Nance Jr., Dereon Seabron (two-way), Garrett Temple (non-guaranteed), Jonas Valanciunas, Zion Williamson

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Jaxson Hayes (restricted), Willy Hernangomez (unrestricted – team option), Herb Jones (restricted – team option), Naji Marshall (restricted – team option), Josh Richardson (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer ($5,000,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #14


The New Orleans Pelicans are in a bit of a weird spot as the offseason starts. They are bumping up against the luxury tax, but they aren’t a playoff team. The potential is there, but you’re left wondering if they’ll ever get and stay healthy enough to realize it.

Brandon Ingram is now over halfway through the max deal he signed a few years ago. Zion Williamson is just starting his new max deal this summer. C.J. McCollum has three years and $99.8 million left on his deal, after his two-year extension.

For this coming season only, those three players combine to make over $103 million. That leaves precious little wiggle room to work with, especially when you factor in that Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr. combine to add nearly $26 million in salary for the upcoming season.

This is where we can point out that all five of those players are good players. All five have complementary skill sets and you can play four of the five together. And having Nance around to back up both Williamson and Valanciunas is a positive.

However, the foursome of Ingram, Williamson, McCollum and Valanciunas played in only 10 games together last season. This is after zero games together in 2021-22, as Williamson missed the entire season.

10 games over two seasons. For a core that is now making over $118 million combined. That’s simply not enough.

At the risk of being boring, almost nothing New Orleans does will matter this summer if those 10 games don’t turn into somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60 games. That’s pricing in the fact that Williamson seems a good bet to miss at least 20 games, and there will be some games where he’ll play and others will sit.

If you believe you can get 50-60 games out of that core foursome, the Pelicans can feel comfortable going about adding to their roster. They can even feel comfortable about dipping into the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history.

If the Pelicans are unsure or, worse, don’t believe that they’ll keep that core group on the floor, then it’s probably best to run it back and make some minor upgrades around the edges of the rotation. And, as they have each season or their existence, dodge the luxury tax once again.

You might wonder why the tax is such a focal point. It’s simply because New Orleans projects to hit the offseason with less than $10 million in space under the tax line. That’s very little wiggle room for a team that could do to add some depth.

We get there because of the large salaries we called out previously, but also the fact that the Pelicans don’t have many offseason decisions to make to create much more flexibility.

Most of New Orleans decisions this summer are in their control and they seem pretty cut-and-dry. It’s highly likely Garrett Temple will be waived rather than the team carrying his $5.4 million on their books. Conversely, Jose Alvarado is a steal at $1.8 million, so his deal will become fully guaranteed.

Speaking of steals, the Pels have interesting decisions to make with two wings that have shined as developmental projects. New Orleans has team options for both Herb Jones and Naji Marshall for this upcoming season, at $1.8 million and $1.9 million respectively. Those are bargains for what both bring to the roster.

Should the Pelicans decline those team options, they’d be able to make both Jones and Marshall restricted free agents. However, the process isn’t quite that simple.

For Jones, the team can make him a restricted free agent in the summer of 2024 when his deal runs out. Effectively, New Orleans can keep him on one of the best values in the entire NBA at $1.8 million and just delay the restricted free agency process for a year. Doing so would keep Jones’ number down this year, while also allowing him to reach full Bird status in 2024, and avoiding a potentially messy Arenas Provision situation as an Early Bird free agent this summer.

On the flip side, Jones is already an All-Defense level player (he should already have those honors, but we digress) and he’s improving his offensive game. If Jones has a breakout offensive season, he could end up costing the Pelicans a lot more a year from now.

Given the tight finances in the immediate, it’s likely that Pelicans VP of basketball ops David Griffin will just pick up Jones’ option and let his next deal become next summer’s problem.

For Marshall, he’s in a bit of a different boat. He’s only got one season left. He’s either playing it out this year and going to unrestricted free agency in 2024, or he can be made a restricted free agent this summer.

Given that Marshall is a good, but not great, rotation player, New Orleans probably also picks up his option. If they were to lose Marshall next summer in unrestricted free agency, they’ve got the depth to cover for him at the forward position between Ingram, Jones and Trey Murphy III.

As for the Pelicans other roster decisions, Jaxson Hayes is the biggest remaining question. New Orleans may choose to forgo tendering Hayes a qualifying offer, out of fear that he could simply sign it for $7.7 million guaranteed salary it would give him. That would remove any of the wiggle room that New Orleans has under the luxury tax line. Hayes simply hasn’t shown enough in his first four seasons to take that kind of risk. The Pelicans can replace him with a minimum-salary signing at the backup center spot behind Valanciunas.

On that note, New Orleans will likely decline their team option for Willy Hernangomez too. He is a candidate to re-sign for the minimum, as he’s well-liked in the locker room. Hernangomez has also been productive as a third center.

The other free agent, Josh Richardson, was a necessary add for backcourt depth at last season’s trade deadline, but it always seemed like a short-term stay for him in New Orleans. The Pelicans want Dyson Daniels to blossom into that third-guard role, following a mostly promising rookie season. Richardson is likely playing elsewhere next season.

As you can probably tell, the Pelicans might be a lot of “what you see, is what you get” at the moment. They could probably pick off a value signing at the level of the $5 million Taxpayer MLE. Anything past that will push them over the tax line and could even incur a hard cap. That seems like a no-go for a franchise that needs a lot of other things to go right, before becoming overly expensive.

There’s always the chance that Griffin takes a homerun swing and makes a huge trade out of nowhere. Or maybe lottery luck shines upon the Pelicans again, and they move way up in the draft. But for now, it’s about finally seeing what they have with a healthy roster. Or that’s the hope, at least, for the injury-plagued Pels.

Toronto Raptors

Offseason Approach: The Raptors have hit a franchise crossroads

Actual Cap Space: -$56.5M

Practical Cap Space: -$49.3M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $62M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Precious Achiuwa, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Chris Boucher, Malachi Flynn, Christian Koloko, Otto Porter Jr., Pascal Siakam, Joe Wieskamp (non-guaranteed), Thaddeus Young ($1,000,000 guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Dalano Banton (restricted), Will Barton (unrestricted), Jeff Dowtin (restricted – two-way), Ron Harper Jr. (restricted – two-way), Jakob Poeltl (unrestricted), Gary Trent Jr. (unrestricted – player option), Fred VanVleet (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer ($12,221,000), Bi-Annual ($4,448,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #13


The Toronto Raptors have hit a crossroads. The first piece of change has already come with the Raptors and Nick Nurse parting ways after five seasons together and an NBA title. After three somewhat middling seasons, Toronto and Nurse are going their separate ways.

As of this writing, the Raptors haven’t hired a new coach. Thus, we have no hints towards it being an experienced coach to lead a team chasing a playoff spot, or a less-experienced coach to develop with a rebuilding roster.

That changeover on the sideline could apply to the roster as well. Core roster members Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. are likely to decline their player options to test free agency. Something seems like it might give with the trio of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes, as they are kind of three players for two positions. And Jakob Poeltl needs a new deal, after the team gave up a first-round pick to bring the center back to Toronto at the trade deadline.

Starting with the free agents, Trent seems the most likely to leave. He’s been somewhat squeezed in the rotation and he’s got that 3&D skillset that all teams want. Trent is also only 24 years old. He’s likely to get a deal that Toronto will struggle to match, given their ever-increasing payroll.

That brings us to VanVleet. He’s now 29 years old, his play slipped a good bit last season and he’s had four consecutive years with various injuries. On the flip side, VanVleet can play on or off-ball, he’s still a solid defender, despite his limited size and he has high-level playoff experience.

The big challenge comes with what another team might offer VanVleet vs how far the Raptors are willing to go to retain him. A handful of the cap space teams like Detroit, Orlando, Utah, San Antonio and possibly Houston, could be in the mix for a lead ballhandler. If one of them makes VanVleet a targeted priority on Day 1 of free agency, it might be hard for Toronto to match an offer and still maintain the payroll flexibility they sorely need.

As for Poeltl, the Raptors gave up a future first to bring him back. They couldn’t extend him for enough, because of his relatively small salary this past season. But something in the $60 to $64 million range over four years seems to make sense for Poeltl. And it feels like something Toronto will easily do. His defense and rebounding alone make him worth $15 to $16 million in AAV, and possibly even a little bit more.

At the draft, barring some lottery luck, Toronto will have a mid-first-round pick. They’ve done well in that approximate range in the past. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have built a solid scouting department and they rarely miss in the draft. Whoever the Raptors select will likely be a rotation contributor by Year 2 at the latest.

As for the rest of the roster, it’s all about extensions and/or trades. If Trent and VanVleet leave, that could signal a reset of sorts. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are both playing out the final guaranteed years of their deals. That means it’s time to think about extensions, or failing that, potentially trading either player.

Siakam could be a solid extension candidate, given the new veteran extension rules allowing for 40% bump in salary (up from 20% today). That’s well within the range of what a new contract would be for him, given he’s already 29 years old entering next season. Don’t be surprised if Toronto and Siakam get a new deal signed at some point this summer.

For Anunoby, even the increased veteran extension rules aren’t enough for him to extend. He’d only see his first-year salary land at around $26 million. That seems a bit low for his potential as premier 3&D wing with upside to be more. Anunoby is probably headed for 2024 free agency and a huge payday. If Toronto gets the sense that he might be looking at other teams, they need to consider a trade.

The other reason to consider a trade (and not necessarily for Anunoby, but in general) is that it’s not clear that Siakam and Anunoby are great fits alongside a re-signed Poeltl and Scottie Barnes. Anunoby is the only plus shooter of that bunch. Even if Toronto was to add another outstanding shooter, lineups featuring Siakam, Barnes and Poeltl are going to be challenged to space the floor effectively.

That challenge, along with the prospect of signing Siakam and Anunoby to huge new deals, has to have Ujiri thinking about trade options. No executive in the league fears taking a home run swing less than Ujiri. He’ll swing for the fences if he thinks the deal is the right one for his team. Don’t be surprised if one of Toronto’s big-name players is on the move via trade this summer.

Of the team’s remaining decisions, it seems like the team will waive Thaddeus Young and save roughly $7 million in salary, given he’s no longer a rotation player for them. Unless his salary is needed in a trade, the flexibility under the tax line is more valuable to Toronto. Joe Wieskamp’s salary is small enough that he’ll probably stick at least until training camp cuts have to be made.

Dalano Banton is an interesting restricted free agent. Injuries wrecked his second season, but he’s got tremendous size for a ballhandler and he’s a pretty solid defender too. Look for the Raptors to do what they can to bring him back, likely on a team-friendly three- or four-year deal.

Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn are both eligible for rookie scale extensions. Achiuwa is an extension candidate, especially if some of the team’s frontcourt logjam is cleared out via trades. He could get a deal in the range of what the Memphis Grizzlies gave Brandon Clarke (four years, $48 million), as he’s similar to Clarke as an energizer big off the bench. Having Achiuwa locked in would also make Chris Boucher available via trade, and his $11.75 million salary could help really plus up an offer to bring in a higher-salary player.

Flynn hasn’t shown enough, despite being given several opportunities, to get an extension. It would have to be so team-friendly, that Flynn is better off playing it out and betting on finally breaking out ahead of restricted free agency in 2024.

The Toronto Raptors are again the team that the entire league is watching. There are so many moving parts and so many possible directions, that the Raptors will probably be engaged in conversations with all sorts of potential trade partners. And because it’s Masai Ujiri at the helm, anything is possible from trading for a superstar to tearing things down and resetting in a major way.

Dallas Mavericks

Offseason Approach: Keeping Kyrie Irving will cost on the court and could cost off it too

Actual Cap Space: -$86.5M

Practical Cap Space: $86.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $48.9M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Davis Bertans, Reggie Bullock ($5,451,200 guaranteed), Luka Doncic, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jaden Hardy, Maxi Kleber, A.J. Lawson (two-way), JaVale McGee

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Justin Holiday (unrestricted), Kyrie Irving (unrestricted), Markieff Morris (unrestricted), Frank Ntilikina (unrestricted), Theo Pinson (unrestricted), Dwight Powell (unrestricted), Christian Wood (unrestricted), McKinley Wright IV (restricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer ($5,000,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #10


The Dallas Mavericks arguably had the most disappointing season in the NBA. All of the other teams that didn’t make the postseason had some level of expectation that they might not be good. The Mavericks expected to be title contenders and didn’t even make the Play-In Tournament.

And this came after a midseason addition of Kyrie Irving to the roster. And it’s with Irving that the Dallas offseason hinges.

The Mavs have their superstar in place in Luka Doncic, but he needs a running mate. Dallas hopes that is Irving. Results with the two were a bit mixed, but trading for Irving was never just about this past half-season. It was about the years to come.

Irving won’t sign an extension, because it’d be too cost-prohibitive for him to even consider it. But that’s not really a worry for the Mavericks. None of the teams that project to have cap space are reasonable landing sports for Irving either. It really comes down to how much Dallas is willing to pay the mercurial guard and for how long.

Irving is likely seeking a max deal for at least four seasons. He’s 31 now and this is probably his final big payday. Even though small guards age better than ever now, none of them have approached a max deal in their mid-30s. This is Irving’s last, best chance of getting paid.

If you’re Mavs GM Nico Harrison, you have to be really, really sure of two things if you give Irving a max deal. The first is that you’ll get productive, healthy (or semi-healthy) seasons out of Irving. Failing that, you have to feel confident you’ll be able to trade him without having to pay a team to take him.

The first part is probably a decent bet. When heathy, Irving remains an elite and efficient scorer. He’s a yearly 50/40/90 threat and he can score at all levels. Irving is also a solid playmaker, and a willing passer when he has the right guys around him.

The health part is a challenge. Irving still piles up a good number of total missed games, even when factoring in the ones he misses for non-injury-related reasons. Irving’s knees have been problematic for years, he’s had shoulder issues in recent seasons and last year he dealt with foot and ankle issues.

But you can deal with all that. You factor in that he’ll miss somewhere around 20 games or so due to injury, and you build up your depth to account for it.

What can’t be fully factored in, but needs to be, is the games Irving might miss for non-injury reasons. Last season it was a suspension for sharing a link to an anti-Semitic video. In the years before, it was Irving’s stance against being vaccinated. In other years, there have been shorter personal absences that have seen him miss games.

That’s the risk. There’s also the risk that Irving will simply become unhappy with his situation and want out before his contract is complete. It’s happened in Cleveland, Boston and Brooklyn. There’s really no reason to believe it won’t also happen in Dallas.

But if it doesn’t, or if that happens after Year 2 or Year 3 of a new deal, you’re probably ok. For at least a couple of seasons, Dallas will having a dynamic scoring in playmaking duo in Doncic and Irving. That’s a pretty good foundation to work from.

The guess here is that Dallas didn’t give up what they did to just let Irving walk. The Mavs will likely offer Irving at least a four-year max deal. Maybe that final season will have some form of team protection. From there, it’s Irving’s decision to sign or not. If there was ever a player that would turn down a max deal without another waiting for him, it’d be Irving. When he says it’s not all about the money, it’s fair to believe he means that, given his recent history of missed games.

Assuming Irving is back in the fold on a max deal, Dallas will have limited ability to build out the rest of their roster. They’ll likely have their draft pick and the Taxpayer MLE to add outside talent, barring a trade or two.

The Draft Lottery is an important event for the Mavericks. If any of the bottom four teams (Chicago, Oklahoma City, Toronto or New Orleans) jump into the top-4 of the Draft, Dallas will lose their pick to the New York Knicks. So, Mavs fans are hoping for chalk for the first four envelopes.

In free agency, Dallas will likely have only the Taxpayer MLE, as re-signing Irving will put them up in the range of being over the tax apron. Under the new CBA, that’ll limit the Mavericks to a $5 million exception to use on a free agent. That’s not a huge chunk of spending power, but on a team that can be reasonably expected to contend, it’s better than nothing.

The Mavs will be looking to add shooting and/or defense around Irving and Doncic. That means players like Torrey Craig, Dillon Brooks (if his star has fallen as far as it may seem), Jalen McDaniels, Trey Lyles, Andre Drummond, Lonnie Walker, Georges Niang and Drew Eubanks could all make some sense. Getting another ballhandler in the fold is important too, given the likelihood Irving will miss games. Jevon Carter, Reggie Jackson or Kendrick Nunn could all be sensible targets to play the backup point guard role.

Of their own non-Irving free agents, the most likely to be back are probably Dwight Powell and Theo Pinson. Powell has fans within the organization, and he’s been a good pick-and-roll partner for Doncic for years now. Pinson is a minimum, end-of-bench, locker room guy that the Mavs love. Frank Ntilikina seems to be a Jason Kidd favorite too, so don’t rule out his return on a minimum deal.

Christian Wood is very likely gone, and might serve the Mavs well to try and make that into a sign-and-trade deal. Wood could get a touch more money that way, and Dallas could recoup some value by replacing his salary slot. It’s a shame Wood didn’t work out for the Mavericks, as the talent is there, but the fit wasn’t quite right.

Outside of an unexpected major trade or incredible lottery luck, Dallas is probably going to look pretty similar to the team that ended last season. There will be moves around the edges to improve the depth and the defense, but most of the main rotation guys are in place already.

As it was for the Cavs, Celtics and Nets, it’s mostly all about Kyrie Irving (with a heavy dose of Luka Doncic) for the Mavericks. Such is life when you add Irving to your mix. It can work out great, so long as you recognize the clock starts ticking on the partnership before the ink is dry on the contract.

Utah Jazz

Offseason Approach: Options abound for a team that was more competitive than expected

Actual Cap Space: -$14.4M

Practical Cap Space: $45.4M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $73.4M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Ochai Agbaji, Vernon Carey Jr. (non-guaranteed), Kris Dunn (non-guaranteed), Simone Fontecchio, Walker Kessler, Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk ($3,000,000 guaranteed), Micah Potter (two-way), Luka Samanic (non-guaranteed), Collin Sexton

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Udoka Azubuike (unrestricted), Jordan Clarkson (unrestricted – player option), Rudy Gay (unrestricted – player option), Talen Horton-Tucker (unrestricted – player option), Damian Jones (unrestricted – player option), Johnny Juzang (restricted – two-way), Juan Toscano-Anderson (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($7,609,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None (all projected to be renounced for cap space)

First Round Draft Picks: #9, #16, #28


The Utah Jazz were far better than anyone expected this season. When the Jazz traded away Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, it was expected that they would drop into being a tanking team. Instead, an eclectic bunch made a real postseason push until they were late in the regular season.

Now, the Jazz can turn to what the expected outcome was: A rebuild. But instead of a tear-it-down-to-the-studs job, the Jazz can do more of a remodel.

That’s made possible because Lauri Markkanen blossomed into a bonified All-Star this season. Markkanen turned in easily his best NBA season, but it doesn’t seem to have been a fluke. In an offense tailored to his strengths and with greater usage, Markkanen shined.

Now, the Jazz have what every team wants: An All-Star on a value contract. And they’ve got other interesting talent, a treasure chest full of draft picks and great cap flexibility.

Of their own roster decisions, Utah needs to make decisions on a handful of non-guaranteed players. Kelly Olynyk is chief among them, but it likely that the Jazz will guarantee his contract vs letting Olynyk go at the cost of $3 million in dead money. He’s shown he’s a good fit with Markkanen and Walker Kessler in the frontcourt. Kris Dunn is the next most likely have his deal guaranteed (he was quite good for the Jazz after being called up from the G League), while Luka Samanic and Vernon Carey could be expendable if Utah needs a little extra cap space.

Part of the reason the Jazz could be sitting on over $45 million in cap space is that productive starters Jordan Clarkson and Talen Horton-Tucker can both be free agents by declining their player options. Clarkson is coming off a strong season as a full-time starter, and could be looking to cash in on one more big contract in his early-30s. He’s an ideal fit for any team as a bench scoring combo guard, or as a sometimes-starting guard.

Horton-Tucker isn’t a good enough shooter to be a regular starter, but he’s good enough to be a rotation player on a good team. He’s coming off a solid season also, so he’ll probably opt out as well.

At the draft, Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik will have three first-round picks to work with. They’ve got their own pick in the middle of the lottery, a mid-first from the Minnesota Timberwolves and a late-first from the Philadelphia 76ers.

Barring some lottery luck where they move way up, look for the Jazz to be active in trade scenarios, as bringing three rookies onto an already-young roster may not be ideal. If nothing else, Ainge could trade a pick for future assets, as he loves piling up draft picks, or could use that late-first to add a draft-and-stash candidate.

In free agency, it’s a little hard to peg Utah’s direction. If they are looking to be competitive right away, the Jazz could use their cap space to sign free agents or to add players via trade. If Utah is slow-playing the rebuild a bit, they could use that space to take on contracts and add to their stash of young talent and draft picks.

Long-term, it looks like the Jazz building blocks are Markkanen, Kessler, Ochai Agbaji and, to a lesser extent, Collin Sexton. That gives Utah core players in the frontcourt, on the wing and in the backcourt. Markkanen and Sexton are on value contracts, while Kessler and Agbaji are both on rookie deals.

Adding talent in the backcourt would seem to be the first priority, followed by more talent on the wing. Utah could get involved on restricted free agents like Austin Reaves or Cam Johnson, as both would fill needs. Signing Reaves to an offer sheet would also let Ainge tweak the Lakers a bit, by forcing them to match or lose a talented player.

If they go the unrestricted route, the Jazz make sense to re-sign Clarkson. He’s been happy in Utah, and the team loves him. He could be a candidate to sign one of those late-June, pre-free agency extensions that have become popular in recent years. Horton-Tucker is a candidate to be extended, as well. Both would have to pick up their player options first, but that’s likely in the range of their first-year salaries anyway.

If Utah goes outside the organization, Bruce Brown, Gary Trent, Max Strus and Donte DiVincenzo are off-ball targets that make sense. Gabe Vincent is an on-ball player who could be priced out in Miami, and could start immediately for the Jazz. Coby White or Ayo Dosunmu could be low-risk, high-reward signings. And, if Utah really wanted to spend some money and continue their theme of a big, versatile frontcourt, they could make a really nice offer to bring Kyle Kuzma back to where he played his college ball.

The Jazz are starting to mirror when Danny Ainge rebuilt the Boston Celtics. He piled up an enviable number of draft picks, made some shrewd pickups and the team got better quicker than anyone could have imagined. Utah is on a similar path. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Jazz right back in the playoff mix as soon as next season.

Orlando Magic

Offseason Approach: Great young core, but patience remains the prudent path

Actual Cap Space: -$21M

Practical Cap Space: $22.1M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $50.1M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Cole Anthony, Paolo Banchero, Bol Bol (non-guaranteed), Wendell Carter Jr., Markelle Fultz ($2,000,000 guaranteed), Gary Harris (non-guaranteed), Kevon Harris (two-way), Caleb Houstan, Jonathan Isaac ($7,600,000 guaranteed), Chuma Okeke, Jay Scrubb (two-way), Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Goga Bitadze (unrestricted – team option), Michael Carter Williams (unrestricted – team option), Admiral Schofield (restricted – team option), Moritz Wagner (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($7,609,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #6, #11


The Orlando Magic took a major step forward this season. They improved from 22 wins to 34 wins, hung around the race for the Play-In Tournament until almost the end of the season and saw almost all of their young players improve.

All of that success this season has Magic fans dreaming big about the future. And that’s not a pun about the overwhelming amount of size on this roster. Orlando is loaded with talent across almost all positions. Now, it’s about combining the right mix of internal growth with external additions to put the team in position to fight for a playoff spot.

At the draft, the Magic project to have mid- and late-lottery picks (their own and the second pick they are owed from the Chicago Bulls from the Nikola Vucevic trade). Unless Chicago gets extremely lucky in the lottery, Orlando will have two more picks to add to their team. But should they?

The Magic already have 11 players signed to standard contracts for next season. That includes four bigs, four guards and three wings. All are players that the Magic like. Most are players the Magic want to give minutes to next season. Adding two more highly-drafted rookies to the mix only further muddies the minutes distribution.

In addition, Orlando should have over $20 million in cap space, and could see that figure rise to over $30 million. That sort of flexibility with the roster, draft capital and cap space is great, provided you use it correctly.

And that’s the challenge that Jeff Weltman and the Magic front office are facing this summer. When is it time to consolidate and push your chips to middle to the table?

It might be a year too early for Orlando to do that. After a very messy 5-20 start, which included the team playing for weeks with very few healthy, NBA-ready guards, the Magic bounced back to finish 29-28. A .500 record might not get a lot of teams very excited, but it’s the best basketball the Magic have played in years. It was a sustained long enough that Orlando should feel good about believing in it.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to consolidate players in a trade, nor is it time to spend big on any single free agent.

This team’s building blocks are Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. Those two are franchise-level guys that you can craft a contender around. Wendell Carter Jr. is rock solid as a frontcourt partner for the two burgeoning stars.

The backcourt is filled with still-interesting talents in Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony. Despite all of the injuries, Fultz has bounced back and been pretty good, and he’s only turning 25 years old this summer. Suggs needs to stay healthy, because every time he’s figuring it out, he picks up an injury that sets back his progress.

Anthony is where we’ll start part of the offseason processing. Right now, he’s a pretty good third guard. He’s coming off his most efficient season, by a wide margin. Anthony fits best in the benching scoring role, after being a bit miscast as a starter.

Anthony is extension-eligible this summer. How much can you invest in a third guard, albeit a good one, when you aren’t a Finals contender? If the Magic can get Anthony at something around the Non-Taxpayer MLE amount ($13 to $15 million AAV over four years), they’ll have done well. For Anthony, that should be his baseline too. Anything less, and he’s best on betting on himself having a big season and hitting 2024 free agency.

Of their own free agents this summer, Moritz Wagner is the most likely to be back. He seems to enjoy playing with his brother and he gives the Magic a feisty element off the bench. If Orlando wants to continue the Goga Bitadze project, they could choose him over the elder Wagner. Both Michael Carter-Williams (great that he got himself back into the league!) and Admiral Schofield are probably going to be casualties of the roster crunch.

At the draft, Orlando should consider a minor packaging of their two picks, and/or a player or two, to move up. Or a deal where they use those picks to target a veteran addition to the roster. Another quality wing, specially one that can shoot, would be ideal for this team.

If the Magic stay in the draft, they’re probably drafting the best potential players available. It’s a running joke of sorts, but that player will probably have a rather expansive wingspan and a lot of upside potential, while being thought of as a high-character guy. And you know what? That strategy has mostly served Orlando well under the Weltman front office.

In free agency, the Magic have already been connected to Fred VanVleet. That seems like a bit of a connect-the-dots hypothetical. VanVleet is a touch on the older side and doesn’t really fill all that glaring of a need for Orlando. It’s not a crazy thought, but it’s one that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, given the presence of other guards on the roster.

Also, if the Magic keep the trio of Gary Harris, Bol Bol and oft-injured Jonathan Isaac, they probably won’t have enough cap space to chase the major free agents. Harris plays a valuable role in the team’s youthful backcourt. Bol was the basketball version of a roller coaster ride, but he’s barely making above the minimum salary. And Orlando has so much invested in Isaac, that it’s very hard to see them cutting ties at this point.

That means, instead of chasing a $30 million free agent, Orlando is probably a tier or two down. And that’s fine. We already covered that they don’t have a lot of rotation minutes available anyway. If the Magic wanted to play in the restricted market, they could make interesting offers to Austin Reaves (and force the Lakers to match an Arenas offer sheet) or Cam Johnson, which would hamper a team that projects to be battling Orlando for postseason positioning.

Veteran wings that could make sense for Orlando include Bruce Brown (who might get priced out in Denver), Gary Trent Jr. (who will fill the 3&D role Orlando could use as a starter or off the bench), Kelly Oubre Jr. (who will fill the bench scoring role alongside Anthony). If the Magic wanted to go a little bigger and push Franz Wagner down to the two (where he has played a lot in his first two NBA seasons), they could chase 3-4 options like Harrison Barnes, Grant Williams or Jalen McDaniels.

The main takeaway here is that the Orlando Magic have a lot of options this summer. None of them have to include going all-in, even if that is on the table. Another year of patient growth, while maintaining future flexibility is just fine. And it might even give Orlando a whole new perspective of what they need and don’t need when the push toward being a contender starts in earnest in 2024.

Indiana Pacers

Offseason Approach: Time to add to the core before the cap space runs out

Actual Cap Space: $27.4M

Practical Cap Space: $27.2M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $55.1M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Chris Duarte, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Jackson, Bennedict Mathurin, T.J. McConnell, Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Nesmith, Jordan Nwora, Jalen Smith, Daniel Theis, Myles Turner

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Oshae Brissett (unrestricted), Kendall Brown (restricted – two-way), George Hill (unrestricted), James Johnson (unrestricted), Gabe York (restricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (3): Malik Fitts ($555,217), Juwan Morgan ($576,230), Nik Stauskas ($702,311)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($7,609,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #7, #26, #29


The Indiana Pacers had an odd season. They were unexpected darlings, when they were five games over .500 in early-January. Then, injuries hit and a seven-game losing streak put the team down in Play-In Tournament territory. Finally, some uneven play and more injuries dropped the Pacers down into the lottery with a few weeks to play in the season.

Now, Indiana moves onto a really interesting offseason. They don’t have a ton of available roster spots, but should have around $27 million in cap space to play with. That puts the Pacers in a spot to target impact free agents that fit with Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Bennedict Mathurin and bunch of interesting role players. Get it right, and this could be a playoff team as soon as next season.

The Pacers offseason isn’t simple, but their approach to how it begins can be. At the draft, barring some lottery luck (good or bad), Indiana will have a mid-lottery pick. That’s a chance to add another good player to the roster to go along with Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin as the team’s long-term building blocks.

With their later picks, Indiana should be able to get a project player, likely someone who will see a lot of G League time. And the other pick should be used on a draft-and-stash player, given the current roster constraints. And, of course, either pick could be used in a trade. That could be a deal to move up for a targeted player, or to move out, while picking up future assets.

In free agency, the Pacers only even semi-tough decision to make is on Oshae Brissett. He looked like a find a couple of years ago, but has fallen off the last two year. This past season, Brissett lost his shooting touch. It’s likely Indiana can move on here, without much worry.

George Hill and James Johnson are the kind of vets you can always bring back on the minimum, if you wanted to. And of the team’s two-way players, Kendall Brown is a little intriguing, but a stress fracture in his right leg wrecked his rookie season. He could be back on another two-way contract.

Add all of the returning players, the draft picks and maybe retaining a free agent or two on the minimum, and you have a roster that is nearly full. But that’s not the worst thing for a team that is likely to have significant cap space. That makes Indiana sort of a sleeping giant in free agency. They don’t have to spread that cap space out to fill out the roster. Instead they can go after one or two players who fit alongside the established core.

The Pacers are flush with guards. They have plenty of smaller wings (SG/SF types). They’ve got fives too. What Indiana doesn’t have is true forwards. Luckily for them, this free agent class has some great fits. And some of them are players who could get squeezed on the market.

With a roster that isn’t far off from winning, and young, but not super young, adding win-now talent makes sense. Haliburton is ready. Turner is ready. Buddy Hield is ready. A handful of the role players are ready. That gives Indiana a lot of options that some of the other lottery teams with cap space don’t necessarily have.

With roughly $27 million to spend, the Pacers could get in the mix for guys like Kyle Kuzma, Jerami Grant or Harrison Barnes (if the Kings were to move in a different direction). Any of those threes would be perfect fits as mid-career forwards that can play both the three and the four and can play on- or off-ball. Adding guys who can create their own shots, but also score while playing off others is huge to give the offense some balance around Haliburton.

If Indiana wanted to play in the restricted market, they could be in the mix for players like Cam Johnson, P.J. Washington or Grant Williams. Historically, the Pacers haven’t preferred to play the offer sheet game, as they’d rather work out a sign-and-trade (a la acquiring Malcolm Brogdon). But we did see Indiana go the offer sheet route for Deandre Ayton last summer. Don’t take that option off the table, if the other side would rather not go the sign-and-trade route.

Adding more size that can play with Turner is paramount, because Indiana was one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last season. But that size also needs to be able to hit some shots too, because the offense was below average too.

The other thing the Pacers have working in their advantage, is that they’ll have the increased Room Exception to work with. Rather than having a small exception worth around $5.5 million, that has increased to about $7.6 million. That’s now a nice chunk of change to add a “bonus” player of sorts, after the cap space is spent. That’s how Indiana can further fill out their rotation, likely after the first wave of free agency takes most of the available money off the board.

Because the Pacers went the rare renegotiation-and-extension route with Myles Turner, as we laid out as a possibility in mid-November, they’ve got him on the fold on a perfectly reasonable $20.9 million salary for next season. That is less than Turner’s cap hold would have been as a free agent. Making that move when they did, and using some leftover cap space from this past season, locked up Turner while increasing the spending power for this summer. That was smart work by all parties involved to come to a sensible solution.

The building blocks are there for Indiana. The Pacers role players are ready to contribute on a playoff team. One or two good moves this summer in free agency, or via trade, and Indiana could snap their three-year playoff drought as soon as next season.

Washington Wizards

Offseason Approach: Rebuilding under new management

Actual Cap Space: -$74.8M

Practical Cap Space: -$74.8M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $56.4M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Deni Avdija, Bradley Beal, Xavier Cooks, Johnny Davis, Daniel Gafford, Anthony Gill, Jordan Goodwin ($300,000 guaranteed), Quenton Jackson (two-way), Corey Kispert, Monte Morris, Isaiah Todd, Delon Wright

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Taj Gibson (unrestricted), Jay Huff (restricted – two-way), Kyle Kuzma (unrestricted – player option), Kendrick Nunn (unrestricted), Kristaps Porzingis (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($12,221,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,448,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Rui Hachimura ($6,263,188)

First Round Draft Picks: #8


The Washington Wizards are in flux. They have some major free agent decisions to make. Their roster is bordering on unacceptably expensive for a middling team. And, as of now, they don’t have any clarity in who will be making the basketball decisions moving forward.

Washington fired GM Tommy Sheppard after making the playoffs once in his four-plus years in charge of basketball operations. Replacing Sheppard needs to happen quickly, as the NBA offseason is rapidly approaching.

Whoever does take over the Wizards front office will be entering in a tricky spot. Washington has nearly $98 million guaranteed salary on the books for next season already. On top of that, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma are both looking at new contracts. Re-signing them at fair market value, and then filling out the roster, is going to push the Wizards near the luxury tax line.

And that’s not where a team coming off five consecutive losing seasons can be.

Let’s start with Porzingis, as he’s the higher profile of the two pending major free agents. He’s coming off his best NBA season, as he played at an All-Star level, and stayed mostly healthy.

Porzingis will be 28 at the start of next season, so he’s entering what should be the prime years of his career. He can play either the four or five, and he’s got a good inside-outside game. Porzingis’ game has also proven to mesh well with Bradley Beal’s, and that’s important given Washington is attached to Beal for years to come.

There has been buzz that Porzingis and the Wizards were interested in getting an extension done, but that was with Sheppard running the team. It’s unknown how a new GM will feel about the versatile big man. Still, it’s likely Porzingis is going to land a deal that likely starts around $35 to $38 million, and probably from Washington. Big men who can score at all levels, while blocking some shots and grabbing rebounds don’t grow on trees. In a weak free agent class, Porzingis is all but guaranteed to land a near-max deal.

That leaves Kuzma as the next most important decision the Wizards have to make this summer. His two years in Washington have featured the best all-around basketball that Kuzma has played. He’s not an extension candidate because his current deal is simply too small. That means free agency looms.

Kuzma’s ideal fit will be as a team’s third-best player on the high-end, but better as a team’s fourth or fifth-best player. In that role, his shooting and scoring, along with good rebounding and better-than-you-think playmaking can shine in a complementary role. But, like with Porzingis, the market will be a factor here.

Kuzma is somewhere between the fifth- and tenth-best available free agent, pending how you feel about some older players. He’s also a terrific fit for almost all of the teams that have cap space this summer. That means Kuzma is probably looking at a deal that starts somewhere in the range of $20 to $25 million in starting salary.

And therein lies the issue for Washington. If the Wizards re-sign both Porzingis and Kuzma, along with the guaranteed money already on the roster, they’ll likely be over $150 million in team salary. Once they sign their first-round draft pick and fill out their roster, Washington will be pushing right against the tax line.

That’s where some tough decisions might need to be made. The Wizards already made one ahead of the trade deadline, when they gave up on Rui Hachimura, rather than signing him to a new contract. That was the latest in a string of iffy draft decisions, which is part of why Washington hasn’t been able to climb out of the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference.

Deni Avdija showed signs of improvement, but he’s still a very poor shooter. Corey Kispert came along as a shooter and scorer, and is starting to hold his own defensively. Johnny Davis showed some flashes at the end of his rookie season, but largely struggled both in the NBA and in the G League.

That’s 1-for-4 in the last four drafts (and that’s only if include Kispert as a hit). And that’s part of why Sheppard is no longer running the team.

The rest of the roster is a mix of good, but not-game-changing veterans like Daniel Gafford (whose deal will go from roughly $2 million to $12 million for next season) and Monte Morris (who is kind of the literal definition of “fine” as a starting point guard) and Delon Wright (who continues to bounce around as a decent backup guard). The other half of that mix is unproven players without much upside, like Anthony Gill, Xavier Cooks, Jordan Goodwin and Isaiah Todd.

That leaves the Wizards in a spot where they have a ton of questions and no easy answers. On one hand, it looks like the team should go into total teardown mode. Let Porzingis and Kuzma leave and then really ramp up the rebuild by (big gulp!) trading Beal.

But even that isn’t as easy as it may sound. Beal is owed nearly $208 million over the next four seasons; he’s coming off back-to-back injury-plagued seasons; and he’ll be 30 years old at the start of next season. Oh, and lest we forget, Beal has the NBA’s only full, negotiated no-trade clause.

So, even if some team feels like Beal is the guy to put them over of the top, and they’re willing to overlook the salary, injury and age concerns, Beal has to ok a trade to that team.

That’s something Washington has to work around for the next four years, as they gave Beal everything he could get as a free agent last summer. Whether that will truly hamper the roster-building efforts moving forward or not is unknown, but it certainly doesn’t make things any easier.

As far as adding outside talent, Washington can maybe shuffle the deck chairs a bit to try and find better fits. But they’ll be limited to relatively minor trades, along with maybe using their MLE to sign a player. But a lot of that will likely depend on what happens with Porzingis and Kuzma, and where the team salary lands at.

This is a chance for the Washington Wizards to really make a fresh start of sorts. They’ll have a new GM and he can begin shaping the roster the way he wants, but he’s got lots of cleanup to do first. It’s kind of like buying the worst house on the block, getting ready to renovate and finding out that the wall you really want to knock down is load-bearing. You can still make things better, but you’ll have to work around that wall or find another solution to removing it. That’s what the new Wizards GM will be facing, and that work starts very soon.

Portland Trail Blazers

Offseason Approach: To deal Dame, or not to deal Dame, that is the question

Actual Cap Space: -$74.5M

Practical Cap Space: -$69.2M

Luxury Tax Space: $39.6M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Keon Johnson, Damian Lillard, Nassir Little, Jusuf Nurkic, Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, Jabari Walker, Trendon Watford, Jeenathan Williams

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Ibou Badji (restricted – two-way), John Butler (restricted – two-way), Drew Eubanks (unrestricted), Jerami Grant (unrestricted), Kevin Knox (unrestricted – team option), Cam Reddish (restricted), Matisse Thybulle (restricted), Justise Winslow (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (3): Eric Bledsoe ($1,300,000), Didi Louzada ($268,032), Andrew Nicholson ($2,844,430)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($12,221,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,448,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Gary Payton II ($8,300,000), Josh Hart ($2,626,019)

First Round Draft Picks: #3, #23


(Updated Post-Lottery):

Outside of the San Antonio Spurs, who won the lottery, no one got luckier than the Portland Trail Blazers. They moved from the fifth pick to the third pick. That two-pick jump might not seem like much, but it’s a whole world of difference.

Portland won’t get Victor Wembanyama, but they seemed poised to be in position to select the consensus second-best player in the draft in Scoot Henderson. Because Henderson plays the same position as LaMelo Ball, the Charlotte Hornets are being projected to pass on him to select a wing with the second overall pick.

If Henderson is there, Portland could have the heir apparent to Damian Lillard fall in their laps.

Or, and this is a very real possibility, the Blazers could trade the third pick in a package for win-now talent. On its own, that pick might not fetch a lot. But what if you combined it with Anfernee Simons? Or Simons and Jusuf Nurkic? Now, Portland is in the mix to add a max player alongside Lillard, some re-signed players and they could get right back into playoff contention.

The Trail Blazers have a real chance to set their future with this draft. That’s true if they keep the pick for themselves and set up for a long-term buildup. Or if they trade the pick to build a winner around Lillard. Either way, Portland has options that didn’t exist in the same way pre-Lottery.

(Original Analysis):

The Portland Trail Blazers used to be a model of consistency in the NBA. While rarely title contenders, Portland could be counted on to make the playoffs on a yearly basis. Those expectations may need some adjusting moving forward.

The Blazers didn’t intend to miss the postseason for a second consecutive year. It just kind of happened. With several players nursing injuries (including most of the starting group) and facing an uphill climb to even make the Play-In Tournament, Portland shut most of their regulars down and called it a season in late-March. That makes two straight years they’ve done that. And that’s on the heels of eight consecutive playoff appearances.

Now, the Trail Blazers appear to be at a crossroads of sorts with their roster.

Damian Lillard won’t request a trade, but for the first time he was a little lukewarm on being a Blazer for life. Lillard said he wasn’t making ultimatums or threats when he told Portland’s leadership that they need to decide “Are you gonna go young or are we gonna get something done?”

The “get something done” portion would presumably include retaining and adding win-now veterans, as opposed to building around draft picks and young players. And that decision-point is where everything needs to start for Portland.

If Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin decides that the team won’t be able to add enough veteran talent around Lillard, he may need to trade Portland’s franchise player. Cronin would be able to get a monster return, and much like the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets, he’d have a lot of assets to begin a full-scale rebuild with.

But trading Lillard seems crazy, right? Maybe, maybe not. It’s an almost impossible place to be in. Lillard is still in his prime and able to carry a team. But that status is exactly what makes him such a valuable trade commodity.

If Portland were to trade Lillard, they’d do best to explore deals for Jusuf Nurkic too. They might even be able to include Nurkic in a Lillard deal. That would see the Blazers resetting around young guards and wings, and a ton of cap flexibility moving forward.

On the flip side, if the Trail Blazers keep Lillard, they owe it to him to get better players around him. That’s easier said than done, given Portland has limited assets to work with.

The first step would be to re-sign Jerami Grant. In a spot where Grant didn’t have to carry a bunch of kids, he re-found his efficiency. Grant turned in a 47/40/81 shooting season, while averaging 20.5 points per game. That seems like a guy you want to invest in long-term.

The tricky part is that Grant is 29 years old. And his defense is showing signs of slipping. Still, a deal in the range of $25 to $30 million per season probably makes sense. Ideally, Portland would start Grant on the high-end and have his contract decline year over year, to match a likely falloff in his play.

The team’s next-most important free agent is Matisse Thybulle. For a team that was abysmal defensively, retaining their one shutdown wing defender would seem like a priority. The problem is that Thybulle can’t shoot. And he overlaps with both Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe positionally.

Thybulle’s restricted status should help keep him at an affordable number for Portland. They should be able to bring him back on a relatively team-friendly contract. And, hey, he did shoot 38.8% from deep with the Trail Blazers. Maybe, just maybe, he’s starting to come around.

Most would probably go to Cam Reddish next in free agency, but Drew Eubanks is the better and more important player for the Blazers. Eubanks has become a terrific finisher, good shot-blocker and good rebounder. Given Nurkic’s injury issues, Eubanks is an important backup to have in the fold. And he should come on a pretty team-friendly deal too.

Reddish did with Portland what he’s done everywhere else: Flash moments of brilliance, but even more moments of invisibility. Reddish is rarely bad when he’s on the floor, he’s just sort of forgettable. Occasionally, he’ll catch an opponent off-guard with his athleticism. But when defenders are locked-in, Reddish struggles to score. He can’t score off the dribble effectively and he’s not a good enough shooter to pull defenses out to him.

This one is probably a make-good, flyer type of contract. Maybe Reddish still pops, but he’ll be 24 before next season. It’s kind of now or never for the former lottery pick.

Speaking of lottery picks…Portland nailed last year’s selection. Shaedon Sharpe played in 80 games and he’ll be a starting wing before long. He showed a nice all-around scoring package, doing more on-ball creation as the season went along. Sharpe will probably never be an All-Defense player, but he’s got the tools to hold up solidly enough in a good team defense.

This year, Portland is going to have another high pick. Of course, they’d love to move up to one of the top two spots. Victor Wembanyama would immediately change things for the present and the future. Scoot Henderson could be a readymade replacement for Lillard, if the Blazers chose to move on from the franchise icon. Sticking at five, or in that range, Portland will still get a high-level wing player, and you can never have too many wings. Or that pick becomes a nice piece in a trade package to add a veteran player to the roster.

Pending re-signing their own free agents, Portland could still be in the mix to use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. As that exception has bumped up to over $12 million for next season, that’s enough spending power for the Blazers to fill out their rotation with a good player. They could use more size on the wing, and a true backup point guard to play behind Lillard. $12 million will have them in play for a lot of quality free agents, and potentially two good players.

However, back to the key decision-point: Are the Trail Blazers “gonna go young or are we gonna get something done?”

Until Portland answers that question, and the subsequent decision on Damian Lillard’s future with the club, it’s hard to project where they go this summer. But it’s important that they pick a real direction. Sitting in the middle, hoping for vets to hold up and kids to develop quickly is a recipe for another season battling for a spot in the Play-In Tournament. That doesn’t seem like the “get something done” that Lillard is looking for.

Charlotte Hornets

Offseason Approach: Whatever it takes to keep LaMelo Ball happy in Charlotte

Actual Cap Space: -$35.8M

Practical Cap Space: -$34.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $53.5M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
LaMelo Ball, James Bouknight, Gordon Hayward, Kai Jones, Cody Martin, Bryce McGowens, Nick Richards, Terry Rozier III, Kobi Simmons (non-guaranteed), Xavier Sneed (two-way), J.T. Thor (non-guaranteed), Mark Williams

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Theo Maledon (restricted – two-way), Svi Mykhailiuk (unrestricted), Kelly Oubre Jr. (unrestricted), Dennis Smith Jr. (unrestricted), P.J. Washington (restricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($12,221,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #2, #27


(Updated Post-Lottery):

The Hornets moved up two spots from fourth in the lottery to the second overall pick. They aren’t getting Victor Wembanyama, but in many ways the draft will now really start with Charlotte.

Scoot Henderson is presumed to be the second-best player in this draft. The challenge for the Hornets is that he overlaps with LaMelo Ball at point guard. They don’t project to be a good fit playing alongside each other.

Charlotte could select Henderson and take the approach that it will sort itself out. That’s not a terrible idea, but the Hornets also have Terry Rozier signed long-term at the guard spot too. That’s basically tying both your near- and long-term future to three guys who are all probably best playing as the primary on-ball creator.

The other option for the Hornets seems to be to select Brandon Miller. Miller has become he 2A player in this draft. Most have Henderson ahead of him, but many have Miller right there, and some have him as the second-best prospect in the draft.

Miller fits a positional need, as the wing position is very in flux in Charlotte. Gordon Hayward can’t stay healthy and has one year left on his contract. Miles Bridges situation remains unresolved, and he’s suspended for the first part of next season. No one else has really panned out for the Hornets at that spot.

Charlotte will also likely have plenty of trade offers, should they want to move off the second pick. San Antonio won’t even pick up the phone to talk Wembanyama, so that makes the Hornets the first team that will consider trades.

This is a big pick for a team that needs to get competitive around LaMelo Ball, and quickly. He’s probably getting a Designated Rookie Extension offer, but Ball won’t stay patient with rebuilding forever. Landing him the right running mate in this draft, might be the Hornets best path towards long-wanted stability.

(Original Analysis):

The Charlotte Hornets didn’t intend to be a bad team this past season. Unlike several rebuilding teams, the Hornets just sort of landed here. Every year, a playoff hopeful has the wheels come off their season. This year it was Charlotte.

LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward combined to play in just 86 total games. Terry Rozier missed a decent chunk of time and played hurt through several other games as the only experienced point guard the Hornets had. Mason Plumlee and Jalen McDaniels were rotation mainstays, but got traded at the deadline.

The result was Steve Clifford putting together one of the most overmatched lineups in the NBA for the final two-plus months of the season. The Hornets kept battling and never stopped playing hard, a trait all of Clifford’s teams have had, but the talent margins were too wide.

That lack of talent, and some really unimaginative offense without Ball, resulted in the NBA’s worst offense. The defense was a little better, but was propped up by blocking shots and snagging steals, which aren’t always the most reliable ways of defending.

A few players took meaningful steps forward. P.J. Washington played most nights and was pretty consistent. As his volume increased, his efficiency dropped off. His rebounding was also surprisingly shaky. But Washington has shown enough that if he’s your fourth or fifth starter, you probably have a pretty good team.

When Mark Williams finally got regular minutes around midseason, he showed he can be the Hornets starting five. He blocks shots and rebounds at a high level already. For now, Williams is taking all of his shots at the rim (67.3% of his attempts, of which 30.3% were dunks). But he’s got nice touch and decent shooting form. It’ll take a few years, but Williams should start hitting 12-15 footers, and eventually the occasional three-pointer.

Nick Richards was really solid at the center spot too. He’s essentially a slightly-advanced version of Williams, but without as much upside. Charlotte did a good job to lock him up to a three-year, $15 million extension, with only $10 million in guaranteed salary.

When he played, Ball reaffirmed that he’s an All-Star level guy. He’s one of the best playmakers in the league and a pretty good rebounder. He has the tools to be a better defender than he’s shown, and will likely improve as the team around him improves on that end. As a scorer, Ball has leveled off as a high-30% shooter from deep, and that’s good, especially considering his volume. One worry? His touch in floater range has dropped in each of the last two seasons. But the rest of his offensive package is pretty elite.

So…let’s start there with looking at Charlotte’s offseason. It won’t be the first domino to fall (that will be the draft), but the most important part of the Hornets summer will be extension talks with Ball.

Charlotte is likely to offer a full max deal, likely with Designated Rookie language that could bump Ball to the 30% salary tier. To get there, Ball will need to be in the mix for All-NBA. If he is, that means the Hornets were probably a postseason team, and they’ll happily hand him that 30% max deal should that come to pass.

But what if Ball waffles at all? To be fair, he probably won’t. No one really turns down a Designated Rookie offer, and he’s coming off an injury-plagued season. But if he did, that’s a sign the Hornets are in real trouble.

Let’s be positive and assume Ball will be in the fold. That leaves the draft as the second-most important piece of the offseason. In an ideal world, the Basketball Gods will smile upon Charlotte for not openly tanking all season and will push them up to the first overall pick. A LaMelo Ball-Victor Wembanyama duo would be electric and appointment viewing.

But even if Charlotte sticks somewhere in the 4-5 range, they have to come away with someone who will be Ball’s long-term running mate. They’ll have the chance, as the draft looks like the top five or six prospects are really good. The only “bad” fit would be Scoot Henderson, and the Hornets would love trying to make him and Ball into a workable backcourt.

In free agency, it’s unlikely Charlotte is going the cap space route. They’ll probably want to retain Washington, as he was their most consistent player. The key is to not extend too far in what kind of deal they give Washington. Something in the four-year, $60 million range is probably the top-out, and that should be more than enough to get it done.

Unlike last year, the Hornets won’t be able to punt on making a decision on Miles Bridges. He missed the entire season as an unsigned restricted free agent after an offseason arrest for domestic violence. There was a midseason trial balloon floated about Charlotte and Bridges working on a new deal. It was so poorly received that the Hornets issued a statement saying they weren’t going down that path.

That option won’t be available to the Hornets this summer. A year removed from his arrest, Bridges is likely to remain a restricted free agent. Bridges will sign an NBA contract this offseason. In strictly basketball terms, Bridges is an awesome talent and was coming off a career-year. He won’t get the deal he might have gotten last summer, but something in the $15 million AAV range is likely. The big question: Will the Hornets cut ties or bring him back to Charlotte?

One last thing on Bridges: He’s still likely to face some form of NBA punishment. As he was unsigned all of last season, the NBA couldn’t suspend him. Under the CBA (both the current and upcoming), Adam Silver and the league have the right to punish players for domestic violence. Look for a suspension announcement shortly have Bridges officially signs his next deal. As he did already miss an entire year, it’s likely to be lighter than what it would have been had Bridges signed a contract last season.

The Hornets other surprisingly important free agents are two point guards who got their careers on track last season. After a few years floating around the fringes of the NBA, Dennis Smith Jr. earned a roster spot in training camp. He then turned in a really solid season. The high-end prospect shine is off Smith, but he’s proven he can be a good backup point guard.

Theo Maledon had a similar type of resurgence. He played well enough that at least another two-way contract should be coming his way. And he’s only going to be 22 years old next season, so Maledon screams late-bloomer.

The rest of the Hornets roster is in transition. Terry Rozier is starting Year 2 of the four-year extension he signed in 2021. That’s fine, as he’s coming off solid season, and he’s a good fit next to Ball in the backcourt.

Gordon Hayward is entering the final season of his four-year contract. That has to be a relief to the Hornets, as he’ll be very tradable as an expiring contract. If Charlotte wants to make any sort of major changes to their roster, a Hayward deal is the most logical path to making that happen.

While recent first-round picks James Bouknight and Kai Jones haven’t panned out yet, there’s still a chance they pop in Year 3. That’s been mitigated a bit by Cody Martin and Bryce McGowens outperforming their draft statuses. But Charlotte can’t afford to miss in the draft, even if Bouknight or Jones eventually lives up to his draft position.

This is an important offseason for the Hornets. They have to get Ball extended, otherwise things are headed in a really tough direction. Lottery luck or not, they have to nail their draft pick, as adding cost-controlled talent next to Ball is really important. Washington’s next deal is key, and the Bridges situation will be a sore spot until it’s decided upon one way or another.

And, of course, looming over everything is a potential sale of the team by Michael Jordan. That seems to have cooled a bit since the initial reports, but it’s still out there. Combine all of that, and the future seems uncertain and cloudy in Charlotte, both on and off the court.

San Antonio Spurs

Offseason Approach: Continuing to rebuild, but now around Victor Wembanyama

Actual Cap Space: -$10.6M

Practical Cap Space: $36.7M

Luxury Tax Space: $65.8M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Charles Bassey, Khem Birch, Malaki Branham, Zach Collins (non-guaranteed), Devonte’ Graham, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell, Blake Wesley

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Dominick Barlow (restricted – two-way), Keita Bates-Diop (unrestricted), Julian Champagnie (restricted – two-way), Gorgui Dieng (unrestricted), Tre Jones (restricted), Romeo Langford (restricted), Sandro Mamukelashvili (restricted)

Dead Cap (1): Joshua Primo ($4,341,600)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($7,609,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #1


(Updated Post-Lottery):

The Spurs hit the jackpot at the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery. The ping pong balls bounced their way for the third time in franchise history and now Victor Wembanyama will join David Robinson and Tim Duncan in the history San Antonio franchise saviors.

Wembanyama seems like the real deal. He’s got everything you could ever ask for in a size/skill combo package. And there’s nothing but runway for Wembanyama to get all the minutes he can possibly handle in San Antonio.

The added benefit for the Spurs is now they know exactly what they are building around. Wembanyama and all of the younger prospects we previously covered. That allows the San Antonio front office to plan for the best use of their $32-$40 million in cap space this summer. If they want to pick off a veteran or two to attempt to compete right away, that’s right in front of them. If they want to slow play it for Wembanyama’s rookie season and call it another development year, that’s fine too.

The Spurs were in a good place without Victor Wembanyama. Now, they are in as good a place as any team in the entire NBA. That’s how monumental the lottery was for them.

(Original Analysis):

The San Antonio Spurs are deep into uncharted waters as a franchise. The Spurs had never missed the playoffs in consecutive years in the first 50-plus years of franchise history. 2023 will mark the fourth consecutive season San Antonio will miss out on the playoffs.

Those four years match the total number of years that the Spurs missed out on the playoffs since they joined the NBA in 1976-77.

Despite all of that, there’s optimism around the franchise. The Spurs have a young core of developing players and are hoping to land another high pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Keldon Johnson is the furthest along of all the young prospects. So much so, that San Antonio committed $74 million to Johnson in a four-year extension that will start next season.

Johnson has shown the ability to score and defend, while being a decent rebounder as well. His shooting remains streaky, but this season a lot of that was Johnson being asked to do more off the dribble. Ideally, Johnson would slot in as the team’s third or fourth best player. That will have to come as more talent is added to the roster.

Devin Vassell suffered through an injury-plagued third season, but showed all the flashes you hoped to see. Vassell has a silky jumper and gets good lift on off-the-bounce shots. He also showed ability as a vastly improved playmaker. If he can stay healthy, the Spurs have two starting spots filled.

Vassell is extension eligible this summer. If San Antonio believes he can get over the injury bug, they’ll probably try to lock him up to a team-friendly deal, a la Johnson. Look for something in a similar range of four years and roughly $75 to $80 million.

Around Johnson and Vassell, it was a lot of youth trying to figure things out. Jeremy Sochan looks like he can be a long-term starter at power forward. He needs to develop his jumper more, but Sochan is already a very good defender and has a decent amount of versatility to his on-ball game.

Malaki Branham was probably pressed into doing more than he was really ready for as a rookie, but he came a long way as the season pressed on. He’ll be at his best off-ball, but showed he’s got more on-ball playmaking ability than previous thought. Branham fits in well in a three-wing rotation with Johnson and Vassell.

Blake Wesley is the last of the young core players, and he’s got the furthest to go. Wesley’s NBA minutes were a struggle, and he was comfortable as a scorer in the G League, but not as a playmaker. He’s well-behind Johnson, Vassell and Branham in the wing pecking order, and could use to step up his on-ball ability. That’ll be a focus throughout the summer.

Adding talent around that core group is paramount. The main place the Spurs hope that comes from is in the draft. Ideally, San Antonio would land the first or second pick. That would bring them either Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson. Either player would be immediate starters, and would fit in well with the other young players. If the Spurs slide, they’ll still get a good player, but it’ll be one who overlaps positionally with guys already on the roster.

Beyond the draft, the Spurs have a handful of important roster decisions to make. The first one will involve Zach Collins. He’s got a $7.7 million deal for next season, but it’s fully non-guaranteed. Given how well Collins has rebounded from three consecutive injury-filled seasons, it’s a no-brainer the Spurs will guarantee his deal.

Collins has averaged 11.4 points on 52/37/76 shooting splits, to go along with 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assist per game. He’s fine as a starting center, or as a caretaker while a younger option develops. As the regular season wrapped up, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went as far as to say Collins would be the team’s starter at the five going into next season.

Of their own free agents, San Antonio has some decisions to make. Tre Jones can be a restricted free agent, and he’s had a nice season as the Spurs primary starting point guard. Ideally, he’d be a backup lead guard, but a high-end one, similar to his brother Tyus with the Memphis Grizzlies. If Jones could shoot it better, he’d be a candidate to be a starter.

Still, San Antonio should be in the mix to bring him back. Much like Collins, Jones can start, and serve as a caretaker as another player gets acclimated to the NBA.

Keita Bates-Diop has had a breakout season for San Antonio. If you believe that the 39% three-point shooting is real, then Bates-Diop is a sleeper free agent this summer. As it is, the Spurs should invest a decent chunk of their own cap space to keep Bates-Diop in the mix behind Sochan and Johnson at the forward spot.

The other free agent of note is Sandro Mamukelashvili. After two fairly non-descript season with the Milwaukee Bucks on a two-way deal, Mamukelashvili has flashed with the Spurs. It’s a small sample size, but there’s enough there that San Antonio will probably bring him back for another run.

Both of the team’s two-way players, Dominick Barlow and Julian Champagnie have shown enough that issuing them two-way qualifying offers is a sound strategy. Barlow is particularly interesting, as he’s still 19 years old and will be only 20 years old for the entirety of next season.

The rest of the Spurs offseason decisions seem pretty cut-and-dry. Romeo Langford will likely be non-tendered and allowed to hit unrestricted free agency. That makes sense, as he hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout his career. He’ll get another shot, and possibly another shot in San Antonio, but it will come later in free agency.

Gorgui Dieng might also be back, but if that happens, it’ll come on a minimum deal later in free agency.

That leaves a couple of veterans, who carry two of the larger deals on the Spurs cap sheet. If San Antonio can move either Doug McDermott or Devonte’ Graham to bring in draft picks or young players, it’ll probably be under consideration. But San Antonio won’t trade the vets just to trade them. They are wary of going too young and like what both McDermott and Graham bring the locker room, as well as on the floor.

Free agent targets are a bit hard to project for the Spurs, despite the fact that they project to have third-most cap space in the NBA. Mostly, this is because it’s unclear how quickly the franchise wants to move this rebuild forward. This is really only Year 1 of the full-scale rebuild, as the last two seasons featured losses in the Play-In Tournament.

The best strategy for the Spurs is to remain patient. If they can use some of their cap space to re-sign breakout players like Bates-Diop, Jones and Mamukelashvili to good deals, they should do it. From there, it’s about adding another high draft pick (ideally Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson) and throwing them in with the young core. The offseason might offer opportunities to rent out cap space in exchange for additional assets, in the form of draft picks or young talent.

And, looming over everything is what Gregg Popovich decides to do. Will he return to continue to shepherd the team through the rebuild and back into playoff contention? Or is Popovich ready to call it a career? Recent comments make it seem like he’ll be back. Popovich seems energized to continue to work with the young talent, and if San Antonio can add Wembanyama or Henderson, that excitement probably ratchets up several notches.

Houston Rockets

Offseason Approach: It’s still Harden or rebuild, even after some poor lottery luck

Actual Cap Space: $45.8M

Practical Cap Space: $59.1M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $92.3M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, Usman Garuba, Jalen Green, Daishen Nix (non-guaranteed), Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, TyTy Washington Jr.

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
D.J. Augustin (unrestricted), Darius Days (restricted – two-way), Trevor Hudgins (restricted – two-way), Frank Kaminsky (unrestricted), Boban Marjanovic (unrestricted), Kenyon Martin Jr. (restricted – team option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($7,609,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None (projected to renounce TPEs for cap space)

First Round Draft Picks: #4, #19


(Updated Post-Lottery):

The Houston Rockets had some rough lottery luck. They didn’t move up to get in position to select Victor Wembanyama. Instead, Houston fell by two picks to the fourth overall pick, while division rival San Antonio moved up the top pick.

There’s no spinning that. It was a rough night for the Rockets. The only positive is that they now have clarity.

Houston gained a little bit of cap space, topping out a projected league-high of $59.1 million. That’s still enough to chase James Harden, with some left over for other additions. And now there’s no “Should we just be patient around Wembanyama?” questions to be asked.

The patience question is still there, because Houston has lots of other young talent. But picking at four isn’t so juicy that trading that pick to help bring in more talent around a re-signed Harden seems out of bounds.

Not much truly changes with the Rockets dropping a couple of picks. They might need to plus up a trade offer a slight bit more, but if they go for the quick turnover by signing Harden and other vets, it’s unlikely the fourth overall pick will ever be a part of Houston’s roster.

(Original Analysis):

Year 2 of the full post-James Harden experience has gone about as could be expected for the Houston Rockets. The bulk of their minutes have been played by players the team has acquired in the last three seasons. Eric Gordon was the only veteran who saw meaningful minutes, and he was in and out of the lineup before being traded to the LA Clippers at the trade deadline.

Predictably, all that youth has led to a lot of losing. But that’s not the end of the world. The Rockets are positioned to add another top pick to an interesting mix of young talent.

Jalen Green has taken steps forward in his sophomore season. He’s still a little too happy to dribble the air out of the ball before taking a contested, late-clock jumper, but there are real improvements in his game. Green is a better passer and a more confident player this year. Defense, as it is for most of the roster, is still a major work in progress. But the tools are there for Green to eventually hold his own in a good scheme.

Green’s backcourt mate, Kevin Porter Jr., landed a contract extension from Houston that will kick in next season. Not only is the four-year, $73.9 million deal a reasonable value, but the Rockets are well-protected should things go sideways. Only next season is fully guaranteed at $18.2 million. The remainder of the contract has various triggers, which will hopefully keep Porter motivated on and off the court.

Production-wise, Porter is kind of Green’s template to follow. He’s still not a great shooter, but Porter is a very good playmaker and sometimes shows signs of being an engaged defender. Green has more natural skill, so he should eventually be a better version of Porter, but Houston is happy to have both as they rebuild the roster.

Jabari Smith Jr. is probably the second-most important player on the roster behind Green, and you could argue he’s the most important. Smith’s season got off to a really rough start. He looked lost and the Rockets didn’t have the vets or coaching to help him get there. But as the season has gone along. Smith has figured things out. He’s shown why he was so highly-touted coming into the NBA over the last couple of months. The small-ball center stuff has been particularly interesting with Smith. He’s a keeper.

Alperen Sengun rounds out the team’s “core four” of young players. Sengun has taken over as the team’s starting center and there are glimpses of that Nikola Jokic-like package of skills that were talked about pre-draft. He’s already Houston’s best passer and rebounder, and Sengun loves to bang and bump in the post as he works for his position.

The forward spot is a mixed bag. Tari Eason does everything on instinct, but he’s really, really athletic. As he adds more skill and knowledge to his game, Eason will be at least a high-end backup, but probably significantly more than that. He was a terrific draft pick by the front office.

Jae’Sean Tate has had a rough season with injuries costing him a lot of time. That’s seen him lose his role as a regular starter. If he could improve his shot (he’s down to 28% and taking fewer threes than ever), Tate would be the 3&D wing the Rockets desperately need.

Usman Garuba has improved as much as any of the young Rockets, but you have to dig a little deeper to see it. He’s a really good rebounder and he’s a willing defender, even if some of his skill on defense gets lost in Houston’s overall sloppiness on that end. Something else to note: It’s super small volume, but Garuba has hit 24-of-52 from behind the arc this season.

Moving into the offseason, Houston has to decide how they want to move things forward around their core. They project to have the second-most cap space in the NBA at nearly $54 million. Their only potential free agent of note is Kenyon Martin Jr. So, there’s plenty of ability for the Rockets to make a big splash this summer. But should they? That’s a little harder to answer.

Let’s handle Martin’s situation first. He’s become a regular starter for the Rockets for the first time. He’s another in a line of tremendous athletes for Houston. The shooting hasn’t sustained as the volume has increased, so that’s something to keep an eye on. But everything else has come along nicely.

Contract-wise, the Rockets have good flexibility here. They can pick up their team option for Martin and bring him back at just $1.9 million for next season. That’s an incredible bargain, whether Martin starts of comes off the bench. But there’s a catch.

If Houston picks up their team option, Martin would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024. If Houston declines that option this year, Martin can be a restricted free agent. This is a spot where Rafael Stone has to get it right. Martin might get paid a year early, but the Rockets have enough flexibility to do so. That’s the safer path, as opposed to hoping you can retain the talented young forward as an unrestricted free agent a year from now.

Beyond Martin’s situation, the big question is how to spend over $50 million in cap space. On its face, the Rockets roster isn’t ready to spend big to win right now. There’s just too much development needed by the key players. That’s fine, but that means patience is necessary. After three consecutive non-playoff years, following an eight-year postseason run, is that patience going to be maintained?

There’s also the James Harden factor. Normally, it would be crazy to think an aging star player would leave a readymade title contender for a rebuilding team, yet the buzz around Harden and Houston will not go away.

Signing Harden would presumably cost the Rockets almost all of their cap space. It’s likely that bringing Harden back to Houston would also mean some of the kids are getting packaged in deals to bring in win-now players.

There’s also a likely very high draft pick to factor in. Could Houston have a sense they are getting Harden and turn a probable top-four pick and their young talent into a quick-flip rebuild this summer? The cap space and assets exist to make it possible, even if it seems improbable and is incredibly risky.

In a very real sense, the Rockets might be choosing between two very different paths this summer. Path One means continuing to build around a young core of seven players drafted in the first round of the last two NBA Drafts, and another two players who Houston can select in the 2023 NBA Draft. Path Two is bringing Harden home again and likely scrapping all of that patience, and most of that youth, to surround him with vets that are ready to win.

Neither path is necessarily a bad option, but both come with risks. Choose Path One and the kids don’t develop as hoped for, and you’re likely rebuilding for several years to come. Choose Path Two and Harden isn’t Harden anymore, and you’re probably right back to rebuilding within a couple of years.

Splitting the difference, and signing non-Harden veteran free agents, probably isn’t an overly realistic option. That puts Houston in a bit of a weird spot with win-now vets surrounded kids who might not be there yet. Those teams are rarely ones we see succeed in the NBA.

It’s important that Rafael Stone and Tilman Fertitta are in lock-step on this summer’s decisions. It’s too important to the future of the franchise to waffle and only go halfway. The Rockets have to choose a path, go all-in on that direction and live with the results.

Detroit Pistons

Offseason Approach: Time to add pieces to push the rebuild forward

Actual Cap Space: -$9.7M

Practical Cap Space: $25.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $57M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Marvin Bagley III, Bojan Bogdanovic, Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren, R.J. Hampton (non-guaranteed), Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Eugene Omoruyi (TBD on contract details), Isaiah Stewart II, James Wiseman

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Buddy Boeheim (restricted – Two-Way), Alec Burks (unrestricted – team option), Hamidou Diallo (unrestricted), Cory Joseph (unrestricted), Isaiah Livers (restricted – team option), Rodney McGruder (unrestricted), Jared Rhoden (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (1): Dewayne Dedmon ($2.8 million)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($7,609,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #5


(Updated Post-Lottery):

There’s no other way to say it: the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery was a bad night for the Detroit Pistons.

Detroit fell from the number one overall spot in the draft pre-lottery to the fifth pick. That was the absolute worst-case scenario for the Pistons and that’s exactly how it played out.

There’s no positive spin. Not only did Detroit miss out on Victor Wembanyama, but they dropped all the way out of the top-four. The Pistons will still come away with a good player. They could still come away with a future All-Star, but that doesn’t really remove the string of dropping in the lottery.

Detroit did gain some extra cap space by falling back four picks. They still have a ton of flexibility moving into the summer. They still have all the nice young players, plus a returning Cade Cunningham. But they won’t have a surefire star joining that mix in Wembanyama or even Scoot Henderson.

Troy Weaver has a lot of work to do. Pistons fans are starting to get a little restless. There’s a lot “I sat through that season for the fifth pick?” out in the universe right now. Weaver has to rebound from that in a big way, or the next major draft pick could be made by someone else.

(Original Analysis):

Pending some good fortune at the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery, the Detroit Pistons season was one of those “one step forward, one step back” situations. There were good developments, but just as many not-good ones. That kind of leaves everything feeling a bit stuck in neutral.

Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren look like keepers from the 2022 draft. After a bit of a rough patch in November and December, Ivey figured things out as the game slowed down for him. He’s a solid scorer and a developing playmaker. His shot should eventually come along too, especially when he’s taking less self-created looks.

Duren came even further than Ivey in the second half of the season. Despite battling some injuries, he’s shown that he’s a rebounding machine and a pretty good finisher around the rim. Duren remains raw, but that’s the fun part. As he learns the NBA game more, and relies less on pure instinct, he’ll be even better.

Detroit also got terrific seasons from Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks. Bogdanovic was the Pistons best player this season, as he turned in another efficient scoring season. Burks was terrific on the bench, and he’s become a stabilizing presence. And, notably, neither was traded ahead of the trade deadline. That’s something we’ll get into more in a bit.

Up front, Marvin Bagley III showed why Detroit invested so heavily in him in free agency last summer. Outside of missing time with injuries, Bagley was solid for the Pistons. His ability to fit in lineups featuring other bigs is a skill that gives Detroit some lineup versatility.

Isaiah Stewart also looked pretty good for most of the season. He showed a willingness to take more three-pointers, despite that shot being a work in progress. Even if Stewart tops out as a terrific energy big off the bench, he’s a keeper.

Lastly in the frontcourt, James Wiseman has really shown some stuff for Detroit after arriving at the trade deadline. He’s nearly averaged a double-double and is showing all the promise that made him the second overall pick in the 2020 draft. With his first opportunity at real playing time in a while, Wiseman has shown he’s a player worth investing in.

On the downside, this was a lost season for Cade Cunningham. He got in only 12 games before getting hurt. The counting stats looked good, and the process was solid enough during that brief floor time, but Cunningham is still an inefficient scorer in the halfcourt. And this was all lost development time, especially between Cunningham, Ivey and Duren, as the Pistons core building blocks. By no means should anyone be out on Cunningham, it was just a disappointing sort of season.

Saddiq Bey stagnated enough that Detroit signed him before getting into a weird place with potential extension negotiations this summer. That trade got the Pistons Wiseman though, so it might still end up in a net positive.

Killian Hayes is starting to look like he is what he is: a solid playmaker, ok defender, but a terrible shooter and scorer. In Year 3, Hayes’ shot has looked as broken as ever. And his confidence has waned as well. It’s a shame, because his playmaking and defense have both shown marked improvement. For now, Hayes looks like a backup, and one that no longer has that starter upside.

Moving to the offseason, the Pistons are giving off vibes of a team that is ready to turn from rebuilding into contending for a postseason spot.

First, Detroit didn’t trade either Bogdanovic or Burks ahead of the trade deadline. They set high prices for both veterans, and when no one met those asks, the Pistons were happy to keep them. That’s a sign that the team intends to be better next season and feels good about the impact Bogdanovic and Burks can have on a young roster.

Second, the trade of Bey was a sign that Detroit wants to continue to invest in their frontcourt and that they feel they are solid enough on the wing. Due to injuries, the four-way steel cage match between Bagley, Duren, Stewart and Wiseman never really happened, but that’s a fun competition that can run into training camp.

The Pistons will likely have somewhere between the first and fourth pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Of course, despite adding a lot of frontcourt talent over the last two seasons, Troy Weaver will select Victor Wembanyama if he gets the first overall pick. But it wouldn’t be any sort of franchise-killer if Detroit slipped to second and came away with Scoot Henderson. Even falling a little further and ending up with someone out of the Brandon Miller, Amen Thompson, Ausar Thompson or Nick Smith Jr. mix wouldn’t be crushing.

The reason for the optimism, no matter where the pick falls, is the versatility of Cunningham. He can play any spot 1-3 in the lineup. If Detroit grabs Wembanyama, Cunningham probably stays in the backcourt. If it’s Henderson, then he probably slides to the three. If it’s one of the others, then the Pistons can role out a long, athletic lineup of quick, versatile guys around one or two bigs.

The other reason for optimism is that the Pistons will have somewhere between $25 and $30 million in cap space this summer. They’ve got a lot of rotation players in place already. They could use more backcourt depth and another wing with some size, but Detroit is mostly set with their starting group, and definitely set at the big positions.

Is it time to go all-in and spend most of that cap space on one big free agent? Probably not. Detroit is far enough from title contention that the true difference-makers will probably be looking elsewhere. But players in that next tier down become really interesting.

The Pistons could make things tough on the Los Angeles Lakers by giving Austin Reaves a big offer sheet as a restricted free agent. Unrestricted shooters and scorers like Seth Curry, Max Strus or Jaylen Nowell could make sense as targets too.

If Detroit wanted to spend more on one player, Fred VanVleet could, yet again, be someone who makes sense. That would push Cunningham to the three, but without taking away any of his on-ball responsibilities, because VanVleet has played off-ball for most of his career.

There has been some buzz of a Michigan homecoming for Draymond Green or Jerami Grant returning back to Detroit. Neither of those moves make as much sense, as they would cost the Pistons all of their cap space and neither player necessarily fills a glaring need.

As far as their own free agents go, look for Weaver to pick up his team options for both Burks and Isaiah Livers. They should both be back. Pending the draft and early free agency, there could also be a place for Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder to return, as end-of-the-bench veterans. Hamidou Diallo is in a bit more of an interesting spot. He’s been in and out of the rotation when healthy, and he’s only 25 years old. But Detroit looks to have enough projects on the roster already.

There will also be some rookie scale extension intrigue, as Stewart, Hayes and Wiseman are all eligible to extend this summer. Stewart has shown the most, by far, of this trio. But his ideal role is as a third or fourth big on a really good team. How much is that worth in an extension? If Detroit can get him for an AAV under the Non-Taxpayer MLE amount ($11-12 million), then they should lock Stewart up. Otherwise, Stewart is probably headed for restricted free agency after next season.

Hayes hasn’t shown enough to make it worth investing anything in. Any reasonable offer from the Pistons side would be so low, that Hayes is best to bet on himself having a breakout year ahead of restricted free agency in 2024.

Wiseman is in a weird spot. He’ll have 20 games or so under his belt with the Pistons, and they’ve been good ones. But he’s still largely a mystery box. This one probably plays out to restricted free agency too. That could be a costly process if Wiseman continues to develop as rapidly as he has in Detroit.

The Pistons should start camp with a nice mix of veterans and kids. Cunningham will be back. Bogdanovic and Burks should both still be around. Ivey and Duren will have a year of experience. Wiseman, Bagley and Stewart will all be in the mix. And they’ll add another high draft pick, along with having plenty of cap space to chase other additions.

It’s been a somewhat frustrating, stuck-in-the-mud year for the Detroit Pistons. But the future is really bright. The pieces are place for this team to take a step forward. It’s up to Troy Weaver and the front office to make the right moves this summer to help the returning players to start the climb up the standings.