© USA TODAY Sports
Keith Smith breaks down the upcoming offseason for each 2022-23 NBA team, including cap space figures, free agents, draft pick scenarios, & thoughts on potential trades, exceptions, & plenty more.

Golden State Warriors 

Offseason Approach: Well over the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$81.2M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$27.2M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman

Potential Free Agents (9): FULL LIST
Nemanja Bjelica (unrestricted), Chris Chiozza (unrestricted – Two-Way), Andre Iguodala (unrestricted), Damion Lee (unrestricted), Kevon Looney (unrestricted), Gary Payton II (unrestricted), Otto Porter Jr. (unrestricted), Juan Toscano-Anderson (restricted), Quinndary Weatherspoon (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (1): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #28

Analysis: After a couple of down years, the Golden State Warriors are back on top of the NBA once again. The Warriors rolled through the Western Conference and then took down the Boston Celtics in six games in the NBA Finals.

Now, it’s about figuring out how to keep the good times rolling, while also developing and preparing for the post-core future.

The good news is that the core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. Curry has shown he still has plenty left at a superstar level. Green is slowing down, but he’s so smart that he’ll get by despite it. Thompson made it all the way back to be a consistent contributor, and he should be even more comfortable in his first full season back from injury.

Bridging things from the core to the younger players is Andrew Wiggins. He’s proven to be an outstanding fit with the Warriors and he was excellent in the playoffs. What was once seen as one of the worst contracts in the league now doesn’t look so bad. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Golden State hammer out an extension with Wiggins this summer.

Speaking of extensions, getting one done with Jordan Poole is a priority this summer too. Poole had a breakout season, as he split the year between starting and then coming off the bench after Thompson returned. He’s a big part of threading that needle from the vets to the kids to extend this contender window even further.

Development of Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody will also be important too. Both showed flashes as rookies and there is a lot of talent there. The same is true of James Wiseman, but the first step for him is just getting on the court. That’ll be enough for now, and the rest will eventually come.

As far as free agents go, Golden State has shown the tax isn’t a barrier to keeping their own talent. They have four regular rotation players hitting unrestricted free agency, and bringing any of them back on minimums may not be feasible.

Kevon Looney has emerged as a really solid starting center for the Warriors. His presence would also allow the team to continue bringing Wiseman along slowly. Look for Golden State to do what they can to bring Looney back, almost at all costs.

The other main free agents are going to be trickier. Gary Payton II is probably of the next most importance. He’s become a key defender and he’s better than most realize on offense. Given the age and occasional availability issues of the starting backcourt, bringing back Payton is a must.

Otto Porter Jr. was a key rotation player throughout the season, and he was starting by the end of the NBA Finals. His bounce-back season may have priced him out of the Bay Area though. Unless the Warriors are willing to give him the Taxpayer MLE, he may have richer offers elsewhere. Even then, Porter might get full MLE offers from other teams. He looked that good for most of the season.

The last regular rotation player hitting free agency is Nemanja Bjelica. He may not be willing to come back on another minimum deal. Regularly, rotation players from championship teams find opportunities elsewhere. Either more money or a bigger role. Bjelica took less of both to compete for a title last year. He may not want to do that again.

The rest of the Warriors free agents are more of a mixed bag. Andre Iguodala spent most of the year sitting due to injuries. He may consider going out on top and retiring. Golden State likes Damion Lee, but he could find more playing time with another team. Same for Juan Toscano-Anderson, who could draw interest from teams looking for a versatile player in free agency.

As far as additions go, expect Golden State to do what they’ve done for several years now. They’ll pick up a couple of veterans who are willing to play for the minimum in exchange for a title run. If they don’t use the Taxpayer MLE to re-sign one of their own free agents, the Warriors will get a good player with it. If Looney was to leave, adding a center becomes priority one. Wiseman isn’t ready to start and going small-ball all season isn’t feasible.

Beyond that, Golden State could use another ballhandler for the bench and another wing. That becomes especially true if Payton or Porter were to leave.

The Golden State Warriors suffered through two miserable, injury-plagued seasons. But it was all worth it. They got back on top and won the 2022 title. And they look poised to stick around at this level for a few more years too. The Warriors will lose a couple of good players, but they’ll add a couple to replace them. And the wins will keep coming in San Francisco.

Boston Celtics 

Offseason Approach: Over the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$37.4M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$8.3M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Jaylen Brown, Malik Fitts (non-guaranteed), Al Horford ($19.5M guaranteed), Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, Marcus Smart, Nik Stauskas (non-guaranteed), Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Derrick White, Grant Williams, Robert Williams

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Sam Hauser (restricted – team option), Luke Kornet (unrestricted), Juwan Morgan (restricted – team option), Matt Ryan (restricted – Two-Way), Brodric Thomas (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (1): $92,857 (Demetrius Jackson)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $17,142,857 (Evan Fournier), $6,907,815 (Juancho Hernangomez), $5,890,000 (Dennis Schroder)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: None

Analysis: The Boston Celtics finally broke through and made it back to the NBA Finals after a 12-year absence. The Celtics fell to the Golden State Warriors in six games, but that shouldn’t take away from what was a major bounce-back season.

A year ago, Boston was .500 and got easily eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. As deep into this season as late-January, the Celtics were under .500. But everything came together in a major way in 2022 for Boston to go on a big run.

In many ways, the Celtics probably already made their big move for next season. At the trade deadline, Brad Stevens acquired Derrick White. White fit in perfectly with Boston’s versatile defense, and his quick decision-making and ball movement boosted the offense.

It cost the Celtics their 2022 first-round pick, Josh Richardson and a potential first-round pick swap in 2028 to acquire White. That was a heavy price, but it was worth it for Boston. White was a big part of pushing the Celtics to be their best selves.

Another reason Boston may have already made their big moves is that the roster is currently pretty full. 12 players are under contract (with a few being partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed), and there are a couple of options the team might pick up too.

It’s there that the work starts for the Celtics.

Al Horford’s play this season has made it a virtual lock that his $26.5 million contract will become fully guaranteed. Boston would have to eat $19.5 million in dead money by waiving Horford, and that’s unlikely. Beyond just the cap maneuvering, Horford was one of the Celtics more-consistent performers on both ends of the floor all season. The team also prizes his veteran leadership in the locker room.

As for the others, it’s very likely Sam Hauser will be back. He’s shown enough potential as a bench shooter that it’s worth investing another year in his development. Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and Nik Stauskas might all make it to training camp, or they could be waived if the Celtics need a roster spot. Don’t be surprised if Fitts is the most likely to stick, because Boston enjoys his energetic presence on the bench.

In free agency, there’s a good chance Matt Ryan will be back on another Two-Way deal. And Luke Kornet could return on a make-good deal with a shot at making the final roster out of training camp.

Beyond that, it’s up to Brad Stevens and Ime Udoka to hold Celtics ownership to their promise of “paying the tax for a title contender”. Without knowing exactly what Boston’s upper bounds of a tax payment are, it’s important that this team adds more depth to the roster.

The Celtics have a $17.1 million traded player exception to use before it expires in mid-July. Using even a portion of that can help Boston get an upgrade for their bench. The same is true of the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. That’s $6.4 million of spending power that could go a long way in a market without a lot of available cap space.

Where should Boston be targeting bench depth? The first need is another proven wing. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were pushed to their limits in minutes in both the regular season and playoffs. By the end of the Finals, both seemed to be running on fumes at times.

Trade speculation is always tricky, but free agent targets for the Celtics could include Gary Harris, Boston-native Bruce Brown, Caleb and Cody Martin, or even T.J. Warren, if he wanted to rehab his value on a title contender.

The next need for the Celtics is up front. Robert Williams’ health has always been shaky, even before the torn meniscus he suffered late in the regular season. Horford’s age also dictates that he’ll have his playing time managed to some extent. Grant Williams has proven to be a solid third big, while Daniel Theis is also a capable player off the bench or as a spot-starter. But another option is needed here to be on the safe side.

The free agent market is full of capable frontcourt options, and several will also be available via trade. Free agent targets that make sense for Boston are Kyle Anderson, Otto Porter Jr., Trey Lyles (if the Kings decline his option), Isaiah Hartenstein, and Robin Lopez.

There is always the option of making a big trade too. Horford’s deal is a large chunk of expiring salary, and some have questioned if Marcus Smart is good enough to lead a title team at point guard. That seems like a bit of a silly question, as Boston was in the NBA Finals and Smart won Defensive Player of the Year. It’s also unclear how much of a true upgrade is actually available at that position this offseason.

Mostly, it’s important that the Celtics maximize their window as much as possible by adding talent via the TPE and the MLE. Yes, it will cost the team a pretty penny in tax penalties, but they avoided the tax by the skin of their teeth in 2022. Going into the tax to build the best roster possible is a necessity in 2023.

The Boston Celtics are close. They have young stars, they have an elite defense and they’ve got good roster balance. They need a little more depth and a little more seasoning, but this team is set up to contend for the foreseeable future. It’s about capitalizing on that and building a team that can take the next step towards Banner 18.

Miami Heat 

Offseason Approach: Dancing around the tax line

Actual Cap Space: -$27.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $12.5M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Haywood Highsmith (non-guaranteed), Kyle Lowry, Mychal Mulder, Duncan Robinson, Ja’Vonte Smart, Max Strus (non-guaranteed), Gabe Vincent (non-guaranteed), Omer Yurtseven (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Dewayne Dedmon (unrestricted), Udonis Haslem (unrestricted), Caleb Martin (restricted), Markieff Morris (unrestricted), Victor Oladipo (unrestricted), P.J. Tucker (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #27

Analysis: By the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, it felt like the Miami Heat were held together by bubble game and masking tape. Yet, Jimmy Butler had a shot in the air at the end of the game to make it to the NBA Finals. That’s just sort of who the Heat are.

Duncan Robinson led Miami in games played last season (79), and by the end of the playoffs he was largely out of the rotation. P.J. Tucker was the only other key rotation player to appear in at least 71 games. Yet, Miami was the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

A lot of that credit goes to Erik Spoelstra, who is one of the best coaches, if not the best coach, in the NBA. No matter who is available, Spoelstra puts together a lineup that plays hard and competes. And his schemes and adjustments in a playoff series are some of the best around.

A lot of that credit also goes to the Heat front office. They’ve regularly found under-the-radar games and developed them into viable NBA rotation players. That list includes Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin over the last few years.

It’s within that group where Miami’s offseason keys.

The easiest decisions of the offseason for the Heat are to guarantee the contracts for Strus and Vincent. Both became key rotation players and sometimes starters for Miami. On minimum deals, there are few bigger steals in the league than Strus or Vincent.

Omer Yurtseven also has a non-guaranteed contract that is a lock to be guaranteed. He’s shown flashes in limited minutes. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Yurtseven replace Dewayne Dedmon (who is slipping very quickly on defense) as Bam Adebayo’s primary backup next year.

The next priority is Caleb Martin’s restricted free agency. While on a two-way deal, Martin developed into a legitimate rotation wing for the Heat. He did so well that Miami had to convert his deal to a standard contract to make sure they’d have Martin for the playoffs.

Here’s the challenge: Martin will be 27 years old before next season. That’s a little on the older side for a player to have much upside left. Still, Martin is a good rotation player, and the Heat want him back, but they have to be careful not to overpay him. Otherwise, Miami will be stuck with the kind of cap-clogging deal that becomes difficult to work around.

Speaking of cap-clogging deals…what happened to Duncan Robinson? Late in March, Robinson was removed from Miami’s starting lineup with Strus taking his place. In the playoffs, Robinson yo-yoed in and out of the rotation.

With over $64 million guaranteed owed to him over the next three years, Robinson is right on the verge of becoming one of those cap-clogging deals. Because he’s still an elite shooter, Robinson isn’t there yet. But his shooting slipped just enough that it didn’t offset his defensive deficiencies enough for him to maintain his starting role. In the playoffs, Robinson couldn’t really play at all. If his shooting slips any further, Robinson will become a largely unplayable specialist.

Yet, at $16.9 million for next season. Robinson is arguably Miami’s best trade chip. Teams are always looking for shooting and if Robinson can get back over 40% from deep, he’s fairly paid. And it’s for those reasons that the Heat might look to move Robinson to bring in help.

Miami is always star-hunting. They’ll be connected to Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal as this year’s top free agents. If anyone unexpectedly becomes available via trade, the Heat will be involved. It’s a top-tier NBA destination and Pat Riley and company do a good job of keeping the team ever-relevant as a contender.

If there is a deal to be made, Robinson’s salary, and less-so his shooting, will be a key component to bringing in a star player. This is a good spot to mention that it’s important that the Heat get something out of their draft pick this year. That pick needs to be used to draft and develop a player, or used in a trade to bring in win-now help.

Miami will also have their Mid-Level Exception to use. If they don’t go far to re-sign their own free agents, The Heat will have the full Non-Taxpayer MLE. If they re-sign some of their own guys, they’ll likely be limited to the Taxpayer MLE. Either way, the Heat should get a player that can fill a rotation spot.

Beyond star deals, the draft pick and the MLE, there are a few other major things Miami has to consider. P.J. Tucker has a player option for next season. Despite some injury issues in the playoffs, Tucker continues to hold up quite well. He’s still an excellent defender and he’s still knocking down corner threes at a high rate. If he opts out, re-signing him is a must.

Victor Oladipo had a very encouraging bounce-back season. For the first time since he got injured in 2019, Oladipo consistently flashes of two-way play. He held up defensively in the playoffs. His offense was a little come-and-go, but Oladipo showed enough that he can be a productive rotation player on a good team.

How much is that worth becomes the question. The Heat have full Bird rights for Oladipo, so they can pay him whatever amount they think is fair. But Miami has pretty good backcourt depth, and none of their current backcourt players are really suited to play up. Expect Oladipo to be loyal to Miami, who let him rehab on the company dime, but only to an extent. If he can get a longer, and richer, deal elsewhere, Miami will probably let him walk.

Lastly, the Heat have to figure out what to do with Tyler Herro’s extension. We wrote extensively about Herro and Miami’s options here, but it’s worth revisiting it on a high-level. Herro has since won Sixth Man of the Year, but has also said that he’d like to start. That has to have the Heat asking: What do you pay a sixth man who wants to start, but maybe shouldn’t?

Herro’s starting asking-point is going to be a full max deal of five years and over $180 million. Considering Miami already has Butler and Adebayo on max deals, Kyle Lowry on a deal near $30 million and Robinson on the books for over $18 million, that’s an awfully big number for Herro at a first-year salary of over $32 million.

This one could get contentious, both in terms of salary and role. Herro wants to get paid like a starter, and, well…you know, start like a starter too. Keep an eye on these negotiations, as they could drag out for most of the summer.

The Miami Heat are a title contender, but there are some cracks in the foundation. Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker aren’t getting any younger. Duncan Robinson’s contract is teetering on becoming a really bad one. Some key younger players need to be paid in the next couple of years. It all feels sort of tenuous.

Their track record suggests that Miami will figure it out, but things are starting to get a little more difficult. Prioritizing their window, reading how long this particular group can keep it open, and reacting accordingly is important. That work starts this summer for the Heat, and it will likely continue for years to come.

Dallas Mavericks 

Offseason Approach: Likely over the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$58.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$2.8M

Under Contract (13): FULL ROSTER
Davis Bertans, Sterling Brown, Reggie Bullock, Marquese Chriss, Spender Dinwiddie, Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber (non-guaranteed), Boban Marjanovic, Frank Ntilikina (non-guaranteed), Dwight Powell

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Jalen Brunson (unrestricted), Trey Burke (unrestricted – player option), Theo Pinson (unrestricted – Two-Way), Moses Wright (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (1): $1,782,621 (Tyrell Terry)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $10,865,952 (Josh Richardson, expires 6/27/22)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #26

Analysis: The Dallas Mavericks made a deeper run in the 2022 NBA Playoffs than anyone could have expected. The Mavs upset the top-seeded Phoenix Suns with a blowout victory in Game 7 in Phoenix, before running out of gas against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

Now, Dallas needs to retain a key free agent, while finding a way to put the right mix around Luka Doncic to stay near the top of the West. The first of those challenges might easier to pull off than the second.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has already said that Dallas will pay “whatever it takes” to keep Jalen Brunson. But “whatever it takes” may end up being more than the Mavs should actually being willing to pay Brunson.

In his fourth year, Brunson had an outstanding season. He again shot over 50% from the field, while maintaining good three-point accuracy and increasing his scoring once again. Brunson also showed some increased playmaking chops in his first season as a full-time starter.

A handful of teams, including the point guard needy New York Knicks and the cap space-heavy Detroit Pistons have been mentioned as suitors for Brunson. New York would have to work a sign-and-trade with Dallas, while Detroit could sign Brunson outright.

Of course, the Mavericks can also sign Brunson, and they can pay him more than anyone else can. It shouldn’t come down to that, however. Brunson is a very good player, but he shouldn’t be pushing anything near a max contract. It’s important that Dallas sets a walk-away number in salary for Brunson.

If things get north of $25 million average annual value, the Mavericks should let Brunson go. That’s simply too much money to lock in for a player who is good, but unlikely to be an All-Star-level player. Dallas has a chance to have a relatively clean cap sheet following this season. They could even be in position to add a max player. The key will be to not have an over-valued deal clogging up their books.

Beyond Brunson, the Mavs will have to get active in the trade market to make any sort of major changes. The good news is that most of the contracts on the roster are very tradable. The Mavericks aren’t carrying any truly bad deals, minus possibly Davis Bertans. But he’s shown enough as a shooter, that he could be a throw-in to make the math work in a trade.

The Mavs have 13 players under contract, and Trey Burke is highly likely to opt in. Dallas could move on from Frank Ntilikina to open up a roster spot, or they could eat Burke’s $3 million if they need to.

One roster spot will go to a draft pick. The other is likely to go to a player signed via the Taxpayer MLE. That will push Dallas into the tax for the first time in a while, but Mark Cuban is no stranger to paying for good teams.

And that’s sort of the key for the Dallas Mavericks. They are a good team with a future MVP leading the way. The Mavs have to keep maximizing their roster around Luka Doncic. It’s imperative that they find the right fits around Doncic. The first key is that they have to be able to shoot and defend. If some of those players can function as secondary playmakers, so much the better. But 3&D options have to be at the top of the shopping list.

Doncic is just getting started, so it seems like the Mavericks window is wide-open. But things change very quickly in the NBA. It’s up to Dallas to take advantage now to take the next step to make a push for the NBA Finals before that window snaps shut sooner than expected.

Phoenix Suns 

Offseason Approach: Dancing around the luxury tax line

Actual Cap Space: -$63M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$3.3M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig, Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson, Chris Paul, Cameron Payne, Dario Saric, Landry Shamet

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Deandre Ayton (restricted), Bismack Biyombo (unrestricted), Aaron Holiday (restricted), Gabriel Lundberg (restricted – Two-Way), JaVale McGee (unrestricted), Elfrid Payton (unrestricted), Ishmail Wainright (restricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: None

Analysis: The Phoenix Suns had the best regular season in team history, setting club records for wins (64) and winning percentage (.780). But that wasn’t enough to get Phoenix back to a second consecutive NBA Finals. The Suns bowed out in seven games to the upstart Dallas Mavericks in the second round, with Dallas annihilating Phoenix in Game 7.

Now the Suns have to pick up the pieces a little bit. Most of the key players are still under contract, with one notable exception. But the last two playoff runs have also taught Phoenix the importance of depth, especially up front.

Just about everything for the Suns this offseason starts with Deandre Ayton’s free agency. He’s restricted, which means Phoenix can largely control the process. Ayton is also really good. Combine those two factors and you generally have a fairly easy re-signing.

Not so fast, my friend.

Ayton is probably gone from Phoenix. No, it’s not a lock he’s leaving, but it’s pretty close. And the reasons Ayton will probably be elsewhere have little to do with his talent.

He’s coming off another terrific offensive season. Ayton is an elite finisher around the rim, he has nice touch on his jumper and is slowly, but surely, extending his range. Ayton is also one of the NBA’s better rebounders on both ends of the floor.

On defense, Ayton can still get a little lost at time. But he’s come a long way since his rookie year. He’s stouter against pick-and-rolls and he’s gotten better at using his size and athleticism to protect the rim.

But Ayton has had issues during his time in Phoenix. He had a suspension for taking a banned substance in 2019. In 2021-22, Ayton suffered various leg injuries that caused him to miss about a quarter of the season.

Beyond that, Ayton has had the occasional run-in with Suns leadership. This included a very public confrontation with the coaching staff during the Game 7 blowout.

And, not to be forgotten, Ayton was not happy about not getting a contract extension done prior to this season. At the time, the Suns weren’t willing to extend to a full five-year, maximum extension. Ayton’s camp was unwilling to move off that number and both sides publicly released statements about their unhappiness with the other.

Now, we have a potentially messy situation that will define a lot of the Suns direction this summer.

It seems unlikely that Ayton will be back in Phoenix, but the team isn’t going to lose him for nothing. There are only a couple of teams that potentially have the cap space to sign Ayton to a max offer sheet. Even then, the Suns could match it, simply to retain Ayton as a tradable asset.

The most likely path is that Ayton, a new team and Phoenix work out a sign-and-trade. That will allow Ayton to get paid, while Phoenix is able to recoup some value for the former first overall pick.

Pending the return for Ayton, the Suns will won’t have a lot of cap flexibility this summer. They’re going to be dancing around the luxury tax line, which will limit them to using the Taxpayer MLE. That should have a good amount of spending power, which will be helpful for Phoenix. That’s provided the Suns are willing to spend and potentially go somewhat deep into the tax.

Where will the Suns go with money? It’s likely they’ll need to add another big. Even if JaVale McGee (who played well for Phoenix in place of and behind Ayton) and Bismack Biyombo (who had a career resurgence) return, the Suns will still need another center.

The good news is that this free agent class is stocked with solid big men. Players like Dewayne Dedmon, Robin Lopez or Thomas Bryant could all be good fits. It would be particularly interesting to see how Bryant could develop playing alongside Chris Paul.

Beyond replacing Ayton, the Suns don’t have any other glaring needs. They are basically two-deep at every other position. They could possibly use a 4/5 swing big to give them a bit more lineup versatility, especially with Dario Saric having suffered a meniscus injury in his right knee, while rehabbing from the right ACL tear he had in in the 2021 NBA Finals.

If Phoenix looks for a swing big, veterans like Thaddeus Young, Nemanja Bjelica or Blake Griffin could make sense. Chris Boucher would be an ideal fit for this roster, but he’s likely out of the Suns price range.

It’s important that James Jones remains patient with his roster this summer. The Phoenix Suns were still a very good team, even though they stumbled in the postseason. If they can replace Ayton, or somehow repair the relationship enough to bring him back, the Suns will contend for another trip to the Finals. They’re that good.

Phoenix just can’t get impatient and make short-sighted moves, especially ones that are solely designed to save money. That could end up with the team fighting for homecourt advantage in a deep Western Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks 

Offseason Approach: Well over the luxury tax line

Actual Cap Space: -$64.4M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$11.6M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Grayson Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, George Hill, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, Sandro Mamukelashvili (Two-Way), Khris Middleton, Rayjon Tucker (non-guaranteed), Luca Vildoza (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Thanasis Antetokounmpo (unrestricted – player option), Jevon Carter (unrestricted), Pat Connaughton (unrestricted – player option), Serge Ibaka (unrestricted), Wesley Matthews (unrestricted), Jordan Nwora (restricted), Bobby Portis (unrestricted – player option), Lindell Wigginton (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #24

Analysis: The Milwaukee Bucks title defense ended with a banged-up team limping out in the second round of the playoffs. Without Khris Middleton, the Bucks just didn’t have enough to wage another long postseason run. Still, the future is bright in Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen are all signed long-term. Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez each have at least one more year on their deals. And, as long as they don’t mind going deeper into the tax, the Bucks should be able to retain their key free agents.

That’s where we’ll start, because Milwaukee has a few players up for new deals that they need to bring back. The most important free agent for the Bucks is probably a three-way tie between Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews and Bobby Portis. All are very different players, but all are key members of the rotation.

Connaughton is coming off his best season. He shot 46% from the field and nearly 40% from behind the arc. That production was the same if Connaughton started (which he did 19 times) or if he came off the bench. More importantly, it carried over to the playoffs. That makes two consecutive postseasons where Connaughton has been able to stay on the floor when the games mattered most.

That ability to provide scoring, while holding his own defensively, puts Connaughton in position for a big payday this summer. He’ll likely decline his $5.7 million player option and could possibly double that number as an unrestricted free agent. It’s important that the Bucks don’t lose Connaughton, because he’s become a key backup at both wing positions.

The challenge for Milwaukee is that Bobby Portis is also coming off an outstanding season in a key rotation role. That also makes him a player the Bucks also can’t afford to lose. Portis started 59 games this season while Brook Lopez was returning from back surgery, and he held up as an everyday starter. His shooting dipped some, but that went from an unreal 47% on three-pointers to a “simply” very good 39% from behind the arc.

Because he’s signed back-to-back deals with outs after the first year, Milwaukee will have Early Bird rights for Portis. That means he’s probably looking at a salary in the range of four years and $48 million. That looks like a fair rate for a key backup big man on a title contender.

Finally, we get to Matthews. He’s coming off a year where he was team-less until early-December. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Matthews was starting every game as a key wing defender for the Bucks. Despite the good defense, Matthews’ shot was again very streaky. For a second consecutive year, he was under 34% from three. That’s not really fulfilling the “3” part of the 3&D role Milwaukee needs him to play.

That lack of consistent shooting, along with the fact that Connaughton and Portis need to get paid could cost Matthews his spot. Unless he’s willing to return on another minimum deal, which Matthews may be, he could be elsewhere next year.

If they re-sign Connaughton and Portis to deals that start around $10-11 million, the Bucks will be in the range of $20 million over the luxury tax line. For a cost-conscious club, that could prevent them from using the Taxpayer MLE to add further talent. That would be a shame, because this team could use a quality backup point guard and probably one more big too.

Jevon Carter could come back, but he’s probably going to need more than a minimum deal. He’s proven he’s worth part of someone’s MLE to be a backup point guard. If not Carter, someone like Goran Dragic (for a nice offensive look behind Holiday), Frank Jackson (better shooter/scorer than you think) or Raul Neto (solid veteran backup or third lead guard) could make sense.

Up front, the Bucks could use a younger, developmental player behind the veterans. Maybe that comes via the draft. If not, Milwaukee could take a shot on someone like Jalen Smith (the MLE is more than what the Indiana Pacers can pay Smith next season), Thomas Bryant or Moses Brown to be their fourth big.

Because the trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are so good, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting off from a really good place. But the 2022 playoffs proved they need a little more depth. That starts by re-signing their own free agents. Then, the team really should go deep into the tax and use the MLE too. The Bucks are a title contender and they would do well to maximize that window as well as they can for as long as they can, even if that means spending a lot of money to do so.

Memphis Grizzlies 

Offseason Approach: Swing team. Could have cap space, or could stay over the cap

Actual Cap Space: -$19.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $46.4M

Under Contract (13): FULL ROSTER
Steven Adams, Santi Aldama, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr., John Konchar ($840K guaranteed), De’Anthony Melton, Ja Morant, Tyrell Terry (Two-Way), Killian Tillie, Xavier Tillman Sr., Ziaire Williams

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Kyle Anderson (unrestricted), Jarrett Culver (unrestricted), Tyus Jones (unrestricted), Yves Pons (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #22, #29

Analysis: The Memphis Grizzlies are no longer an up-and-coming team. They’re here now. And they’re pretty good. The really scary thing for the rest of the NBA? Memphis has a real path towards getting even better.

Because they’ve drafted really well, made some value signings in free agency and been smart about re-signing their own free agents, the Grizzlies are set up as a swing team this summer. They can stay over the cap and re-sign a player or two. Or Memphis can create around $20 million in cap space with relative ease, which would allow them to be a player in free agency or on the trade market.

Whatever direction the Grizzlies choose to go, they can be very intentional with their offseason plans. As it stands entering the summer, Memphis has just three open roster spots. They’ve got two draft picks, and they don’t really have any glaring roster needs.

Let’s start at the top. Ja Morant is a superstar. He made his first All-Star team in 2022 and landed on the All-NBA second team. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane are perfect running mates for Morant. And the team has several key role players signed for next season in Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton. That’s a seven-man group that any team in the league would be happy to have. In addition, the team has some developmental players in Ziaire Williams, Xavier Tillman Sr. and Killian Tillie, and a knockdown shooting specialist in John Konchar signed for next season too.

If we look at what the Grizzlies need most, it would probably be a little more shooting. They were middle-of-the-pack in three-point percentage, and as defenses increasingly focus on collapsing on Morant drives, he’ll need as many kickout options as possible.

It’s also important Memphis locks down a quality backup point guard. For all Morant’s brilliance as a player, his full-speed, no-quarter-given style will lead to him missing time. Morant missed 25 games last season, and it seems fair to pencil him in to miss 15-25 games per season.

As it stands, the Grizzlies have the best backup point guard in the NBA in Tyus Jones. He’s perfect as a backup, because there is little-to-no falloff when he comes in the game. Jones never turns it over, he’s become a fairly solid shooter and he can hold his own defensively.

The question becomes: how much is Jones worth on the open market? A handful of teams could use point guards this summer, but they seem more focused on Jalen Brunson. Should they miss out there, Jones would be a good fallback plan. (Jones might even be a better fit than Brunson for some point guard needy teams.) As for Memphis, they’ve done a wonderful job managing their cap, but an extension for Morant is looming, as well as a few other key free agent decisions in the next two years. Locking up big money in Jones, who is a great fit but still a backup, could be a tricky proposition.

The good news is that Jones was a targeted signing three years ago. He seems to like being in Memphis and doesn’t seem to mind playing behind Morant. If the Grizzlies can get him for something that averages $10 million per year, they’ll have done very well.

Then the focus becomes Kyle Anderson’s free agency. Anderson moved back to a bench role this season, but remained a productive member of the Memphis rotation. His ability to play either forward spot allows Taylor Jenkins to be flexible with his frontcourt rotation. That’s key because players like Jackson, Clarke and Brooks tend to foul at a high rate. Jackson and Brooks have also had some availability issues, which makes it necessary to have quality depth up front.

The challenge with re-signing Anderson is that the Grizzlies made a trade to move up in the 2021 Draft to select Ziaire Williams. Williams had a bit of a rough start to his rookie year, but he really came on strong in the second half of the season. Williams looks like a long-term rotation player, either as a starting forward, or a high-minute backup.

Still, Anderson has been an important veteran for Memphis. Like Jones, he was a targeted free agent signing. It’s hard to let players like that just walk away. As he enters his age-29 season, Anderson might need to take a team-friendly deal to stay with the Grizzlies. If not, Memphis might let him walk. And that might not be bad for Anderson, as several contenders might offer him their full MLE to come in and help stabilize their frontcourt rotation. With their two draft picks, expect the Grizzlies to be aggressive in trade talks. Even combined, the two picks won’t push Memphis too far up the board, but if he likes a player who is available in the late-teens, Zach Kleiman will go in to get him. And that’s not the worst idea, because the Grizzlies are running out of roster spots. Should the team keep both picks, look for at least one selection to go towards a draft-and-stash player.

The other path for Memphis, if they were to lose Jones, Anderson or both, is to go the cap space route. The Grizzlies can create around $20 million in space. This summer, with most of the league capped out, that’s enough to be a major player in free agency or trades. With a very likely max, possibly super max, extension looming for Morant, plus a handful of other important free agents in the next two years, this might be Memphis’ last chance at cap space for a while.

It’s hard to guess which direction the Memphis Grizzlies will take this summer. But it’s important to note that whatever direction they choose, it will probably be foolish to second-guess them. They’ve earned that faith by nailing each point along the rebuilding path thus far. Now, they’re here and the Grizzlies will probably keep nailing their moves to stay near the top of the conference and to get into true contender status.

Philadelphia 76ers 

Offseason Approach: Likely over the tax, but under the tax apron

Actual Cap Space: -$95.3M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$4.4M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Charles Bassey ($74,742 guaranteed), Charlie Brown Jr. (Two-Way), Joel Embiid, Danny Green (non-guaranteed), Tobias Harris, Isaiah Joe (non-guaranteed), Furkan Korkmaz, Tyrese Maxey, Georges Niang, Paul Reed (non-guaranteed), Jaden Springer, Matisse Thybulle

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
James Harden (unrestricted – player option), DeAndre Jordan (unrestricted), Paul Millsap (unrestricted), Shake Milton (unrestricted – team option), Myles Powell (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #23

Analysis: The Philadelphia 76ers finally tired of waiting on Ben Simmons to return and traded him, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and some draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden and Paul Millsap. At the time, it looked like a win-win deal and one where Philadelphia would set for the foreseeable future with a Harden-Joel Embiid pairing.

Unfortunately, Harden wasn’t as productive with the Sixers as he had been earlier in his career, and he fell off even further in the playoffs. Now, Philly and Daryl Morey are left to question just how much of an investment they should make in the former MVP.

That’s essentially where the 76ers offseason starts. It doesn’t end there, by any means, but Harden’s future is easily the most important topic the team faces. Harden has a $47.4 million players option for next season that he’s expected to opt out of. At one point, it was a virtual lock he’d get a full five-year, max deal worth $270 million dollars. Now? There are questions on both the years and dollars for Harden.

Most expect that the Sixers and Harden will meet in the middle somewhere. Maybe Harden gets four years, but at less than max money. Maybe he gets max money, but for only two guaranteed years. It’s also possible that Harden and Morey already have a plan and he opts in and both sides let things play out, knowing they’ve got an extension in their back pockets, if they need it.

Beyond Harden, Morey has some other roster decisions to make. The easiest decision he has is to pick up the very team-friendly $1.9 million team option for Shake Milton. Milton is a good player and well-worth that minimal investment.

From there, the other decisions don’t get too much harder. Sadly, Danny Green is likely to be waived. His $10 million contract is fully non-guaranteed. After tearing multiple knee ligaments in the playoffs, next season is in doubt for Green. At his age, his career may also be in doubt. Unless Morey needs to guarantee Green’s deal as part of a trade, he’s probably going to be waived.

All of the other partial/non-guaranteed players will be back. Charles Bassey, Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed have all showed varying levels of potential. But all have shown enough that it’s worth keeping them around.

As for the veteran free agents…who knows? DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap are near the end of their long careers. It’s unclear how much either one really has left. But, if Doc Rivers is back on the sidelines (it looks like he will be), then it’s fair to expect one of Jordan or Millsap will be back. Rivers loves his vets, and if they were simply deep bench depth, it would be fine. The issue comes in if Rivers puts either on the floor, especially for big minutes or key moments. In order to keep that from happening, Morey could upgrade the rotation enough that Rivers won’t be tempted to play the veterans. Once they waive Green, the Sixers could be in range to use the full Non-Taxpayer MLE. And that’s something that should help them round out their depth.

Assuming the starting group of Embiid, Harden, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey is all back, Philly starts off in pretty good shape. Georges Niang had a very good year off the bench, and Milton is productive too. Furkan Korkmaz is also a nice enough player as mostly a shooting specialist. The problem is that’s only eight players. Given the injury histories of a chunk of the Sixers roster, they’ll need hit the regular season with around 12 players who can play. That’s where Morey has to do his work.

The MLE should deliver at least one solid player. If the Sixers want to bring in a quality backup for Embiid, they’ll be able to get one for MLE money. The center market has several good options. Players like Robin Lopez, Thomas Bryant or Damian Jones would be good fits for 15 minutes a night behind Embiid. Chris Boucher would also be a good option, but he’d likely need the full MLE to get him to leave Toronto.

They can also be aggressive in targeting 3&D wings as well. Wesley Matthews could be a target and a good replacement for Green. Other veteran options that make sense to go after include Danuel House Jr. (assuming there are no residual bad feelings with Harden from their time in Houston), Derrick Jones Jr. or Kent Bazemore.

Players like T.J. Warren, Malik Monk or Gary Harris are probably a little out of the Sixers price range, but they’d all be great fits. A couple of somewhat off-the-board options worth considering could be Josh Okogie, Jeremy Lamb and Damion Lee. All offer different skill sets, but all could fill a need for the Sixers on reasonable (read: cheap) contracts.

And, of course, we can’t rule out the possibility of a trade. Daryl Morey is one of the most aggressive decision-makers when it comes to making trades. There’s probably at least some sense that the 76ers are dealing with a shortened window to be title contenders. Embiid is terrific, but his health is always a concern. Harden probably has at least a couple more really good seasons in him, but he’s clearly starting to slow down, but in terms of production and health.

If Morey is aggressive on the trade market, look for him to try and move Harris. That salary slot could bring back a nice return. Thybulle could be added to plus-up a package if necessary. Maxey probably isn’t going anywhere, as the Sixers love him. But don’t be surprised if the 23rd pick in the draft is on the move. Philadelphia will have to make the selection, but they could do that on behalf of another team, and then consummate the trade later.

One thing to keep and eye on, if Harris is on the move: look for the Oklahoma City Thunder to be part of a deal. They have over $20 million in cap space that’s essentially going to expire after the draft. The Thunder might look to use some of that to bring in a player that could help them inch forward, while also adding assets, or to facilitate a three-team trade. If there’s a trade involving OKC and Harris, look for Derrick Favors to possibly move to Philadelphia, as that would take care of the backup big situation for the Sixers.

The Philadelphia 76ers are going to have to be aggressive this summer. As stated above, they can’t count on years and years of great production from Joel Embiid and James Harden. It’s unclear exactly what the Sixers will do, but you can bet Daryl Morey has something up his sleeve to try and get this team into title contention.

Minnesota Timberwolves 

Offseason Approach: Enough room under the tax to add to the roster

Actual Cap Space: -$71.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $23.6M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Jordan McLaughlin, D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jarred Vanderbilt

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Nathan Knight (restricted – Two-Way), Jake Layman (unrestricted), Greg Monroe (unrestricted), Jaylen Nowell (restricted – team option), Josh Okogie (restricted), Taurean Prince (unrestricted), Naz Reid (restricted – team option), McKinley Wright IV (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Ricky Rubio ($4,750,000)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #19

Analysis: The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming off just their second playoff appearance in the last 18 seasons. Last time they made it, it took four years to get back to the postseason. But this time around, the Wolves feel like they are bit more built to last.

Karl-Anthony Towns is coming off an All-NBA season and one of the best all-around years of his career. While Towns still isn’t a great defender, he’s at least giving a good effort night to night and that makes a huge difference. That helped Minnesota jumped from the bottom of the NBA in defense to the middle of the pack.

Anthony Edwards didn’t have the proverbial sophomore slump and he’s showing signs of blossoming into superstardom. D’Angelo Russell remains a productive offensive player. The trade for Patrick Beverley helped to ignite the defensive improvement, while Jarred Vanderbilt becoming a regular starter also aided that improvement as well.

Now, the Timberwolves have to figure out to sustain their success, while making improvements in a deep Western Conference. Most of the core is under contract, and Minnesota should also have the tools to upgrade the rotation as well. The Non-Taxpayer MLE has a good deal of spending power in a summer where just about everyone is over the cap.

For their own free agents, Minnesota should pick up the team-friendly options for both Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid. They can both play and are good values on their deals. If Taurean Prince was willing to come back for less money than he made last year, it’s worth considering. He’s a decent backup forward, but the Wolves can replace him. Minnesota needs to be ready to cut ties with everyone else, or to offer to bring them back on minimum deals only.

The first spot the Wolves should be looking for help at is with at the forward spot. This is especially true if the long-term plan is to slide Edwards to the two. At the two, Edwards size, strength and athleticism would be overpowering for many defenders.

In order to do that, Minnesota needs to add another forward. Someone like T.J. Warren, who can play both forward spots, would be ideal. He’d be an upgrade over Taurean Prince, who is a similar, but lesser player.

Putting together an offer sheet for players like Bruce Brown, or either Caleb or Cody Martin could also be a way to snag a talented player on the restricted market. They’d all bring some defense, along with just enough offense. One thing to keep in mind? The Timberwolves need to leave enough minutes for Jaden McDaniels. McDaniels three-point shot fell off some in this second season, but he’s got a tantalizing offense/defense combo of skills that the Wolves can use.

Minnesota would do well to add one more backup big, preferably one who is defensive-minded. Players like Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young or Otto Porter Jr. would fit in nicely. Trey Lyles would also be a good fit, if the Kings were to decline their team option for him.

There’s enough scoring punch in the backcourt with Edwards, Russell, and Malik Beasley, and point guard is covered with Beverley and Jordan McLaughlin. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of Russell or Beasley moved in a deal to bring in help elsewhere. Keep an eye on Russell here, as his contract is big enough to bring in all sorts of help. In addition, he’s on an expiring deal. With Edwards becoming the second star alongside Towns, it’s unclear what Russell’s long-term future is in Minnesota. This could be the time to cash in with a team that needs scoring help at the point, and get a long-term fit elsewhere on the roster.

Overall, the Timberwolves playoff run showed they are a good team with the ability to get better. The challenge is there are at least four teams that finished behind Minnesota in the standings who will pushing for better years next year. The LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers are all going to look to improve. The teams ahead or around the Wolves in the standings don’t seem all that likely to fall off either. That makes just maintaining their spot in the standings a tricky proposition.

The good news for Minnesota is that they’ve got Tim Connelly calling the shots now. He’s had experience building a great team in a small market from his time with the Denver Nuggets. Connelly won’t be shy about upgrading the Timberwolves to keep them in the playoffs. He’s been known to move both draft picks and players in deals to improve his teams immediately. It’s not that Connelly doesn’t care about the future, but he’s been sure to maximize the talent around his good players in the present.

Things are looking up for the Minnesota Timberwolves. They have new man in charge in the front office and they’ve finally cracked the playoff picture again. The key now is to keep that arrow pointing upward, so the Wolves don’t start a new streak of missed postseasons.

Utah Jazz 

Offseason Approach: Over the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$43.5M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$10.9M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Udoka Azubuike, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jared Butler, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Rudy Gobert, Juancho Hernangomez (non-guaranteed), Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Xavier Sneed (Two-Way)

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Trent Forrest (restricted), Danuel House Jr. (unrestricted), Eric Paschall (restricted), Hassan Whiteside (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Joe Ingles ($9,774,884)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: None

Analysis: The Utah Jazz have made the NBA playoffs for six consecutive seasons following a four-year absence. The Jazz have also won between 44 and 52 games in each of those season years. In many ways, they’ve become the model of consistency in the NBA.

Unfortunately, that consistency also carries over to lack of playoff success.

The Jazz, with most of the same core, have yet to advance out of the second round of the playoffs. That, more than anything, has questions about this team heading into the offseason.

The place where most will start is by asking: is it time to split up Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell? It’s a fair question. There have been rumors of tension between the two players for a few years now. There are also the stats that show Mitchell rarely passes the ball to Gobert throughout games.

The reality remains, if Utah is going to trade either Gobert or Mitchell, or both, they need to be really, really sure about it. Danny Ainge won’t hesitate to tear a team down and kick off a rebuild. He’s done it before with the Boston Celtics, and he’s probably open to doing it again with the Jazz.

That said, Utah will probably run it back at least one more year with the two stars together. It’s been widely reported that Quin Snyder has one more year on his contract, plus an option for 2023-24. The best bet is that the Jazz bring all three of Gobert, Mitchell and Snyder back and give it one more try. If it doesn’t work, then the 2023 offseason will likely see major change throughout the organization.

In order to make the most of one more run, the Jazz probably have to consider changing up some of the pieces around Gobert and Mitchell. Doing so will have to come via trades, as Utah has very little flexibility salary cap-wise.

The Jazz are over the tax. If they are willing to push their tax bill up close to $20 million for next season, they can use the Taxpayer MLE to add a player in free agency. That $6.4 million has more spending power than usual, because most of the league is capped out and roughly half of the league is dancing around the tax themselves.

What do the Jazz need though? The most glaring need seems to be a quality backup point guard. Mike Conley is coming off a solid season, but he’ll be 35 years old at the start of the next campaign.

Utah is comfortable sliding Donovan Mitchell over to the point when Conley sits, and they tend to play Jordan Clarkson heavy minutes too, but adding a solid backup for Conley should be a priority. Someone who can just keep the offense humming while Conley sits. The good news is that there are lots of veteran options available this summer, so the Jazz should be able to get someone without breaking the bank.

On the wing, Ainge needs to decide what he wants to do with Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale. Bogdanovic had another good offensive season, but his defensive limitations tend to show up in the playoffs where teams target players.

O’Neale is Utah’s best wing defender by a mile, but he’s still a limited offensive player. He’s become a consistent three-point shooter, but his inability to do anything off the dribble limits how big of a role O’Neal can have in an offense.

Jordan Clarkson factors in here as well. He’s coming of a really rough season. Clarkson still had the volume, but his shooting fell way off. He’s also not a good defender, which makes giving him nearly 30 minutes per game and the second most shot attempts on the team questionable decisions.

For the Jazz to make any sort of major upgrade to the rotation, one of those three has to go. They all have tradable contracts, and it would open up a role and minutes in the wing rotation.

Utah also needs to address size in their frontcourt. Gobert was their only productive player with any reasonable size this past season. If the MLE isn’t used to sign a backup guard, or to bring in a wing, the Jazz should use it to get a 4/5 player that can play with and behind Gobert.

Ideal targets for Utah to fill this role would be Trey Lyles (if Sacramento declines their team option), Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young, JaMychal or Jeff Green (if either decline their player options with Denver) or even Marvin Bagley, if the Jazz wanted to try to rebuild his value.

Just about the only thing the Utah Jazz can’t do next season is run things back unchanged. This core has had three seasons together now. Key parts of that group are aging and/or facing free agency soon. And patience is clearly running thin for Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. It’s now or never time for this iteration of the Jazz.

New Orleans Pelicans 

Offseason Approach: Flirting with the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$23.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $2.4M

Under Contract (14): FULL ROSTER
Jose Alvarado ($1,100,000 guaranteed), Devonte’ Graham, Jaxson Hayes, Willy Hernangomez, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, Kira Lewis Jr., Naji Marshall, C.J. McCollum, Trey Murphy III, Larry Nance Jr., Garrett Temple, Jonas Valanciunas, Zion Williamson

Potential Free Agents (3): FULL LIST
Gary Clark (unrestricted – Two-Way), Jared Harper (restricted – Two-Way), Tony Snell (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Steven Adams ($6,382,262)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #8

Analysis: The 2021-22 season started out as a mess for the New Orleans Pelicans. On the eve of training camp, they announced Zion Williamson had broken his foot over the summer and would be out indefinitely. That eventually stretched to Williamson missing the entire season.

The Pelicans were 8-21 midway through December and it looked like it would be a lost year. From that point forward, they played better than .500 basketball before winning their way through the Play-In Tournament. The season eventually ended in a six-game loss to the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in a series that was far more competitive than anyone thought it would be.

Now, it’s Year 4 of this post-Anthony Davis rebuild. The Pelicans have had a few bumps along the way, most notably with Williamson’s health, but they finally seem to be turning the corner. Now, it’s up to David Griffin and Willie Green to push that potential into consistent winning.

The good news? New Orleans has a lot of things working in their favor. Let’s start with Williamson, because for this team to reach their potential, they need the young star on the floor. He was recently cleared for a full return to basketball activities and that’s big for the Pelicans summer.

Because he hasn’t played since the end of the 2021 season, it’s easy to forget just how good Williamson is. He averaged 27 points on 61% shooting, to go along with 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game two seasons ago. There’s no reason to believe he can’t be that guy again, provided he can stay on the floor.

Aside from hoping Williamson gets back, the Pelicans can hope for better health overall. Brandon Ingram, who has become an All-Star himself, missed a large chunk of the season as well. Some of that possibly came from overuse, as Ingram was tasked with carrying a heavy load for New Orleans as they dug themselves out of their early-season hole.

Williamson will take some of the load off Ingram, but Griffin got a jump on the summer at the trade deadline when he acquired C.J. McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. Those two will allow Green to not have to push either Ingram or Williamson too hard, and to have a more balanced approach to the roster.

McCollum was nothing short of excellent in New Orleans and Nance showed he fits right in after he worked through injury issues of his own. That deal helped spur the Pelicans to the playoffs, but it’s really about what it can do for the team in 2022-23 and beyond that matters now.

Another piece of potential offseason business was taken care of early when Griffin signed Jonas Valanciunas to a two-year, $30.1 million extension. He turned in an outstanding season for the Pels and should be a solid offensive fit next to Williamson in the team’s frontcourt moving forward.

Flipping to this offseason, New Orleans has a chance to add yet another future rotation player at the draft. They have the eighth overall pick from the Los Angeles Lakers by virtue of the Anthony Davis trade. Last year, the Pelicans added Trey Murphy III in the middle of the first-round. It took a while, but once Murphy earned Green’s trust, he delivered outstanding shooting.

This year, New Orleans can go best player available. They don’t have any glaring needs, as the rotation is solidly 10 deep. Whoever the Pelicans draft should have the benefit of plenty of development time, including likely logging minutes with the Birmingham Squadron of the G League.

Part of the reason the Pels are so deep? They nailed their second-round pick last year and found a player on the undrafted market too. Herb Jones is a defensive star and his offensive game shows more promise than many think. He’s a good ball-mover and solid cutter. If he can improve his jumper, and the form is there, then Jones will become a threat to both shoot and attack closeouts as the defense rotates.

Jose Alvarado is a pest, and that’s an extremely high compliment. Chris Paul was the latest to learn just how annoying Alvarado can be to go against. He’ll have a long career as at least a backup, change-of-pace point guard because of his defense and his ability to push pace and run the offense. Like Jones, improving his jumper would go a long way towards lifting his overall offensive game.

This preview is focused so much on the players currently on the Pelicans roster, because they have a league-low three free agents. After you remove the Two-Way free agents, Tony Snell is the only standard free agent New Orleans has. With his roster spot presumably earmarked for this year’s first-round pick, we may not see much movement with this roster.

And that’s ok.

What the Pelicans need most is to build continuity and consistency. With Williamson cleared, they should have a whole summer and fall for this group to come together. The star talent is there and the depth is there. The team will possibly sit on their Mid-Level Exception, which will give them some great spending power into the season. And there are tradable contracts too, as next year defines what the roster lacks and needs.

If healthy, and that’s still a big if, the Pelicans are poised to make a jump from the Play-In Tournament to possibly being a homecourt advantage team in the first round. It’s taken a few years of rebuilding to get here, but the future is extremely bright in New Orleans.

Toronto Raptors 

Offseason Approach: Enough room under the tax to make solid moves

Actual Cap Space: -$48.4M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $33M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Precious Achiuwa, OG Anunoby, Dalano Banton ($150,000 guaranteed), Scottie Barnes, Khem Birch, Armoni Brooks ($50,000 guaranteed), Malachi Flynn, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr., Fred VanVleet

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Isaac Bonga (unrestricted), Chris Boucher (unrestricted), Justin Champagnie (restricted – Two-Way), David Johnson (restricted – Two-Way), Svi Mykhailiuk (unrestricted – player option), Yuta Watanabe (unrestricted), Thaddeus Young (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): Ishmail Wainright ($125,000)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Goran Dragic ($5,250,000)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: None

Analysis: The 2020-21 season could not have gone worse for the Toronto Raptors. They were the only NBA team that didn’t return home after the NBA bubble. They stayed in Florida and played out the season in Tampa. That unique-to-them scenario, combined with injuries, dropped the Raptors to the bottom of the NBA standings.

Then Kyle Lowry left this summer and questions were asked about starting a rebuild. But Toronto didn’t cry and whine. They picked up the pieces, moved forward and got back to the playoffs again.

The fall into the lottery delivered Scottie Barnes and he was a star in his rookie season. The rest of the roster stayed relatively healthy, and Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet turned in outstanding seasons. The health luck ran out some in the postseason, as Toronto was eliminated in the first round, but it was a good bounce-back season nonetheless.

Now, Masai Ujiri has a little bit of work to do to keep his Raptors on an ascendent path. They’ve built a solid core, with VanVleet working alongside switchable, versatile, long, defensive-minded wings and bigs. But Toronto needs a little more to take the next step.

Of the team’s free agents, the primary concerns are Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young. After taking a major step forward in 2021, Boucher struggled some in 2022. His shot went missing, and his defense dropped enough just enough that Nick Nurse went away from him at times. If the sense is that 2021 was more real than 2022, then Boucher is a player the Raptors have to re-sign. He fits in perfectly with the rest of the core and fills a major role as a backup big or spot starter. If he gets too expensive, or 2022 is seen as the real Boucher, then Toronto should let him move along.

Young played well after his trade to Toronto. He gave the Raptors another long, versatile frontcourt option, but his game was a bit jumper-heavy following the trade. He shot well from behind the arc on limited attempts, but took far too many long two-point shots. Still, Toronto should attempt to re-sign Young to a reasonable one or two-year deal, considering they gave up a first-round pick to acquire him.

The rest of the free agents are most replacement-level players. Yuta Watanabe works hard and is a fan favorite. If he’s willing to return on a minimum deal, that makes sense. Svi Mykhailiuk has failed to advance past simply being a shooter, and he’s not good enough at that skill alone to offset his deficiencies elsewhere. He may also take the decision out of Toronto’s hands by opting in for next season.

In free agency, the Raptors will like have the Non-Taxpayer MLE available to spend this summer. That’s good spending power, considering the lack of cap space around the league. Given that the starting five looks pretty solid, Toronto could even break that MLE up to get a couple of players to flesh out the bench.

Bringing in a solid backup point guard to take some of the pressure off VanVleet would be huge. Malachi Flynn hasn’t quite developed into that player yet, and another year as the third point guard would be good for him. The lead guard market is fairly deep in options that should be affordable for Toronto.

Beyond that, adding more shooting also seems like a key goal. Toronto ranked 20th in three-point percentage as a team. All too often, if VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. didn’t have it going from the outside, the Raptors offense struggled.

The free agent class doesn’t feature a ton of knockdown shooting, but there are guys who could make sense for Toronto. Pat Connaughton would be a great get, if he was willing to leave Milwaukee. Wayne Ellington and Bryn Forbes are one-skill vets, but shouldn’t break the bank. If the Raptors wanted to invest most, if not all, of the MLE in one player, Malik Monk would be a good target.

Lastly, the Raptors could use one more true big. Khem Birch is only actual center on the roster at the moment. Just getting one more big body to throw at players like Joel Embiid would be great for Toronto. Like finding a backup point guard, this free agent center group should have some quality players available for the minimum or just above the minimum.

There aren’t a lot of needs north of the border. It’s mostly about fleshing out the depth around a rock-solid starting five. But, it’s important to remember who runs the Toronto Raptors. Masai Ujiri, more than any other decision-maker in the NBA, won’t hesitate to take a homerun swing if a star becomes available. He’s got the assets and the cache to make it happen, should the opportunity arise. Keep an eye on that possibility if some star player unexpectedly lands on the trade market this summer.

Denver Nuggets 

Offseason Approach: Over the tax for the first time in years

Actual Cap Space: -$56.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$13.7M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Bones Hyland, Nikola Jokic, Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Zeke Nnaji, Michael Porter Jr.

Potential Free Agents (9): FULL LIST
Facundo Campazzo (restricted), Vlatko Cancar (restricted), DeMarcus Cousins (unrestricted), Bryn Forbes (unrestricted), JaMychal Green (unrestricted – player option), Jeff Green (unrestricted – player option), Markus Howard (restricted – Two-Way), Davon Reed (restricted – Two-Way), Austin Rivers (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #20

Analysis: The Denver Nuggets have fallen short of their own expectations the last two seasons, but that seems more circumstantial than any really drop-off in team quality. Still falling short is falling short and there are questions to be answered this summer.

Finding those answers is now a bit of a challenge, because the Nuggets have a new man in charge. Calvin Booth will reportedly lead the Denver front office after nearly a decade of Tim Connelly calling the shots.

Booth is well-respected, and his fingerprints are all over this roster already. And while there are moves that need to be made, the Nuggets core is established already.

The main thing for Denver this offseason is getting Jamal Murray and Michel Porter Jr. back on the court. Murray missed all of last season, after tearing his ACL late in the 2020-21 season. With the offset calendar due to the pandemic, Murray was unable to make it back for the Nuggets. The good news is that Murray is expected to be fully ready for the start of next season.

Porter played in just nine uninspiring, injury-impacted games last season. He’s now recovered from another back surgery and, like Murray, should be fully ready for next season.

With Murray and Porter back in the fold around two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, Denver should be a formidable offense. They’ve also got Aaron Gordon and Will Barton returning, as well as do-everything backup guard Monte Morris. In addition, Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji have shown a lot of promise while on their rookie scale deals.

The Nuggets will have to wait and see if JaMychal Green and/or Jeff Green opt in for next season. If they do, the frontcourt is probably pretty well-set for depth. DeMarcus Cousins could also return as a veteran backup behind Jokic.

It’s on the wing where Denver needs some help. Neither Porter nor Barton is on the floor for their defense. Even though the Nuggets have only the Taxpayer MLE available for spending, they should be able to get a quality player. One name to keep an eye on is former Nugget Gary Harris. It would be a steep pay-cut for Harris, but on a one-year deal, he could recoup some of his value in a place where he had a lot of success previously.

Players like Danuel House Jr., Kent Bazemore, or Wesley Matthews could help improve the team’s defensive wing depth, if they wanted to go the minimum route. Austin Rivers could also be brought back as a combo guard for the bench.

Having one more backup point guard is also key. Murray should be back, but he may take the occasional game off here and there to keep his knee strong. If so, the team will need someone to help Morris in those games. The good news is that the free agent market is flush with veteran lead guards that should be available for the minimum.

Under Connelly, the Nuggets did a good job making the most of late draft picks. If Booth can find another player at #20 that can develop into a rotation guy, that would be huge. Denver is out a couple of future first-round picks down the line, so nailing the ones they have is important.

Things might have changed at the top of the basketball operations, but don’t expect much change on the court. With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back healthy alongside Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets should be very good. If anything, the presence of those two should help Jokic stay fresh and ready for a deep playoff run. And it’s a deep playoff run that this group has their eyes on.

Chicago Bulls 

Offseason Approach: Flirting with the luxury tax if they re-sign Zach LaVine

Actual Cap Space: -$40.7M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $39.6M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Ayo Dosunmu, Javonte Green, Marko Simonovic, Nikola Vucevic, Coby White, Patrick Williams

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Tony Bradley (unrestricted – player option), Troy Brown Jr. (restricted), Tyler Cook (restricted – Two-Way), Malcolm Hill (restricted – Two-Way), Derrick Jones Jr. (unrestricted), Zach LaVine (unrestricted), Matt Thomas (restricted), Tristan Thompson (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Daniel Theis ($5,000,000)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #19

Analysis: The Chicago Bulls snapped a four-year playoff drought, but saw their season end with sort of a whimper. Chicago bowed out of the playoffs in a relatively non-competitive five-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. But were those the real Bulls in that series?

Chicago limped into that final game against Milwaukee without Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball or Alex Caruso. That’s a good chunk of the Bulls wing and guard rotation. The question now becomes: was not having those players a sign of things to come?

Ball and Caruso are signed long-term, but Ball went down at the midway point of the season with a torn meniscus and bone bruise in his knee and he never made it back. Caruso had a myriad of injuries that kept him out at various points throughout the season.

Being positive, you hope Ball and Caruso get and stay healthy. That will have them on the court in Chicago. LaVine is a different story altogether.

LaVine hits free agency at a bit of a weird time. He’s coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances, but he’s also got a knee injury that’s caused him to miss time. He’s arguably the premier free agent on the market, but there are very few teams with cap space.

In most situations like this, things line up for the player to stay put. It remains the most likely scenario that LaVine will re-sign with the Bulls. They can offer the most money, and he’s a star player on a good team. Yet, LaVine has said he plans to explore free agency and see what’s out there. If he finds another team that’s a good fit, it could spark sign-and-trade possibilities.

The bet here is that LaVine re-signs with the Bulls on a max deal. It’s the simplest way forward for the relationship of player and team, of which neither party really seems to want to move on from the other.

Following LaVine’s free agency, the Bulls have questions about filling out their roster. Assuming LaVine gets a max deal, that will leave Chicago roughly $9 million or so under the luxury tax with four or five roster spots to fill.

Nikola Vucevic’s play started to slip a bit this past season. He looked a step slower on defense and his three-point shooting fell way off. Are those warning signs or are they blips? Either way, the Bulls need to find a quality backup for Vucevic. Tristan Thompson was added on the buyout market, but Chicago should probably look elsewhere. Thompson’s offensive game is limited to screening and offensive rebounding at this point, and his defense has fallen off rather dramatically.

There are a lot of good veterans that will be available at the center spot, and some of them are going to be available for the veteran minimum. Chicago should be able to add someone that is capable of playing 10-15 minutes per game without breaking the bank.

The other major need is wing depth, particularly wing depth with some size. The Bulls have a lot of guards. If they’re healthy and they re-sign LaVine, Chicago will have LaVine, Ball, Caruso, last year’s rookie-find Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White. That’s more than enough guard depth. The challenge is that none of those players are necessarily sliding up to play the three all that often. LaVine and Caruso can do it in some three-guard alignments, but that will work only against certain teams.

On the forward line, DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams are good fits in today’s NBA. They are virtually interchangeable as 3/4 players. But one more wing with some size would be a good fit. Whether that’s a four that can slide to the five in small-ball lineups or another 3/4 to mix in with DeRozan and Williams is the question. However, that’s where the Bulls should be looking to use their Mid-Level Exception.

Chris Boucher would be a good fit as a 4/5. Other options like Boucher could include Marvin Bagley III or Trey Lyles, if either was cut loose by their current teams. Bagley is more of a project, but there’s still a ton of potential there, while Lyles is a proven floor-spacer who can hold his own defensively. If Chicago goes more of a 3/4 player, then T.J. Warren would be ideal. That would also come with the added benefit of weakening a division rival. The Bulls could also play on the restricted market and go after Juan Toscano-Anderson or Jalen McDaniels (if Charlotte declines their team option).

At the draft, Chicago needs to be focused on best player available, but ideally that’s a player with a little size. Again, if re-signing LaVine is the plan, and it should be, then the guard line is covered for the foreseeable future. It is important that the Bulls find an eventual rotation player, as they are out some future picks down the line from the Vucevic and DeRozan trades.

Injuries wrecked the Chicago Bulls season in 2021-22. They were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference before they passed the point of no return with injuries. Simply having better health should result in a better finish for the Bulls next year. But they also now know they have to improve their depth. Doing that will put Chicago in place to not have to push their veterans so hard, as well as cover for any inevitable injuries that come up. That could be the difference between homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs and battling to avoid the Play-In Tournament.

Atlanta Hawks 

Offseason Approach: Likely over the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$82.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$14M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Chaundee Brown Jr. (Two-Way), Clint Capela, John Collins, Danilo Gallinari ($5 million guaranteed), Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Jalen Johnson, Onyeka Okongwu, Trae Young

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Sharife Cooper (restricted – Two-Way), Gorgui Dieng (unrestricted), Kevin Knox (restricted), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (unrestricted), Skylar Mays (restricted), Lou Williams (unrestricted), Delon Wright (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #16

Analysis: The Atlanta Hawks looked like they had arrived during the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks pushed the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in a competitive six-game series and things were looking up in Atlanta.

Then, rather quickly, they weren’t.

The Hawks fell from fifth in the East to ninth, and had to win two games in the Play-In Tournament just to get back to the playoffs. While their offense continued to roll along, that was offset by a drop back in defense. And injuries wreaked havoc on Atlanta’s rotation throughout most of the season.

Now, with their most expensive roster in years, the Hawks look to general manager Travis Schlenk to get them back into contention.

The reason Atlanta is so expensive? The Hawks have taken care of their own. Over the past few years, Schlenk has acquired and extended or re-signed the following players: Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela and Kevin Huerter. Atlanta also signed Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari to high-priced free agent contracts. That’s pushed the team to the point where they are staring down the luxury tax for next season.

Let’s start with Gallinari, because he’s somewhat of the keystone for how this offseason might look for the Hawks.

The soon-to-be 34-year-old shooter has a deal for $21.45 million next season, but only $5 million of that contract is guaranteed. Atlanta is likely looking at being somewhere between $10 and $20 million over the tax, should they keep Gallinari and re-sign a few other players. That’s probable not a palatable number, given the Hawks aren’t a readymade title contender.

The guess here is that Atlanta will waive Gallinari, eat the $5 million they owe him and then look to re-sign him to a deal that comes with a much smaller cap and tax hit for 2022-23, but adds on an additional year or two. This is a similar approach to the one the Milwaukee Bucks took with George Hill in 2019.

The reason the Hawks need to free up some flexibility around the tax is that they’d like to re-sign Delon Wright. While it would appear his play fell off by looking at his stats, that’s largely a result of his role than any actually regression from Wright. Wright was regularly one of Atlanta’s better defensive guards and he has the ability to play both behind Young at the point, or beside him in an off-ball role.

Atlanta’s other free agents are probably moving on. The team likely will non-tender Kevin Knox and allow him to be an unrestricted free agent. If offered the $7.2 million qualifying offer, Knox would be best to sign it immediately. He won’t see a contract worth that much for next season. And that’s exactly why the Hawks won’t offer it.

Lou Williams looks like he’s at the end of his storied career. His shooting fell way off, and he struggled to create the separation needed to find good looks. His options are likely a veteran minimum deal or retirement.

It’s possible Gorgui Dieng could be back as a third-string center. Same with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for wing depth, but they are both replacement-level players at this point.

Skylar Mays was promoted from his Two-Way deal late in the season, and he could be back for some deeper backcourt depth, same for Two-Way player Sharife Cooper. Cooper is a candidate to return to the Hawks for a second Two-Way deal.

The next big piece of business for Atlanta is hammering out an extension with De’Andre Hunter. At times, Hunter has looked like he’s on the same level as Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns. But he’s not quite as versatile as a defender as Bridges is, nor is he as consistent on offense and he’s nowhere near as reliable health-wise.

That makes figuring out what to extend Hunter for a difficult task. The Hawks already have John Collins signed long-term, while Kevin Huerter will just be starting a four-year extension next season. Bogdan Bogdanovic also has two years left on his deal, with 2023-24 being a player option. Those are the guys Hunter overlaps with on the roster, so their presence could impact how the Atlanta values Hunter.

In that 2023-24 season, counting Bogdanovic, the Hawks have over $131 in committed salaries on the books for just eight players. If Hunter commands something in the $15-18 million range in starting salary, that assures the Hawks will be over the tax line for what will likely be a second consecutive season. And therein lies the rub for Travis Schlenk. Which Hawks season was the real one? If the belief is that the conference finals run in 2021 is where this team is really at, or at least close to it, then keeping this core together and adding around the edges makes sense.

If the team looks at things and decides the drop-off in 2022 is more real for this group, then they have to be careful not to lock into long-term money for too many players from this core.

Despite having some real limitations spending-wise, expect Schlenk to be aggressive this summer. Atlanta has listened on John Collins in the past, and if the right deal is there, they could move him and the four years and $102 million he’s owed. That could be the type of deal that allows the Hawks to rebalance the roster, while adding some depth at the forward spot and along the wing.

If it’s not a Collins trade, the next best bet might be a deal that sees Gallinari, Bogdanovic or Hunter moved. Again, this would be about rebalancing the roster a bit, while also removing some salary concerns now and down the line.

The guess here is that it’s a series of smaller moves for the Hawks this summer. Ones designed around adding depth and defense to a roster that is short on both. It’s a tough needle to thread, but if Travis Schlenk can do it, he’ll have Atlanta primed for a bounce-back year, as well as being set up nicely for the future.

Brooklyn Nets 

Offseason Approach: Well over the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$68.8M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$14.8M

Under Contract (6): FULL ROSTER
Seth Curry, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, Day’Ron Sharpe, Ben Simmons, Cameron Thomas

Potential Free Agents (10): FULL LIST
LaMarcus Aldridge (unrestricted), Bruce Brown Jr. (unrestricted), Nicolas Claxton (restricted), Goran Dragic (unrestricted), Andre Drummond (unrestricted), David Duke Jr. (restricted – Two-Way), Kessler Edwards (restricted – team option), Blake Griffin (unrestricted), Kyrie Irving (unrestricted – player option), Patty Mills (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (1): Jevon Carter ($3,925,000)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: James Harden ($11,306,904), DeAndre Jordan ($6,267,918)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #23 (unless deferred to 2023 from the Philadelphia 76ers)

Analysis: The Brooklyn Nets had as tumultuous a season as any NBA team has ever had in 2021-22. After being the preseason favorite to win the title, the season began with Kyrie Irving away from the team, as the Nets weren’t willing to let him be a part-time player that could only play in road games. The season ended with Irving back, but James Harden traded for Ben Simmons, who still hasn’t made his Brooklyn debut.

Now, Brooklyn faces an offseason with a lot of questions and some really uncertain answers.

Things start for the Nets with Irving this summer. He’s got a $36.9 million player option that he’s likely to decline. From there is where things get interesting. Brooklyn has no real path towards replacing Irving if he were to leave, but how many years and dollars can you commit to a player who you can’t rely on to be available all season?

No, Irving won’t likely face any sort of issues due to his vaccination status moving forward, but he’s still an injury prone, smaller player that is now on the wrong side of 30. Even without the constant swirl of drama that surrounds him, the injuries and age questions would exist.

Yet, Irving remains supremely talented. He matched his career high in scoring at 27.4 points per game. He had a shooting line of 47/42/92. Outside of Kevin Durant, he’s easily the Nets best player. That’s still worth quite a bit.

Look for Brooklyn to swallow hard and give Irving a max deal, but it may be of the four-year variety vs the full five-year. That would align Irving’s timeline with Durant’s as far as contracts go, and it gives the Nets a little protection, should things go sideways down the line.

Beyond Irving, the next most important offseason matter has nothing to do with a transaction, as Brooklyn already acquired Ben Simmons. Now, they need him to play. General Manager Sean Marks recently said the team will do everything they can to get Simmons healthy, both physically and mentally this summer.

That’s a necessity, because if Simmons can get back to the All-Star player he once was, the Nets ceiling changes as a team. He’d add a defensive element they don’t have, while also helping to ease the playmaking burden on both Durant and Irving.

As for the roster, Brooklyn has some big free agent decisions to make. Bruce Brown Jr. played out last season on the qualifying offer and he’s now an unrestricted free agent. He’s become a key player, as he’s the Nets best defender that has actually worn the uniform. He also upped his shooting and scoring this past season. Re-signing Brown will only further add to a skyrocketing luxury tax bill, but the Nets really have no other choice.

Somewhat in the same boat is Nicolas Claxton. He’s the best big on the roster and someone Brooklyn has to retain. Because he’s a restricted free agent, the Nets might be able to bring him back under team-friendly terms. To avoid a similar situation as they are in with Brown now, look for Brooklyn to sign Claxton to a multi-year deal.

Almost everyone else falls under the veteran minimum category. Andre Drummond was pretty good for the Nets, and if he can’t land a payday for a portion of the Mid-Level Exception elsewhere, Brooklyn should bring him back. The same is true of Goran Dragic. Patty Mills seems likely to exercise his player option. It’s an odd free agent market for his player-type and he may struggle to get as much as the $6 million player option he currently holds.

The Nets would be best to take a wait-and-see approach with both LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. By the time the playoffs rolled around, neither veteran was a part of the rotation. If there are roster spots to be filled after the initial waves of free agency, Brooklyn can re-engage with either player then.

For younger players, the Nets would be best to do what they can to retain both Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. moving forward. Brooklyn has a team option for Edwards, and they can pick that up, or decline it and make Edwards a restricted free agent and work out a longer-term deal. Duke is already a restricted free agent, and coming off a Two-Way deal, his options are somewhat limited. The Nets should be able to get him back as well.

As far as additions go, Brooklyn will have the Taxpayer MLE, which holds more spending power than usual. Last year, that got them a productive player in Patty Mills. Look for a similarly aggressive approach this year, as the Nets can offer a rotation spot, in addition to the $6.4 million MLE.

The rest of the roster will be filled out with veteran minimum signings. This time around, the Nets have to target need vs names. Last year, they were aggressive in adding well-known veteran players, but few of them actually filled a real need. Because some players will get priced out in a market that has little available money, Brooklyn should be able to find some bargains that can actually play a role.

It's a pivotal summer for the Nets and Sean Marks. He has to build a roster around Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and, hopefully, Ben Simmons that can compete for a championship. Anything short of that will leave this recent tenure in Brooklyn as a big series of what if’s, as the team tries to figure out where it all went wrong.

LA Clippers 

Offseason Approach: Deep into the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$63.2M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$22.9

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Brandon Boston Jr., Robert Covington, Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Kawhi Leonard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Norman Powell, Jason Preston

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Nicolas Batum (unrestricted – player option), Amir Coffey (restricted), Isaiah Hartenstein (unrestricted), Rodney Hood (unrestricted), Xavier Moon (restricted – Two-Way), Jayden Scrubb (restricted – Two-Way), Ivica Zubac (unrestricted – team option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Serge Ibaka ($9,720,900), Rajon Rondo ($8,250,000)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: None

Analysis: For the LA Clippers a bit of a nightmarish, non-playoff season is behind them. 2021-22 was always expected to be a little rough though. In order to be title contenders in 2023, all the Clippers really need is better health.

Sometimes, it really is that simple.

LA played the entire season without Kawhi Leonard. Paul George played in just 31 games, while fellow starter Marcus Morris appeared in only 54 games. In all, that’s 85 total games between the team’s three best veteran players.

George returned for the end of the season, but missed the Play-In Tournament due to health and safety protocols. Leonard was rumored to be closing in on a return, but the Clippers chose not to rush their star back, after he was injured in last year’s playoffs.

While LA can’t necessarily count on either George or Leonard to appear in 70-plus games, they should be able to expect something in the range of 60-65 games. And, assuming they’re healthy for the playoffs, that should be enough to make the team a title contender.

Despite having one of the NBA’s deepest rosters, there is still some work to be done.

Both of the team’s centers could be free agents. LA will almost assuredly pick up their team option on the final year of starting five Ivica Zubac’s deal. Zubac is coming off the best season of his career and he’ll be back to hold down the pivot for the Clippers.

Isaiah Hartenstein is a different story. He had a breakout season and is going to get paid this summer. The Clips best hope is that Hartenstein is willing to take some, or maybe even all, of the Taxpayer MLE. That’s really their only avenue to retaining the 24-year-old starting-caliber center.

Using the MLE on Hartenstein means that LA will have to find another avenue to keep Nicolas Batum in town. He’s probably going to decline his $3.3 million player option. But the Clippers have Early Bird rights for Batum. That should be enough to give him a decent-sized bump in salary, while also adding an extra year or two to his deal.

From there, LA needs to add a backup point guard behind Reggie Jackson. The Clips remain high on Jason Preston, who missed his rookie season due to a foot injury, but they’ll want proven depth too. Should John Wall work a buyout with the Houston Rockets, or a subsequent team following a trade, this is probably his best landing spot. He’d fill a role on a contender and could get his career back on track. And taking a veteran minimum shouldn’t be an issue, because Wall will still be getting considerable money via a buyout deal.

If Wall doesn’t end up with the Clippers, a couple of other under-the-radar veterans that make sense behind Jackson include D.J. Augustin, Jevon Carter, and Goran Dragic. All are at the point where a minimum deal on a contender is probably what they are looking at.

Elsewhere, LA took care of a big piece of business by inking Robert Covington to a two-year extension. He’ll be back to provide solid depth at either forward position. The only other free agent of note is Amir Coffey, who has likely earned a nice-sized deal as a restricted free agent. The Clippers will probably have him back to provide depth on the wing, while adding a piece of salary-matching in potential trades.

The trade market is a path for the Clips to improve things, but they’re fairly limited in what they can deal. Everyone with a meaningful-sized contract is a rotation player, and they don’t have the young talent or draft available to supplement an offer.

Mostly, this offseason is about doing what they can to re-sign their own players, while adding a veteran point guard for depth. Yes, it will cause that tax bill to go even higher, but worry not for Steve Ballmer. He just made enough to cover it in the time it took to read this sentence.

The Clippers are one of the title favorites for 2023. Sure, that’s theoretical, but what isn’t this far out? With better health for their stars and re-signing a few key free agents, LA’s 12-deep roster looks as good as anyone’s. And that’s enough to get things started for heading into next season.

Cleveland Cavaliers 

Offseason Approach: Over the cap, but without as much room under the tax as you think

Actual Cap Space: -$30.8M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $21.3M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Kevin Love, Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens (non-guaranteed), Dylan Windler

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Moses Brown (restricted), Ed Davis (unrestricted), Brandon Goodwin (restricted – Two-Way), R.J. Nembhard (restricted – Two-Way), Rajon Rondo (unrestricted), Collin Sexton (restricted), Dean Wade (restricted – Team Option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #14

Analysis: The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the most fun stories of the 2021-22 season. The Cavs doubled their win total from a year ago (22 to 44) and nearly made the playoffs. This was their first winning season that didn’t feature LeBron James since 1997-98.

In all, it was a major step forward for Cleveland and with a solid offseason, the Cavaliers are positioned to keep things going next year.

Evan Mobley was one of the better rookies the NBA has seen in a while. His presence was a big part of the Cavs jumping from 25th to seventh in defense this past season. And Mobley is no slouch on offense either, as he showed good scoring touch and the ability to be a solid passer as a rookie.

Mobley most regularly teamed with Jarrett Allen, who was re-signed to a five-year, $100 million contract, and Lauri Markkanen, who signed for four years and $67.5 million in a sign-and-trade, to form a jumbo-sized frontcourt. Mobley’s defensive versatility and Allen’s mobility as a defensive anchor made that trio work.

Darius Garland blossomed into an All-Star in Year 3, while Kevin Love had a bounce back season where he nearly won Sixth Man of the Year. Some of the other young talent is on the rise, as well.

But to continue their upward ascent, and to crack the playoff picture, Cleveland has some work to do roster-wise.

Collin Sexton hits restricted free agency coming off an injury-wrecked season. Sexton has proven he can fill up the scoring column, and he can do so efficiently. Garland’s play as the team’s lead point guard, allows Sexton to play off-ball, where he can thrive. The challenge is that’s a backcourt pairing that is very small by current NBA standards.

With that in mind, the Cavaliers need to set a solid walk-away number for Sexton. Whatever that number is, if Sexton gets an offer sheet worth more, Cleveland needs to be ok with watching him go. Or, they need to try to work a sign-and-trade to recoup something of value.

The cap space teams this summer could be in play for Sexton, especially the Detroit Pistons, who are looking to acquire talent however they can get it. But if Cleveland wants to keep their homegrown scoring guard, they should be able to do so with a deal that averages somewhere between $16 and $20 million per season. The other option is to give Sexton a big one-year, “prove it” deal, as he comes back from injury.

After sorting out what to do with Sexton, the Cavs next most important piece of business is an extension for Darius Garland. The third-year player took a big leap as a playmaker, while also maintaining his scoring ability and efficiency. While that’s great, it does make extension talks a little more complex.

Garland and his camp probably start extension talks with a max deal in mind. The Cavaliers probably want to stay below a max, but could possibly be willing to build a deal that reaches max money. This contract would be one of those where it’s just below the max, but there are reachable incentives (both player and team-based) that could lift Garland to a full max. However, if Garland won’t come off a max demand, and he shouldn’t, Cleveland should feel fine about giving him what he wants. He’s that good.

Beyond their young guards, the Cavs have some other work to do. The frontcourt is fine with the Allen, Mobley, Markkanen and Love group. Maybe one more veteran is needed for depth purposes, similar to the role Ed Davis played this season. Cleveland has some room for upgrades in the backcourt and on the wing.

In the backcourt, the Cavaliers need a backup point guard, with or without Sexton re-signing. They’ve been linked to bringing back Ricky Rubio, but he’ll miss roughly half of the season as he recovers from a torn ACL. That could mean a return engagement for Rajon Rondo, who would likely return on a one-year veteran minimum deal. That would cover Cleveland while Rubio rehabs.

On the wing, the Cavs have the trio of Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro and Cedi Osman. LeVert struggled to make shots consistently while in Cleveland. If he can rediscover his shot, at least from midrange, his mix of scoring and playmaking would be a boon to the Cleveland offense.

Okoro’s shooting improved a great deal from a pretty rough rookie season. He’s the best defensive wing the Cavs have, so he’s guaranteed a rotation spot.

Osman’s shot got back to a respectable level after a really down year in 2021. His defense remains below-average, and he’s never really become the playmaker Cleveland hoped he would. As he enters the final guaranteed year of his contract, it’s probably now or never for Osman with the Cavaliers.

Depending on if, and how much, Cleveland re-signs Sexton for, they might be looking at just the Taxpayer MLE to add a free agent. The Cavs are about $21 million below the tax before re-signing Sexton. If he gets anything north of $16 million, that doesn’t leave much room under the tax apron/hard cap.

Presumably, the Taxpayer MLE or an equivalent amount will be set aside to re-sign Rubio. So, that means Cleveland will be left to find help on the trade market or via minimum signings. They’ll add a solid vet or two on the minimum, but trades could be where the real impact moves come from.

The Cavs have all sorts of tradable salary. There’s almost no amount of matching salary they can’t get to. That leaves Koby Altman with a ton of options. Most likely, Cleveland will focus on retaining their own players, re-signing Rubio and adding some vets to fill out the roster, along with their draft pick. But in-season, should need or opportunity arise, the Cavaliers should be able to pounce.

It was a great jump-forward season for the Cavs, but they want to have staying power. With a young core centered around Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Cleveland should be able to make playoff runs for years to come. The key to more than just making the playoffs will be how Koby Altman adds talent around that trio and ownership’s willingness to again cross over into luxury tax territory to keep them all together.

San Antonio Spurs 

Offseason Approach: Under the cap, could have enough for a max offer

Actual Cap Space: -$2M

Practical Cap Space: $19.4M

Luxury Tax Space: $59.7M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Keita Bates-Diop (non-guaranteed), Zach Collins ($3.7 million guaranteed), Keldon Johnson, Tre Jones (non-guaranteed), Jock Landale (non-guaranteed), Romeo Langford, Doug McDermott, Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Joshua Primo, Josh Richardson, Devin Vassell

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Devontae Cacok (restricted), D.J. Stewart Jr. (restricted – Two-Way), Lonnie Walker IV (restricted), Joe Wieskamp (restricted), Robert Woodard II (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($5,329,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #9, #21, #25

Analysis: In many ways, the San Antonio Spurs are coming off a perfectly average season. They had some bad luck, which pushed their record below .500, but all the luck-adjusted metrics have them pegged as a .500 team. They aren’t really bad at anything, but they don’t necessarily excel at anything either.

Yet, it was the team’s third consecutive below-.500 finish and the third straight year out of the playoffs after a 22-year run of postseason appearances. So, where does this leave the Spurs? Oddly enough, kind of where they’ve been for a while now. Not really good, but not really bad. Just kind of stuck in the middle.

The first question to be answered in San Antonio is about Gregg Popovich and whether or not he’s returning. Pop refused to answer questions about his future on the sidelines after the Spurs lost in the Play-In Tournament. And the franchise certainly isn’t going to push him for an answer before he’s ready to give one.

The longer things go, the more likely it is that Popovich returns for next season. Over the last decade or so, many of his presumed heirs-in-waiting have moved on to other opportunities. You can only expect someone to wait so long for their shot. Popovich may wait until the perfect successor becomes available.

When things flip to roster moves for this summer, San Antonio is in really good shape. They have no bad contracts, some extra draft picks and only a handful of free agents. Because of this, they are sitting on somewhere between $19 and $32 million in cap space this summer, pending one big free agent decision. Let’s start there, with Lonnie Walker IV. The Spurs can make Walker a restricted free agent by giving him a qualifying offer. That would give San Antonio the option to match any offers Walker may receive, but the challenge is that it puts a $13 million cap hold on the books too.

Walker isn’t exactly a young prospect, as he’ll be 24 years old in mid-December. He’s improved each year, but a lot of that is about his role increasing and subsequent rise in his usage. Walker is coming off a poor shooting year, which is rough headed into a contract discussion for a player that is mostly known for his scoring.

The other complicating factor is that the Spurs are stocked with guards and wings. Even after trading Derrick White at the trade deadline, San Antonio has Dejounte Murray, recent first-rounders Devin Vassell and Joshua Primo, veteran Josh Richardson and even guys like Tre Jones and Romeo Langford who are lower in the pecking order.

Yes, teams are downsizing more and they’ll play multiple guards and wings together. But that’s still a lot of players, including a couple young ones who need minutes to develop.

The best guess is that the Spurs initially make Walker a restricted free agent. If he gets an offer they don’t want to match, they’ll let him go. If they need more cap space, they’ll rescind his qualifying offer and renounce his rights.

As for the rest of the roster, the decisions seem a lot more straight forward. Zach Collins showed enough in his comeback season that he’ll likely have his $7.4 million contract fully guaranteed. Same with Tre Jones, as he’s become Dejounte Murray’s primary backup after Derrick White was traded.

That leaves a couple more guarantee decisions and a couple of guys who can be restricted free agents. Look for San Antonio to waive Jock Landale. He never quite made it, and the Spurs have Collins behind Jakob Poeltl.

Keita Bates-Diop is in a bit of a weird situation. He plays hard and is clearly a Pop favorite. But Bates-Diop is the kind of player you can waive, and then re-sign to a new minimum deal later.

The Spurs took care of Devontae Cacok and Joe Wieskamp late in the season with promotions from their Two-Way deals, but neither will get qualifying offers to make them restricted free agents.

At the draft, the Spurs would love a little luck to move up from their ninth-place position pre-Lottery. It’s happened for them twice in the past with Tim Duncan and David Robinson. But San Antonio is positioned to add an infusion of talent at the draft no matter what. They have three first-round picks. Because roster spots are getting a bit tight, look for a potential trade out, or at least one draft-and-stash player to be selected.

With their cap space, the Spurs need to target some more consistent scoring. San Antonio has one plus-creator in Dejounte Murray. They rely on system buckets more than just about any team in the NBA. Getting someone else, ideally a forward with some size, would be ideal.

If they go the $30+ million in space route, the Spurs could get involved in offer sheets for guys like Miles Bridges or possibly Deandre Ayton. Bridges would be a great fit with the young core, while Ayton would free the team up to trade Jakob Poeltl to fill a hole elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely those players’ incumbent teams will let them get away.

That leaves the Spurs working the trade market or working more around the edges in free agency. Because they’ll have so much cap space, San Antonio is well-positioned to do a one or two-year overpay for a veteran who would be the right sort of fit.

For example, someone like T.J. Warren would be a good fit, if things got sideways for him with the Indiana Pacers. The Spurs have done well with veteran reclamations in the past. Rudy Gay and Zach Collins are good recent examples. Warren could provide some soring with size on a short-term deal while he proves he’s healthy. Otto Porter Jr. would be a logical target for the same reasons.

The only piece of extension-work to be done is with Keldon Johnson. He’s come along rapidly and is exactly the kind of player the Spurs have locked up in the past. Look for San Antonio to ink Johnson to an extension in the $16-18 million per season range, which is in line with what the team gave Dejounte Murry and Derrick White. Romeo Lanford is also extension-eligible, but there’s no chance he signs one. This will be a “prove it” year for Langford, both in terms of ability and health.

It's probably not going to be a summer of fireworks in San Antonio. They’ll make smart moves that leave themselves set up for future years. The 2023 free agent class could be very good, pending extensions. Because of that look for the Spurs to treat this summer with a two-year mindset. They’ll look to improve, while remaining flexible cap-wise for the next offseason, and also leaving plenty of minutes for their young players this season.

Charlotte Hornets 

Offseason Approach: Likely over the cap, with limited tax space

Actual Cap Space: -$20.3M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $34.1M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
LaMelo Ball, James Bouknight, Gordon Hayward, Kai Jones, Kelly Oubre Jr. ($5 million guaranteed), Mason Plumlee ($4.6 million guaranteed), Nick Richards (non-guaranteed), Terry Rozier III, J.T. Thor, P.J. Washington

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Miles Bridges (restricted), Montrezl Harrell (unrestricted), Arnoldas Kulboka (restricted – Two-Way), Scottie Lewis (restricted – Two-Way), Cody Martin (restricted), Jalen McDaniels (restricted – team option), Isaiah Thomas (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): Nicolas Batum ($8,856.969)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #13, #15

Analysis: The Charlotte Hornets lost in the Play-In Tournament for the second straight season. That extended their playoff drought to six years, and it cost James Borrego his job after four seasons. This is despite Borrego improving the Hornets win total by ten games in each of the last two seasons.

Firing Borrego makes hiring a new coach the first priority for Charlotte this summer. Finding someone who can continue to develop the team’s young players, while crafting something better than a bottom-10 defense would be ideal. As of this writing, the Hornets haven’t hired a new coach and they seem to be taking their time in their search.

As far as the roster goes, Charlotte is a bit locked into this group. LaMelo Ball is only partway through his rookie scale deal, which is a good thing. Gordon Hayward has two years left on his contract, while Terry Rozier III signed a four-year, $96 million extension last offseason. That leaves the Hornets without a ton of roster flexibility, as they try to build a winner before Ball’s rookie deal expires.

This summer, the team’s biggest roster decision is what to do with Gordon Hayward and the $61.6 million he’s owed through 2023-24. There have been rumors that Charlotte could work a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers where they take back Russell Westbrook’s $47 million contract, in exchange for Hayward and some other undesirable salary. While that wouldn’t improve the Hornets for next season, it would clean up their cap sheet considerably heading into the 2023 offseason.

The other option is to hang onto Hayward and to hope he gets past the injury issues that have plagued his career since he left Utah. In his two years in Charlotte, Hayward has provided the all-around offensive play the Hornets hoped for, but he’s played in just 93 games over two seasons. At this point, should Hayward stick in Charlotte, the team needs to have enough depth on the wing to cover for the 30-40 games Hayward seems likely to miss.

That’s where the rest of the roster decisions come in.

Re-signing players starts with Miles Bridges. Bridges started all 80 games he played and was one of the most improved players in the NBA. He jumped to 20.2 points (on relatively efficient shooting), 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

Now the question becomes: How much is that worth in free agency?

Helping the Hornets is that only a handful of teams project to have enough cap space to give Bridges an offer sheet. Of those teams, only the Detroit Pistons could push towards a max offer sheet for Bridges. But…that doesn’t mean the Hornets will get any sort of hometown discount. Since he’s become pretty irreplaceable as a running mate for Ball, expect Bridges to get a deal that lands somewhere in the range of $25 million annually, perhaps with some incentives to push the contract near a max.

Assuming Charlotte feels good about Bridges sticking around, they should keep Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee, and guarantee both of their deals. Oubre is needed for wing depth behind Hayward, while Plumlee is at least a quality backup center, even if he’s overmatched as a starter. If nothing else, both players would be on tradable expiring contracts, which could help fill holes on the roster down the line.

That leaves an interesting group of reserves that will could hit the market. Montrezl Harrell will be an unrestricted free agent and he did what he’s always done after a deadline deal to the Hornets. Given Charlotte was in the mix to sign Harrell as a free agent a couple of years ago, look for them to try to keep him as backup big who can provide scoring and energy off the bench.

The Hornets have interesting decisions to make with potential restricted free agents Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels. Martin has developed into a solid player on the wing. He’s competitive defensively, and he’s become a good shooter and slasher. The challenge is that he could get priced out of Charlotte’s range because the free agent market is lacking quality wing depth.

McDaniels is still developing, but he’s got good shooting touch and size at either forward spot. He’s also improved his finishing around the rim, which is important when an athlete like him plays with a passer like Ball. Because this roster will likely get pretty expensive if they re-sign Bridges, look for the Hornets to exercise their team option on McDaniels. That leaves them vulnerable in 2023, when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, but that’s something to deal with then.

The last free agent of note is Isaiah Thomas. After years of bouncing around the NBA, and a stop in the G League, Thomas finally stuck with the Hornets. And he was a good reserve guard for them. He looked quicker and more explosive and his shot fell at a pretty good rate. Yes, Thomas’ size works against him on defense, but Charlotte didn’t do much defending no matter who was in the lineup. Thomas has earned a full minimum contract, with the Hornets or elsewhere.

Pending how they handle their free agents, especially Bridges, Charlotte may be in place to use the full Non-Taxpayer MLE. That would be huge, because they need to add someone who can bring a defensive presence. Ideally, that would be a big that could complement or replace either Plumlee or Harrell. Either Nic Claxton or Isaiah Hartenstein would be major upgrades in that sense. Barring that, adding a guard who can defend is also a need. Someone like Jevon Carter could come via the minimum, while Delon Wright would be a nice addition if they don’t use the MLE on a big.

The only other piece of business is figuring out to handle a rookie scale extension for P.J. Washington. If Bridges sticks around, and Hayward isn’t traded, Charlotte might let things play out to restricted free agency with Washington. If Bridges and/or Hayward is gone, then it becomes more important to lock in Washington. His size and shooting range will make him an attractive target for teams. If the Hornets can get Washington on a deal that starts in the $10-12 million range, that would be solid. But Washington may be better off betting on himself and hoping for a bigger deal in 2023.

Charlotte backed themselves into a bit of a corner when they swooped in and gave Gordon Hayward $120 million over four seasons. His other suitors topped out at somewhere between $90 and $100 million, mostly because of Hayward’s injury concerns. Having a $30 million part-time player is a cap-clogger that is tough to work around. And that’s unfortunate, because LaMelo Ball is proving to be a true star, Terry Rozier III has lived up to his deal, and Miles Bridges is blossoming into an All-Star talent.

Mitch Kupchak has to figure this one out, while hiring the correct coach. It’s also important Kupchak makes the most of two first round picks, after the Hornets got almost nothing out of two first-rounders last season. If he can’t start sort out the roster and making real improvements, someone else will be making those decisions sooner rather than later in the Queen City.

Los Angeles Lakers 

Offseason Approach: Taxpayer MLE and Veteran Minimums Once Again

Actual Cap Space: -$46.2M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$6.1M

Under Contract (4): FULL ROSTER
Anthony Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, LeBron James, Austin Reaves (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (13): FULL LIST
Carmelo Anthony (unrestricted), D.J. Augustin (unrestricted), Kent Bazemore (unrestricted), Avery Bradley (unrestricted), Wayne Ellington (unrestricted), Wenyen Gabriel (unrestricted – team option), Dwight Howard (unrestricted), Stanley Johnson (unrestricted – team option), Mason Jones (restricted – Two-Way), Mac McClung (unrestricted – Two-Way), Malik Monk (unrestricted), Kendrick Nunn (unrestricted – player option), Russell Westbrook (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer MLE ($6,392,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: None

Analysis: Two years after winning a record-tying 17th NBA title, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves out of the postseason entirely. Injuries were certainly part of the issue, as LA tumbled to a 33-49 season. Equally as big a culprit? Poor roster construction from top to bottom for a team built around three ill-fitting stars.

The fall cost Frank Vogel his job, but Rob Pelinka will get at least one more year to try and get things right for the Lakers. It’s fair to say, this as important of an offseason as any team in the NBA will have.

There’s no bigger decision that Pelinka needs to make than what to do with Russell Westbrook. It would be a complete shock if Westbrook turned down his $47.1 million player option for next season. Once he picks that up, control shifts back to Los Angeles for how to move forward.

The ideal situation for the Lakers would be to trade Westbrook. There’s considerable reporting that Pelinka has a standing offer to send Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for John Wall’s nearly-matching contract. The catch? LA will have to surrender one of the two tradable first round picks (in 2026, 2027 or 2028) they have left. The real question: Can the Lakers do better in a trade?

If the Lakers can’t trade Westbrook, there will be at least cursory buyout discussions. The challenge for LA is that he’s unlikely to give back anything approaching a substantial amount via a buyout. If the Lakers and Westbrook can’t reach agreement on a buyout, they may straight waive him. It’s unlikely things get to this point, as they’d rather have him as a massive salary-matching trade piece than simply dead money, but stranger things have happened. One thing the Lakers absolutely should avoid is waiving and stretching Westbrook. They could lower his cap hit from $47.1 million for 2022-23 to $15.7 million by stretching Westbrook’s dead money. That’s a savings of $31.4 million for this upcoming season. That would get the Lakers out of the tax and give them the ability to use the Non-Taxpayer MLE.

But…there’s a pretty big catch.

Los Angeles would eat roughly $15.7 million in dead money for each of the next three seasons through 2024-25. After just working out from under the $5 million they had on the books annually for Luol Deng, it would be a bad decision for the Lakers to go right back to carrying a large sum of dead money. Especially when the cap sheet could be clearing up almost completely in a couple of years.

The only long-term salary obligations LA currently has on their books are for Anthony Davis ($121.8 million owed through 2024-25) and Talen Horton-Tucker ($21.3 million owed through 2023-24). After that, everything is clean…unless LeBron James signs another extension.

In early-August, James is eligible to sign another extension with the Lakers. At this point it’s unknown what James’ plans are. In the past, he’s preferred to play things year-to-year. This strategy keeps pressure on his team to keep making moves to keep them in contention. James also has the motivation of being free to join whatever team his son Bronny is on, when he’s eligible to join the NBA in 2024.

There’s also been some buzz that the Lakers should consider moving Anthony Davis. While unlikely, the idea isn’t entirely meritless. Davis has appeared in just 76 games over the past two seasons, as he’s dealt with a variety of injuries. His play was better last season than in the season before, but Davis may be on the downswing of his career. He’ll be 30 towards the end of next season and his days of appearing in more than 60-65 games are probably over.

The challenge for LA in trading Davis is that he’s the lone star they have locked in beyond this upcoming season. He and James also clearly enjoy playing together. And it’s not like Davis is bad. He’s just not the singularly dominant two-way talent he once was.

As for the rest of the roster…whew boy there is work to do. The Lakers have a league-high 13 free agents. Kendrick Nunn will almost definitely opt in for $5.25 million for next season. He didn’t play at all last season, and he won’t find that sort of value in free agency. LA will guarantee Austin Reaves, as he was a nice find on the undrafted market. And they’ll probably pick up team options for Stanley Johnson and Wenyen Gabriel. Both are solid roster-fillers on team-friendly contracts.

That still leaves nine players as free agents. This includes an unheard of seven players coming off veteran minimum deals. Such is life when you have to fill out your roster with limited ability to do so.

And it’s fair to expect a repeat of that roster building tactic this summer.

Los Angeles will use their Taxpayer MLE to snag a rotation player. It’s actually a nice piece of spending power in a summer where most of the league is capped out and half of the teams are dealing with luxury tax issues of their own.

Beyond that, at least a few of their own minimum signings will probably be back for another run at things. Carmelo Anthony had a nice year and can still contribute off the bench. Avery Bradley played a lot, and was better than he got credit for. Bradley is fine if he’s back on another minimum deal. The same is true of Dwight Howard as a backup center.

Don’t expect the Lakers to get any sort of steal with Malik Monk this offseason. He’s one of the best shooters available and at just 24 years old, Monk will likely command more than LA can offer him.

Overall, the names will change, but barring a big Westbrook trade, things won’t look a lot different roster-wise for the Lakers. They’ll likely be incredibly top-heavy once again, with limited trade resources to work with in-season. Some different vets will get squeezed by the market this season and will decide that catching on with James and Davis and playing a year in Los Angeles isn’t so bad.

If they are at least somewhat healthier next season, the Los Angeles Lakers will return to being playoff contenders. But in a very deep Western Conference, it’s going to take more than good health. Rob Pelinka has to handle the Westbrook situation in a way that allows him to flesh out the roster better around his stars. And he has to nail his veteran signings in a way that makes more sense than adding a bunch of guys who are more name than game. That’s easier said than done, however. And that’s why this summer is so pivotal for both the immediate and long-term success of the Lakers.

Sacramento Kings 

Offseason Approach: Well over the cap, should use full Non-Taxpayer MLE

Actual Cap Space: -$30.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $35.2M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Harrison Barnes, Terence Davis, De’Aaron Fox, Maurice Harkless, Justin Holiday, Richaun Holmes, Alex Len, Chimezie Metu (non-guaranteed), Davion Mitchell, Domantas Sabonis

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Donte DiVincenzo (restricted), Josh Jackson (unrestricted), Damian Jones (unrestricted), Jeremy Lamb (unrestricted), Trey Lyles (unrestricted – team option), Neemias Queta (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (1): Robert Woodard II ($300,000)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions:$4.0 million (Tyrese Haliburton)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #7

Analysis: The Sacramento Kings once made the NBA playoffs for eight consecutive seasons from 1999 through 2006. Unfortunately, a Game 6 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in 2006 was the last time Sacramento has seen postseason action.

For 16 consecutive seasons, the Kings haven’t made the playoffs. There are kids who are getting their driver’s licenses that have never seen a playoff game in Sacramento. Let that sink in.

Now, it’s up to Mike Brown to break that streak of futility. Brown has been hired as the 31st head coach in Kings history. Brown will be the 20th coach in the team’s Sacramento history. Of the previous 19, only Rick Adelman, who led the eight-straight seasons of playoff appearances in the early-2000s, finished with a winning record.

Brown has his work cut out for him, because the Western Conference is deep and even some of the bad teams in 2021-22 are positioned to reverse course in this coming season. Essentially, outside of Houston and Oklahoma City, it doesn’t seem like there are any easy wins out west.

The first thing Brown has to do is figure out how to get a bit of cohesion out of a mishmash of a roster.

The Kings headliners are De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, and it’s unclear if they are a great fit together. In theory, that should be a two-man combo to build around offensively. Pick-and-rolls and DHOs should be run in abundance. But, both Fox and Sabonis are coming off poor shooting seasons in Sacramento. Both were sub-30% three-point shooters for the Kings. Teams will just drop off and dare either one to make shots until they prove they can do that consistently.

In order for the playoff-less streak to end, Fox and Sabonis need to play at an All-Star level. Sabonis has been there twice, and Fox has knocked on that door before. Sacramento needs them to be great to have a chance.

Beyond the two franchise players, the rest of the roster is a mixed bag. Harrison Barnes remains arguably the NBA’s premiere role player. He’s good for 16 points on around 47/39/82 shooting splits every single season. And Barnes can defend too, which is in very short order on this team.

Davion Mitchell joins Barnes in the defensive charge. He’s nicknamed “Off Night” for a reason. But Mitchell and Fox are an odd pairing in a backcourt. Both are at their best with the ball in their hands, and neither is a reliable off-ball player. Brown has to figure out how to make minutes work with lineups featuring both Fox and Mitchell for the Kings best players to see the floor together.

Everyone else is somewhere between an OK rotation player and overpaid one. Justin Holiday is just a shooter now. His off-the-dribble game and playmaking are all but gone at this point. Terence Davis is an inefficient volume-scorer. Richaun Holmes is a player everyone likes, but he’s dealing with serious off-court issues that may not be resolved by the start of next season. Maurice Harkless and Alex Len are a combined $8.5 million that might as well have been set on fire.

And that’s where Monte McNair has a lot of work to do to build a team for Mike Brown to coach.

First, the Kings should be praying to jump up in the draft. Any of the players projected to go in the top-four would help this team considerably. Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren would unlike jumbo-sized lineups. Jabari Smith would inject scoring with size, and he could learn a lot playing with Barnes. And Jaden Ivey would be an excellent running mat for Fox and Mitchell in the three-guard rotation.

The next step is coming to a decision on what to do with Donte DiVincenzo as a restricted free agent. Before his injury with the Milwaukee Bucks, DiVincenzo was an up-and-comer. He shot it well, was showing some on-ball playmaking ability and he was a willing defender. After struggling in his return from injury with the Bucks, some of those skills re-popped after the Kings acquired DiVincenzo at the trade deadline, minus the defense. But that’s more of a team-wide thing than a DiVincenzo thing.

The question now is: How much can you pay DiVincenzo this summer? Sacramento once made a bet on Buddy Hield and handed him $88 million over four years, only to trade Hield before he hit the halfway point of his deal. And Hield was a lot more accomplished at the time of his second deal than DiVincenzo is. Keeping DiVincenzo is key, because this roster needs his shooting, but the Kings can’t overpay him and get stuck with another tricky contract to work around. As for the rest of the free agents, the Sacramento should probably split the difference and keep the bigs, while letting the wings leave town. Trey Lyles has become a dependable player and his shooting could work in the frontcourt alongside Sabonis. Damian Jones has also shown signs of being a dependable backup center. Assuming the team guarantees Chimezie Metu’s deal, that’s enough depth to work around any availability issues that may crop up with Richaun Holmes. Bringing back Neemias Queta on another Two-Way deal should be a no-brainer, as well.

As for Josh Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, their futures should be elsewhere. Maybe they can still contribute as scoring depth for another team, but the Kings have enough shoot-first players on this roster already. They don’t need anymore, especially veterans that could block younger players.

Sacramento is far enough under the cap that they should be able to use the full Non-Taxpayer MLE this summer. That has good spending power, given the dearth of cap space around the league. As for a specific target, this team needs a lot. The Kings need at least one more wing, ideally someone who can defend.

Bruce Brown would be a good player to push for, as he’s young enough to fit in with the rest of the younger core. Caleb and Cody Martin would be good targets, as players who can do a little bit of everything on the wing. Juan Toscano-Anderson would bring some of that 3/4 versatility behind Harrison Barnes, and he’d inject a nice dose of energy into a bit of a slow-paced frontcourt. The same is true of Derrick Jones Jr., if Sacramento wanted to go with a veteran.

The Sacramento Kings canvas isn’t blank. Monte McNair and Mike Brown have some players to work with, but they’ve also got a couple of contracts to work around. Yes, the goal is to end the playoff drought, but that shouldn’t come with a series of shortsighted shortcuts that have caused the drought to last this long to begin with. Pick off a value signing or two this summer, put them alongside your new franchise duo and De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and see what you’ve got. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like missing the playoffs for a 17th straight year is really all that much worse than missing it for 16 years in a row.

Portland Trail Blazers 

Offseason Approach: Could stay over the cap or could create up to $23.5 million in cap space

Actual Cap Space: -$34.1M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $45.4M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Eric Bledsoe ($3.9 million guaranteed), Greg Brown III, Josh Hart (non-guaranteed), Keon Johnson, Damian Lillard, Nassir Little, Didi Louzada, Trendon Watford, Brandon Williams (Two-Way), Justise Winslow

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Keljin Blevins (restricted – Two-Way), C.J. Elleby (restricted), Elijah Hughes (restricted), Joe Ingles (unrestricted), Ben McLemore (unrestricted), Jusuf Nurkic (unrestricted), Anfernee Simons (restricted)

Dead Cap (1): Andrew Nicholson ($2,844,430)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $20.8 million (C.J. McCollum)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #6

Analysis: They did it. The Portland Trail Blazers finally did it. After years of speculation, they broke up the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum backcourt pairing. Portland also moved on from Norman Powell, Robert Covington and Larry Nance Jr., as they set themselves up to rebuild around Lillard this summer.

The in-season maneuvering was as drastic as we’ve seen in the NBA in years. Due to injuries to several key Blazers, including Lillard, Portland was well on their way to bottoming out in the Western Conference. After the trades, they fell to 13th in the conference and sit in a good position to move up in the lottery with the sixth pick.

But the draft is only one part of the equation for Portland. After firing Neil Olshey, the Trail Blazers have handed the reins to Joe Cronin to run the front office. He presided over the deals to send away McCollum and the other vets, and now he’s got to build this team back up around Lillard.

The first step this summer for the Blazers is to pick a direction. They can easily create $23.5 million or so in cap space, but that would mean moving one from all of their free agents, except for Anfernee Simons. It would also mean renouncing the team’s $20.8 million trade exception from the McCollum trade. The other path is to stay over the cap, retaining the rights for a few key free agents and keeping the ability to use the McCollum TPE. A lot will depend on how the team wants to handle things with Jusuf Nurkic. While Simons is the most important free agent Portland has, Nurkic is the keystone around whom the offseason approach will be built.

On one hand, Nurkic will be 28 years old before next season and he’s not a threat to make the All-Star team. On the other hand, Portland doesn’t have anything resembling a replacement on their roster for him. On the third hand, Nurkic is pretty good and has been a solid pick-and-roll partner for Lillard. On the fourth hand (this is apparently an octopus or spider!), Nurkic has battled injuries since breaking his leg in 2019 and has played just 101 games the last three seasons.

If Portland wants to retain Nurkic for something in the range of $12-14 million per season over two-to-four years, that’s perfectly reasonable. Ideally, it would be a descending contract that starts high and finishes at a lower salary, but that’s not a must. If the Blazers re-sign Nurkic to something in that range, then they are best to stay over the cap. They can build out the rest of the roster through trades and exceptions.

If Portland lets Nurkic leave, then they can pivot to being an under-the-cap team. They’ll still retain Simons’ restricted rights, but can use the $23.5 million or so in space to make signings or to facilitate trades.

How the Trail Blazers use this flexibility, with either path, is key. There are a lot of holes on this roster. Like, a LOT of holes.

If they re-sign Nurkic and Simons, they’ll have the center spot and the two backcourt positions locked in. The team should also keep Josh Hart and guarantee his deal. He’s good and he can fill a wing spot. If healthy, Nassir Little has shown promise as a solid wing too.

That’s five players, which leaves a whole bunch of minutes to be accounted for.

Maybe Trendon Watford or Greg Brown III are ready to play real minutes up front. Maybe Keon Johnson, who played his best ball after being traded to Portland, can take on backcourt minutes. Maybe Justise Winslow can finally stay healthy and fill a forward spot in the rotation.

But that’s an awful lot of maybes. And that’s why the Blazers finished with the sixth-worst record in the NBA last season.

Identifying targets for this team is a bit of a guessing game. They have so many spots to fill, that just about anyone makes sense. There’s also the uncertainty of how Portland will approach the offseason. And, finally, we don’t really have a great sense of what kinds of players Cronin prefers just yet.

One thing that is for sure: re-signing Simons is a must. He had his breakout season last year. And it wasn’t just piling up stats on a bad team that was out of contention. Simons did a lot of his work before the Trail Blazers pivoted in their approach to the year (read: tanked their butts off late). And he was very efficient doing so. His shooting stayed stable, even as his volume increased. He also upped his playmaking, while maintaining roughly a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Finding the right salary number for Simons will be key for this year and moving forward. Ideally, something in the $15-18 million average annual value range seems about right. But Portland should be ready, and willing, to push just north of $20 million annually if one of the cap space teams gets frisky with an offer sheet for Simons.

None of the Blazers other free agents are anyone they need to stress about keeping. The same is true for Eric Bledsoe. He’ll be shopped in trades, but it’s likely Portland will eat his $3.9 million guarantee and waive him if a deal can’t be found.

This is a big offseason for Joe Cronin and the Trail Blazers. They decided to rebuild around Damian Lillard vs starting a total teardown and trading away their franchise player too. They’ve probably got a year or so to get that rebuild right before the inevitable “Lillard needs to be traded” chatter starts again. It’s not an entirely blank slate, but it’s pretty close. Picking the right path, and the right players, will go a long way towards setting up Portland for years to come.

New York Knicks 

Offseason Approach: Just over the cap, well below the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$1.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $29M

Under Contract (15): FULL ROSTER
RJ Barrett, Alec Burks, Evan Fournier, Taj Gibson (non-guaranteed), Quentin Grimes, Feron Hunt (Two-Way), Miles McBride, Nerlens Noel, Immanuel Quickley, Julius Randle, Cam Reddish, Derrick Rose, Jericho Sims (Two-Way), Obi Toppin, Kemba Walker

Potential Free Agents (2): FULL LIST
Ryan Arcidiacono (unrestricted), Mitchell Robinson (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #11

Analysis: Free agent decisions for the New York Knicks are pretty simple this summer. The only real choice they have to make is whether to re-sign Mitchell Robinson or not. He’s one of New York’s only two free agents.

Alas…if only it were that simple.

One season after a surprising run to homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, things took a turn back towards the usual ineptitude for the Knicks. They slipped down to 11th in the East and didn’t even make the Play-In Tournament.

Where did things go wrong? Some free agent bets made in 2021 were the culprit.

In 2020-21, what made the Knicks special was their defense. They played at a snail’s pace, and their offensive was often a slog, but New York defended well at all three levels. Like a typical Tom Thibodeau team, they got out to the arc and challenged shooters, they stepped up in the midrange and there was always a big to protect the backline.

Last summer, in an attempt to buoy the league’s 23rd ranked offense, the Knicks added players with an offense-first mindset. In came Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker and out went Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton. On its face, those moves seemed like upgrades. In reality, things went very differently. Fournier had a fine three-point shooting season, but he fell apart everywhere else. His defense, which was always average to above-average, fell way off. Even more troublesome, Fournier struggled to finish in the paint and at the rim, while his passing also dipped.

The Walker signing seemed like a match made in heaven. He was returning home to play for the team he always dreamed of suiting up for. Halfway through the year, he was out of the rotation, and soon after was shut down for good. The odd thing is that Walker was kind of the guy he had been for Boston, just with less shot-volume. He was still hitting midrange pullups and threes, but he couldn’t defend at the level Thibodeau wanted, and that was that.

The Knicks traded some of their defensive excellence, hoping for a boost to the middle-of-the-pack or better on offense. When Fournier and Walker didn’t deliver, the tradeoff instead became an offense that still scuffled, while the defense fell from third to 11th. That was enough to drop New York from the playoffs and back into the lottery.

Now, Leon Rose and staff need to figure out how to fix things. The good news? Pending your view of Julius Randle (All-Star caliber? Or was last year’s dip in productivity a sign of things to come?), New York doesn’t really have a bad contract on the books. Fournier’s probably runs a year longer than is ideal, but he’s productive enough as at least a bench scorer, that you can work around his cap figure.

The Knicks also have all of their own draft picks moving forward, including the 11th pick this year (pre-lottery), and an extra pick coming from the Dallas Mavericks. And they are far enough under the tax line that using the full Non-Taxpayer Midlevel Exception shouldn’t be an issue. In a market without much cap space and a lot of teams dancing around the luxury tax line, that’s a nice piece of spending power.

New York has young building blocks in place at a few spots. RJ Barrett saw his shooting drop some, as defenses keyed on him more as Randle, Fournier and Walker struggled, but he’s coming along nicely as an all-around player. Immanuel Quickley might not be a pure point guard, but he can handle the position defensively and he can score and shoot. Put the right playmakers around him, and he’ll be fine.

Obi Toppin became a good finisher and simply has to play more minutes in Year 3. Quentin Grimes looks like a solid rotation player in the backcourt, while Jericho Sims showed some promise on the first year of a two-year Two-Way deal.

But the reality is the Knicks need more from their stars. Randle and Fournier have to produce at a higher level, and they have to do so more efficiently than last season’s mess. Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel suffered through injury-plagued seasons and probably can’t be counted on for more than 50-60 games per season at this point. Alec Burks is a nice rotation player, but was exposed with a bigger role.

This is where not having bad contracts comes in. The Knicks smartly structured almost all of their deals as two-year deals masquerading as three-year contracts. New York holds team options for Burks, Noel and Rose for 2023-24. That puts those three, and Walker (who was signed to a straight two-year deal) on what are, essentially, expiring contracts.

More simply put: New York can get to nearly $43 million expiring money without any real worry. That’s enough to put them in the mix for any player who comes on the trade market this summer. Let’s say a star player like Zach LaVine or Bradley Beal becomes disenchanted with re-signing with their current team, the Knicks can get in the mix for sign-and-trade deals. That’s also where being so far under the tax and the tax apron is also key. New York can acquire a player via sign-and-trade without worry that the ensuing hard cap would be much of an impact.

And yes, that amount of expiring salary could put the Knicks in play for Russell Westbrook. But after years of patiently building, unless New York really want to shed some long-term salary (Fournier and/or Randle perhaps?) while picking up some additional draft picks, they’d be best served to stay far, far away and let the Los Angeles Lakers figure that one out for themselves.

As for their own roster decisions, Robinson is the key one. He’s extremely talented and remains full of potential. He also finally stayed mostly-healthy after years of battling injuries. As long as things don’t get silly (think north of $12 million annually), New York should re-sign Robinson. His combination of shot-blocking, rebounding and finishing is pretty comparable with that of Robert Williams, who landed a four-year, $48 million extension from Boston. That should be the rough comparison for Robinson.

Beyond that, whether the team keeps or waives Taj Gibson is somewhat inconsequential. They’d be best served to waive him, unless they want to guarantee his $5.1 million salary for trade purposes. If waived, New York can always re-sign the Thibodeau favorite to a veteran minimum contract that is more inline with his current production levels. And Ryan Arcidiacono is the kind of guy who will probably have to take a training camp deal and fight his way onto the roster. That leaves the lone remaining pieces of business hammering out rookie scale extensions with RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. Barrett’s is all about projecting what you think he will be vs what he is today. If the Knicks think he’s going to be an All-Star, then giving him a just-below max deal with incentives that can push it to a max is probably the path forward. If they still aren’t quite sure, then let things play out. New York can still control the process in restricted free agency in 2023.

Reddish is about potential, but it’s largely unrealized. Where Barrett has shown a lot of what he could eventually be, Reddish is still somewhat of a mystery box. If the Knicks think he’s a late-bloomer, then locking him up on a team-friendly deal would be smart. If not, then letting things play out is again the prudent path. Maybe he pops, but New York still has control next summer.

It was a disappointing step-back for the Knicks in 2022. But they can still turn things around relatively quickly. The challenge will be maintaining the patient course they’ve been on since Leon Rose took over the front office. Quick fixes have rarely, if ever, gone well for New York in the past. Trying that tactic again could make a mess of things for years to come. Then, the 2021 playoff appearance would become a mere droplet in a sea of disappointment.

Washington Wizards 

Offseason Approach: Over the cap, nearing the tax (pending re-signings)

Actual Cap Space: -$58.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $58.7M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Deni Avdija, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($4.9 million guaranteed), Vernon Carey Jr., Daniel Gafford, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert, Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porzingis, Jordan Schakel (Two-Way), Ish Smith (non-guaranteed), Isaiah Todd

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Bradley Beal (unrestricted – player option), Thomas Bryant (unrestricted), Anthony Gill (restricted), Raul Neto (unrestricted), Tomas Satoransky (unrestricted), Cassius Winston (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #10

Analysis: The Washington Wizards started the year 10-3. They were holding steady at 14-8 in early-December. By the middle of the month, they were .500. By the start of February, a six-game losing streak had sunk the season.

Bradley Beal’s season ended right around the same time the Wizards season functionally ended. Beal had surgery on a torn ligament in his left wrist and is expected to make a full recovery by the start of next season.

Where Beal will start the next season is in question for the first time in his professional tenure.

Both Washington and Beal continue to say the right things about continuing their decade-long partnership. The Wizards, of course, want to keep their franchise player. But, for the first time, Beal was not completely resolute on staying in DC.

Beal will almost assuredly decline his player option for 2022-23, if for no other reason than to ink a long-term deal with the Wizards. The challenge for Beal is that he wants to win. He’ll be 29 at the start of next season, and he’s got a pretty lengthy injury history. The time to win is now an he wants the team to add players to put him in position to do so.

It’s that injury history that should give Washington some pause on simply handing Beal a five-year, max deal, but it probably won’t. The Wizards don’t want to see Beal leave, either this summer or by asking for a trade in the near future, so they aren’t going to quibble with him over salary. Maybe the final year will have some form or non-guaranteed protection, but that’s probably as close to a compromise as we’ll get.

That will just about take care of the Wizards offseason signings, as far as big-ticket items go. The team would love to have Raul Neto or Tomas Satoransky back as backup guards, but they’ll both be minimum signings, or close to it.

Thomas Bryant’s time in Washington is probably over, as the team now has Kristaps Porzingis, who they like at the five, and Daniel Gafford signed long-term. And that’s before you factor in a glut of forwards to find playing time for.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the closest thing to a 3&D wing this team has, so expect his contract to become fully guaranteed. He had a solid, if overlooked, season. Ish Smith’s contract being guaranteed may be dependent on how likely the Wizards see it that they’ll keep Neto or Satoransky for ballhandling depth. Shoring up the point guard spot should be a top priority this summer. Washington projects to pick 10th at the 2022 NBA Draft. That should give them a shot at a few of the top point guard prospects. But having a veteran or two around to help a young player transition will be key.

If the Wizards want to use their MLE on adding a point guard, there are a lot of good veteran options available. Tyus Jones would make a lot of sense, as he’s both very reliable and affordable. And Jones would presumably be comfortable transitioning back to a backup role if a younger player is brought in via the draft.

Gary Payton II isn’t a traditional lead ballhandler, but he would bring a defensive presence to the backcourt, while ceding the playmaking duties to Bradley Beal. Delon Wright is more of a combo-guard, but he could fit in nicely with Beal and Caldwell-Pope in a three-guard rotation.

Beyond adding depth at point guard, Tommy Sheppard needs to sort out the Wizards crowded forward group.

Even if Porzingis is now seen as the starting center (and he should be!), Washington still has four players who all need to play at the forward spots, and that’s before you include Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who plays most of his minutes at the three.

Normally, this could be seen as dealing from a position of strength, but all four forwards the Wizards have still have question marks. Kyle Kuzma is the most known quantity. He’s a good shooter and scorer, solid rebound and an improved playmaker. The main question is: Can defend well enough to be a mainstay on a really good team?

Deni Avdija brings plenty of defense, but his shooting has been miserable through two NBA seasons. Rui Hachimura is kind of stuck in-between Kuzma and Avdija. He’s an ok defender in the right matchups and schemes, but his offensive game has been hit-or-miss. If his 44.7% three-point shooting from last year is for real, then Hachimura becomes the most valuable player of this group.

Lastly, there is Corey Kispert. He’s sort of emblematic of the Wizards drafts the last few years. They’re never quite bad enough to land a top-tier prospect, yet they aren’t a threat to make a playoff run either. That leaves you drafting players like Kispert, who is a pretty good shooter and ball-mover, but an average (at best) defender. Good rotation player, but he’s not someone pushing you over the top.

And that’s sort of the crux of everything with the Washington Wizards. They’re sometimes good, but never good enough. They’re sometimes bad, but never really bad enough. A healthy Bradley Beal-Kristaps Porzingis duo probably pushes them back to the former category. But there doesn’t seem to be a move coming to push the Wizards past that this summer.

Oklahoma City Thunder 

Offseason Approach: Surprisingly over the cap

Actual Cap Space: -$12.3M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $42.4M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Darius Bazley, Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome, Vit Krejci ($781,759 guaranteed), Theo Maledon (non-guaranteed), Tre Mann, Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Lindy Waters III (Two-Way), Aaron Wiggins, Kenrich Williams (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Lu Dort (restricted), Derrick Favors (unrestricted – player option), Melvin Frazier Jr. (unrestricted – Two-Way), Mike Muscala (unrestricted – team option), Isaiah Roby (restricted – team option)

Dead Cap (2): Kyler Singler ($999,200), Kemba Walker ($27,431,078)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #4, #12, #30

Analysis: The Oklahoma City Thunder are now through Year 2 of their complete teardown and are deep in the process of building back up. OKC has acquired some players who they believe will be a part of the core of their next playoff team. The rest of the roster remains in flux, as the team continues the diamond-mining process to unearth hidden gems.

After a couple of years of sitting on mountains of cap space and trade exceptions, the Thunder project to start this offseason as a run-of-the-mill over the cap team. While this may seem shocking to many, especially after Oklahoma City finished the 2021-22 season well under the salary floor, it’s a matter of raises, dead money and options that have OKC over the cap.

First, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s max extension kicks in. He’ll be on the books for over $30 million next season. That’s a jump of $25 million from this season. Second, Kemba Walker has one more season of waived money on the books at over $27 million. And the team will finally hit the final year of Kyle Singler’s stretched money in 2022-23!

Third, at exit interviews Derrick Favors all but guaranteed he’d pick up his $10.2 million player option for next season. And the Thunder have a couple of team options that they’re likely to exercise for players like Isaiah Roby and Mike Muscala.

Lastly, there are a bunch of partial and non-guaranteed deals for players that Sam Presti is likely to keep around, Kenrich Williams and Theo Maledon are both fully non-guaranteed, but neither is going anywhere. Vit Krejci’s deal is roughly half-guaranteed, so he’s not going anywhere unless the team needs a roster spot…which we’ll get to later.

The only other remaining free agent decision is the big one. The Thunder hold a $1.9 million team option for Lu Dort for 2022-23. That sounds like an amazing value, but it comes with a catch. If Dort plays out next season on that $1.9 million deal, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023. Given Dort’s importance to the Thunder as a defensive-minded running mate for Gilgeous-Alexander and 2021 draftee Josh Giddey, the team doesn’t want to risk losing him. Expect OKC to decline Dort’s team option and to make him a restricted free agent this offseason. He’ll get expensive a year earlier, but it’s worth it for the Thunder to control his free agent process.

If you start adding up the players who look likely to be back, you’ll see you start running out of roster spots really quickly. If the Thunder keep most everyone, they’re looking at 15 players under contract for next season. That’s 15 players on standard deals and one player on a Two-Way. Or more simply put: OKC would have one Two-Way spot open and that’s it.

Now, this normally wouldn’t be a problem for a rebuilding team. But…because of Presti hoarding draft picks like Smaug hoards Dwarven treasures in Erebor, the Thunder are running into roster issues.

Oklahoma City holds the fourth pick (their own), 12th pick (via the LA Clippers) and the 30th pick (via the Phoenix Suns) in the 2022 draft (the first two picks are the pre-Lottery positions). Conventional wisdom says that the Thunder are in a good spot to try and trade up. The one place they don’t have a surefire rotation player is in the big rotation. Landing Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith would be excellent to go along with the rest of the young core. Those three are expected to go 1-2-3, so getting up there to snag one of them would be ideal.

The challenge is that other teams know where the Thunder sit: Too many draft assets to possibly use them all. So, overwhelming a team via trade to move the draft boards seems somewhat unlikely. The best hope to land one of the three bigs may be a little lottery luck that sees the Thunder jump into the top-three themselves.

As for the other picks, Presti may try to kick the can down the road and actually trade out with one or both. The Thunder also have a bushel of extra second rounders coming their way in future years. Again: roster spots are a major challenge here.

If Oklahoma City can’t move or package one of their firsts this year, they’ll eat a salary or two. They’ve been willing to do this over the last couple of years. In that case, Favors could be waived, as could someone like Krejci or possibly even Muscala.

The Thunder also have several easily tradable contracts, should they need to clear a roster spot or two. Every team in the league would be happy to send a late-first or a couple of seconds for Presti to add to his stash to get someone like Kenrich Williams.

Mostly, don’t expect any major fireworks this year. Oklahoma City doesn’t have the ability to be a player in free agency, nor are they quite ready for that on the rebuilding curve. But the days of eating bad contracts in exchange for draft picks has probably about run its course as well. This year is about adding another player or two via the draft to add to the collection of young talent the Thunder have already amassed.

At his lengthy exit interview, Sam Presti admitted that his team could “turn to development again” in 2022-23, if the season went sideways on them. But to start, the Thunder will see what they have with a highly-drafted rookie alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddy, Lu Dort and a collection of other interesting players under team control. And that experience is worth one more year of losing before it’s time to start making a push towards the playoffs again.

Indiana Pacers 

Offseason Approach: Second-most projected cap space in the NBA

Actual Cap Space: -$20.9M

Practical Cap Space: $24.9M

Luxury Tax Space: $57.3M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Goga Bitadze, Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Jackson, T.J. McConnell, Terry Taylor ($625,000 guaranteed), Myles Turner, Duane Washington Jr. (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Oshae Brissett (restricted – team option), Nate Hinton (unrestricted – Two-Way), Ricky Rubio (unrestricted), Jalen Smith (unrestricted), Lance Stephenson (unrestricted), T.J. Warren (unrestricted), Gabe York (unrestricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($5,329,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #5

Analysis: If it could go wrong, it probably did for the Indiana Pacers last season. After losing in the Play-In Tournament in 2021, the Pacers fell all out of the postseason picture entirely in 2022.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Indiana was primed for a reset. After years of being a middling playoff team (five straight first-round exits), the Pacers were sort of stuck. A season full of injuries forced the team’s hand and they bottomed out, while also getting a jump on their offseason.

At the trade deadline, the long-awaited splitting of the Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner frontcourt pairing happened. Indiana moved Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings in a deal that netted them Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield.

Getting Haliburton was a coup for Kevin Pritchard and staff. In just his second year, Haliburton was playing well for the Kings. When he got to Indiana, Haliburton really took off. He scored 17.5 points and dished out 9.6 assists per game, while having 50/42/85 shooting splits.

Haliburton is a star in the making and the Pacers have him for two more years on his rookie scale deal. That makes building a roster around him so much easier.

That trade, combined with an earlier one that sent Caris LeVert to the Cleveland Cavaliers, cleared most of the longer-term salary off the books for Indiana. This summer is now about resetting (note: not rebuilding!) around a new core.

Trade buzz has swirled around Malcolm Brogdon for months. Because he signed an extension late in the offseason, Brogdon was ineligible to be traded before February’s deadline. That restriction is now lifted, and it’s widely expected Brogdon will be dealt this summer.

Turner is in a different boat. He’s the longest-tenured Pacer, and teams value him as a trade target, but it’s far from a lock he gets moved. There’s a sense Indiana wants to see Turner as a solo act up front, and alongside Haliburton, before they look to move on.

Hield could be flipped, but the Pacers aren’t pushing to get out of his deal. Like Haliburton, Hield’s play improved after arriving in Indiana. He shot far better, and upped his rebounding and playmaking in the Pacer’s up-tempo style. Hield probably sticks around as Haliburton’s backcourt mate.

The 2021 draft delivered Chris Duarte, who was immediately productive as a rookie. He’s a long-term rotation player with his versatile, plug-and-play game. The Pacers also acquired Isaiah Jackson at the draft and he’s got a lot of upside as a potential Turner clone in the frontcourt.

Indiana hit on a couple of undrafted finds in Terry Taylor and Duane Washington too. Like Oshae Brissett before them, Taylor and Washington popped and inked long-term deals with the club.

Now, the summer is key for Pritchard and his staff, as they look to reset. Indiana will have their highest draft pick in quite some time and it’s important they find a young player to complement Haliburton moving forward. With a little lottery luck, the Pacers could be in the mix to add one of the three bigs (Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith) or a backcourt scorer (Jaden Ivey).

In free agency, the Pacers can get themselves to about $25 million in cap space, the second-largest figure in the league. It’s not a banner free agent class, but that’s enough for the team to be in on free agents and, more likely, to work the trade market. Indiana has never been a prime free agent destination, but cap space can be used to engineer trades and that’s where the Pacers have historically shined.

To create that much space, Indiana will have to move on from some of their own free agents. Ricky Rubio seems to be a fairly easy call. He was acquired as the salary-matching component in the LeVert trade, but the real get was a lottery-protected first round pick. Rubio is rumored to be heading back to Cleveland anyway, so this one is probably out of the Pacers hands anyway.

T.J. Warren is a far more interesting decision. After a major breakout in the bubble, Warren has missed all but four games of the last two seasons. He would like to return to Indiana, and they’d like to keep him, but it’s going to have to be a deal where the Pacers are protected. That means either team-friendly or with significant non-guaranteed money. Because of this, expect the Pacers to either reach terms early in free agency with Warren, or to renounce his rights, to get his $19 million cap hold off the books.

The next interesting situation lies with Jalen Smith. Because Smith was traded after his rookie scale team option for 2022-23 was declined, Indiana is capped at offering him only $4.67 million in first-year salary. Smith broke out following his deadline trade to the Pacers. He’s a good fit with the new, younger core. This is one to monitor, because some opportunistic team could swipe Smith by offering him more than Indiana can pay, even though the Pacers would like to keep him.

If Indiana is focused on a quick reset, which all indications are, they could use their cap space to pick several solid veteran role players off the market. Kyle Anderson is a logical target, as his do-it-all game would be a great fit in the frontcourt. He was a key contributor to the Memphis Grizzlies the last few years and would fill a similar role for the Pacers.

If small-ball, three-guard lineups are the way forward, someone like Indiana-native Gary Harris would be a solid fit. He’d bring a two-way component to the guard group that the Pacers currently lack. Bruce Brown is another guy who can fit this mold, and Indiana could force the Nets to pony up for him.

If the Pacers wanted to play in the restricted market, they probably don’t have enough cap space to get Deandre Ayton or Miles Bridges, but the team could craft hard-to-match offer sheets for players like Lonnie Walker IV, Mo Bamba or Donte DiVincenzo. If they wanted to aim a little lower in the pecking order, Indiana might be able to land restricted targets like Nicolas Claxton, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Caleb and Cody Martin or Amir Coffey.

The Pacers do their best work on the edges. They tend to work in relative silence, pick up undervalued players and watch them blossom in Indiana. Look for that strategy to be repeated this summer both in trades and free agency. And look for the Pacers to reset, rather than rebuild, as they look to jump right back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Houston Rockets 

Offseason Approach: Likely over the cap, well under the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$3M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $32M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Josh Christopher, Usman Garuba, Eric Gordon, Jalen Green, Kenyon Martin Jr., Garrison Matthews, Daishen Nix, David Nwaba, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun, Christian Wood

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Bruno Fernando (restricted), Anthony Lamb (restricted – Two-Way), Trevelin Queen (restricted – Two-Way), Dennis Schroder (unrestricted), Jae’Sean Tate (restricted – team option), John Wall (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (2): D.J. Austin ($333,333), Troy Williams ($122,741)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE (10,349,000) and Bi-Annual Exception (4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #1, #17

Analysis: The Houston Rockets missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season after an eight-year streak of making the postseason. Yet, the future seems as bright for Houston as it has in several years, including some of those playoff seasons.

In his first draft, Rafael Stone was working with a bit of a handicap. He had to build a functional roster around James Harden, just in case Harden decided he wanted to remain in Houston. That led to moving some players in trades that were designed around winning during the 2020-21 season.

While none of those deals were bad by themselves, things went a little sideways when Harden decided he still wanted out. But Stone parlayed that into a decent package of picks and players. Then he really went to work at the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Rockets drafted an almost unheard of four first-rounders. Based off one season of returns, Stone seems to have gone three-for-four. Or maybe three-for-three with walk might be more apt, as we don’t really know what one of the picks will turn in to.

Jalen Green was a hit. Like most rookies, Green had a tricky transition to the NBA. Green shot just 37% overall and 28.7% from behind the arc through January. He was also a mess with his ballhandling and passing. In the second half of the year, things noticeably slowed down for him.

Over his final 32 games Green shot 47.4% from the field and 39.3% from behind the arc. He figured out who, where and when to attack. He also upped his assists and cut down his turnovers. Green is a keeper and looks like he’ll be an all-around offensive star in the coming years.

Up front, Alperen Sengun flashed a lot of the ability that drew some of those early-career Nikola Jokic comps. He’s crafty and physical. Sengun’s passing ability also allows him to function as an offensive hub. That helps free up players like Green and Kevin Porter Jr. to work off the ball some. He needs some work on his defense, but that’s true of almost every young NBA big man.

Josh Christopher had a solid rookie season too. At worst, he looks like a solid backup combo guard. He’s got traditional two-guard size, but he can handle and pass enough to play the point in some lineups. This summer for Christopher should be spent shooting a million jumpers, as his shot has been inconsistent. The last of the first rounders was Usman Garuba. After spending part of the summer guarding the likes the Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum in pre-Olympics workouts and scrimmages, Garuba was a non-entity for much of rookie year due to injuries and simply not being ready to play at the NBA level. There are some defensive tools there, but saying his offensive game is raw is putting it kindly. The good news? Garuba only just turned 20 years old and he’s mostly a blank slate. Things can only go up from here.

As for the rest of the roster, it was about what was expected. Christian Wood turned in a double-double season on pretty good offensive efficiency. Kevin Porter Jr. remains a bit of an enigma attitude-wise, but he’s a pretty good playmaker and solid scorer. Kenyon Martin Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate are workers who bring a lot of the intangibles as high-end role players. Garrison Matthews was a midseason steal, and can be the team’s designated shooter for the next few years.

On the veteran side, Eric Gordon did what he always does as a shooter and scorer. Daniel Theis didn’t really work out and he was swapped for Dennis Schroder at the trade deadline. And John Wall…well, he enjoyed a courtside view of 82 games.

Wall is as good a place to start for any, as we transition to the offseason. He’s going to pick up his $47.4 million player option. Then, the negotiations start. Houston will try to trade Wall and see if they can recoup some sort of value by eating a deal for another team. Barring that, expect Wall to consider the buyout he eschewed last season. There’s only one year left now, and he doesn’t want to sit out another full season. One way or another, it will be a major surprise if Wall is with the Rockets at the start of training camp.

The other free agent decisions are pretty simple for Houston. Schroder isn’t going to be back. He’ll join up with a contender. Houston will probably non-tender Bruno Fernando and let him walk as a free agent.

Tate’s in an interesting spot, as the Rockets could decline their team option and make him a restricted free agent. That would allow Houston to get him signed to a long-term deal. But they have his restricted rights in the summer of 2023 anyway, which lessens the need to do anything now. Look for him to play out this year on his very team-friendly deal, then sign a long-term deal next summer.

Roster spots are a becoming a bit of a challenge for Houston. Such is life when you’ve added several players via the draft and through value signings over the last couple of years. With two first round picks coming in four of the next five drafts, Stone has some work to do as far as roster balance goes.

One way that could clear up is with trades of veterans like Gordon, Wood or David Nwaba. The Rockets aren’t going to give away Gordon or Wood, but if the right deal comes along, they’ll move either player. Wood will be on an expiring deal, while Gordon is on a pseudo-expiring deal (his 2023-24 salary is non-guaranteed minus some unlikely conditions being triggered), which makes moving either player a fairly easy process.

What will help Stone make that decision is the outcome of the draft lottery. Houston is in the mix for the top pick, as they have equal odds with the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic of landing one of the top-3 picks. If they do, Stone will like come away with one of the three bigs out of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith. Any of three would fit in nicely with the team’s developing core of Green, Porter and Sengun. And, at that point, a Wood trade becomes very likely.

As for free agent additions, the Rockets will be opportunistic. If they have a shot to grab a veteran using their MLE, they’ll do so. They have depth needs at basically every spot except for center (pending a trade of Wood) and shooting guard. If there’s a veteran who gets squeezed and Houston can get him on a good (read: tradable) contract, they’ll snap them up.

Mostly this offseason is about nailing their draft pick again and adding another foundational piece to the Green/Porter/Sengun trio. A year from now, it’s probably time to start really pushing things forward. This year? It’s one more trip around the development cycle with a group of young players loaded with potential. And, right now, that’s as good of a place as any to be in for the Rockets.

Detroit Pistons 

Offseason Approach: Most projected cap space in the NBA

Actual Cap Space: -$6.7M

Practical Cap Space: $34.5M

Luxury Tax Space: $53.3M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham, Jerami Grant, Killian Hayes, Braxton Key (Two-Way), Saben Lee, Isaiah Livers, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Stewart II

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Marvin Bagley III (restricted), Hamidou Diallo (unrestricted – team option), Carsen Edwards (restricted – team option), Luka Garza (restricted – team option), Frank Jackson (unrestricted – team option), Cory Joseph (unrestricted – player option), Rodney McGruder (unrestricted), Jamorko Picket (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (3): Dewayne Dedmon ($2.8 million), DeAndre Jordan ($7.8 million), Zhaire Smith ($1.1 million)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($5,329,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #3

Analysis: Despite winning only three games more than the prior season, 2021-22 was a success for the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons nailed the Cade Cunningham draft pick, while Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart II blossomed into solid starters in their second year. In addition, general manager Troy Weaver set Detroit up to have the most cap space in the NBA this summer through a series of moves over the last year-plus.

When you’re rebuilding, it’s important to hit on your draft selections. As of now, Weaver looks like he went 3-for-4 in the last two first rounds. Cunningham may have finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, but he showed enough that he may still end up being the best player from his draft class.

Cunningham didn’t shoot well, but seems to be a product of taking a lot of tough shots. Despite that, he was able to put up a solid stat-line of 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Cunningham looks to be the playmaking wing that all teams are chasing right now. And his very solid 84.5% free throw shooting portends good things to come with his jumper.

Bey looks like a steal as the 19th pick in 2020. He averaged 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, while also providing some solid defense at both forward spots. Bey was also one of a very few players to appear in all 82 games this season. Bey’s shot will eventually look better when he’s getting easier looks that aren’t so often self-created.

Stewart’s best role is still being defined. At the very least, he’s going to be a high-value backup big that plays with great energy. If Stewart’s jumper, which shows signs of being better than you think, can come along, he’ll be an even more valuable player.

The one player who hasn’t been an immediate hit for Weaver is Killian Hayes. He’s suffered through two injury-impacted seasons. There are flashes, like some really smart playmaking. But Hayes has struggled to create, and make, good looks for himself on a regular basis. And he’s got good size, but seems to be a bit slow afoot for a perimeter defender. But Hayes is only 20-years-old. It takes point guards a while to develop, so the hope is a leap is coming from Hayes in Year 3.

Now, it’s time for the Pistons to start to edge things forward. But Weaver has to avoid the tempting shortcuts that have plagued the franchise in the past. Detroit can’t have a Ben Gordon/Charlie Villanueva or Josh Smith summer. Thus far, Weaver has stuck to good value contracts, even when the fits have initially looked a bit odd. For the Pistons to stay on the right path, he can’t let last season’s fun developments exert too much influence over pushing in too much, too early.

The Pistons project to have $34.4 million in cap space this offseason. That figure is after factoring in another high lottery pick, which is obviously another important decision Weaver has to get right this summer. That $34.4 million is the most in the NBA by nearly $10 million. But to get there will require some difficult decisions.

Detroit has control over most of their roster decisions, minus one. Cory Joseph has a $5.2 million player option that he’s likely to pick up. That’s not the worst thing. Joseph has been a solid fit alongside Cunningham, as he upped his three-point shooting to a career-best 41.4%. He’s a tough defender and decent enough secondary playmaker, that his contract isn’t a worry.

The rest of the Pistons pre-July decisions are solely theirs to make. Weaver has favored signing players to deals that include a team option, which gives him control. Detroit has four players with team options this summer. All are interesting players, but it’s really a simple question of cap room or keeping the player. The fairly easy decisions are Carsen Edwards and Luka Garza. Detroit can decline their options and let them hit free agency. Those two are back-of-the-roster players and could always be re-signed at a later date.

Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson are more difficult decisions. $5.2 million is probably a little much for Diallo at this point. He’s a smaller wing without a reliable jumper. And he’s not a lockdown defender. Look for the Pistons to decline his option, but to remain engaged on a potential new deal.

After years of teams trying to force Jackson into a traditional point guard role, Detroit has accepted he’s a scoring guard with point guard size. The presence of Cunningham as bigger playmaker makes Jackson a good backcourt fit. The challenge is that Jackson upped his three-point volume to 5.3 per game, but his accuracy fell from 40.7% to just 30.8%. Like with Diallo, look for the Pistons to decline Jackson’s option, but to bring him back if the price is right.

Looming over all of those decisions is what to do with Marvin Bagley III. We’re four years in to Bagley’s career and he remains an enigma. At his best, Bagley is an athletic big man with good touch around the basket. At his worst, Bagley drifts around the perimeter and you spend large portions of games forgetting he’s on the court.

At the trade deadline, the Kings cut bait on the former #2 overall pick and sent him to the Pistons. Essentially, Sacramento said “Good luck. You figure out what to do with his free agency.” And therein lies the challenge for Weaver and Detroit.

Bagley played just good enough in the Motor City to make non-tendering him a qualifying option a real question. In Sacramento, there was no reason to tender him a QO and make him a restricted free agent. If he walked, he walked.

The Pistons are probably in the same boat, but have to at least give it a thought. Tendering Bagley a QO would give him the ability to sign a one-year deal worth about $7.2 million. Or Detroit could let things play out and see what kind of interest Bagley draws as a restricted free agent.

Bagley signing the QO isn’t really a huge issue. $7.2 million isn’t going to break the Pistons either way. The challenge is for as long as he’s on the books as a free agent, Bagley sits there with a $28.3 million cap hold. The effectively uses up all of Detroit’s flexibility this summer.

The guess here is that the Pistons have a plan in mind for Bagley. Either they’ll strike an agreement on a deal as soon as free agency opens, which will free up cap space. Or Detroit is willing to risk walking away in favor of having the full $34.4 million in space.

Then, using that cap room becomes a priority, but it runs parallel with figuring out what to do with Jerami Grant. The Pistons have engaged in trade talks for Grant for two straight seasons, but have held on to the guy who chose them just as they kicked off their rebuild.

But Grant is now on an expiring contract, and he’s made waves about wanting an extension that approaches $30 million per year. Grant is a good player, but he’s not a $30 million AAV player. Ideally, he’d be your third-best (if your top two are great) or fourth-best (if you have three strong stars) player. Yes, Grant chose Detroit for admirable reasons. But the Pistons have to take care of their future. Getting this one right will have an impact for years to come. As far as their cap space goes, there isn’t a slam dunk free agent option for the Pistons. They have solid talent in place at a lot of positions. If they aren’t sure Hayes will develop into the long-term backcourt mate for Cunningham, Detroit could look at a lot of different point guard options. Jalen Brunson obviously tops the list, but there are other good fits too.

Tyus Jones would make a lot of sense, considering he’s been equally as good as a starter or off the bench. Gary Payton II’s ability to play off-ball on offense while guarding the other team’s best guard would fit in nicely. And if Detroit wanted to mess around in restricted free agency and force the hand of a division rival, Collin Sexton could make some sense as a target.

Getting some more shooting should also be a priority. There are plenty of good options that won’t break the bank too. Guys like Pat Connaughton, Bryn Forbes, Damion Lee and Ben McLemore would all be good fits for the Pistons. If they want two-way ability with some size, Michigan State product Gary Harris or former Piston Bruce Brown could make sense.

Because of their massive amount of cap space, Detroit could be a player in restricted free agency. There are some intriguing guys the Pistons could chase. Miles Bridges and Deandre Ayton might be too expensive, and getting them to sign an offer sheet could be a challenge. But players like Lonnie Walker IV or Donte DiVincenzo, along with Sexton, could be snagged with the well-crafted offer sheet. If a big is the target, Mo Bamba’s solid season makes him a nice fit in a frontcourt that could use some shot-blocking and floor spacing wrapped up in one player at the five.

Also, keep an eye on Weaver picking off some underrated restricted free agents, or at least forcing rival teams to pony up to keep them. Players who fit this mold are Nicolas Claxton, Caleb and Cody Martin, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Amir Coffey and Jordan Nwora.

The main takeaway here should be that the Pistons have a lot of options. They’ve got a solid foundation in place. Now it’s about enhancing the roster with players who fit alongside the young building blocks. If Troy Weaver gets this right, Detroit could make a Cleveland-like jump from the lottery to playoff contender next season.

Orlando Magic 

Actual Cap Space: -$47.5M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $49.9M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Cole Anthony, Devin Cannady (non-guaranteed), Wendell Carter Jr., Markelle Fultz, R.J. Hampton, Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke, Terrence Ross, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Moritz Wagner (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (10): FULL LIST
Mo Bamba (restricted), Bol Bol (restricted), Ignas Brazdeikis (restricted – Two-Way), Gary Harris (unrestricted), Robin Lopez (unrestricted), Admiral Schofield (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($10,349,000), Bi-Annual ($4,050,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #2

Analysis: The Orlando Magic may have finished with a worse win percentage in 2022 than in 2021, but this past season was still a step forward for the franchise. Orlando seems to have done well in the 2021 draft, and their young roster got valuable experience. Now, it’s up to the front office to nail another draft, while continuing to develop the young talent they have.

The draft is where things start for the Magic. Pre-lottery, they project to have a top-four pick. The Magic have a mixed history in the lottery. On occasion they’ve jumped all the way to the top (Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Dwight Howard), but other times they’ve been jumped and pushed down in the draft. No matter where they select, the Magic need to find the right player to fit with their young group.

If Orlando remains in the top-three, they’ll have a shot at one of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith. Any of those three will fit nicely with Wendell Carter Jr. and Franz Wagner in the frontcourt. In addition, having a shot at one of the three bigs would give the team some clarity as to the best way to handle Mo Bamba’s situation.

Going into this past season, the Magic extended Carter on what now looks like a team-friendly deal. Bamba wasn’t extended and faced a prove-it season. And prove it, Bamba did.

The 7-footer stayed healthy for the whole season and delivered the best play of his career across the board. At one point, it looked like non-tendering Bamba a qualifying offer was a no-brainer. Now, it seems as if things have done a full 180 and the Magic need to keep Bamba’s free agent rights intact. That decision, as much as any pre-offseason decision, will drive the approach for Jeff Weltman and staff this summer. If they land a top-three pick and like one of the bigs, then Orlando could move on from Bamba and create up to $25.5 million in cap space. The Magic could also explore sign-and-trades for Bamba, if they have a replacement coming in.

If Orlando slips out of range to draft one of the three bigs, then keeping Bamba seems like the prudent move. The Magic could sign him to a contract similar to that of Carter (four years, $50 million) and have their center position covered for the immediate future. Both players would still remain tradable on a deal like that, should the team need to shore up a spot elsewhere.

Another decision-point comes with Bol Bol. While Bol never played for Orlando, after getting injured while with the Denver Nuggets, he remains an intriguing project. Orlando has done really well with rehabbing an injured player in the past, with their work with Markelle Fultz. They should be able to keep Bol on a team-friendly deal and to work on getting him healthy. That’s a low-risk, high-reward type of play.

Beyond that, the Magic only have two veteran free agents: Gary Harris and Robin Lopez. Surprisingly, neither player was traded at the deadline. Only slightly less surprisingly, neither was bought out. That signals one of two things: either Orlando has plans to do a sign-and-trade with them, or they both are happy in central Florida.

It’s likely the former with Harris, as the Magic are stocked with young guards who need playing time. Lopez is in a bit of a different spot. He clearly loves living in the theme park capital of the world, and he’s a great veteran backup for Carter and Bamba. If Orlando can re-sign him on the cheap, look for Lopez to be back next season.

As for all those young guards, the Magic saw Fultz return down the stretch, and he looked pretty good. Cole Anthony stepped forward and proved he can be at least a solid fifth starter or high-end backup point guard. R.J. Hampton remains a mystery box, but he’s very young and still developing.

As for rookie Jalen Suggs, his season was a mixed bag. Suggs was a better playmaker than was expected as a rookie. He’s got that true combo-guard skillset, with good size, that teams prize right now. But as a scorer, Suggs was a bit of a mess. His shot profile was pretty great: 50% of his attempts in the paint, 35% of his attempts were three-pointers. But he shot terribly, both inside and on threes. That’s got to get fixed.

Franz Wagner, on the other hand, was better than anyone could have imagined. He showed the ability to get his shot off against pressure, especially off the dribble. He was also solid on spot-ups. 47/35/86 shooting splits as a rookie are really good. Wagner also showed some playmaking chops, while also holding his own defensively at both forward spots.

Had Wagner and Suggs rookie seasons had been reversed, no one would have been surprised, due to their draft status. As it was, they both showed enough that the Magic have two keepers to build with.

The presence of the two youngsters leads to Orlando’s next decision-point: trading Terrence Ross. For a second consecutive trade deadline, Ross remained in Orlando. That probably should change this summer.

That’s not because Ross is a bad player, because he isn’t. But Ross is a good shooting/scoring sixth man. Like having a good closer on a bad baseball team, that’s a luxury a bad basketball team doesn’t need. Ross isn’t going to return anything incredible via trade, but he’ll get Orlando a small asset. And he’ll remove a block to more playing time for the young guards and wings.

Beyond Bamba, the draft and potential trades, the Magic have to figure out what is going on with Jonathan Isaac. He missed the entirety of the last two seasons and now has played in just 136 games in five seasons. Isaac not being able to take the floor at all this year was a major disappointment. That was lost time to figure out how he fits with the rest of a roster that features very few players from his last game in August of 2020.

As for further additions to the roster, the Magic aren’t in a bad spot, but they’re a little stuck with roster spots. They only have a handful of truly open spots. Three of those will likely come via the draft. As covered, Orlando will have a high pick in the first round, but they also have two high second round picks as well (#32 and #35). Barring any trades, that’s three roster spots.

If they stay over the cap, the Magic will be working with the Non-Taxpayer MLE to add a free agent or two. They’ll also probably use part of that exception to give their second-round picks deals that run four years in length.

Ultimately, the Magic may play in free agency a bit if they decide to move on from Bamba. But the more likely path is to stay the course for at least one more and keep developing the kids. Because Orlando is so far under the tax, they may even take on some questionable money in deals that see Harris (via sign-and-trade) and Ross sent elsewhere, in exchange for draft picks or young players.

Outside of the draft, it might be a bit of a ho-hum summer for the Magic. But that’s ok. They’ve acquired a lot of building blocks. Now, it’s about putting those blocks together to build something sustainable for the future.