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Breaking down the upcoming offseason for each 2024-25 NBA team, including cap space figures, free agents, draft pick scenarios, & thoughts on potential trades, exceptions, & plenty more.
 
EASTERN CONFERENCE

Oklahoma City Thunder

Offseason Approach: Adding one more piece to put them over the top

Actual Cap Space: -$24.5M

Practical Cap Space: #35.3M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $65.6M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Ousmane Dieng, Lu Dort, Adam Flagler (two-way), Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Cason Wallace, Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams, Kenrich Williams

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Bismack Biyombo (unrestricted), Gordon Hayward (unrestricted), Isaiah Joe (unrestricted – team option), Keyontae Johnson (restricted – two-way), Mike Muscala (unrestricted), Olivier Sarr (restricted – two-way), Lindy Waters III (restricted – team option), Aaron Wiggins (restricted – team option)

Dead Cap (1): Kevin Porter Jr. ($1,000,000)

Projected Signing Exceptions:Room Exception ($8,006,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #12

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Josh Giddey (rookie scale extension), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (veteran extension), Gordon Hayward (veteran extension through June 30), Aaron Wiggins (veteran extension), Jaylen Williams (veteran extension)

Analysis: 

The Oklahoma City Thunder are no longer ahead of schedule. They’re simply here. The Thunder are contenders.

Scary for the rest of the league? The Thunder are contenders with $35 million in cap space.

Even scarier? The Thunder are contenders with $35 million in cap space and maybe one rotation hole to fill.

Oklahoma City was the top team in the Western Conference in the regular season. They got eliminated in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks, but the Thunder now know what it will take to take the next step.

Oklahoma City is well-positioned to take that step. Not only will the young players improve, but they also have playoff experience now. The team is also pretty flush with talent.

The Thunder have maybe one rotation spot available for next season. They’ve got guards and wings galore, even if you can never really have enough wings. Oklahoma City could use another big, and they’re set up to chase whoever they want.

Not only does Sam Presti have that $35 million in cap space to work with, but he can get there without sacrificing a single rotation player from last season. Most of the Thunder’s flexibility will come via renouncing the free agent rights for Gordon Hayward, who most definitely won’t be back for another run in OKC.

That’s not full max cap space, but it’s more than enough to work with. This summer, the Thunder probably aren’t chasing any of the potential max free agents anyway. But the second-tier guys, that’s where Presti can do work.

If it’s a straight free agent signing, the Thunder can offer a starting salary that includes all of their cap space at $35 million. It probably won’t come to that, but the point is that Oklahoma City can push higher than a lot of other teams. If someone the Thunder want gets an offer for $20 million, they can offer $25 or $30 million without really blinking.

Free agent target lists should start with Isaiah Hartenstein and Nic Claxton. Hartenstein has been rumored as a prime target for the Thunder for a while now. He’d fit in perfectly as a physical presence at the five. He can play with Chet Holmgren in double-big lineups, while also anchoring the defense in lineups when Holmgren sits.

One factor in Oklahoma City’s favor with chasing Hartenstein is that the New York Knicks are limited in what they can pay the big man. The Knicks only have Early Bird rights for Hartenstein, which limit them to a contract in the range of $80 million over four years. That $20 million AAV is a figure that the Thunder can easily beat.

Claxton would upgrade OKC’s already good defense, by giving them another switchable, shot-blocking big man. Claxton isn’t as clean of a fit on offense, because he’s not the passer nor screener that Hartenstein is.

If the Thunder wanted to go for more of a power forward option, they could pursue Pascal Siakam (if things were to go sideways with the Indiana Pacers) or Chicago Bulls restricted free agent Patrick Williams. Tying up cap space in Williams as a restricted free agent could get a little messy, given Chicago’s match right, but OKC could craft an offer sheet big enough to make the Bulls blink without even using all of their cap space.

Bigger wings/forwards like OG Anunoby or a return engagement from Paul George could make sense. But those signings would be larger than any of the non-Siakam targets mentioned here. And they’d be long-term contracts too.

That’s where things get a bit complicated for the Thunder. The cap sheet is pretty clean right now. Only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort are on sizable deals. But extensions are coming due very quickly for Oklahoma City. By the time we get to the 2026-27 season, it’s reasonable to expect that Holmgren and Jalen Williams will be on max deals, and Gilgeous-Alexander will be in the final year of his current contract before starting a supermax extension the following year.

That means the Thunder are in a two-year window where they can add a big salary without causing tax and apron issues. A good proxy for where Oklahoma City is at are the Boston Celtics. Boston had a host of homegrown talent, several on extensions, and used their last bit of flexibility to trade for Al Horford, Derrick White, Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday in successive deals. One benefit the Celtics had that the Thunder won’t enjoy: the lack of first and second apron restrictions. Boston was able to make their deals before the apron rules would have put the kibosh on some of their trades.

For Oklahoma City, they need to strike now. Three players on deals that will be over $40 million will eat up the vast majority of the cap, even as the cap rises year over year. And if you trip over the aprons, it’ll be difficult to make deals.

We covered some free agent targets, but the Thunder could make trades too. As you undoubtedly know, Oklahoma City has more than enough draft capital to offer up in deals. They could also dangle a player like Josh Giddey, before they have to deal with extending him themselves.

One player who makes a bunch of sense for the Thunder is John Collins of the Utah Jazz. Collins can shoot, finish around the rim and he’d help clean up OKC’s rebounding issues. In addition, he could start next to Holmgren, but also back him up. Even better? Collins is owed $26.6 million each of the next two years. Acquiring him, even with sending no salary back, would leave about $8.5 million cap space to work with for other moves. And Collins’ deal would be up before extension-time for the Thunder’s young stars. If he works out great, Oklahoma City would have full Bird rights to hash out a new contract with.

If sliding Holmgren over to the four is more your thing, then Jarrett Allen, Clint Capela or Wendell Carter Jr. would all be reasonable trade targets.

Of their own free agents, look for Presti to pick up the team option for Isaiah Joe. Then, keep an eye on an extension for Joe. Another player in a similar situation is Aaron Wiggins. He’s become a pretty solid rotation wing, and the Thunder will probably pick up his option too, while looking to sign him to a team-friendly long-term deal. It’s also possible that Oklahoma City could decline Wiggins’ option, and pay him this summer as a restricted free agent. They might be able to get a bit of a discount by paying him a year early than they have to.

The rest of the group are probably gone, unless there is a roster spot after the main moves are completed. Lindy Waters III seems perpetually on the roster bubble, and the Thunder have to fit in another draft pick. The veterans are all end-of-bench depth at this point in their careers.

At the draft, the best player available will be the pick. Just keep an eye on dribble-pass-shoot players. If you can’t do all three, the Thunder probably aren’t interested.

This is a big summer for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are right there. One move makes them title contenders. They might get there anyway, but why not give those chances a boost? It’s not quite now or never time, but the window to add outside talent won’t last forever. It’s time for the Thunder to take advantage while they can.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Offseason Approach: Resetting the roster while picking a long-term core

Actual Cap Space: -$65.0M

Practical Cap Space: -$59.4M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $10.2M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Ty Jerome, Caris LeVert, Sam Merrill (non-guaranteed), Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Georges Niang, Craig Porter Jr. ($1 million guaranteed), Max Strus, Dean Wade

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Emoni Bates (restricted – two-way), Damian Jones (unrestricted), Isaiah Mobley (restricted – two-way), Marcus Morris Sr. (unrestricted), Pete Nance (restricted – two-way), Isaac Okoro (restricted), Tristan Thompson (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): Ricky Rubio ($1,301,031)

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #20

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Jarrett Allen (veteran extension), Donovan Mitchell (veteran extension), Evan Mobley (rookie scale extension)

Analysis: 

It’s rare that an extension is the key to a team’s offseason, but such is the case for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Usually, an offseason is more about signings, re-signing and trades. But for the Cavs, everything will seemingly orbit around an extension for Donovan Mitchell.

This is mostly about Mitchell and locking in a guy who has become Cleveland’s franchise player. The Cavs can offer the veteran guard a four-year, $208.5 million extension, if Mitchell declines his player option for 2025-26. That’s a 30% of the cap max with 8% raises. Cleveland can’t offer Mitchell the so-called supermax extension, because they didn’t acquire him while he was still on his rookie scale contract.

That’s a roughly $52 million AAV. That’s a lot of money, and most players will take the guaranteed big payday. Then, if things aren’t working out, the player will ask for a trade after a year or two. We may not like it, but that’s how it works.

If Mitchell declines the extension, it won’t be about money. Sure, the Cavaliers could offer him a fifth year in 2025 free agency, but the money over the first four years would be exactly the same. To put it very simply: If Mitchell declines an extension, Koby Altman needs to think about trading him.

On the flip side, if Mitchell does accept the extension, the Cavs might need to turn towards trading Darius Garland. There was reporting immediately after Cleveland’s second-round ouster that Garland wanted to be traded if Mitchell was signed long-term. That seems to more about the two smaller guards not fitting great as a guard tandem, than it is about Garland being unhappy in Cleveland.

Whether it’s Mitchell or Garland leaving town, the Cavaliers should return a nice package of players and draft picks. Both guys are All-Star level guards, and there will be no shortage of teams sending Altman offers for either player. This is a chance to reset the roster, while also restocking the draft pick coffers after cleaning them out to acquire Mitchell.

Either way the Cavs go, it looks like we’re heading towards a backcourt breakup. And it might not be the only breakup on the roster.

Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley haven’t been bad as a frontcourt pairing. The Cavaliers have won at a pretty solid rate with the two big men in the lineup. But to take the next step from good team to great team, there’s a sense that Allen or Mobley may have to go.

Mobley is the younger player, and he’s probably in line for a max or near-max rookie scale extension. He’s also the more versatile player. In addition, Mobley held up fairly well as the Cavs starting center (and often only productive big) in the team’s second round series against Boston, which Allen missed due to injury. That performance may have Cleveland thinking about splitting up the double-big partnership and looking at a more traditional player for the power forward spot.

Allen has two years left on his contract, at a very friendly $20 million per year. Much like trading one of the guards, the Cavs should be in a good spot to return some solid talent for Allen.

As for re-signing any of their own free agents, Isaac Okoro is easily the most interesting player as a restricted free agent. Okoro has improved each season, and he’s a pretty solid 3&D wing at this point. That’s something Cleveland can certainly use, but the Cavaliers are in range of having to be very wary of the tax aprons.

Let’s say Okoro came back for $15 million, the Cavs can probably manage to stay under the aprons this coming season. But the year after, they’d have Okoro, plus big contracts for the presumably-extended Mitchell and Mobley, as well as several other players on the books. That’s pushing second apron territory.

A cap space team might not have real eyes on Okoro, because those teams don’t generally like tying up their cap space while restricted free agency plays out. But if one of them really saw him as the missing piece, they could craft an offer big enough to make Cleveland blink because of the impending apron issues. At the very least, if Okoro’s free agency is still lingering after the first wave or two, someone should use the Non-Taxpayer MLE as a tool to sign Okoro to an offer sheet. That’s a perfectly fair value, and right in the range where Cleveland would need to think about matching or not.

The team’s other free agents, Marcus Morris Sr., Tristan Thompson and Damian Jones, are all at the veteran minimum phases of their careers. If they want to return and the Cavs have open roster spots, minimum deals are what that trio are looking at.

We don’t spend a lot of time in these previews talking about two-way players who are free agents. However, we’re going to spend a moment on Emoni Bates, because he’s worth the Cavs trying to re-sign. Bates only turned 20 in January. He’s got a good size/skill combo. He wasn’t always the most efficient in the G League this past season, but the tools are all there.

At the very least, Bates should be back on another two-way deal. At most, Cleveland should consider giving him a standard contract and putting him on the roster, even if he spends a lot of time still developing in the G League.

Wrapped around all of this, is that the Cavaliers still need to hire a head coach. Whoever gets the top spot in Cleveland will have the task of integrating some new players, if trades happen as we think they may this summer. And there are expectations of winning attached to the job now too.

It’s a big summer for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’ve taken steps forward over each of the last few years, but have decided that wasn’t enough. They need a new coach and have some major roster decisions to deal with, both their own and by some of their players. How this all comes together will likely determine how many more big decisions Koby Altman gets to make moving forward.

Orlando Magic

Offseason Approach: Using cap flexibility to add talent before extending the young core

Actual Cap Space: -$54.6M

Practical Cap Space: -$49.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $85.8M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Cole Anthony, Paolo Banchero, Anthony Black, Wendell Carter Jr., Caleb Houstan (non-guaranteed), Jett Howard, Jonathan Isaac (non-guaranteed), Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner

Potential Free Agents (9): FULL LIST
Goga Bitadze (unrestricted), Markelle Fultz (unrestricted), Gary Harris (unrestricted), Kevon Harris (restricted – two-way), Joe Ingles (unrestricted – team option), Chuma Okeke (restricted), Trevelin Queen (restricted – two-way), Admiral Schofield (unrestricted – two-way), Moritz Wagner (unrestricted – team option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Room Exception ($8,006,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #18

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Wendell Carter Jr. (veteran extension), Markelle Fultz (veteran extension through June 30), Gary Harris (veteran extension through June 30), Caleb Houstan (veteran extension), Jonathan Isaac (veteran extension), Jalen Suggs (rookie scale extension), Franz Wagner (rookie scale extension)

Analysis: 

This offseason is about balance for the Orlando Magic. Orlando has to find balance on the court. Equally as important, the Magic have to find balance on the cap sheet.

After a big step-forward season, the future is brighter in Orlando than any point since Dwight Howard was traded. There is young talent in place, a terrific coach who has grown with the team, a front office that has been patient in letting everything come together and plenty of cap flexibility.

While all of that is great, it’s all also very temporary. Young talent doesn’t stay young. The coach will eventually max out his abilities. Patience will wear thin for the front office without continued results. And the cap flexibility will dry up quickest of all.

The Magic can create over $66 million in space this summer. They’ll probably settle just under $50 million in space, as it’s unlikely they’ll waive Jonathan Isaac to hit the most possible cap space.

Around $50 million in space to add pieces to a young core that includes Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs sounds pretty great. And it is. But the key is that Jeff Weltman and the front office are on the clock in a little with using that kind of cap space.

Wagner and Suggs are both up for rookie scale extensions this offseason that would start with the 2025-26 season. Banchero will be in the same boat a year from now, with a very likely max extension starting in 2026-27. If all three young players are extended, that will eat up most of the cap space for the Magic.

That means this summer through the summer of 2025, makes up the window for Orlando to add a big-name (read: high-salaried) player. After that, it’s going to be hard to fit in another big salary with an extended Banchero, Wagner and Suggs trio on the books.

But this is where the balance on the roster comes in. And it’s a pretty delicate one.

The Magic had a good season because they were a terrific defensive team. To take the next step, they need to get better offensively. Sitting in the bottom-third of the NBA in offense isn’t going to lead to a meaningful playoff run.

This is where Weltman has to be very careful. If you go acquire an offensive star that can’t defend, it can go sideways. If you don’t improve enough offensively to offset the drop-off defensively, you won’t see a whole lot of benefit. Right now, Orlando has an elite defense. Let’s say that drops off to around 10th in the NBA. If the offense doesn’t move up to near the middle of the pack, you’ve taken too much away from what made the team special.

Another factor to consider while trying to improve the offense is the balance of Banchero, Wagner and Suggs. Banchero was 17th in the league in usage, in a territory surrounded by other All-Stars. Wagner was 46th in usage, surrounded by guys who are best as second or third options. Suggs was right around the top-100 in usage, which is about right for guards who play alongside playmaking forward and wings.

Some popularly mentioned targets for Orlando are Trae Young (12th in usage), Anfernee Simons (27th in usage), Darius Garland (47th in usage) and Zach LaVine (likely would have ranked around 25th in usage).

Breaking those four guards down, we have different types of players, but all are illustrative. Young is a ball-dominant guy. He’d pull touches away from both Banchero and Wagner, never mind Suggs. They’d slot into second and third options and fourth on offense.

Simons might see his usage rate drop on a better team, but he’s still probably pushing Wagner down to the third offensive option. LaVine probably lands in a similar place, in between the Magic’s top two guys.

Garland is in a weird spot. One of the reasons he reportedly wants to be traded if Donovan Mitchell extends, is to get back to a bigger on-ball role. So, he’ll probably push Wagner down to the third option too. In any scenario Suggs becomes the fourth offensive option.

Why does this all matter? None of those guys are helping Orlando’s defense maintain its current elite status. All would improve the offense, but enough to offset the defensive drop-off? And enough so to be worth shuffling the current offensive hierarchy that would see Wagner or Suggs with lesser roles? That’s the question that Weltman and his staff would have to answer.

At the extreme other end of roster-building scenarios, the Magic could more or less run it back. They could retain Moe Wagner and Joe Ingles, either by picking up their options or re-signing them. They could re-sign Markelle Fultz and maybe even Gary Harris. Another year of growth from the young players, combined with continuity, likely keeps Orlando in the playoffs.

But the Magic should be thinking bigger. The goal is to go further than just making the playoffs. That’s why we’re talking about investing in trading for a star guard. There’s also free agency, but unless Paul George is coming to Orlando, there isn’t a star that is gettable as a free agent.

There’s also a chance that a trade comes from out of nowhere too. Maybe someone we aren’t talking about becomes available and the Magic can get in the bidding. Orlando has all of their own first-round picks, plus an extra pick coming from the Denver Nuggets. Cap space, some young talent and draft picks equals a pretty enticing trade package for any star that hits the market.

Expect the Magic to decline their team options for both Ingles and Moe Wagner, at least initially. Keeping both would take $19 million in cap space off the board, and that’s not good cap management. But declining the options doesn’t mean either of the veterans are definitely gone. Orlando could decline Wagner’s $8 million option and either hold some cap space or the Room Exception to give him the same salary after their other moves. Ingles was overpaid this season, despite having a great on- and off-court impact on a young team. He could be back for some remaining cap space, or on a veteran minimum deal.

As for Fultz and Harris, if the Magic are going big this summer, both guards will be playing elsewhere. There’s not a reasonable path that leads to a big addition, plus keeping either Fultz or Harris. With younger players already in place, plus a potential addition to the guard group, it’s time to move on.

Lastly, we circle back to Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs. Both players are extension-eligible this offseason. Orlando isn’t going to want to mess around with restricted free agency next summer. Not when a handful of teams might have enough cap space in 2025 to toss a max offer sheet at either Wagner or Suggs.

Wagner, by virtue of being the better offensive player, will likely get the bigger extension. Something in the range of $30 million AAV feels about right. For the Magic, a five-year, $150 million deal would be a win. Wagner may push for four years, in order to get back on the market a year earlier.

For Suggs, defense-first players don’t get paid as much. On the plus side for Suggs, he made major strides as an offensive player last season. Four years and $100 million should be the floor for him in an extension. Like with Wagner, Orlando could push to get a fifth year locked in, but we haven’t seen too many five-year rookie scale extensions that weren’t for the max.

This is a big summer for the Orlando Magic. They can add a star to the mix, but it has to be the right kind of star. Otherwise, the hierarchy that Jeff Weltman and Jamahl Mosley have built could get thrown out of whack. Getting the timing and balance correct of when and who to add is tricky. Getting that right will make all the difference for the Magic.

LA Clippers

Offseason Approach: Keeping a contender together as they open a new arena

Actual Cap Space: -$102.2M

Practical Cap Space: -$94.8M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $55.2M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Kobe Brown, Amir Coffey, Bones Hyland, Kawhi Leonard, Terance Mann, Jordan Miller (two-way), Norman Powell, Ivica Zubac

Potential Free Agents (10): FULL LIST
Brandon Boston Jr. (restricted), Moussa Diabate (restricted – two-way), Paul George (unrestricted – player option), James Harden (unrestricted), Kai Jones (unrestricted – team option), Xavier Moon (restricted – two-way), Mason Plumlee (unrestricted), Daniel Theis (unrestricted), P.J. Tucker (unrestricted – player option), Russell Westbrook (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (1): Josua Primo ($1,000,000)

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: None

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Brandon Boston Jr. (veteran extension through June 30), Amir Coffey (veteran extension), Paul George (veteran extension through June 30 if player option declined), Bones Hyland (rookie scale extension) Terance Mann (veteran extension), Norman Powell (veteran extension), P.J. Tucker (veteran extension through June 30 if player option declined), Ivica Zubac (veteran extension)

Analysis: 

After Kawhi Leonard extended in mid-January, it seemed like the 2024 offseason for the LA Clippers was going to be fairly ho-hum. The assumption was that an extension would follow for Paul George, James Harden would re-sign, a few other key vets would return and Lawrence Frank and crew would be filling out the bench with minimum signings.

Not so fast, my friend.

It’s been nearly five months since Leonard extended, and George hasn’t put pen to paper. There seems to be a fairly wide divide between what the All-Star wing wants and the Clippers offer.

A boring offseason is now potentially a lot more complex.

Everything doesn’t start and end with George, but it certainly starts with him. So, that’s where we’ll start too.

If the reporting around the situation is accurate, Paul George wants a max deal from the Clippers, either via an extension or by re-signing as a free agent this summer. The same reporting suggests that LA would like George to take something akin to the non-max extension (in terms of years and dollars) that Leonard signed. That’s a pretty wide gap and one worth exploring a bit further.

For functional purposes, due to the Over-38 rule, George is limited to a four-year deal, either via an extension or via re-signing as a free agent. The max George can get projects to be a four-year, $221 million extension. For reference, the extension that Leonard signed projects to be a three-year, $149.6 million extension. Even if we do three-year to three-year comparison, the Clippers are asking George to leave about $10 million on the table.

For George, he seems to be focused on locking in the maximum number of years he can, for the most possible money. And he has some leverage in that ask.

The Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City all loom as potential suitors for the All-Star wing. All four could be willing to do a max deal for George that would run as a four-year, $212 million contract. Again, about a $10 million difference from what George can get in his max deal from the Clippers.

There are a couple more factors to consider. The first thing to consider is that if George goes to free agency, he’d be negotiating a new deal, as opposed to an extension. That means he could ask for a negotiated no-trade clause in a contract from the Clippers. It’s possible that George gives up some money, or even that lucrative fourth year, in exchange for a no-trade clause.

Should LA do that? The advice here would be to just pay him the additional salary he’s looking for. No-trade clauses are so damaging to a player’s trade value, that you’d rather be on the hook to pay or find a trade for an additional year of salary at around $61 million. Big salaries get moved all the time, even when they are under water. A no-trade clause gives the player all the power, even if the team finds a trade they love.

The second consideration is what George’s status means for James Harden. If George is back (taking less money or not), Harden is probably looking at a semi-discounted salary. If George isn’t back, Harden has some leverage. He could ask LA to up his salary, citing savings from not re-signing George, plus a greater need to keep him around.

Most still expect George to stick around, along with Harden. That would keep the core of the roster together as the Clippers open their brand-new Intuit Dome to start next season.

Operating under that assumption, the rest of the offseason falls into place fairly simply. LA will look at trades, but they’ll be a second apron team. That will limit what they can do on the trade market. That increases the likelihood that several veterans are re-signed.

Russell Westbrook and Mason Plumlee become the key guys there. While both have their issues, Westbrook and Plumlee are productive reserves. And both can still scale up their games to start when necessary. Look for the Clippers to try and retain both players. If nothing else, they’ll be smallish, but tradable salaries.

P.J. Tucker is a virtual lock to opt in. LA will very likely pick up their option for Kai Jones, as they’ll want to work with him for a full season. Brandon Boston Jr. is a good bet to be re-signed, as he’s still got some untapped potential. And Daniel Theis could return as a solid third center on a minimum, or slightly above, contract.

That leaves a few non-George extensions to consider. Ivica Zubac and Terance Mann are the primary extension candidates. Both have become key starters for the Clippers. Expect both to get extension offers. If those offers are solid enough, they’ll extend. If not, both players will hit free agency in a pretty wide-open 2025 market.

Bones Hyland is up for a rookie scale extension. He’s had flashes of potential throughout his first few seasons in the NBA, but Hyland has yet to lock in a full-time role. Even at times when the Clippers needed an additional ballhandler due to injuries, Hyland didn’t take advantage. He’s likely to play out the season and hit free agency next summer.

The LA Clippers grand plan of becoming Los Angeles’ team hasn’t come to fruition. That was always ambitious, as the Lakers place in town was highly unlikely to be bumped. But the Clippers have never really come together as a title contender either.

Outside of a Western Conference Finals run in 2021, LA has come up short each year of the George/Leonard era. It seems like the plan is to run it back and to hope better health will lead to a deeper playoff run in their new building. But protecting themselves as much as possible long-term is key for the Clippers. Otherwise, this rickety roster could collapse to the bottom of a deep Western Conference.

Philadelphia 76ers

Offseason Approach: Going big around the two remaining stars

Actual Cap Space: -$109.4M

Practical Cap Space: $61.3M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $113.9M

Under Contract (3): FULL ROSTER
Ricky Council IV (non-guaranteed), Joel Embiid, Paul Reed (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (13): FULL LIST
Mo Bamba (unrestricted), Nicolas Batum (unrestricted), Robert Covington (unrestricted), Jeff Dowtin (restricted – team option), Tobias Harris (unrestricted), Buddy Hield (unrestricted), Kyle Lowry (unrestricted), Kenyon Martin Jr. (unrestricted), Tyrese Maxey (restricted), De’Anthony Melton (unrestricted), Kelly Oubre Jr. (unrestricted), Cameron Payne (unrestricted), Terquavion Smith (restricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Room Exception ($8,006,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #16

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Joel Embiid (veteran extension), Robert Covington (veteran extension through June 30), Tobias Harris (veteran extension through June 30), Buddy Hield (veteran extension through June 30), Kenyon Martin Jr. (veteran extension through June 30), De’Anthony Melton (veteran extension through June 30)

Analysis: 

Full disclosure: Your intrepid author of these offseason previews has a pretty simple dream. He wants to see a team with a fully clean cap sheet someday. No salaries, no cap holds, nothing on the books but 12 roster charges.

This summer’s Philadelphia 76ers are about as close as we’ll probably ever get.

Joel Embiid has the lone fully guaranteed contract on Philadelphia’s books right now. They could hit the summer with only Embiid’s $51.4 million on the cap sheet and nearly $77 million in cap space. But it won’t go that way.

For one, the Sixers aren’t about to renounce Tyrese Maxey. Daryl Morey could have extended Maxey last summer, and it would have been just fine. Instead, both sides agreed to delay, knowing Philadelphia was still going to come with a max deal this summer. Now, instead of Maxey being on the books at just over $35 million, he’ll be on a cap hold of just over $13 million. That’s an additional $22 million of space to use this summer. Once that space is used, Maxey will ink a 25% of the cap max deal starting at just over $35 million. Everybody wins.

We’re also projecting that the Sixers will keep Ricky Council IV on his non-guaranteed contract. Council only saw limited time last season, but he showed enough on his two-way contract to land a long-term deal. In addition, his $1.9 million contract is only about $800 thousand more than minimum roster charge. That $800 thousand shouldn’t be needed for a signing or trade. That means we are projecting Council stays too.

The only other item we have on the 76ers books is the $4 million cap hold for the 16th overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. We don’t project trades when doing offseason projections, so that cap hold stays for now. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Morey got off that pick at or after the draft (Philadelphia can’t officially trade the pick until after making the selection because of the Stepien Rule).

That leaves Embiid and Council as salary, and cap holds for Maxey and the 16th pick on the books. That puts the Sixers at just over $61 million in cap space. That’s the second-highest projection in the NBA, behind the bottom-dwelling Detroit Pistons.

What can Morey do with $61 million (plus the $8 million Room Exception)? The better question is: What can’t Morey do with $61 million (plus the $8 million Room Exception)?

Philadelphia has been, or will be, linked to basically every possible available player this summer, minus James Harden, for very obvious reasons. There isn’t a player they couldn’t trade for with that kind of cap space. And the 35% of the cap max salary for next season projects to be $49.35 million. That means there isn’t a free agent that Philadelphia can’t offer a maximum salary to.

It’s not a lot of fun to write an offseason preview that says “Philadelphia can do just about anything this summer, but we have no idea what they’ll do”, but that’s kind of where we’re at.

Do they want to sign Paul George? They can offer him as much as anyone who isn’t the LA Clippers. Trade for Jimmy Butler? Sure, they can fit in his salary with ease. Sign four or five players for $10 million to $25 million apiece and build a bunch of depth around Embiid and Maxey? Now we’re talking.

It’s not that signing a max free agent or trading for a third All-Star are bad plans. They aren’t. It just has to be the right third star.

Embiid has a well-chronicled injury history. He’s going to miss time each year. If an injury pops up at the wrong time, it could sink the Sixers season. We’ve unfortunately seen that story play out before.

Signing George or trading for Butler would be splashy moves. They could even be great moves. But those two are both older and have their own injury issues. If Embiid went down, and either George or Butler was to follow suit, the season would be sunk.

If Philadelphia could get a third star that was a lock to play 70-plus games and make it through a long playoff run, they should do it. But those players aren’t usually available. And the 76ers tradable assets are running a little low right now.

The less risky approach is to build out the team’s depth. Embiid and Maxey are All-Stars, and that’s underselling the duo. They could be All-NBA guys. They’ll carry a well-built roster without needing a third star to help.

If Philadelphia goes the depth route, they’ll be ahead of the game for most of the free agents available. They can offer starting spots, minutes, shots, rotation roles and, of course, money. Given that they’ll need basically everything except for a starting center and a starting point guard, it becomes a game of “scan the free agent lists and take your pick”.

One suggestion…The 76ers should prioritize signing a good to very good center to act as a backup. In a perfect world, they’ll have overspent for a 15-minute-per-game backup. In a more realistic world, they’ll have someone who can step in and provide solid minutes, should Embiid go down. This offseason, those candidates are old friend Andre Drummond, Goga Bitadze, Moe Wagner (if Orlando lets him get away) or Jalen Smith (if he opts out). Even Jonas Valanciunas makes sense, if Philadelphia was really ok with spending for the luxury of high-end backup for Embiid, and if Valanciunas can’t land starting spot elsewhere.

We’re going to hear the Philadelphia 76ers connected to ever major player in the rumor mill, be it free agency or trade. That’s what happens when you have stars already in place, money to spend and you’re a readymade contender. Now, it’s up to Daryl Morey to deliver after a year of planning for a big offseason.

Milwaukee Bucks

Offseason Approach: Adding depth to support an older, injury-prone core

Actual Cap Space: -$63.5M

Practical Cap Space: -$61.6M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$14.5M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Giannis Antetokounmpo, MarJon Beauchamp, Pat Connaughton, Justin Galloway (two-way), A.J. Green (non-guaranteed), Andre Jackson Jr. ($945,929 guaranteed), Damian Lillard, Chris Livingston, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, Ryan Rollins (two-way)

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Thanasis Antetokounmpo (unrestricted), Malik Beasley (unrestricted), Patrick Beverley (unrestricted), Jae Crowder (unrestricted), Danilo Gallinari (unrestricted), TyTy Washington Jr. (unrestricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Taxpayer MLE ($5,183,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #23

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Pat Connaughton (veteran extension), Bobby Portis (veteran extension)

Analysis: 

The Milwaukee Bucks fell short of expectations last season. Injuries were a major part of that, but the roster never quite came together as realized. This offseason is about rest, recovery and adding depth around an older, injury-prone core.

That sounds simple enough, but actually pulling it off is going to be a chore. The Bucks don’t have a lot of tools to work with to find that depth. They are a first-apron team entering the offseason, but are functionally a second-apron team. Milwaukee only has about $1.9 million clearance under the second apron with five roster spots to fill.

That means the Bucks are down to trades (but without aggregating salaries on the outward-bound side and with only 100% salary-matching), re-signing their own free agents, signing their draft picks and signing players to minimum contracts.

Now, that’s not necessarily a huge issue. The Bucks have four solid starters and between two and five solid reserves already in the fold. That bench count includes Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton as the guaranteed performers, and the rest largely depends on how you feel about Andre Jackson Jr., A.J. Green and MarJon Beauchamp.

Let’s split the difference and say the Bucks have seven rotation spots filled (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez as starters, and Portis, Connaughton and one of the younger players as reserves).

That means Milwaukee needs to re-sign or add a starting level shooting guard, as well as some additional bench depth.

Looking at incumbent options, Malik Beasley and Patrick Beverley should both be candidates to return. However, Beasley might have outplayed a minimum (or a slight bump off the minimum using Non-Bird rights). Beasley started most of the season and scored 11.3 point per game on career-best shooting from behind the arc. That should get him more than minimum offers. It’s also possible he’s found a home in Milwaukee and is willing to play the one-more-on-the-minimum game until the Bucks can take care of him next summer with Early Bird rights. That’s what Milwaukee should be hoping, at least.

Beverley is fully into the veteran minimum phase of his career now. He was pretty solid for the Bucks. He’s still a pesky defender and he can make an open jumper now and then. Beverley is also regarded as a good leader and he’s a Doc Rivers favorite. So, don’t rule out him coming back.

As for the team’s other free agents, it’s 50-50 (at best) on whether any will be back. Jae Crowder lost playing time as the year went along. Danilo Gallinari barely played and looked like he’s close to the end of his career when he did. Thanasis Antetokounmpo likely would have gotten another minimum deal to be an end-of-the-bench cheerleader, but he’s likely to miss all of next season after tearing his Achilles in an offseason workout.

That means the Bucks will have a few roster spots to fill. They’ll get another vet or two to sign on, because Milwaukee is a title contender and has minutes to offer. Jon Horst and staff should be targeting another big, at least for regular season minutes. There’s no reason to tax Antetokounmpo, Lopez and Portis more than is necessary. There should be no shortage of options for veteran big men on minimum contracts.

The Bucks could use a real backup point guard. The same principle applies of not putting too much on Lillard in the regular season. Beverly can sort of fill that role, but he’s not a ballhandler or playmaker. Aaron Holiday, Dennis Smith Jr., Delon Wright or Jordan McLaughlin would all be good options.

And, like every team, Milwaukee could use more wing depth, especially if Beasley leaves. If he was willing to play for the minimum, Evan Fournier could be a good get. Alec Burks would also fit. Assuming he opts out and wouldn’t mind returning to the Midwest, Eric Gordon would be a nice addition. If the Bucks wanted to go a little younger, they could go after someone like Lonnie Walker IV or Talen-Horton Tucker. All of those guys could be available for the minimum, after money dries up elsewhere.

Then, we have the draft. In a lot of cases, a team in the Bucks position will look to move draft picks to bring in veterans. Given how hard it will be for Milwaukee to reasonably match salary, and how they are already out future picks, keeping their picks this year has real importance.

The Bucks need to add depth. Generally, a team with Milwaukee’s goals doesn’t need to be 10 or 12 players deep, because the rotation will get cut in the playoffs. However, being that deep should be a goal for the Bucks. Their core guys are all older and injury-prone. They need solid backups in place to navigate the regular season and to be healthy and not worn out by the postseason.

Because they are contenders, Milwaukee should also be open to selecting older players at the draft. Think about players who could step in and play 15-20 minutes right away. The Bucks have both the 23rd and 33rd picks. They could add two potential contributors in this year’s draft, and should be considering doing exactly that.

There are no easy answers for the Milwaukee Bucks this summer. To make a major move, they’d have to trade a core rotation player. That doesn’t seem very likely. That means filling out the roster by re-signing a couple of veterans, luring a couple more, hoping the kids on the roster improve and nailing the draft. That’s easier said than done, but such is life as an older, injury-prone second-apron team.

Miami Heat

Offseason Approach: Retooling the roster to make another run

Actual Cap Space: -$69.0M

Practical Cap Space: -$62.2M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$2.2M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic, Duncan Robinson, Orlando Robinson (non-guaranteed), Terry Rozier III

Potential Free Agents (10): FULL LIST
Thomas Bryant (unrestricted – player option), Jamal Cain (restricted – two-way), Haywood Highsmith (unrestricted), Kevin Love (unrestricted – player option), Caleb Martin (unrestricted – player option), Patty Mills (unrestricted), Josh Richardson (unrestricted – player option), Cole Swider (restricted – two-way), Alondes Williams (restricted – two-way), Delon Wright (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Taxpayer MLE ($5,183,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Victor Oladipo ($9,450,000), Max Strus ($7,243,842), Kyle Lowry ($6,477,319)

First Round Draft Picks: #15

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Bam Adebayo (veteran extension), Jimmy Butler (veteran extension), Haywood Highsmith (veteran extension through June 30), Caleb Martin (veteran extension), Duncan Robinson (veteran extension), Terry Rozier III (veteran extension as of July 30)

Analysis: 

The Miami Heat have sort of settled into a routine. They take the regular season semi-seriously and battle a bunch of injuries, before finishing in the Play-In Tournament. Then, depending on how serious those injuries are, the Heat make a postseason run or get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

It’s not really a sustainable way of playing, but it seems to work for Miami more often than not. However, this particular Heat team has some real roster decisions to make to even maintain that status.

In recent years, Miami has been aggressive about retaining their own players. They’ve extended their own draftees and re-signed other key players. That approach has worked to keep the Heat in contender status most years. But now, Miami is left with an older roster, a mixed-bag of trade assets and a kind of messy cap sheet.

If a star player is available this summer, it’s a guarantee the Heat will be involved in the conversation. That’s just sort of how it works at this point. Miami has become the east coast version of the Los Angeles Lakers: a warm-weather city that players love to live in, a history of winning, expectations of contending and a team that will generally pay to get there.

The challenge for the Heat? They’ll be offering a pretty similar trade package to the one that failed to acquire Damian Lillard last offseason. Player-wise, the offer will be headlined by Tyler Herro or Terry Rozier III (or maybe both) and possibly Duncan Robinson. Draft pick-wise, the Heat can get to three first-round picks, with a little creativity.

Maybe this year the trade partner won’t be a team that is already heavy with guard talent. Maybe a third team can be more-easily pulled into helping to make a deal. But it’s still a good, but oft-injured player on a semi-large contract and/or an aging guard and some likely middle-of-the-road draft picks.

But we might be getting ahead of ourselves a bit. In a bit of a flipped situation, the Heat may be dealing with a veteran of their own who may not be as enamored of where he is.

There are rumblings that Jimmy Butler wants an extension. That’s not at all strange. He’s extension-eligible this summer, so he’d love to add some security as he approaches the latter stage of his career.

What is weird is that Butler seems to be at least sending some signals that if he’s not extended, he’d like to be traded to a team that will take care of him. And there was a bit of a bizarre moment during Pat Riley’s end-of-season press conference where he took a shot at his veteran star being unavailable for this year’s playoffs.

If Butler is on the table, that changes what the Heat could offer in a star-for-star swap. Even as moves into his age-35 season, Butler holds a ton of value. He’s still a good scorer and playmaker, solid defender and he still raises his game when it counts. For a team that is close to contention, he’s the kind of guy that could push them over the top.

Finding a team where Butler fits, but can also deliver a star back to Miami is a bit tricky. But, hey, that’s what three-team deals are for, right? The main point is that if Butler is available via trade, it drastically changes the math on what the Heat can do to reset the roster.

Of Miami’s known offseason decisions, they’ve got a bunch of players with options. Kevin Love is likely to pick up his $4 million option, because he’s not going to see that much in free agency. Because Josh Richardson is coming off a serious shoulder injury, and he loves being in Miami, he’ll likely pick up his $3 million option too.

Thomas Bryant is probably more of a 50-50 decision. His option is only slightly above a minimum deal, and he didn’t see much playing time with the Heat.

Caleb Martin is the only player who seems certain to opt out. That doesn’t mean he’ll leave Miami, but Martin is in position to cash in. He’s one of the better 3&D wing options available this summer. At least the Non-Taxpayer MLE should be in play for Martin, which would nearly double his current salary. If the Heat want to keep Martin, they’re going to have to pay to do so.

Miami is in a similar situation with Haywood Highsmith. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and Highsmith has established himself as a solid combo forward for a playoff team. He made 39.6% of this three-pointers this season, while providing good defense and improved ballhandling and passing. Highsmith isn’t going to break the bank, but a contract in the range of $8 to $10 million AAV could be in the offing for him.

Veteran guards Patty Mills and Delon Wright are in the veteran minimum phase of their careers. Mills may be done, but we’ll see what he does at this summer’s Olympics before we fully call it. Wright can still contribute, but he’s more of a depth option now than a key rotation player.

Jamal Cain is the best of the two-way players, but Alondes Williams is an interesting player too. If Miami has an open roster spot, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either snag it. If not, Cain and/or Williams could be back for another year on two-way deals.

Beyond Butler’s extension desires, it’s unlikely anyone else ends up getting extended. Bam Adebayo is extension-eligible, but he’s best off rolling it over another year and seeing if he can get himself eligible for a super max contract by making All-NBA or winning Defensive Player of the Year.

At the draft, assuming they keep the selection, pick whatever slightly older and/or undervalued prospect you like best in the middle of the draft and drop them on the Heat. And it’s a good bet that player will end up a rotation contributor before the end of their rookie season. Miami is one of the premier development teams in the league, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Nikola Jovic are just the two most recent stories.

The Miami Heat have a complicated offseason. They want to contend, and some of the pieces are in place. But there are real questions. Do they have enough to trade for a star? What happens with Jimmy Butler? How deep into the tax are they willing to go to retain some key rotation players on new contracts? Pat Riley and staff have work to do to give Erik Spoelstra a roster he can mold into a Finals contender.

New Orleans Pelicans

Offseason Approach: Adding to the roster, while minding the tax line

Actual Cap Space: -$59.1M

Practical Cap Space: -$56.4M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $13.6M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Dyson Daniels, Jordan Hawkins, Malcolm Hill (two-way), Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, E.J. Liddell, C.J. McCollum, Trey Murphy III, Larry Nance Jr., Matt Ryan (non-guaranteed), Zion Williamson ($18.4 million guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Jose Alvarado (restricted – team option), Naji Marshall (unrestricted), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (restricted – team option), Dereon Seabron (restricted – two-way), Jonas Valanciunas (unrestricted), Cody Zeller (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Kira Lewis Jr. ($5,722,116)

First Round Draft Picks: #21 (The Pelicans have a June 1 deadline to take the Lakers pick at #17 or to defer the pick to next season without any protections)

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Brandon Ingram (veteran extension), Naji Marshall (veteran extension through June 30), C.J. McCollum (veteran extension as of September 26), Trey Murphy III (rookie scale extension), Larry Nance Jr. (veteran extension as of October 1), Jonas Valanciunas (veteran extension through June 30)

Analysis: 

The New Orleans Pelicans had a good season, despite some ill-timed injuries. The first can be celebrated to an extent, but the latter remains a challenge for a team that has yet to make the jump from good to great.

Now, the Pelicans face an offseason with some uncertainty. Several key players are up for new contracts, either directly or via extensions. That has everything feeling a bit tenuous at the moment in New Orleans.

Starting with the positives, Zion Williamson made it through the season relatively unscathed until a somewhat freak hamstring injury waylaid him for the playoffs. After some injury-marred years, which caused his contract to flip to being partially guaranteed, Williamson played at an All-Star level this season.

Having their star show he can hold up gives the Pelicans some very needed certainty heading into making some big roster decisions. They can feel good about deciding who fits with Williamson, as opposed to him being a “what if” to plan around.

The most important of those decisions involves Brandon Ingram. He’s wrapping up the max deal he re-signed with New Orleans in the summer of 2020. Ingram is likely starting extension negotiations by asking for another max deal. Does that make sense for the Pelicans?

For all the consternation about Williamson’s missed games, Ingram set a career-high in games played with the Pels last season at 64. That was the second-most games Ingram has ever played in a regular season.

A team can have one oft-injured player on a max deal. If you have two, you probably won’t have the necessary depth to survive the inevitable missed time.

Beyond the injuries, there’s the question of fit for Ingram. Before the Pelicans got C.J. McCollum, and when Williamson was out, Ingram was terrific as a heliocentric All-Star. He could have the ball a lot, while carrying the offense. With everyone healthy, the New Orleans offense feels like a bit like a Little League lineup where everyone gets a turn at bat and has to play a couple of innings in the field.

Ingram has proven to be a less-than-perfect off-ball player. He’s an inconsistent shooter, and he tends to sort of float when he’s not involved in the primary action.

However, Ingram is also a guy who averaged 21/5/6 on over 49% shooting from the field. Those guys aren’t just hanging around looking for jobs.

There’s an additional challenge with extending Ingram: Trey Murphy III is ready. Ready to start. Ready for more minutes. Ready for a bigger role in the offense. Ready to get paid himself.

In a world where the luxury tax doesn’t exist (note: the Pelicans have never paid the tax in franchise history), you would extend both Ingram and Murphy and have an embarrassment of riches at the forward position. But the tax, and the various restrictions that puts on a team, does exist.

If the Pelicans are ready to extend Murphy (more on him in a bit), and they have reservations on Ingram, then it’s time to look at trading the former All-Star. Could New Orleans turn Ingram’s expiring $36 million contract and draft compensation into an All-Star-level player at a different position? Sure. Could they flip Ingram and break his deal up into depth across several positions? That’s also a possibility.

Mostly, it feels like we’ve hit an inflection point with Ingram and the Pelicans. He’s a very good player, but he’s not a great one. His fit is a little wonky, and there’s a replacement already on the roster. It might be time to say adieu.

As for Murphy, the Pelicans need to get an extension done with him, barring a 2025 cap space plan that is more realistic than many might think. As stated above, Murphy is ready, even overdue, for an even bigger role in New Orleans.

Murphy is a terrific shooter, both on-ball and off the catch. He can credibly defend 2-4, while also being a better-than-you-think rebounder. And he’s only turning 24 years old this summer. There’s still some untapped upside left for Murphy.

He hasn’t shown enough to get a max extension. But something in the range of $25 to $30 million AAV over four or five years makes a lot of sense for Murphy and the Pelicans.

Now, there is another path here. A year ago, the Philadelphia 76ers chose not to extend Tyrese Maxey. The idea was to let him hit restricted free agency with a relatively small cap hold. That will open up additional cap space for the Sixers this summer.

The Pelicans could do the same thing with Murphy. Being conservative, if New Orleans let Murphy’s extension ride, with plans to re-sign him in the summer of 2025, they could open up $35 to $40 million in cap space. However, unlike with the 76ers, who were already sitting on mostly expiring contracts aside from Joel Embiid, the Pels aren’t in the same place. They’ve got some additional money on the books, mostly in the form of McCollum.

Because of the above, expect Murphy to sign an extension and for the Pelicans to work the trade market as their main means of upgrading.

Of the team’s free agents, expect New Orleans to pick up their team option for Jose Alvarado. He’s a good rotation player, and he’s on a barely-above minimum deal. Given the Pelicans are dancing around the tax line, having Alvarado back on the cheap is more critical than dealing with his unrestricted free agency in 2025.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is more of a 50-50 situation, same with Matt Ryan, who is on a non-guaranteed deal. Both are nice deep bench guys, and they aren’t making much more than a minimum deal. For now, we’ll say both of them are staying too. Their futures are likely tied more to roster spots than finances.

That leaves Jonas Valanciunas and Naji Marshall as the big free agent decisions. Valanciunas was open about wanting an extension, but it never came. Or, at least, it hasn’t yet. Maybe before the June 30 extension deadline, both New Orleans and Valanciunas will have a better idea of what free agency holds.

If Valanciunas is back, expect it to be on a short-term deal of one or two years. If it’s a two-year deal, expect the Pelicans to have some team control on that second season. Valanciunas is a rugged rebounder and interior scorer. The former is in short supply in New Orleans. The latter starts to overlap with Williamson, and Valanciunas never became the three-point threat that it looked like he might. If New Orleans can do a deal worth a maximum of $15 million per season, with an option or non-guaranteed second season, they should do it. If it stretches beyond that number, it’s time to explore other options at the five.

As for Marshall, he’s likely to get squeezed out. Murphy and Herb Jones are the future on the wing. Ingram might still be around. We’re waiting to see what Dyson Daniels and Jordan Hawkins become. All of that means there probably isn’t room for Marshall. The good news is that if teams believe Marshall is really the 38.7% three-pointer shooter he was this past season, he’ll have lots of offers as a 3&D wing with size.

Finally, the draft could deliver some help. New Orleans won’t be in range to select one of the top bigs, but they are range to pick a solid big man. Players like Zach Edey, Yves Missi, DaRon Holmes II and Kel’el Ware could all be on the board. Edey is the most ready to step in and contribute Day 1, but the others are solid developmental options. As for the Los Angeles Lakers pick at #17, the Pelicans are expected to defer receiving that pick until the 2025 NBA Draft. At worst, that pick will move down a handful of spots in a much deeper draft. At best, the wheels come off for the Lakers, and New Orleans has a bonus lottery pick in a deep draft. Plus, it keeps a bit of money off this year’s cap sheet by deferring.

All of the decisions we’ve seen coming for the New Orleans Pelicans are here now. What David Griffin and the front office choose to do this summer will set the Pelicans on a course for the next several years. It’s important that they get this right, or we’ll be left wondering if this team will ever go from good to great.

Phoenix Suns

Offseason Approach: Rebuilding the rotation with limited resources

Actual Cap Space: -$100.4M

Practical Cap Space: -$97.2M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$28.7M

Under Contract (7): FULL ROSTER
Grayson Allen, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Nassir Little, Jusuf Nurkic, David Roddy

Potential Free Agents (11): FULL LIST
Udoka Azubuike (unrestricted – two-way), Bol Bol (unrestricted), Drew Eubanks (unrestricted – player option), Eric Gordon (unrestricted – player option), Damion Lee (unrestricted – player option), Saben Lee (unrestricted – two-way), Josh Okogie (unrestricted – player option), Royce O’Neale (unrestricted), Isaiah Thomas (unrestricted), Ishmail Wainright (restricted – two-way), Thaddeus Young (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:None (due to being over the second apron)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #22

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Kevin Durant (veteran extension), Jusuf Nurkic (veteran extension), Royce O’Neale (veteran extension through June 30)

Analysis: 

The Phoenix Suns are the first real test we’ve had of a team dealing with the second apron. The Suns underachieved in the regular, were bounced quickly in the first round of the playoffs and have to rebuild the rotation around their stars.

The catch? Phoenix has really limited resources to rebuild the rotation with.

The Suns have seven players with guaranteed contracts for next season. Those players combine to make a projected $194 million. The second apron is projected to be $189.5 million. That means Phoenix is over the second apron with half of the roster left to fill out.

Ouch.

As a reminder, here are the things a team over the second apron can NOT do:

  • Use signing exceptions like the Taxpayer MLE (Non-Taxpayer MLE and Bi-Annual Exception are effectively lost after going over the first apron)
  • Acquire a player via sign-and-trade (same as a first apron team)
  • Send out cash in trade (no more buying draft picks)
  • Aggregate player salaries together on the outgoing side of a trade (can’t combine $18 million plus $7 million to acquire $25 million)
  • Take back more than 100% in salary-matching in a trade (no buffer is allowed, same as a first apron team)
  • Sign a buyout player who made more than the Non-Taxpayer MLE on their previous contract (same as a first apron team)
  • Acquire a player via TPE if that TPE was created via signing-and-trading a player away (no trading a $20M player into cap space to create a $20M TPE to be used later)
  • No using a TPE that was created the prior season
  • There are also “frozen draft pick” rules, but none of those will impact a team immediately, so we’ll table that for now

Basically, a second apron team can do the following:

  • Re-sign their own free agents to the extent allowed by their level of Bird rights
  • Sign their own draft picks
  • Sign players to minimum contracts
  • Acquire players via trade where they send out no more than one player (however, they can send out one player and acquire more than one player back, provided the players coming in make no more salary than the player being sent out)

So, where does that leave the Suns? With a lot of work to do, and not many resources to do that work with.

Phoenix already extended Grayson Allen. That deal was fine, both from value and production standpoints. Allen was arguably the best shooter in the NBA last season, and he fit nicely as a playmaker for the Suns too. He held up fine defensively in the regular season, even if the playoffs were a bit of a different story.

Now, the Suns have to figure out what to do with the rest of the roster. Royce O’Neale is the team’s primary free agent. He was good for Phoenix after the trade deadline. He’s a bit bigger than the traditional 3&D guy, as O’Neale can credibly defend both forward positions. He made $9.5 million this season. Normally, we’d say he’s due a slight raise, but it would benefit Phoenix to get a little creative here.

Remember that the Suns can’t take back more money than they send out in trades. Because of that, they’d do well to overpay O’Neale a little bit, if for no other reason than to create a little extra tradable salary. We’re not talking about giving O’Neale $20+ million, as they would tip towards being a bad contract.

Instead, if O’Neale’s real value is something like $10 million, the Suns could probably pay him up to $15 million without things getting sideways on them. Another option would be to pay O’Neale the exact amount of whatever the Non-Taxpayer MLE gets set at for next season (right now that projects to be about $12.9 million). Because teams can now use the MLE as a trade exception, that would make O’Neale even more acquirable for a lot of the league.

The main takeaway: Phoenix needs to re-sign O’Neale. He’s too important to let him just walk, and they need the tradable salary moving forward.

The rest of the team’s free agents are coming off minimum or near-minimum deals. Damion Lee missed the entirety of the season, so he’s likely to pick up his $2.8 million option. Drew Eubanks, Eric Gordon and Josh Okogie will all likely opt out. But the Suns should pursue re-signing Eubanks and Gordon to 1+1 minimum deals again next season. For Okogie, Phoenix actually has his Early Bird rights. They could bump his contract up some for next season. Again, this is about creating some tradable salary. Something in the range of $5 to $8 million would likely work out fine on a short-term deal for Okogie.

Bol Bol remains an enigma. For a week or two, he looks like a key rotation guy. Then he looks barely playable for the rest of the month. If he wants to return on a minimum deal, fine. But the Suns should be looking to upgrade with more reliable backup forward option.

Isaiah Thomas and Thaddeus Young will probably be elsewhere, if they’re playing anywhere next season. We’re getting close to the end of the line for both veterans.

As much as Phoenix has downplayed the draft in recent years, it’s important that they try to find a rotation player with the 22nd overall pick. Or, more likely, the Suns will move that pick right after they make it. Reminder: The Stepien Rule, which limits trading first-round picks in back-to-back seasons, only looks forward. As soon as a pick has been made, the team can move that pick without issue.

Beyond the above, Phoenix doesn’t seem likely to find a workable trade that sends out Jusuf Nurkic. Also, he should be a good fit in the schemes that new head coach Mike Budenholzer preferred at past stops.

That means the Suns are shopping on the minimum market again. Because they have the three stars in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, they’ll be able to pull in a veteran or two to play with them. But, much like this year, it’s going to be hard to find true difference makers on minimum deals. Mostly, Phoenix will pick up some innings-eaters that can fill regular season roles.

The second apron was designed to prevent, or punish, the most expensive teams. Now, the full weight of the second apron rules is kicking in for the first time. The Phoenix Suns are a fascinating, living example of how a top-heavy team will deal with the restrictions. The entire league will be watching to see how the Suns navigate these uncharted waters.

Sacramento Kings

Offseason Approach: Re-sign Malik Monk, fine-tune the rotation

Actual Cap Space: -$38.5M

Practical Cap Space: -$34.7M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $15.1M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Harrison Barnes, Chris Duarte, Keon Ellis, De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Colby Jones, Mason Jones (two-way), Trey Lyles, Davion Mitchell, Keegan Murray, Domantas Sabonis, Sasha Vezenkov

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Kessler Edwards (restricted), Jordan Ford (restricted – two-way), Alex Len (unrestricted), JaVale McGee (unrestricted), Malik Monk (unrestricted), Jalen Slawson (restricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #13

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Chris Duarte (rookie scale extension), De’Aaron Fox (veteran extension), Kevin Huerter (veteran extension as of October 1), Davion Mitchell (rookie scale extension)

Analysis: 

There may be no simpler offseason preview to write than the Sacramento Kings. They either re-sign Malik Monk and fill in the remaining spots with players on minimum contracts. Or the Kings lose Monk to a bigger offer than they can give him, and they use the Non-Taxpayer MLE to try and find a replacement.

It’s really that simple. But in that simplicity, things are far more complex.

Everything orbits around Monk, so we’ll start there. The Kings only have Early Bird rights for Monk, as he’s completing a two-year contract. That limits Sacramento offering him a four-year deal that maxes out around $78 million. That’s an AAV of about $19.4 million per season. Not bad, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

Monk could, and likely should, have won Sixth Man of the Year. The seventh-year guard averaged 15.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and an impressive 5.1 assists in 26 minutes per game off the Sacramento bench. He shot 44% from the field, including 35% from deep.

Monk set himself up to challenge just how much teams will pay for a bench guard. And that’s not great news for the Kings.

Of the cap space teams, Monk would be immediately plug-and-play for any of them. Outside of maybe the Utah Jazz, who already have Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton playing the role he would play, Monk is a wonderful fit with any team. It’s very easy to envision the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or Detroit Pistons offering Monk a deal that starts north of $20 million and has an AAV up to $25 million per season.

Essentially, Monk will be choosing between a place where he’s found a home and become beloved by teammates and fans, and cashing in on a huge deal for the first time in his career. That’s not an easy decision.

However, the Kings and Monk might be able to maneuver to keep him in Sacramento long-term, while also getting him paid.

Early Bird rights deals are limited in first-year salary to 175% of the previous salary or 105% of the league's average salary. For Monk, since he made less than the average salary last season, we're working off the 105% of the average salary number. He's right on the tipping point, and the math is almost exactly the same. That projects to be somewhere in the range of $17.4 million. (This exact figure won’t be known until final numbers for the 2024-25 season are set.)

Another quirk of contracts using Early Bird rights is that they have to be for at least two seasons in length, with a maximum of up to four years. Let’s break down what this means for Monk.

Re-signing with Kings on a four-year deal using Early Bird rights, with 8% raises, projects like this:

2024-25: $17.4 million

2025-26: $18.7 million

2026-27: $20.1 million

2027-28: $21.5 million

Total: Four years, $77.7 million

Signing with another team for $100 million over four years, with 5% raises, could look like this:

2024-25: $23.3 million

2025-26: $24.4 million

2026-27: $25.6 million

2027-28: $26.7 million

Total: Four years, $100 million

As you can see, that’s a pretty massive difference for Monk. But there is a workaround for the Kings and Monk.

Early Bird rights contracts have to run for at least two seasons. But nothing says that they have to run longer than two years. Let’s say Monk and Sacramento were to sign a two-year, $36.1 million deal, which is the first two years of the Early Bird option laid out above). Now, Monk could play out the two years and become a free agent again in 2026. The difference then? The Kings would have full Bird rights for Monk. At that point, Sacramento can sign him to whatever salary they agree on, up to his maximum salary.

Here's what those four years, over two separate two-year deals, for $100 million could look like using the above process:

2024-25: $17.4 million (Year 1 using Early Bird rights)

2025-26: $18.7 million (Year 2 using Early Bird rights)

2026-27: $30.7 million (Year 1 using Bird rights)

2027-28: $33.2 million (Year 2 using Bird rights)

Total: Four years, $100 million

The total salary is the same over the same four-year period. It just bumps up in the final two seasons, compared to signing elsewhere for $100 million this summer. And, of course, in the summer of 2026, the Kings could add up to five years in a contract for Monk. We’re just using two-years to keep the comparison over the same period of time, as what he can sign for this summer.

Now, to be fair, this process would have to include some wink-wink stuff, along with a good deal of trust between the Kings and Monk. But there is recent precedence. When the Milwaukee Bucks had Bobby Portis coming off a deal for the Bi-Annual Exception, they re-signed him to a new two-year deal using his Non-Bird rights, which he opted out. They repeated the process a year later, and re-signed him to a new deal using his Early Bird rights.

Given Monk’s importance to the team, and how comfortable he seems to be in Sacramento, don’t be surprised if there’s an understanding of how he can get paid fairly to stick around. Even if that process involves a few shenanigans to get there.

If Monk leaves, the Kings will have the full Non-Taxpayer MLE to chase a replacement. This is a good year to be in the market for bench scoring/shooting. Players like Buddy Hield, Gary Trent Jr., Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Luke Kennard, De’Anthony Melton, Caleb Martin, Gordon Hayward or Royce O’Neale could all be available for some or all of the MLE.

If Monk stays, the Kings will be at or just over the tax line. They’ll be filling out the roster with their draft picks (they should go with the best player available with the 13th pick) and veteran minimums at their point. Of Sacramento’s own free agents, Alex Len seems the most likely to return. He’s been a solid backup for Domantas Sabonis for a few years now. JaVale McGee could also return as an end-of-bench veteran, because he’s well-liked in the locker room.

As for extensions, the Kings would probably love to lock up De’Aaron Fox this summer. For Fox, he’ll probably want to put it off a year. That will give him a chance to get back on an All-NBA team to make himself eligible for a 35% of the cap maximum extension in 2025.

Kevin Huerter is more likely to be traded than he is to be extended. Davion Mitchell could sign a team-friendly rookie scale extension. He was in and out of the rotation all season long, but his defense means he still has value. Something like the four-year, $30 million extension that Payton Pritchard signed last offseason seems like a good benchmark for Mitchell and Sacramento. Chris Duarte hasn’t shown enough to get extended at this point.

The Sacramento Kings have work to do. The front office has always been active in trade talks, so don’t rule out something coming there, as there is some easily movable salary on the roster. Mostly though, this is about re-signing Monk, or reasonably replacing him, and seeing improvement from Keegan Murray. If those things happen, Sacramento will be back in the mix for a playoff spot again next season.

Chicago Bulls

Offseason Approach: Should rebuild, but won’t

Actual Cap Space: -$78.2M

Practical Cap Space: -$74.3M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $38.9M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Lonzo Ball, Onuralp Bitim (non-guaranteed), Jevon Carter, Alex Caruso ($3 million guaranteed), Ayo Dosunmu, Andrew Funk (two-way), Zach LaVine, Julian Phillips, Dalen Terry, Nikola Vucevic, Coby White

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Torrey Craig (unrestricted – player option), DeMar DeRozan (unrestricted), Henri Drell (restricted – two-way), Andre Drummond (unrestricted), Javonte Green (unrestricted), Adama Sanogo (restricted – two-way), Patrick Williams (restricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #11

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Lonzo Ball (veteran extension), Alex Caruso (veteran extension), DeMar DeRozan (veteran extension – through June 30)

Analysis: 

Full disclosure: When mapping out the offseason previews, we kept coming up with only 29 teams. It took a couple of extra looks to realize that we had forgotten the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls: perfectly forgettable (ForgettaBull?)

The Bulls were once NBA royalty. But it’s been 26 years since Michael Jordan last played for Chicago. Heck, it’s been nine seasons since the Bulls have advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

Never good enough to be contenders. Never bad enough to be interesting in the draft. Forever stuck in the middle. Perfectly forgettable.

This offseason, the Bulls could hit a hard reset. They could let DeMar DeRozan walk, trade Zach LaVine for a decent return (more on that later), move Nikola Vucevic to a center-needy team, trade Alex Caruso for a nice haul, let Lonzo Ball’s contract run its course, play the kids, be terrible and get a great draft pick in what looks to be a very strong 2025 NBA Draft.

Likely only a couple of those will happen, and they aren’t really the ones that need to happen.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Lonzo Ball’s contract. We’re referring to him as Lonzo Ball’s Expiring Contract now, because that’s sadly where we are at. Ball hasn’t played in two-and-half years. Despite working hard to get back, no one will believe Ball can play until we see it happen.

That leaves Chicago in an interesting spot. Ball’s absence has allowed Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu to develop into good players. They aren’t franchise guys to build around, but they are solid building blocks for the future. And both are on very good contracts.

That means the Bulls can take a couple of different paths with Ball and his expiring $21.4 million deal. Chicago doesn’t need Ball on the court (assuming he can even play), so they can either let his contract expire and potentially create some cap space in 2025. Or Chicago could swap Ball’s contract for a less desirable one that runs a bit longer, while getting paid in young talent and/or draft picks to do so. Maybe one of the second apron teams needs to shed some salary long-term, and the Bulls can offer relief via Ball’s expiring contract.

The real decisions for Chicago this summer come with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

DeRozan is a pending unrestricted free agent. The Bulls can extend DeRozan right up until the end of the day on June 30, or they could sign him to a new contract as a free agent. DeRozan is playing about as good as he ever has, making this a real decision for him and Chicago.

DeRozan did his thing as a scorer and playmaker, while continuing to deliver in the clutch. He also played in 79 games, while leading in the NBA in minutes per game. He’s not even aging just fine, he’s still near his peak.

DeRozan’s last deal was for $81.9 million over three seasons at an AAV of $27.3 million per season. There’s a good chance that his next contract comes in at $90-$100 million over three seasons. That’s how good the soon-to-be 35-year-old has been.

The bigger question: Should that deal come from the Bulls?

If Chicago is committed to chasing a postseason spot, the answer is yes. If the Bulls were to commit to starting over and trying to rebuild through the draft and cap flexibility, they should let DeRozan walk. And, of course, there’s always the chance that DeRozan makes the decision for Chicago and leaves to join a title contender.

On the LaVine front, all indications are that the Bulls will attempt to grant his trade request this summer. There were discussions throughout last season, but that all sort of stopped when LaVine suffered a foot injury that cost him the rest of the season.

Moving almost $138 million over three seasons, starting with $43 million this year, isn’t going to be easy. LaVine is a very good offensive player. He’s pretty efficient, he’s a willing passer and he can play both on- and off-ball. LaVine is also turning 30 years old next season, he’s now had both knee and foot injuries, and he’s not a great defender.

All of that said, there are teams that can use his scoring punch. The Orlando Magic are oft-mentioned in connection to LaVine, and there’s a world where they use a chunk of their cap space to bring him in. The Philadelphia 76ers could pivot to LaVine if other offseason targets don’t come to fruition. If the Detroit Pistons want to speed up the rebuilding process, LaVine is a logical target for them too.

Look for the Bulls to find a deal for LaVine this summer. It’s always easier to move a player like him in the offseason, when there are extra roster spots and teams can use cap space to make a trade easier. The return won’t be a blockbuster. But Chicago should be able to get a combination of picks (perhaps a protected first-rounder or two) and young players (former first-rounders who need a fresh start). The other option is to flip LaVine for veterans who can aid in a win-now push to be playoff team. That’s probably easier to find in many ways, and would keep the status quo as far as the standings go.

For the team’s free agents, Patrick Williams is the priority. He’s had a weird first four years. Williams had a really promising rookie season, then his second year was wiped out due to injuries. He bounced back with a very solid third season, then last season was injury-riddled too.

Williams has shot it well, but is that scalable? Would he be as efficient with 15 shots per game? Could he be a 20-point per game scorer? Can he nudge his rebounding up? Would his typically solid defense hold up with a bigger offensive role? Will he stay healthy?

Those are the questions teams will be asking themselves when considering Williams as a restricted free agent. He makes sense for a team like Oklahoma City, who can use another forward in their rotation. Orlando could be a suitor, if they want to play big across the board. He’d be a really nice fit in Detroit too. All of those teams could put together an offer sheet that makes Chicago think.

Our rookie scale extension projection was $100 million over five seasons. If a team thinks all of the questions about Williams have positive answers, they could put together a $100 million over sheet over four years and feel good about that. And that’s right on the tipping point of the Bulls matching or not. Williams hasn’t even turned 23 yet, so he’s someone Chicago should be trying to keep, as much as other teams.

Alex Caruso should see his contract guaranteed. That’s a no-brainer. Andre Drummond has been very good for Chicago, but he might get bigger offers to play elsewhere. Torrey Craig is one of the better 3&D options available this summer, and he can guard 2-4. He might get a bigger offer than the Bulls can/should give him.

At the draft, the Bulls should take the best player available. They have enough needs that no one should be ruled out because of the position they play.

Speaking of the draft, especially as it related to bottoming out next season…If Chicago were to rebuild, they need to really bottom out and tank. The Bulls owe a top-10 protected 2025 pick to the San Antonio Spurs. If they are going to be bad next season, they need to be bad enough to make sure that they keep that pick.

But that’s probably not going to happen. Chicago will probably re-sign DeRozan to a fair deal, move LaVine in a sideways kind of trade that keeps them competitive for the playoffs and they’ll probably win 40-44 games and be in the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament.

Not good enough to contend. Not bad enough to get a great draft pick. Perfectly ForgettaBull.

Atlanta Hawks

Offseason Approach: Cleaning up the cap sheet around the first overall pick

Actual Cap Space: -$60.5M

Practical Cap Space: -$52.8M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$4.6M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kobe Bufkin, Clint Capela, Bruno Fernando (non-guaranteed), A.J. Griffin Jr., Mouhamed Gueye, De’Andre Hunter, Jalen Johnson, Dejounte Murray, Onyeka Okongwu, Trae Young

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Saddiq Bey (restricted), Trent Forrest (unrestricted), Vit Krejci (restricted – two-way), Seth Lundy (restricted – two-way), Garrison Mathews (unrestricted – team option), Wesley Matthews (unrestricted), Dylan Windler (unrestricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: John Collins ($23,019,560)

First Round Draft Picks:  #1

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Clint Capela (veteran extension), Jalen Johnson (rookie scale extension), Trae Young (veteran extension)

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

The Hawks made the massive jump up in the lottery, going from the tenth overall pick to the first overall pick. That puts Atlanta in position to draft whoever they want. Most believe that will be Alex Sarr, who would immediately slot in at one of the big man spots for the Hawks.

Getting the first overall pick had a pretty big financial impact on the Hawks. The first overall pick holds a first-year salary of $12.6 million vs the tenth pick at $5.5 million. Now, instead of dancing just under the luxury tax line, Atlanta now projects to be into the tax without making a salary-clearing move. And that’s before re-signing any free agents and filling out the roster.

Finally, there is a case to be made that trading Trae Young got easier after landing the first pick. You can sell the newcomer, plus whatever you get in return for Young, as your building blocks for the future. One lucky bounce of a ping pong ball, and the Atlanta Hawks future may now look entirely different.

Analysis: 

The Atlanta Hawks slipped out of the playoffs last season. After two years of first-round exits, the Hawks fell in the Play-In Tournament and missed out on the playoffs entirely. This was a third consecutive year of backsliding since the surprising Eastern Conference Finals run in 2021.

In many ways, that’s emblematic of where the Hawks are at as a franchise. They’re good enough to make the Play-In Tournament, and probably good enough to make the playoffs, but this roster feels about tapped out as far as going further.

At a glance, Atlanta has a lot of talent. But a lot of that talent overlaps and doesn’t quite fit together the way it should. And, arguably most importantly, the Hawks are way too expensive to be a middling team.

That all points to a summer of change. That change likely starts in a dramatic way with the backcourt.

For months, reports have been that the Hawks have shopped Dejounte Murray. So much so, that it was a bit of a surprise when Murray wasn’t dealt ahead of the trade deadline. Now, speculation is that Atlanta could potentially pivot to trading Trae Young. One thing seems certain: This backcourt doesn’t have much longer to run together.

The case for trading Murray is that he’s playing out of position as a secondary guard that is off-ball a lot. Murray also isn’t a surefire All-Star, nor is he the Hawks franchise player.

The case against trading Murray is that he’s really good, and even better when he’s the team’s primary ballhandler. Murray is also just starting a perfectly fair four-year, $114 million contract extension.

The case for trading Young is that he’s a star. A deal for Young should return a monster package of players and draft picks. And it would clear up to $138 million off the books over the next three seasons.

The case against trading Young is that he’s the Hawks franchise guy. And he wants to be in Atlanta. There’s also the fact that Young, despite his defensive flaws, is an All-Star and All-NBA level guy. He’s an offense unto himself, and that’s huge in building a good team.

The Hawks will undoubtedly have plenty of offers for both Young and Murray this summer. Getting this right is the most important item on Landry Fields’ offseason to-do list. And it doesn’t feel like a decision that can be delayed any further. Something has to give this summer.

Part of the reason the Hawks need to make a move here is to start to clean up a bloated cap sheet. They started the process by trading John Collins in a salary-dump last offseason, but they ate up that flexibility they created by extending Murray and Onyeka Okongwu. Neither of those deals are bad, nor the wrong decisions, but the Hawks are basically right back where they were a year ago.

Atlanta is about $2.5 million under the luxury tax with 12 players and their first-round pick on the books. By the time the Hawks fill their last couple of roster spots, they’ll be into the tax. That can’t be a thing for a team whose upside is .500, as presently constructed.

Trading Young or Murray would go a long way towards re-balancing the cap sheet long-term. But taking back salary in a trade would eat into that flexibility for the upcoming season, potentially by a good amount.

That tax crunch is going to guide what happens with Saddiq Bey, who is the only real Hawks free agent of note. Prior to tearing his ACL in mid-March, Bey looked like a decent bet to re-sign in Atlanta. Now, that could still happen, but it won’t be for the deal Bey hoped for previously. There’s a world where Bey simply signs his $8.5 million qualifying offer, spends most of the year rehabbing, and hits unrestricted free agency in 2025.

Bey’s injury is only one reason Atlanta should be wary of signing him to a long-term deal. The other reason is that Atlanta already has three years and nearly $70 million committed to De’Andre Hunter. In addition, Jalen Johnson is extension-eligible for the first time this summer. And none of Bey, Hunter nor Johnson are small-ball options to play the five. All are true combo forwards.

A year ago, the idea of Johnson being extension-eligible having an impact on the Hawks long-term plans would have been laughable. He only started to play impactful minutes after the 2023 All-Star break. But Johnson carried that momentum over to this past season in a big way.

Despite dealing with injuries throughout the year, Johnson put together a very good season. Johnson clearly has the most upside of that forward trio that includes Bey and Hunter. That makes trying to get an extension done both important, but also kind of tricky.

Johnson isn’t a max guy, not with the short track record of being a starter-level guy. But he’s also not going to be a steal for Atlanta either. Ideally, the Hawks probably want to sign him to a deal worth $25 million AAV over four or five years. And this is one where Atlanta should use the standard 8% raises per year structure. Starting a new deal for Johnson at a lower number would make it easier to dance under the tax line in 2025-26, while cap growth should outpace the contract growth in future seasons.

Young and Clint Capela are both eligible for veteran extensions. Obviously, nothing will even be broached with Young until it’s decided if he’ll be staying in Atlanta or not. He’s also got three years left on his contract, so we’re probably a year too early for real extension talks to commence.

As for Capela, the Hawks need to let this one play out. They signed Okongwu to a fairly team-friendly contract, and he’s just about ready to replace Capela. There’s no need to add more salary to the cap sheet than is necessary here.

For the team’s non-Bey free agents, two-way player Vit Krejci is the only one who may garner significant free agent interest. Atlanta can, and should, control this process by making Krejci a restricted free agent. He emerged late in the year as a key rotation player, to the extent that it was a surprise the Hawks didn’t convert Krejci for the postseason.

At the draft, Atlanta should have a late-lottery pick, barring some ping pong ball luck. This is a “best player available” scenario. Ideally, Atlanta won’t double-down with another point guard, after selecting Kobe Bufkin last year, but Bufkin didn’t show enough to make that a lock. If the Hawks move up via the lottery, they’ll be in position to grab whatever big, forward or ballhandler that they like best.

This is a big summer for the Atlanta Hawks. It feels like a blockbuster trade that involves Trae Young or Dejounte Murray is coming. It’s possible that Clint Capela could end up on the move too. Really, almost nothing should be ruled out. When you’ve slid from playoffs to play-in, and you’re hovering around the tax, it’s time for changes. Only time will tell just how drastic those changes will be.

Golden State Warriors

Offseason Approach: Resetting for one more run

Actual Cap Space: -$109.7M

Practical Cap Space: -$77.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $27.3M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Jonathan Kuminga, Kevon Looney ($3 million guaranteed), Moses Moody, Chris Paul (non-guaranteed), Brandin Podziemski, Gui Santos (non-guaranteed), Pat Spencer (two-way), Andrew Wiggins

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Usman Garuba (unrestricted), Gary Payton II (unrestricted – player option), Lester Quinones (restricted), Jerome Robinson (unrestricted – two-way), Dario Saric (unrestricted), Klay Thompson (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: None

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Stephen Curry (veteran extension), Jonathan Kuminga (rookie scale extension), Kevon Looney (veteran extension), Moses Moody (rookie scale extension), Chris Paul (veteran extension), Gary Payton II (veteran extension), Klay Thompson (veteran extension – through June 30)

Analysis: 

The Golden State Warriors have finally hit the crossroads they’ve been approaching for the last few years. After rallying to win the 2022 title, the Warriors fell off to a second-round exit in 2023 and this year they were the first team eliminated in the Play-In Tournament.

Now, it’s decision time. And none of the important decisions this team has to make are easy ones.

For what feels like third or fourth year running, Golden State ownership has hinted that it’s time to cut payroll. While this may be a “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” situation, it does feel a lot more real this time around. This team simply isn’t good enough to continue to approach a half-billion dollars in salary plus tax penalties. Things are about to change. When ownership says they want to lower the tax bill, if not get out of the tax entirely, we should believe them this time.

The easiest of the Warriors hard decisions seems to be waiving Chris Paul. Paul has a $30 million contract for next season. If Golden State was still competing for titles, the prudent strategy would be to guarantee Paul’s deal and to use that $30 million as salary-matching in a trade.

Given that the Warriors are resetting, it’s best to waive Paul to begin cutting salary. Paul was by no means a bad player last season. He can still run an offense with the best of them. He can still knock down open shots. But the defense has slipped, and creating his own offense is almost non-existent now. That’s not something anyone is going to pay $30 million for.

The without-a-doubt hardest decision, is what happens with Klay Thompson. Thompson is a Warriors legend. His #11 will get retired by the team someday, ideally on the same day as Stephen Curry’s #30 and Draymond Green’s #23. But that doesn’t mean Golden State needs to pay Thompson anything approaching a max salary anymore.

All of the “Klay Thompson is washed” stuff went way too far. He still averaged 17.9 points per game and made 38.7% of his threes last season. Thompson can still play a role on a good team.

Therein lies the rub.

Thompson is a role player now. He’s not an All-Star and he never will be again. If the Warriors are serious about cutting salary, it starts with Thompson just as much as it does with Paul.

Golden State needs to be firm here. Thompson made $43.2 million last year. Ideally, the Warriors would cut that figure in half. Something in the range of $20-$22 million feels fair. You’re acknowledging and paying for everything Thompson has meant to the franchise, while also acknowledging he’s a lessened, but still valuable player…at the right price.

Last thing on Thompson: To some extent how much the Warriors pay him is only dependent on how serious they are about getting out of the tax this coming season. The far more important matter is the number of years that Golden State locks into for Thompson. This needs to be year-to-year territory now, and if it’s a two-year deal, the second season has to be something the team has control over.

Waiving Paul, and cutting Thompson’s salary roughly in half would have the Warriors about $5.3 million under the luxury tax line with 11 players under contract. That’s pretty workable, and in range of ducking the tax entirely after the roster is filled out.

There’s been reporting that Gary Payton II may opt out of his $9.1 million contract for next season. The idea is Payton will opt out to sign a long-term deal that lowers his number for this season. That’s a way for Golden State to create about $4-$5 million more in wiggle room under the tax.

If the Warriors need even more room to work under the tax, they could waive Kevon Looney and eat the $3 million he’s guaranteed out of $8 million contract. That’s another $5 million in potential savings. Do all of the above, and Golden State will be roughly $14-$15 million under the tax line. They’ll need backup point guard to replace Paul and a center to replace Looney, but they’d have the full MLE plus minimum contracts to work with. Not to mention how being out from under the tax and the aprons would free up trade possibilities.

Roster moves probably won’t be quite as drastic as all of the above. Looney feels somewhat likely to stick, given his $8 million salary for what he brings is perfectly fair. The bigger point is that Golden State can get down under the tax line, or at least really close, without all that big of a sacrifice talent-wise.

Lowering the tax, or dodging it entirely, is important for the Warriors to save some money for what has become a merely above-average team. It’s also important to start resetting the clock on the tax repeater rules.

The reason the latter point matters is that Golden State has to figure out contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody this summer. Those could push the payroll right back up to tax levels for at least a couple of years.

Kuminga is clearly the more important of the two players to get locked up. Despite being somewhat positionally blocked by both Green and Thompson, Kuminga put together the best season of his young career. He blossomed as a scorer, both in the halfcourt offense and in transition. He was a solid defender, holding his own against both forwards and big wings. The jumper dipped a bit, but Kuminga made up for that by getting to the free throw line more and hitting 75% of his freebies.

It's still too early to talk about a max deal for Kuminga, but we’re not going to be too far off that territory. The absolute floor for the 21-year-old forward should be four years and $100 million. If that needs to push up to $120-$140 million to get him locked in, the Warriors should do it. He’s the only young player of the “second timeline” that has truly popped.

Moody is too much of a question mark to get a big extension now. He showed some real improvement this year, but it’s still uncertain if he’ll be more than a nice rotation player. In a crowded wing rotation, Moody has been unable to step forward. An additional challenge for Moody is that the Warriors have Brandin Podziemski on a rookie deal, and they both play the same positions.

This is an extension that never would have gotten done in previous seasons. The offer would have been so low that Moody would have been best to bet on himself. That’s changed some, but given the logjam on the wing, we’re guessing no extension is signed here.

Veteran players Curry, Looney, Paul and Payton are all also extension-eligible. But it’s probably a year too early for Curry and the others aren’t getting extended, given what we’ve already covered.

As we said to start, the Warriors have hit a crossroads. No matter what path they take, it needs to balance the desire to squeeze as much out of the dynastic core as possible, while preparing for the future.

Mike Dunleavy Jr’s first offseason running the front office was mostly about setting the stage for the latter path, while keeping the path to contention open. Now, it’s time to reset both the roster and the cap sheet. That might mean a short-term falloff, but one that leads to a long-term gain.

Houston Rockets

Offseason Approach: From postseason contention to in the postseason

Actual Cap Space: -$34.6M

Practical Cap Space: -$21.7M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $14.8M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Steven Adams, Dillon Brooks, Tari Eason, Jalen Green, Jock Landale (non-guaranteed), Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Amen Thompson, Fred VanVleet, Cam Whitmore

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Reggie Bullock (unrestricted), Jeff Green (unrestricted – team option), Nate Hinton (restricted – two-way), Aaron Holiday (unrestricted), Boban Marjanovic (unrestricted), Jermaine Samuels Jr. (restricted – two-way), Jae’Sean Tate (unrestricted – team option), Nate Williams Jr. (restricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Kevin Porter Jr. ($4,510,000)

First Round Draft Picks: #3

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Steven Adams (veteran extension), Jalen Green (rookie scale extension), Alperen Sengun (rookie scale extension), Jae’Sean Tate (veteran extension)

Post-Lottery Analysis:

The Rockets made a big jump from the ninth overall pick up to the third overall pick. Now, Houston is positioned to add another talent to their young core. Or, as many have already speculated, the Rockets could trade the pick in a package for more win-now talent.

Financially, Houston takes about $4.4 million in salary for next season. That doesn’t change the Rockets cap/tax picture. They’ll still be over the cap, and a bit tighter to the tax than planned. But Houston has more than enough wiggle room under the tax to do whatever work they need to this summer.

Analysis: 

The Houston Rockets did what most coaches call the “easy part”. The Rockets went from being a bad team to a competitive team. Most coaches say that’s the easy step.

Now, things get a little harder. The good news? Houston is well set up to do the hard part.

While some panned the idea of this young team adding a bunch of veterans (some by overpaying them) last summer, it worked out quite well. The Rockets played meaningful basketball into April, and the veterans helped the young roster learn what it takes to win.

Now, it’s about adding to that mix for Ime Udoka. Houston could make trades, but they kind of already did that. There aren’t many glaring needs for this team. Whatever the front office decides they do need, they’re armed with the Non-Taxpayer MLE to go get it. And the Rockets have enough room under the tax to use the full MLE without any worry.

Why we say the Rockets kind of already made trades is that they filled one need by acquiring Steven Adams at the trade deadline. Given Adams was already ruled out for the entirety of last season, this was a future-based move. The trade put Victor Oladipo’s expiring contract to good use by adding a player Houston might not have been able to acquire otherwise.

Now, instead of using their available assets and tools to acquire a backup center, that hole is filled. Assuming he’s healthy, Adams will bring a level of physicality, defense and additional veteran presence to the frontcourt.

That means the Rockets can use the MLE to target something else. Preferably, they’d add a 3&D guy to the bench. Someone who can swing between backing up both Jalen Green and Dillon Brooks. Ideally, an improved version of Jae’Sean Tate or what they had hoped to get from Reggie Bullock.

Some players who make sense and could be in the MLE range are Royce O’Neale, Torrey Craig, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Cedi Osman and Naji Marshall. Some of those players will only take a portion of the MLE to get too, which would leave the rest of it help shore up other needs.

For the Rockets own free agents, Aaron Holiday earned a chance to return. The hope is that Amen Thompson will be ready for a bigger role as the team’s primary backup point guard, while also seeing minutes on the wing. Even with that being the case, there’s room for Holiday.

Houston will likely pick up their team options for both Jeff Green and Jae’Sean Tate. Green is still a solid backup in a frontcourt, even as he goes into Year 17. Tate fell out of the rotation as year went along, but he’s still a solid value for just over $7 million. In addition, that’s a nice chunk of salary to add as salary-matching in a trade.

None of the two-way players made enough of an impact to be sure if they’ll stick or not. That leaves Reggie Bullock and Boban Marjanovic. Bullock never made the impact he or Houston hoped he would. He’s likely heading elsewhere. Marjanovic might be back, if there’s a roster spot. He’s beloved by teammates, coaches and fans no matter where he plays.

All of that leaves us with the most important part of the summer for Rockets: rookie scale extensions for Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun.

Sengun is the easier one. If he’s not a max guy, he’s really close to it. Coming in, the comps were that Sengun could be a light version of Nikola Jokic. It took about a year-and-a-half, but the promise Sengun showed in the back half of his second season was built upon last season. He’s a 20/10 guy who can function as an offensive hub, because he’s also a terrific playmaker. Sengun will probably never be Jokic, but even a slightly lesser version of the superstar is a pretty great outcome.

That means he’s in position to push for a max deal. If Houston gets squirrelly about maxing out Sengun, they could do what we’re now calling the “Desmond Bane max”. That’s a deal where the player’s base salary is below the max, but he has enough achievable incentives in his deal that he can earn a full max contract. Funnily enough, this is similar to the deal Nikola Jokic once signed with the Denver Nuggets.

As for Green…who knows? Playing for the first time on a team with some expectations and in an organized system, Green was pretty meh for the season’s first four-and-a-half months. He barely cracked 40% from the field, and it looked like Green might not cut it on a team that plays competitive basketball.

Then March hit and Green took off. Over the final two months and 23 games, Green was awesome. He averaged 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, while hitting 46/37/79 shooting splits. As the Rockets made a push for the Play-In Tournament, Green was leading the charge.

Now, Houston is left to decide which Jalen Green is the real one. We can’t completely throw away Green’s first two seasons in the NBA, because they did happen. But those Rockets teams were a mess, and no place for a very young guard to develop good habits and skills. We’re mostly judging Green on the first two-thirds of last season against the final third.

If the Rockets believe Green is the final-third guy, they can give him $28-$30 million AAV without any worry. Heck, they could even go all the way to the 25% of the cap max. Green was that good.

If Houston is unsure, it might be best to let him play it out in a contract year. Might that end up definitely costing you a max deal in 2025? Sure. But it’s one you would be happy to pay, as opposed to paying him early and having things go sideways.

The Rockets took real steps forward. Ime Udoka was a homerun hire as the head coach. The veteran signings worked out very well. The young players improved in real, tangible ways. It’s important to keep adding and building, because life isn’t getting any easier in the Western Conference. But the future is as bright in Houston as it is for any of the non-postseason teams.

Brooklyn Nets

Offseason Approach: Moving forward while preserving flexibility for the future

Actual Cap Space: -$26.7M

Practical Cap Space: -$26.7M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $37.2M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Mikal Bridges, Noah Clowney, Dorian Finney-Smith, Cameron Johnson, Jaylen Martin (two-way), Dennis Schroder, Day’Ron Sharpe, Ben Simmons, Cam Thomas, Dariq Whitehead, Jalen Wilson ($75,000 guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Keita Bates-Diop (unrestricted – player option), Nicolas Claxton (unrestricted), Jacob Gilyard (restricted – two-way), Keon Johnson (unrestricted – two-way), Dennis Smith Jr. (unrestricted), Lonnie Walker IV (unrestricted), Trendon Watford (restricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Spencer Dinwiddie ($20,357,143), Joe Harris ($11,928,571), Patty Mills ($6,802,950), Royce O’Neale ($9,500,000)

First Round Draft Picks: None

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Mikal Bridges (veteran extension), Day’Ron Sharpe (rookie scale extension), Ben Simmons (veteran extension), Cameron Thomas (rookie scale extension)

Analysis: 

The Brooklyn Nets have been on a slide since breaking up their Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. It happened in parts, but after Durant was shipped out as the last star standing, the Nets have gone 20 games under .500 in the regular season. The uneven play to end the 2022-23 campaign became poor play throughout last season.

Now, Brooklyn is once again left to pick up the pieces after breaking up a super-team. The good news? They aren’t exactly starting from scratch this time around.

Sean Marks is still in charge, just as he was when he took over in 2016 without much talent on the roster and precious few draft picks under team control. Marks did this once before, now he has to do it again. This time around, he’s working with better players and he’s got some draft picks coming his way.

The first move of the offseason was hiring Jordi Fernandez as the team’s new head coach. Brooklyn touted Fernandez as someone they feel can succeed if the team is building back up around a younger roster, or someone who can have success if they try to quickly turn things around.

It’s the second option there that seems a little worrisome.

The Nets have been at their best when they build the team up by finding diamonds in the rough and developing their own young talent. However, this team is kind of caught in the middle at the moment.

Brooklyn isn’t overflowing with young talent. While players like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson aren’t exactly old, they aren’t youngsters anymore either. Bridges will join Johnson as being 28 years old at the start of next season. Both have lots of good basketball in front of them, but the potential has been realized. We know what Bridges and Johnson are as players now.

Unfortunately, that’s sort of the challenge.

Bridges is very good. You love his offense-defense combo if he’s your third-best player. As the primary guy, as Bridges was for the whole of last season, he’s miscast. He’s not good enough to carry an offense, and because he’s not a big, you can’t build your defense around him. Johnson is also good, but he’s overmatched if he’s anything more than your fifth-best starter.

And Bridges and Johnson aren’t even the two highest paid Nets.

We’ve hit the point where he’s going to be referred to as “Ben Simmons Expiring Contract” instead of just Ben Simmons. Over the last three seasons, due to injuries and holding out, Simmons has played in 57 games. He went under the knife again, to hopefully finally address a back issue that has sidelined him regularly during the last three years.

Simmons is owed $40.3 million next season, in the final year of his deal. Even if he doesn’t play, that’s a valuable piece of salary matching in a trade. Ben Simmons Expiring Contract it is then.

That may seem harsh, but that’s how the Nets have to operate. If there’s a star available, expect Marks to explore it. Or if a trade to flesh out the depth by turning that $40 million into two or three players, Brooklyn has to consider that too.

If a great trade for the future isn’t available, the Nets can let Simmons’ deal expire and move forward with cap space in 2025. The only way Brooklyn can really screw this is up is by flipping Simmons for bad money moving forward. Otherwise, trading Simmons or simply letting his contract expire, are strong options moving forward.

We’re going to skip past the idea that Simmons is extension-eligible, because the idea of extending him now is so farfetched. Hopefully this latest surgery gets Simmons right and he gets back to being the All-Star level guy he was in Philadelphia. But that’s something he’ll need to prove, and no one will believe it until it’s proven for a full season.

Bridges is also extension-eligible, and the Nets have to be careful here. Right now, Bridges is the closest thing the team has to a franchise player. But as we covered above, that’s not really who he is. If Brooklyn can extend Bridges by adding something in the range of three years and $100 to $120 million, that’s reasonable. Beyond that, a contract gets a bit long and a bit too expensive for someone who can’t carry a team.

Marks also has to handle rookie scale extensions for Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe. Thomas is the more proven player. He can score in bunches and he’s a pretty good shooter. So, Thomas might be more than the stereotypical bench gunner. The question is if he can do more than score. If the Nets think he can become a good defender and a good playmaker, that’s a different type of contract than a guy who can score, but isn’t quite elite at that singular skill.

Ideally, Thomas would take something in the range of four-years and $100 million. That doesn’t get too expensive if his game doesn’t round out beyond scoring. Anything more than that, and Brooklyn could end up on the hook for a guy who is a little overpaid for what might be an uncertain role. For Thomas, he might be better off betting he can show an improved all-around game and hit restricted free agency in 2025 to cash in on an even bigger deal.

Sharpe showed a lot more in Year 3 than he had in either of his first two NBA seasons. The challenge is that he hasn’t won a starting job and he’s not a defensive anchor. If he’d sign a deal like the four-year, $32 million rookie scale extension that Zeke Nnaji signed with the Denver Nuggets, the Nets should get Sharpe locked up. But that kind of deal was sort of new last offseason. Normally, anything under an MLE level of contract is a spot where the player bets on himself. Did we see a new market-setting deal with Nnaji or an abnormally team-friendly deal? That’s what Brooklyn and Sharpe will have to hammer out.

When we flip to free agency, Brooklyn’s big decision is with Nic Claxton. In two years as a starter, Claxton has been terrific. He’s an excellent defender and rebounder, a very good finisher and he’s shown improvements as a screener and passer too. $20 to $25 million is what non-All-Star centers have gone for in recent years. If we adjust up slightly, Claxton could be looking at a deal that lands between $100 and $120 million over four years.

The other factor the Nets have to consider: Who would they be competing against for Claxton? Most of the cap space teams have centers already in place. In addition, most contenders, or would-be contenders, also have centers in place. That could work in Brooklyn’s favor for retaining Claxton on the lower end of the above range.

Trendon Watford should also get some consideration to be re-signed. He won’t break the bank, and as a non-max restricted free agent, the Nets can really control the process with him. Watford can play. He should be back, ideally on a long-term deal.

The Nets other free agents are more in the replacement-level category, either for skill or fit. Dennis Smith Jr. has done a nice job getting his career on track, but he’s a minimum guy for point guard depth. Lonnie Walker IV is very likely headed elsewhere, as his role decreased throughout the year. If Keita Bates-Diop opts out, he’s likely gone too. If Bates-Diop opts in, he’s an end-of-the-bench guy on a minimum deal.

The draft will be a non-event, as of now. Brooklyn is the only team that doesn’t have a single pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.

As for free agent or trade targets, a lot of that depends on when Sean Marks wants to push things forward. To do so this year would mean trading Simmons and assets to get a star. But there’s at least as good of a chance that Brooklyn holds off to make their big push in the 2025 offseason. Pending re-signing players, the Nets can conservatively create $70 to $80 million in cap space next summer. They’ve already structured things to maximize that space.

If Brooklyn semi-punts on this offseason, they’re sending a signal that they’re looking at a big summer in 2025 and the upcoming season will probably look a lot like this last one. If they re-sign Claxton and trade Simmons’ expiring deal and assets for a star, then the Nets will be pushing for more as soon as next season. Sean Marks has been here before. This is his last chance to get it right. Otherwise, someone else will calling the shots in Brooklyn the next time the Nets go star-hunting.

Utah Jazz

Offseason Approach: Time to take steps forward

Actual Cap Space: -$13.9M

Practical Cap Space: $38.3M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $70.9M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Darius Bazley (non-guaranteed), Jordan Clarkson, John Collins, Keyonte George, Taylor Hendricks, Walker Kessler, Kenneth Lofton Jr. (non-guaranteed), Lauri Markkanen ($6 million guaranteed), Jason Preston (two-way), Brice Sensabaugh, Collin Sexton, Omer Yurtseven (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Kris Dunn (unrestricted), Talen Horton-Tucker (unrestricted), Johnny Juzang (restricted – two-way), Kira Lewis Jr. (restricted), Micah Potter (restricted – two-way), Luka Samanic (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Room Exception ($8,006,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: PNone (expected to be renounced for cap space)

First Round Draft Picks:  #10, #29

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: John Collins (veteran extension), Lauri Markkanen (veteran extension), Collin Sexton (veteran extension)

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

The Jazz weren’t really hurt all that much by dropping from the eighth pick to the tenth pick. Had they slid one more pick, and had to send that selection to the Thunder, things might have gotten interesting.

As it stands, this drop created slightly more cap space for Utah this summer. Every little bit helps for a team that plans to go star-hunting this offseason.

Analysis: 

The Utah Jazz have missed the postseason two years in a row. However, that was mostly by design, as the last two seasons have seen Utah bottom out following the trade deadline. And in neither year did franchise leadership make the wrong decision to drop out of the postseason race.

The Jazz aren’t far away from being a really good team, but they aren’t particularly close either. In other words: Utah is right on time and right in Danny Ainge’s sweet spot.

Ainge did the hard part two summers ago when he traded Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, as well as some others, and kicked off a rebuild. Much like he did with the Boston Celtics (on two different occasions!) Ainge’s team got better than expected earlier than expected. This time around, Ainge hit the breaks before a short postseason run, in hopes of building something greater.

This summer, it’s time for the Jazz to start taking some real steps forward. They don’t need to be title contenders, or even in the mix for homecourt advantage. But making the playoffs, or at least a quality Play-In Tournament run in a deep Western Conference, is next up for Utah.

The easiest decision Ainge has this summer is fully guaranteeing Lauri Markkanen’s contract. The deal Markkanen signed as part of a sign-and-trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers is hitting its final year. The once unproven young player is now an established All-Star and he’s Utah’s franchise player of the moment.

Guaranteeing Markkanen is a no-brainer. What happens next is where things get really interesting.

The Jazz are likely going to clear the deck as much as they can by renouncing free agents and waiving their other non-guaranteed players. While there are surely players that Utah would like to bring back of their group of free agents (Kris Dunn, Talen-Horton Tucker, Luka Samanic and Kira Lewis Jr.) and their group of non-guaranteed players (Darius Bazley, Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Omer Yurtseven), none of them are worth taking away from the Utah’s potential cap space.

Ainge can pretty easily create up to $35.7 million in cap space. And the path to creating even more, if necessary, is pretty open too. From there, Utah has a few options.

The first path involves pursuing free agents, or using cap space to aid in absorbing the contract of a major player via trade. Despite common perception, the Jazz have actually done fairly well in free agency over the years. Utah is somewhere players enjoy living because they can do so without being bothered. It also helps that Salt Lake City is the NBA’s shortest distance to Las Vegas. If a guy needs a night out, that’s pretty easily arranged.

All of the above is why the Jazz signing one of the better free agents can’t be ruled out. Outside of the frontcourt, which seems pretty stocked with Markkanen, John Collins and Walker Kessler, no spots are locked in on the Utah roster. There’s room for a big guard or wing in between the frontcourt players and Keyonte George, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton in the backcourt.

That gives Ainge a lot of optionality this summer to purse talent. Could Utah make a pitch to Paul George? What about a conversation with DeMar DeRozan about finishing his career by lifting a young roster to the playoffs? Could a return for Gordon Hayward, in a different phase of his career, and on a much different contract, make sense?

There are also quite a few expensive teams that could be looking to rebalance their cap sheets this summer. Brandon Ingram, Khris Middleton, Jerami Grant and DeAndre Hunter are just a few examples of potential tax-avoidance/lessening moves that are on the table this offseason.

And, of course, a star or two will shake loose that no one is talking about. That’s where the Jazz are poised to make a move. Utah has a talented young roster, cap space to make a move and up to eight additional draft picks to throw into trade offers.

The second path for the Jazz is to continue building around what they have in place already. Post-deadline, Utah force fed minutes to their younger players. Keyonte George played all season, but he got even more responsibility thrown on him. Taylor Hendricks went from barely playing to starting and getting 25+ minutes per game. Brice Sensabaugh, the team’s third 2023 first-round pick, played a bunch in March and April.

The kids weren’t ready. In sink-or-swim minutes, they still needed their water wings to stay afloat. But they started to learn how to swim, and they all flashed that they can play. That’s all those late-season minutes were really for.

That puts Utah in a place where they can mostly run it back, with a value free agent signing, or trade, or two. In that world, the Jazz are probably sitting on some leftover cap space. And that’s where we circle back to Lauri Markkanen.

Markkanen is this team’s guy. If Utah goes the first path and spends all of their cap space via free agency or trades, Markkanen is probably content to play out the year and sign a big contract as a free agent in 2024. It the Jazz are sitting on cap space, it makes sense for them to take care of Markkanen now via a renegotiation-and-extension deal.

Much like the Sacramento Kings did with Domantas Sabonis last summer, the Jazz can take Markkanen all the way up to a 30% of the cap max deal for next season, provided they have the roughly $24 million in cap space to do so. From there, Utah can add up to four additional years to a deal for their franchise guy, at all the way up to the max.

Under the new CBA, teams can’t sit on mountains of leftover cap space and take it into the season to see what develops. If the Jazz hit late-July/early-August and haven’t found a use for their cap space, they might as well use it take care of Markkanen now. That’s better than letting things go into the summer of 2025 and introducing any sense of certainty.

The Utah Jazz have options this summer. And they have an aggressive front office leader in Danny Ainge. He’s not afraid to take a home run swing when the opportunity presents itself. This offseason will land somewhere between productive (smaller moves and re-upping with Markkanen) and splashy (swinging a big trade or signing a major free agent). That’s a pretty fun place to be as the Jazz take steps forward again.

Toronto Raptors

Offseason Approach: Continuing the reset without having to rebuild

Actual Cap Space: -$35.9M

Practical Cap Space: -$32.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $50.1M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Ochai Agbaji, Scottie Barnes, R.J. Barrett, Chris Boucher, D.J. Carton (two-way), Gradey Dick, Javon Freeman-Liberty ($100,000 guaranteed), Mouhamadou Gueye (two-way), Jalen McDaniels, Kelly Olynyk, Jakob Poeltl

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Bruce Brown (unrestricted – team option), Jordan Nwora (unrestricted), Immanuel Quickley (restricted), Garrett Temple (unrestricted), Gary Trent Jr. (unrestricted), Malik Williams (restricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions:Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Pascal Siakam ($10,171,292)

First Round Draft Picks: #19

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Scottie Barnes (rookie scale extension), Chris Boucher (veteran extension), Gary Trent Jr. (veteran extension)

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

The Raptors lost the sixth overall pick when the Hawks and Rockets jumped up in the lottery. But that’s probably not something Toronto will bemoan all that much. Sure, they’ll miss out on a decent player, but they are now free and clear of owing a protected pick to San Antonio. That’s a win, especially if the Raptors find themselves as a lottery team in a deeper 2025 draft.

Financially, Toronto cleared some money of the books for next season. If, and it’s still unexpected, the Raptors choose to be a cap space team, they can now create up to $29.8 million in cap space. But the expected path is for Toronto to stay over the cap by picking up Bruce Brown’s $23 million team option.

Analysis: 

The Toronto Raptors did the hard part ahead of last season’s trade deadline: They hit the reset button. That meant trading away the last real ties to the 2019 title team by sending OG Anunoby to the New York Knicks and Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers. But they were the right moves to get the franchise headed in a new direction.

After missing the playoffs in three of the last four years, with one first-round exit mixed in, it was time to start over. The good news? The Raptors aren’t starting over from scratch.

Scottie Barnes has proven to be a player Toronto can build around. Before an injury KO’d him down the stretch of lost season, Barnes put together his best all-around year. He scored, shot, passed, rebounded and defended at the best levels of his career. Now, hammering out a rookie scale extension with Barnes is the most important item on the Raptors summer to-do list.

Barnes is probably going to get a max extension. The real question: Will it be the 25% version, or will the deal have language that can bump him to the 30% max if he makes All-NBA. Bet on the latter. If Barnes hits that level, Toronto will be happy to give him 30% of the cap.

The team’s other extension candidates likely aren’t getting anything done. Chris Boucher isn’t someone to extend, partially because the frontcourt is starting to get a little crowded. Gary Trent Jr. likely wants to test the free agent market for the first time, and he’s also at a position where the Raptors have other options.

That takes us into free agency. There was a point, post trade deadline, where it looked like the Raptors might head into the summer with a bunch of cap space. Then, in early-March, Kelly Olynyk signed a two-year, $26 million extension. That signaled that Toronto likely isn’t going the cap space route, and that gives us insight to some potential roster decisions.

The Raptors have a $23 million team option for Bruce Brown. Is that too much for Brown, given his role and production for this Toronto team? Probably. Is it so much that Brown is overpaid and unmovable via trade? Nope. The expectation now is that the Raptors will pick up Brown’s option, plug him in the rotation somewhere, and potentially use his salary in a trade at some point during the year.

As for the team’s actual free agents, Immanual Quickley is the priority, and it’s not really close. Quickley was a big part of the Raptors return in the OG Anunoby trade and he’s the team’s point guard of the future. We pegged Quickley for a possible extension approaching $90 million before he was traded, but he’s outplayed that now. Look for this deal to come in somewhere in the $100 million to $120 million range over four years.

Toronto’s other free agency decisions are a little easier. If Brown’s option is picked up, there just isn’t room for Trent. In addition to Brown, the Raps will have R.J. Barrett, Gradey Dick and Ochai Agbaji as wings. Investing another contract in Trent, despite his solid play, isn’t a good use of resources. However, don’t rule out a sign-and-trade that helps Toronto fill a need elsewhere.

Jordan Nwora is caught up in the same math as Trent. Garrett Temple might retire. And Malik Williams is a fringe guy. Any of these three could return, but it would be for a minimum deal and a deep bench role.

Because the Raptors, even after re-signing Quickley, are so far under the tax line, Masai Ujiri should be able to use the full Non-Taxpayer MLE. That’s a nice chunk of spending power to use to sign a player to fill a targeted need.

Here’s the challenge though: What are those targeted needs? Toronto has good big depth with Jakob Poeltl, Olynyk, and Boucher. They’d got a bunch of wings, as we’ve covered. Their primary ballhandlers will be Quickley and Barnes, with players like Barrett and Brown capable of running the offense for stretches.

The Raptors can definitely use another point guard, ideally someone who is able to really defend the position. Kris Dunn would make a lot of sense for Toronto, as he’s an affordable option to play behind Quickley, and with him if necessary. Veterans like Monte Morris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Payne, and Delon Wright could all make sense too.

If Toronto wants another big, they could pursue players like Bol Bol, Xavier Tillman Sr., or Moritz Wagner as affordable 4/5 options. Kyle Anderson could also make sense for some additional 3/4 depth, but that spot seems fairly well covered.

As for the draft, Toronto will be watching the lottery very intently. They currently have the sixth overall pick, but if anyone behind them jumps up into the top-four and pushes them back, the Raptors will have to send that pick to the San Antonio Spurs. The good news? Toronto will still have the 19th overall pick, courtesy of the Siakam trade with the Pacers.

The draft strategy should just be best player available. Barnes and Quickley, and to a lesser degree Barrett and Dick, are this team’s building blocks. They are all versatile enough that Ujiri and Bobby Webster can take whoever they think is the best player, without having to worry about positional fit.

This offseason is crucial for Toronto, but not in an “adding talent” way. This summer is about locking up the players the Raptors already have in Scottie Barnes and Immanuel Quickley. Everything else is about finding the right guys to maximize what those two bring, especially players who fit with Barnes. That might be a two-year process, but if the Raptors get this right, this mini-postseason drought will be over before we know it.

Charlotte Hornets

Offseason Approach: A fresh start has begun

Actual Cap Space: -$13.4M

Practical Cap Space: -$6.8M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $56.1M

Under Contract (14): FULL ROSTER
LaMelo Ball, Leaky Black (two-way), Marques Bolden (two-way), Seth Curry (non-guaranteed), Tre Mann, Cody Martin, Bryce McGowens (non-guaranteed), Vasilije Micic, Brandon Miller, Aleksej Pokusevski (non-guaranteed), Nick Richards, Nick Smith Jr., Grant Williams, Mark Williams

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Amari Bailey (restricted – two-way), Davis Bertans (unrestricted – player option – contract becomes $5.25M guaranteed if option picked up), Miles Bridges (unrestricted), J.T. Thor (restricted – team option)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Gordon Hayward ($3,585,600)

First Round Draft Picks:  #6

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Tre Mann (rookie scale extension), Cody Martin (veteran extension), J.T. Thor (veteran extension)

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

Not a whole lot changed for the Hornets, despite dropping from the third pick to the sixth pick. They’re still in range for all the same players they would have been pre-lottery. Financially, Charlotte can now create up to $33.8 million in cap space if Miles Bridges were to leave town.

Analysis: 

It’s a fresh start for the Charlotte Hornets. New owners, new front office, new coach. It’s all come with an air of hope for a franchise that has largely become forgettable.

Jeff Peterson is taking over the front office and he’s got some work to do. His first order of business is to hire a new head coach. Steve Clifford is transitioning to an advisor role after his second stint on the Charlotte sidelines.

Getting this hire correct is a key to Peterson setting a tone for the early part of his tenure in charge. Is he going to hire a young coach that can grow with a roster that is still pretty young itself? Is he looking for more of a win-now coach to bring the team up to respectability more quickly? Whoever Peterson hires to coach the team might give us some clues about the offseason approach for the roster.

On its face, Charlotte has a lot of nice players in place. The former front office, despite being in a lame-duck situation, navigated the 2024 trade deadline nicely. There’s some talent to work with here.

Of primary concern is getting LaMelo Ball on the court and keeping him on the court. He’s played in 58 games over the last two seasons combined. He’s the Hornets best player. He’s starting a 25% of the cap max extension next season. If Ball can’t play, everything else becomes that much harder to figure out. The lineups don’t make as much sense and the cap is clogged with a non-productive contract.

Next up is to start to figure out which of the players on the roster are long-term building blocks and which aren’t. Brandon Miller took a bit to get going as a rookie, but he looks like someone you can plug in on the wing and count on to be very good for years to come, and that’s his floor. Mark Williams had a mess of season due to injuries. If healthy, he’s a viable starting center. Cody Martin is a perfectly solid backup wing, assuming he can stay healthy.

The trade deadline brought over Grant Williams, Tre Mann and Vasilije Micic. All three look like they should be rotation players. Williams is a good fit in the frontcourt, as either a starter or a high-end backup. Mann and Micic both played well for the Hornets, and they can both play a key role in the backcourt. Both should be solid backup guard. That’s important, given Ball’s injury issues.

Of actual roster decisions the front office has to make, things kind of start and end with Miles Bridges. And there’s no easy decision there.

On the court, Bridges is a wonderfully talented player. After missing an entire year, Bridges put together a strong season. He’s a bit stretched when asked to function as a team’s primary option, but as a second or third option, Bridges is pretty good.

Off the court, Bridges’ past history with domestic violence has to come into play. He missed the entirety of the 2022-23 season and the start of 2023-24 because he was involved in a domestic violence incident on the eve of 2022 free agency. Not only did that cost Bridges a season-plus, it likely cost him a max contract. No one should shed any tears for him because Bridges caused this to happen. But it is a factor in what comes next.

Bridges missed out on a year of salary, plus some more in completing his suspension this year. He’s going to want to recoup what he can. And he’ll have a chance, whether it’s from the Hornets or another team.

Without making this a sermon, the morals of professional sports teams work on a sliding scale of production/winning vs problem/public perception. Bridges is productive and can help a team win. That means he is going to get paid. By who is the real question.

If the Hornets feel that they’ve already gotten through the toughest part with Bridges, and that he truly is working on becoming a better person, they could offer him a deal that starts in the range of four-years, $120 million. $30 million AAV is more than fair for a player who can score in a variety of ways, rebound, pass a little and can play either forward spot.

If the Hornets want to wipe their hands clean and move on, one of the cap space teams could chase Bridges. Maybe the big contract comes from someone we aren’t considering. Mostly, be prepared for some version of “We believe his talent fills a need for us, and we’re ready to help him take advantage of a new beginning in our city/organization.”

Charlotte and Peterson have to be sure here. They get one shot at this, either way. Losing Bridges for nothing is hard to swallow, simply from a basketball asset management standpoint. But that could be a way to continue the idea of a fresh start for the franchise. As much as hiring his first coach will set a tone, how Peterson handles Bridges will also send a message too.

Elsewhere, the decisions are far simpler. The Hornets have a host of non-guaranteed players who should probably stick around. Seth Curry, Bryce McGowens and J.T. Thor (assuming his team option is picked up) are all worth keeping at their respective salaries. At worst, they’ll be salary ballast in future moves. Aleksej Pokusevski is a bit of a wild-card, but he’s worth keeping too. Maybe it will finally all come together for him. For the minimum, it’s absolutely worth a shot.

Of the non-Bridges free agents, the decisions aren’t very complicated either. Thor should have his option picked up. That leaves Davis Bertans, who is set to make $16 million if he picks up his option and Charlotte subsequently guarantees his deal. Even though Bertans was pretty productive for the Hornets, that’s too expensive. And it seems fairly unlikely Peterson will need that salary to complete a trade.

Expect Bertans to pick up his option, and then Charlotte to waive him, putting them on the hook for $5.25 million in dead salary. That’s fine. For one year, that’s not enough to keep the Hornets from accomplishing any of their goals this summer.

It’s worth noting that there is also a world where the Hornets operate as a cap space team. Let’s say Bridges signs with another team, it might be best for Charlotte to clear the decks as much as possible.

In that situation, Charlotte could create about $31 million in cap space. That’s enough to get involved in both free agency and the trade market. For now, we’re being a bit conservative and keeping Bridges on the books, as well as the gaggle of non-guaranteed players. But keep an eye on this scenario, as it’s very possible.

Jeff Peterson is walking into a franchise that’s been begging for a fresh start for years. He’s the first part of that process, and whoever he hires as the head coach will join him for the journey. From there, Peterson and the team’s owners have a huge decision to make with Miles Bridges. The fresh start has begun with the team’s leadership. Just how far that flows to the roster is something that only time will tell.

Memphis Grizzlies

Offseason Approach: Everything is in place for a bounce-back, just be careful

Actual Cap Space: -$52.5M

Practical Cap Space: -$41.4M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$6.9M

Under Contract (14): FULL ROSTER
Santi Aldama, Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, G.G. Jackson II, Jaren Jackson Jr., Trey Jemison (two-way), John Konchar, Jake LaRavia, Ja Morant, Scotty Pippen Jr. (two-way), Derrick Rose, Marcus Smart, Ziaire Williams, Vince Williams Jr.

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Jordan Goodwin (restricted – two-way), Luke Kennard (unrestricted – team option), Lamar Stevens (unrestricted), Yuta Watanabe (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (2): Kennedy Chandler ($2,019,699)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer MLE ($5,183,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Steven Adams ($12,600,000), Dillon Brooks ($7,492,540)

First Round Draft Picks:  #9

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Santi Aldama (rookie scale), Jaren Jackson Jr. (October 1), Luke Kennard (timing pending option decision), Marcus Smart (July 25), Ziaire Williams (rookie scale)

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

The Grizzlies got both hurt and helped when they slid back a couple of picks in the draft lottery. While they should still be in range to get the same caliber of player, there is a chance that someone who might have dropped to the seventh pick may not be there at the ninth pick. In addition, Houston leapfrogged Memphis, which stings because both teams are in similar positions. And both might be targeted the same players.

What helps is that Memphis shaved over a million off the cap sheet. That’s helpful, considering the Grizzlies are dancing around the luxury tax line for the first time in years.

Analysis: 

The wheels came off for the Memphis Grizzlies this past season. They started with Ja Morant’s suspension. When their star came back, multiple Grizzlies were on the shelf due to injuries. Morant soon joined them with an injury of his own. By the end of the season, this team was playing a mixture of G League callups, two-way players and guys on hardship exceptions.

But as they say: When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And the Grizzlies made some lemonade this year.

The wing position has been an issue for years in Memphis. From the revolving door at the three during the “Grit ‘n’ Grind” era to this group piecing it together with an equally volatile and inconsistent Dillon Brooks, the Grizzlies haven’t had a three they could really count on during most of their Memphis tenure.

In the mess that this season was, both Vince Williams Jr. and G.G. Jackson II emerged as possible answers at small forward. In addition, Jake LaRavia delivered some late-season productivity that looked pretty positive. At least one of those three will be a solid rotation guy moving forward. At least one.

The best part? Williams, Jackson and LaRavia combine to make $7.4 million next season. Getting productive play on that sort of contract would be massive for Memphis.

The reason the Grizzlies need some cheap production is that the team has gotten really expensive. When you draft and develop as well as Memphis has, and you proactively extend those players, it all starts to add up. Sometimes it adds up to more, and more quickly, than you may fully realize.

There’s a world where Memphis mostly runs it back next season and is dealing with the luxury tax. Normally for a 27-win team that isn’t rebuilding, that would sound like madness. For the Grizzlies, it’s smart business.

Morant and Bane lead the list of guys who will be back next year. That’s adding two All-Star level guys to the starting backcourt. Behind them, and regularly alongside them, you have Marcus Smart. That’s a three-guard rotation that is as good as most in the NBA.

Jaren Jackson Jr. was mostly healthy last season, but he’ll have some help up front in the form of Brandon Clarke. In six late-season games, Clarke looked fully recovered from the torn Achilles that sidelined him for most of the year. Now, he can have a normal offseason and be full-go at the start of next season. That’s big for Clarke and Memphis.

In free agency, the Grizzlies single biggest decision point is what to do with Luke Kennard. On one hand, Kennard is a good backup guard/smaller wing. He’s one of the best shooters in the league and a solid playmaker. That fills needs for Memphis.

On the other hand, picking up Kennard’s $14.8 million option would leave the Grizzlies dancing just under the second apron. That’s unheard-of territory for a franchise that hasn’t paid the tax in nearly two decades.

Memphis will likely pick up Kennard’s option, as dealing with the tax is something the team can put off until the 2025 trade deadline. If things go as well as they could, paying the tax might not be all that worrisome of a barrier for ownership.

The team’s other free agents are Lamar Stevens and Yuta Watanabe. Watanabe may make this decision moot by picking up his option. That’s fine. He makes just over the veteran minimum, and Watanabe can help Memphis at the forward spot. Stevens is a nice player, and theoretically provides some forward depth, but he’s caught up in a roster crunch. Someone has to go to make room for the team’s draft pick, and Stevens is probably that guy.

Memphis is set to have their highest draft pick since selecting Morant with the second overall pick at the 2019 NBA Draft. Given the talent the team has, they aren’t planning to have another top-10 pick anytime soon. That makes getting a helpful player with this pick all that much more important.

In an ideal world, Donovan Clingan would have been available for the Grizzlies in the first round. He was a perfect fit of talent and positional need. Alas, he’s probably outplayed that draft position though, so that leaves Memphis looking elsewhere.

A real center is a need. Despite a few of the wings looking solid, getting another player at the three wouldn’t hurt. And you can never have too much shooting, especially with Kennard’s future in Memphis being at least a bit tenuous.

If Clingan isn’t on the board, the Grizzlies should take a long look at Matas Buzelis, Dalton Knecht, Cody Williams and Reed Sheppard. The first three are small forward options, while Sheppard would eventually replace Kennard as a bench shooter. Going with a center just to go with a center would be a mistake. If it’s not Clingan or Alex Sarr, pick the best wing or shooter and keep it moving.

The other place Memphis could get active is on the trade market. The Grizzlies aren’t likely to part with any of their core players, but they’ve got a lot of smaller salaries they could stack together in a deal. Consolidating some former draftees to fill a need would be smart business.

The Grizzlies are a good team that had a disaster season. It happens. The key is to just get back to it. This team doesn’t need to take homerun swings this offseason. Staying the course, rounding out the rotation here and there, and trusting your process is important.

Getting impatient now, because of one bad year, could put the Grizzlies in a spot where they never end up being quite good enough, while having cashed in assets to get to that decidedly average place. Get your guys healthy, keep your terrific coach (seriously, Taylor Jenkins is great) and get back to competing. Everything is still in place, even if it all went missing for a year.

Portland Trail Blazers

Offseason Approach:Continuing rebuild, while moving veterans for the future

Actual Cap Space: -$53.6M

Practical Cap Space: -$47.5M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: -$7.1M

Under Contract (13): FULL ROSTER
Deandre Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon, Toumani Camara (non-guaranteed), Jerami Grant, Scoot Henderson, Kris Murray, Duop Reath, Rayan Rupert, Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, Matisse Thybulle, Jabari Walker (non-guaranteed), Robert Williams III

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Ibou Badji (restricted – two-way), Dalano Banton (restricted – team option), Moses Brown (unrestricted), Ashton Hagans (restricted – two-way), Justin Minaya (restricted – two-way)

Dead Cap (2): Eric Bledsoe ($1,300,000), Didi Louzada ($268,032)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer MLE ($5,183,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Damian Lillard ($8,778,377)

First Round Draft Picks:  #7, #14

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Deandre Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon, Anfernee Simons, Jabari Walker, Robert Williams III

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

Moving back from the fourth pick to the seventh pick doesn’t change much for the Trail Blazers. Portland now has a bit less of a tax burden to potentially deal with, even if it still needs to be dealt with. And the Blazers should be in range to get the same type of player in the draft, despite sliding back a few picks.

Analysis: 

The post-Damian Lillard era got off to the expected start for the Portland Tral Blazers. Well, more or less.

No one probably expected Portland to be quite this bad. The Blazers had a lot of solid veterans in place to open the season. However, none of Deandre Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon, Jerami Grant, Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons or Robert Williams III appeared in more than 55 games. That lack of availability was too much for the young players to overcome and Portland fell off to the NBA’s third-worst record.

Now, we’re here. The above list has too many injury questions to try and sell anyone that maybe they coalesce into a postseason contender next season. That means Joe Cronin and the front office have to go from resetting to rebuilding.

As it stands, the Trail Blazers project to be about $9.6 million over the luxury tax line at the start of the offseason.

Let that sink in for a moment…That’s over the luxury tax. Not the cap, but the tax. For a team that won only 21 games this season.

Simply put: That’s not going to fly. Changes are going to come.

If we’re being reasonable, the only players who can probably feel really good about returning to Portland next season are Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe, Jabari Walker, Toumani Camara, Kris Murray, Duop Reath, Rayan Rupert and maybe Dalano Banton.

The above players are all on rookie scale contracts or make around the minimum. They’re all likely safe.

That means that every veteran the Blazers have should be up for trade consideration. However, there are levels to this.

To start with, Portland shouldn’t be attaching assets to get off any of their contracts. Nor should they have to. As a collective, this group makes too much money. As individuals, none are massively overpaid. That should put Cronin in a good position to get decent returns for any of the players he looks to move.

Then you have the guys who the Trail Blazers don’t really have to move. Simons and Ayton are young enough to keep building with. Thybulle is on a really fair-value contract, so he’s not someone who has to go either.

That leaves the group of Brogdon, Grant and Williams. All three of these players should be very available in trade talks this summer.

Brogdon is the easiest. He plays a position where Portland has younger players who need minutes. The 2023 Sixth Man of the Year is also a consistent injury-risk. And he’s on an expiring contract. Brogdon’s game is very plug-and-play for just about any contender that needs backcourt help. Portland can, and should, find a reasonable trade here.

Williams is probably the next easiest to project. If Ayton is the long-term guy up front, or even the for-now guy, Williams doesn’t really fit as a frontcourt partner. And that’s before factoring in that Williams has missed a lot of time due to injuries. Williams isn’t really a must-trade, but if the right deal comes along, Cronin should jump on it.

Then we get to Grant. Sure, his re-signing last summer ended up being kind of odd, because the Blazers committed big money to him and then Lillard asked for a trade. But Grant delivered when he played. He averaged 21 points on 45/40/82 shooting splits. His rebounding fell off some, but not by an alarming amount. And Grant’s health situation seemed to be more tied to the team being bad than it was anything to truly be concerned about long-term.

On the flip side, Grant is 30 years old now and he’s owed $132.4 million through 2027-28. That’s tough to swallow when, he’s a few years older than any other key Trail Blazer and he’s easily the highest-paid player on the team.

Portland can’t, and shouldn’t, attach assets to get off of Grant’s deal. That doesn’t make sense. He’s still a good player, and despite the contract being big, it’s not immovable or bad. This is one where Cronin might need to get a little creative. Maybe he can swap Grant’s contract for some undesirable money from another team, which should increase the return package in terms of draft picks or young players.

As for the rest of the summer, free agency should be a fairly non-event. As we’ve covered above, Portland might not have much money to spend or a whole lot of wiggle room around the luxury tax. That takes them out of adding much talent via free agency.

Of their own free agents, none of the two-way players have popped enough to be must-keep guys. Justin Minaya is probably closest, and he’s a candidate for another two-way deal.

That leaves only Dalano Banton and Moses Brown. Brown remains intriguing for his size and athleticism combo. But in a year where Portland had minutes, he never grabbed them. He’s replaceable or back on a minimum deal.

Banton is a different story. He was a trade deadline salary-dump by Boston, but played pretty well for Portland. This is a classic “beware good numbers on a bad team in the last two months” situation, but Banton showed enough that picking up his option for $2.2 million is smart business.

Toumani Camara and Jabari Walker both have non-guaranteed deals, but both should end up guaranteed. They look like NBA rotation guys, and Portland needs as many of those as they can find, especially on minimum-type contracts.

The Trail Blazers should have two picks in the draft. They’ll have their own, which will be either the third or fourth pick pre-lottery, pending a drawing with the Charlotte Hornets (The teams tied and will split the ping pong balls, but the pre-lottery position is decided by a random drawing.)

Portland’s second pick is a bit more complex, as it’s coming from the Golden State Warriors. First off, the pick is top-four protected. Second, the Warriors are in the Western Conference Play-In Tournament. If they win their way into the playoffs, the Blazers will likely get the 15th or 16th pick. If the Warriors miss the playoffs, they are also subject to random drawing and the pick will land somewhere between 12th and 14th for Portland.

With the higher selection, Portland should be open to any of the bigs or wings on the board. That means Zaccharie Risacher, Alex Sarr, Donovan Clingan or Matas Buzelis. It’s not that Rob Dillingham, Nikola Topic or Reed Sheppard should be off the board, but doubling down on lead ballhandlers a year after selecting Scoot Henderson seems like a bad use of a high pick.

The second first-round pick, considering it’s likely to be in the early-teens, can be more of an upside play. If Cronin goes with a wing, maybe he goes with a big with the second pick, or vice-versa. Either way, the Trail Blazers should come away with two interesting young players.

This summer for Portland is really about setting the stage for what’s to come. Under no circumstances can this team be over the tax. Yes, they’d have until the trade deadline to solve that issue, but that gets tricky because of salary-matching rules in trades. For a team in the Trail Blazers situation, they should be getting out of the tax in July.

Of course, that means going younger, but that’s where things are likely headed anyway. This team, for better or for worse, is going as far as Henderson, Sharpe and Simons take them, with the 2024 draft picks and maybe Ayton in the mix. That’s fine, and even if it means another rough year, that’s probably for the best. With players like Cooper Flagg, Ace Bailey, Dylan Harper, Khaman Maluach and others waiting in the 2025 NBA Draft, another rough year should come with a big payoff.

Detroit Pistons

Offseason Approach:Still rebuilding, but need to get it right this summer

Actual Cap Space: -$14.7M

Practical Cap Space: $64.4M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $103.4M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Buddy Boeheim (two-way), Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren, Tosan Evbuomwan (two-way), Quentin Grimes, Jaden Ivey, Marcus Sasser, Isaiah Stewart II, Ausar Thompson

Potential Free Agents (9): FULL LIST
Troy Brown Jr. (unrestricted – team option), Malachi Flynn (restricted), Simone Fontecchio (restricted), Evan Fournier (unrestricted – team option), Taj Gibson (unrestricted), Chimezie Metu (unrestricted – team option), Jared Rhoden (restricted – two-way), Stanley Umude (restricted – team option), James Wiseman (restricted)

Dead Cap (1): Dewayne Dedmon ($2,748,674)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($8,006,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #5

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Cade Cunningham (rookie scale), Quentin Grimes (rookie scale)

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

Oh…Pistons. Sigh. The lottery seems to hate Detroit, as they dropped the maximum number of spots from first overall to fifth overall for a second consecutive year. On the bright side, if there was ever a year to drop, it’s this one. There aren’t “can’t miss” prospects at the top of this draft, and Detroit will still come away with a good player with the fifth pick.

On the brighter side, at least hopefully, is that the Pistons will have an additional $4.3 million cap space. That pushes Detroit up to $64.4 million in cap space, which tops our projections for this summer. Now, it’s all about spending that cap space wisely.

Analysis: 

Here we go again.

The Detroit Pistons have a ton of cap space, some intriguing young players and a high draft pick. We’ve been here before, a few times actually, and there’s not a whole lot to show for it.

Troy Weaver took over the Pistons front office ahead of the 2020 offseason. Weaver immediately commenced a full-scale teardown of Detroit’s roster. It was time and the moves were largely applauded.

Four years later, Detroit has the worst record in the league for a second consecutive season. Even worse, the Pistons haven’t been better than the third-worst team in the NBA over the last four seasons. What started out as a promising rebuild has descended to the point where fans ask “Will we ever be good again?”

This summer, it’s imperative that the Pistons get it right. If ownership gives Weaver another crack at it, he has to do better than his approach of the previous four offseasons. Detroit can’t have another summer of simply taking on other team’s bad contracts for middling assets, while hoping their own young players make huge leaps in development.

Let’s start there: What exactly are the Pistons building around?

We’ll argue that Detroit that has three building blocks and some other promising younger talent. The building blocks are Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren and Ausar Thompson. And their importance to the organization’s future is in that order too.

This season has been a major step forward for Cunningham. He’s largely stayed healthy, he’s been far more efficient, and all the hopes of him being a primary scorer/playmaker have been realized.

Duren’s second season has also been a big step forward. He’s held up defensively on a team where defense is often in short supply. Duren is a beast around the rim on both ends. He’s also an improved passer, and a good running mate for Cunningham.

The third player is rookie wing Thompson. This season has had some fits and starts, but Thompson has been what Detroit hoped for. He’s already a good defender. He’s a pretty good passer for a young player and he plays with high energy. The question is the jumper. If it comes along to even an average point, Thompson could become an All-Star. If it doesn’t, he’s still a solid starter who will stuff the box score.

Beyond those three, Jaden Ivey, Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser and Isaiah Stewart II also still have promise.

Ivey had a weird season because it took Monty Williams roughly half of the year to figure out that Ivey is one of his better players. We’re betting Ivey will get back to being the guy who is at worst a very good third guard, but more likely a solid starter.

Sasser and Stewart are probably best as backups on a good team, but that’s fine. Sasser can be a high-end backup point guard, while Stewart is an ideal third big.

That leaves Grimes. We barely got to see him in Detroit, after the deadline trade from New York. This one really depends on which version of Grimes you believe. If you think he’s going to be the one who hit for 47/39/80 shooting splits as a sophomore, then Grimes is your guy. If you think he’s the shaky shooter we’ve seen in the two years sandwiching that second season, then Grimes is probably not someone you invest much in.

When it comes to Cunningham and Grimes, the Pistons have some immediate decisions to make for both players, as they are eligible for rookie scale extensions this summer. In many ways, these decisions are as important, if not more so, than what Detroit does with their draft pick and cap space this offseason.

Cunningham seems like a no-brainer to extend. He’s shown he can be the kind of guy that can lead your offense. Cunningham’s size allows you to go all kinds of ways with your roster construction around him, because you can plug in just about any style of player on the perimeter with him.

But is that worth a rookie scale max extension that currently projects to $224.9 million over five years? The thought here is: Yes.

It’s not so much about believing that Cunningham is a surefire max player. It’s more about what he should be, and that is a max player who is pushing for All-Star nods during that next deal. The challenge is that he’s not there today. But that’s why the Pistons should be able to get Cunningham for a straight max vs the Designated Player max that would bump his deal up to 30% of the cap and nearly $270 million over five years.

If a straight max is too much, Detroit could propose a Desmond Bane-like max where, Cunningham has some incentives he can reach that would push him to a max deal. That could be a reasonable compromise, if the Pistons get queasy about offering the full max.

As for Grimes, this one is really tricky. If you think he can be the guy he was a year ago, you want to extend him. His size, shooting and defense makes him a nice fit in a perimeter trio with Cunningham and Thompson as starters, and with Cunningham, Ivey and Sasser in the backcourt rotation.

It used to be that a player like Grimes wouldn’t get extended. There simply wasn’t enough surety there to feel good about committing big money, and the player wouldn’t take any kind of discount. The idea was that the player would bet on themselves, while the team could still control the process in restricted free agency.

We’ve seen a change in the extension winds though. A good comp for Grimes is Aaron Nesmith. He was in a similar spot as far as having potential, but being a question mark. Nesmith signed for $33 million over three seasons. If we bump Grimes a touch over that, something in the range of $36 to $48 million over three to four years makes sense.

Before extensions can even be offered, Detroit will have a draft pick to make. The lottery wasn’t kind to Pistons last season, but as it stands now, they project to have the first overall pick in 2024. Unfortunately, this is a rough season to have the first pick.

It seems like Detroit will be choosing between Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr, if they land with the first pick. Risacher is a do-everything wing with an uncertain jumper. Sarr is a combo big, who will probably need a few years to develop. Either guy is a project.

Getting the draft pick correct is important, obviously, but it’s a hard year without a can’t-miss prospect at the top of the draft. That means Detroit probably needs to look elsewhere for immediate help.

That leaves us with the Pistons cap space. And the Pistons have oh so much cap space.

We’re projecting Detroit to have just over $60 million in cap space. That means basically clearing the decks of almost everyone who doesn’t have a guaranteed salary for next season. The toughest decision there is James Wiseman, but his cap hold is simply too large to work around. And issuing Wiseman a qualifying offer seems like just lighting some money on fire.

It seems likely that Simone Fontecchio will be given a $5.2 million qualifying offer (this is already factored into the $60 million cap space projection). Fontecchio had a strong season, Detroit can use his shooting and he plays a position of need.

That leaves us with free agency. Detroit has a young lead playmaker, a young center, a young wing and young guards. That leaves the power forward position as the biggest need in free agency.

There’s been speculation that the Pistons might look for a reunion with Tobias Harris. It’s not the worst idea, provided the contract was reasonable enough. Harris will be 32 years old at the start of next season, but he’s still a reliable shooter and scorer. He’d help open up the floor some for Cunningham, Duren and the others. If Detroit kept it to a shorter offer for around $20 to $25 million AAV, that’s reasonable. It’s hard for a contract that short to turn sour, and the Pistons would still have plenty of remaining cap space to play with.

After Harris, a lot of free agent power forwards are either unrealistic (LeBron James, Pascal Siakam) or they aren’t worth spending big on. One outside-of-the-box idea could be to chase Patrick Williams in restricted free agency. The Chicago Bulls might not be willing to match a big enough offer for Williams, and he has the kind of game that would fit in nicely with Cunningham, Duren and Thompson.

Some have suggested the Detroit go after bringing Miles Bridges home, but that seems like it’s the kind of potential bad PR the team might want to avoid. On court only, the fit is great. But are the questions that would come with signing Bridges worth it? More affordable options for adding some shooting at the forward spot include Taurean Prince, Caleb Martin or Royce O’Neale.

If Detroit wanted to go smaller to add shooters, they could go after Grayson Allen, Malik Monk, Gary Trent Jr. or Buddy Hield. That would create some overlap in the backcourt, but that’s something the Pistons can figure out down the line.

Overall, this is a tough offseason to project for the Pistons. For one, we don’t know if Troy Weaver will be running the show or not. If he is, we can’t really go off what he’s done in the past, because there is clearly some impatience that has developed. That often leads to questionable, shortsighted, quick-fix moves.

It’s hard to tell Pistons fans to be ok with another season of losing, but that’s probably what’s actually best. Cooper Flagg or Ace Bailey would look great alongside Detroit’s other young players. But will ownership and the front office have the stomach to eat another terrible season? Will the players improve enough that the Pistons won’t be bad enough to get one of the 2025 top prospects?

Expect some veteran signings, maybe a trade or two and some upgrades to the rotation. It probably won’t push Detroit to postseason contention, but they should be more competitive, while being in position to land another high pick. Five years of being bad is really hard to sign up for, even if it might be what’s best in the long run.

Washington Wizards

Offseason Approach: Keep moving forward with the long-awaited rebuild

Actual Cap Space: -$72M

Practical Cap Space: -$72M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $29M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Deni Avdija, Marvin Bagley III, Patrick Baldwin Jr., Justin Champagnie (two-way), Bilal Coulibaly, Johnny Davis, Corey Kispert, Kyle Kuzma, Eugene Omoruyi (non-guaranteed), Jordan Poole, Landry Shamet (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Jules Bernard (restricted – two-way), Jared Butler (restricted – two-way), Anthony Gill (unrestricted), Richaun Holmes (unrestricted – player option), Tyus Jones (unrestricted), Isaiah Livers (restricted), Tristan Vukcevic (restricted – team option)

Dead Cap (1): Ryan Rollins ($600,000)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer MLE ($12,859,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($4,681,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Daniel Gafford ($12,402,000), Monte Morris ($9,800,926), Mike Muscala ($3,500,00)

First Round Draft Picks: #2, #26

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: Corey Kispert (rookie scale)

Analysis: 

The Wizards finally did it. Last summer, Washington ripped the band-aid off and started a long-awaited rebuild. No more chasing the eighth seed. This is a new day.

What’s followed was predictable. The Wizards are terrible. Not only does Washington lose a lot, they get destroyed a lot too. But this was all part of the plan, and it’s a plan that was asked for, even begged for, by Wizards fans.

Now, it’s about keeping things moving.

Washington doesn’t have a lot of big free agent decisions this summer. Richaun Holmes is a virtual lock to pick up his player option. Tristan Vukcevic will likely have his team option declined before the Wizards sign him to a long-term contract.

That leaves Tyus Jones as the only real decision point. And it’s kind of a big one for the Wizards.

Jones has had a really productive season. As a first-time starter, Jones has put up career-highs nearly across the board. He’s also shot the ball better than ever. At best, Jones is a middle-of-the-pack starter. At worst, he’s the best backup point guard in the NBA. That’s a pretty good range to sit in.

But what value does that have to a rebuilding Wizards team? Having good backups on a rebuilding team is akin to having a good closer on a bad baseball team. What’s the point?

However, Jones wouldn’t be a backup for these Wizards. He’d be the starter again. Washington doesn’t have another quality point guard on the roster.

Johnny Davis hasn’t developed even a little since a disastrous rookie season. It’s worth noting that the current Wizards front office didn’t draft Davis. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them move him to another team to see if the Wisconsin product can figure it out elsewhere.

Jordan Poole isn’t the answer at point guard either, even if he’s covered it when Jones has missed time. Poole actually might not be the answer to any questions for the Wizards. In a season of misery, Poole has arguably had the most miserable season at all. The three years and $95.5 million left on his deal through 2026-27 loom as the front office’s biggest item to work around by a wide margin.

That brings us back to Jones. Washington could pick a point guard in the draft, but that’s potentially a slight reach, and it’s not like the team has other positions fully figured out either. And even if the Wizards select a lead guard, they might still want a veteran to help shepherd things forward.

In a vacuum, Jones is probably worth $17-20 million AAV on a new deal. He’s only going to be 28 years old, so Jones should be plenty of productive seasons left. Washington could do a deal similar to Kyle Kuzma’s where it’s frontloaded and declines season over season. That would make sense for a team that will still be looking for a long-term answer at point guard. That type of contract would retain Jones now, while keeping him on a very tradable salary moving forward.

The rest of the team’s free agents are probably 50/50 on sticking around. All are fringe NBA players. If the Wizards want to fill a spot or two with a familiar player, they might re-sign someone. But these are minimum-salary and two-way players who are all replacement level.

The other big item of business this summer is a potential contract extension for Corey Kispert. It used to be that a nice, but not amazing, role player wouldn’t do a rookie scale extension. It just didn’t make sense for the player to risk leaving any money on the table, in case of a breakout season.

The last couple of years have changed things quite a bit. In Washington, we saw Deni Avdija sign a perfectly reasonable four-year, $55 million extension. It was even a declining deal, which the Wizards new front office seems to like.

That means Kispert could be a candidate to sign an extension, whereas we would have largely written off the possibility before. The Gonzaga product is an excellent shooter, but he’s shown signs of being more than just a designated shooter. Kispert has done more off-the-dribble stuff this season and he’s held up ok defensively.

Shooting is a skill that teams will pay for, so Washington may not want this to get to a potentially tricky restricted free agency situation in 2025. Something in the range of $40-44 million over four years seems reasonable for Kispert. As he’s already 25 years old, he could even do a deal that runs five years for $50-$60 million. Reminder: five-year, non-max deals are now allowed under the new CBA.

Contract situations for Jones and Kispert are really secondary items to what’s really important for Washington though. The Wizards have to hit on their draft pick. Barring some really unfortunate lottery luck, Washington is going to have the first or second pick in the draft.

Bilal Coulibaly was a terrific, high upside pick last season. Because Coulibaly is a wing, that gives the Wizards lots of optionality for building around him. Between that and picking so high means the entire draft board is in play.

If Washington wants to go big, Alex Sarr could be the guy. He’s the best forward/center prospect in the class. If they want to really firm up their future on the wing, Zaccharie Risacher could be the pick. He’s considered the top wing and would be an interesting pairing alongside Coulibaly. If point guard is simply too big a need to pass on, Rob Dillingham, Nikola Topic and Reed Sheppard should all be in the mix.

Keeping it simple: Options abound for the Wizards. Getting the right guy is important, even if this class doesn’t have any “can’t miss” stars. The team has a second first-rounder this year too. That one can be more of a “take a shot and hope to find gold” type of selection.

Mostly, this offseason for Washington is about continuing to keep things moving forward. Expect plenty of trade rumors involving Kyle Kuzma. He’s a good player on a good contract. That will always draw in some interested parties. Maybe the team can find a way to spin Poole off to someone else, but that’s probably another year or two away from being a real thing.

When the Wizards traded for Marvin Bagley III in mid-January and then added Richaun Holmes at the trade deadline, those were signs that they weren’t pursuing cap space this summer. And that was a sign the franchise is in for the long haul with the rebuild. It might not be exciting just yet, but for a team that has tried quick fix after quick fix for decades, being patient and not skipping steps is a welcomed approach.

San Antonio Spurs

Offseason Approach: Adding talent and shooting around Victor Wembanyama

Actual Cap Space: -$12.5M

Practical Cap Space: $21.3M

Projected Luxury Tax Space: $52.8M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Charles Bassey (non-guaranteed), Jamaree Bouyea (two-way), Malaki Branham, Justin Champagnie (non-guaranteed), Sidy Cissoko, Zach Collins, Devonte’ Graham (partially guaranteed), RaiQuan Gray (two-way), Keldon Johnson, Tre Jones, Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell, Victor Wembanyama, Blake Wesley

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Dominick Barlow (restricted), David Duke Jr. (restricted – two-way), Sandro Mamukelashvili (restricted), Cedi Osman (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($8,006,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #4, #8

Notable Trade Extension Candidates: None

Post-Lottery Analysis: 

The Spurs got a little lucky when the Raptors pick dropped in the lottery and conveyed to San Antonio. Now, the Spurs have two first-round picks to further their talent-adding efforts around Victor Wembanyama. San Antonio can either select two more prospects to add to an exciting young core, or they could package those picks in trade offers. Things are very wide open for the Spurs, and now they have an additional immediate asset to work with.

Financially, adding the additional pick puts about $6.3 million on the books. That’s fine. The Spurs still project to have over $20 million in cap space to work with, and their cap sheet remains very clean moving forward.

Analysis: 

The Spurs hit the jackpot with Victor Wembanyama. He’s been everything they could have hoped for, and probably a whole lot more. Wembanyama is already a destructive defensive force, and he’s figured out things on offense a lot quicker than most expected.

More simply put: San Antonio has their franchise centerpiece to build around.

That leads us to the next question: How long will Wembanyama tolerate being near the bottom of the standings?

Some speculation, mixed with Wembanyama’s past team-hopping, seems to suggest that the answer is: Not long. However, that seems to miss some context.

Sure, Wembanyama isn’t going to want to be approaching extension talks wondering when the Spurs will be in contention for even the Play-In Tournament. But he doesn’t seem to be putting pressure on the team to start adding win-now veterans either. Wembanyama seems to get that San Antonio has at least one more year of rebuilding to come.

And that’s good, because this team is pretty bad right now. The key though, the Spurs seem to be “young team that is trying to figure it out on fly” bad vs just having a messy roster and a bunch of questionable contracts. You can work with the former a lot easier than the latter.

Wembanyama is a lock to slot in somewhere in the frontcourt. For now, that’s at center, but he has the game where he could slide over to the four, if the right frontcourt partner comes along. The only other long-term lock on the roster seems to be Devin Vassell at one of the wing spots. Vassell is the team’s best off-the-dribble scorer, best shooter and the rest of his game is rounding out nicely too.

That leaves a whole lot of questions. Some of which have answers. Zach Collins didn’t really work starting next to Wembanyama, but he’s fine as a backup center who can occasionally play with the Spurs young star. Is Collins overpaid some? Yes, but that’s fine. San Antonio has to spend the money somewhere and the contract is far from bad.

Keldon Johnson is a solid player, and he’s signed to a fair-value contract for three more seasons. Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley have both shown flashes of what they could become, but have a ways to go as young players. Julian Champagnie could stick or get waived to open up cap space. Either way, he’s fine but not someone key roster decisions will be made around.

Jeremy Sochan and Tre Jones are kind of tied together. Gregg Popovich tried his best to make Sochan a point guard, and it failed pretty spectacularly. The good news? Nothing was gained, nothing was really lost. And now the Spurs know that Sochan is a jack-of-all-trades forward vs a supersized lead guard. Now, about that jumper…

As for Jones, he’s probably a bit miscast as a starting point guard. Ideally, Jones would be a fairly high-end backup. But he’s been solid as a starter this season. He’s had a massive impact on Wembanyama, Vassell and the Spurs other starters. Everything just flows a lot better with Jones in there.

And that’s where the Spurs offseason focus should land.

San Antonio needs a long-term answer at point guard. Jones is only under contract through 2024-25, and we’ve already established that he’s probably not the lead guard the Spurs really need. But Jones’ presence as just an actual point guard does tell us how badly the team needs an answer at this position.

Unfortunately, despite having about $25 million to spend in free agency, this isn’t the class to find that long-term answer. Most of the top free agent point guards (Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, Immanuel Quickley) aren’t expected to leave their current teams. That means looking at the next tier down. Players like D’Angelo Russell, Markelle Fultz, Tyus Jones, Spencer Dinwiddie and Russell Westbrook are all solid, but none would be more than a stopgap option.

That leads us to the NBA Draft, where options abound. Rob Dillingham is the top-rated point guard. He’s more scorer than playmaker right now, but that’s true of most young guards. Dillingham looks like he’ll be a Day 1 starter, and Kentucky has a pretty good history of cranking out guards that can play.

Right behind Dillingham is Nikola Topic. He’s the kind of big guard teams are always looking for. He’s an outstanding playmaker, rebounder and defender. The challenge is that he’s got a shaky jumper, but that’s something that could develop with time and work. Given the Spurs affinity for drafting and developing European players over the years, keep an eye on Topic here.

If the Spurs fall back in the lottery with some bad luck, they could choose between Reed Sheppard and Isaiah Collier. Sheppard is more of a shooter/scorer, but he can really shoot and his size makes him a point guard defensively. He’d fit in well, considering a lot of the offense will run through Wembanyama, Vassell and Sochan.

Collier has been all over the draft board. At one point, he looked like the top prospect in the class. Now, he’s a mid-lottery guy. That reflects the very up-and-down season he had at USC. But Collier’s size and physical gifts are hard to overlook.

The key here is that the Spurs should be able to add a young point guard to pair with Wembanyama for years to come. Finding someone who can make the game easier for the young star, while also playing off the big man, is the main thing San Antonio has to answer.

Also, because it has to be noted, the Spurs could end up with a second lottery pick. If the Toronto Raptors pick falls at seven or below, it will go to San Antonio. Right now, that pick is sitting at six, so it’s straddling that line pretty closely. Likely, we won’t know until the Draft Lottery on that one.

As for other needs, the Spurs have a somewhat full roster. Most of the players are developing prospects, but that’s ok. Assuming they move on from Devonte’ Graham (while eating $2.85 million), San Antonio should have $22 to $25 million to spend. Assuming they aren’t chasing a veteran point guard, the Spurs should be looking to add some shooting.

This season, San Antonio is 12th in three-point attempt rate, but they are 30th in accuracy. Only Vassell has had a good shooting season of those players that are locks to return. That leaves a lot of room for improvement. The good news? This free agent class has lots of shooters available.

Because they aren’t looking to fill a bunch of roster spots, and the cap sheet is still pretty clean, the Spurs could overpay a veteran shooter, or even two of them, this summer. That’s a great place to be in. Opening up the floor for Wembanyama, Vassell and Sochan, and a likely rookie point guard, has to be a priority.

Available shooters that could fit include Klay Thompson, Buddy Hield, Grayson Allen, Malik Monk, Gary Trent Jr., Luke Kennard, Gary Harris, Gordon Hayward, Malik Beasley, Lonnie Walker IV and a handful of others. That’s a pretty wide-ranging list and some are definitely more exciting than others. Some will demand big money, while others will be available for value deals. The significant takeaway: The Spurs can, and need to, find some shooting this offseason.

San Antonio’s future is as bright as that of any team in the league, simply because of Wembanyama. He’s already that good. The Spurs don’t need to rush the process of trying to put veterans around him. They should have at least another year of rebuilding before things could even start to get contentious.

However, the Spurs have the opportunity to move things forward incrementally this summer. They need to nail their draft pick, get a point guard and add some shooting. The first two, and maybe even all three, could be an all-in-one thing. But all three have to be accomplished to add around the latest generational superstar big man in San Antonio, and the Spurs have every tool available to do it.

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