2021 NBA Offseason Financial Previews

2021 NBA Offseason Financial Previews
Keith Smith breaks down the upcoming offseason for each 2021-22 NBA team, including cap space figures, free agents, draft pick scenarios, & thoughts on potential trades, exceptions, & plenty more.

Milwaukee Bucks

Offseason Approach: Well over cap and well over the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$59M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$11M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Elijah Bryant (non-guaranteed), Pat Connaughton, Mamadi Diakite ($100,000 guaranteed), Donte DiVincenzo, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, Sam Merrill ($500,000 guaranteed), Khris Middleton, Jordan Nwora

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Thanasis Antetokounmpo (restricted), Bryn Forbes (unrestricted), Justin Jackson (restricted – Two-Way), Bobby Portis (unrestricted – player option), Jeff Teague (unrestricted), Axel Toupane (restricted – Two-Way), P.J. Tucker (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (2): $3,169,347 (Jon Leuer), $1,865,547 (Larry Sanders)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level ($5,890,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $4,886,515 (D.J. Augustin)

First Round Draft Picks: None

The Milwaukee Bucks made a substantial investment in last season’s team and it all paid off in the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. That’s the first piece of good news. The second? The Bucks likely aren’t going away as contenders anytime soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all signed through at least 2022-23. It’s at a hefty cost, because each player will make more than $32 million each season. But championships come at a price, and Milwaukee is happy to pay this one.

The Bucks will return other key contributors like Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton. Donte DiVincenzo will also return after missing the playoffs due to injury.

As for free agents, Milwaukee hopes to re-sign P.J. Tucker. That one will only be dependent on how much deeper into the luxury tax Jon Horst is allowed to go. The Bucks have full Bird rights to retain their key defensive forward.

Bobby Portis might be more difficult to keep around. He came up huge during the Finals, but Milwaukee doesn’t have any sort of Bird rights to give Portis a big contract. The best they can offer is the Taxpayer MLE of $5.9 million. Portis seemed to find a home in Milwaukee and he became a fan favorite. Maybe that will lead to a slight hometown discount.

As far as outside help, the Bucks could use a couple more guards. Bryn Forbes opted out and may move on for more money elsewhere. Jeff Teague was the backup point guard at the end of the season, but he’s slipped noticeably over the last couple of seasons.

Ideally, one of two of Milwaukee’s younger players would break through and take rotation roles on the wing. If not, that’s another area where the Bucks could use a little help.

Heavy is the crown the Bucks wear now. Every team will come hunting for them. And Milwaukee only has limited ability to upgrade their roster. But with Giannis Antetokounmpo and most of the main contributors back, the Bucks will wage a worthy title defense.

 

Phoenix Suns

Offseason Approach: Over cap, flirting with the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$30.4M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $11.8M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Ty-Shon Alexander (Two-Way), Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jevon Carter, Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, Jalen Smith

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Torrey Craig (unrestricted), Langston Galloway (unrestricted), Frank Kaminsky (unrestricted), E’Twaun Moore (unrestricted), Abdel Nader (unrestricted), Chris Paul (unrestricted – player option), Cameron Payne (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #29

It was almost a dream season for the Phoenix Suns. After acquiring Chris Paul, the Suns expected to be a playoff team. Instead of just snapping a decade-long postseason drought, Phoenix made it all the way the NBA Finals. They fell short of the championship, but have the pieces in place for sustainable success.

That starts with keeping Paul around. He’s got a player option for $44.2 million, but conventional wisdom says Paul will opt out. At his age, adding more years for slightly less money is more important than taking the highest possible one-year salary.

That’s where it gets a little tricky for Paul and the Suns. They should be able to find middle ground, where Paul gets paid, but Phoenix doesn’t add too much salary. In addition, the longest deal possible would trigger the Over-38 rule, which becomes a complicating factor.

No matter what, keeping Paul is imperative for the Suns.

After that, Phoenix needs to do what they can to retain Cameron Payne as Paul’s backup. He blossomed with Phoenix and became a key part of their run to the Finals. Where it could get difficult for the Suns is that they are limited to paying Payne a max of just over $40 million over four years. There are several teams in the market for point guards this summer. Payne could get a larger offer elsewhere, and potential a starting spot.

The rest of the Suns free agents are a mixed bag. The team would like to have Torrey Craig and Abdel Nader back on the wing. Craig was a terrific addition as a defensive-minded player, while Nader did a solid job as a playmaker and scorer. Neither should break the bank to retain.

That’s important for a couple of reasons. First, Phoenix will have to invest their MLE in a big man to back up Deandre Ayton. Dario Saric had held down that role, but he tore his ACL during the NBA Finals. Saric will likely miss the entire 2021-22 season. That makes finding a quality backup for Ayton an important part of this offseason.

The second reason keeping costs down this year is important is because the Suns project to be a very expensive team starting in 2022-23. If the team has a re-signed Paul, they’ll be carrying large salaries for him, Devin Booker and likely Ayton in the first year of his extension. In addition, Mikal Bridges is rapidly improving and is also extension-eligible.

Essentially, the Suns will be facing the luxury tax for several years. That makes avoiding it this year, and not triggering the repeater tax, something to keep an eye on this summer.

The Suns pulled off a stunner by making the Finals after missing the playoff for the prior 10 years. They’ve got the pieces in place to make another run next season. They just need to add a little depth to firm up those chances in a deep Western Conference.

 

Atlanta Hawks

Offseason Approach: Over cap, plenty of room under the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$39.7M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $31.8M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, Kris Dunn, Bruno Fernando, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, Cameron Reddish, Trae Young

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
John Collins (restricted), Brandon Goodwin (restricted), Solomon Hill (unrestricted), Nathan Knight (restricted – Two-Way), Skylar Mays (restricted – Two-Way), Tony Snell (unrestricted), Lou Williams (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #20

Everything came together better than anyone ever could have expected for the Atlanta Hawks in 2020-21. Travis Schlenk swung for the fences in free agency, remade a large portion of his roster and almost every move was a hit. The Hawks even made the right call to change coaches mid-season, when the team was scuffling a bit. In the end, Atlanta made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 2021 offseason got off to a good start by removing the interim label from Nate McMillan and giving him the head coaching spot on a permanent basis. McMillan has the respect of the locker room, and made several strategic adjustments throughout the regular season and playoffs to help lift the Hawks. With the coach hire handled, the Hawks can turn their eyes to free agency. Atlanta doesn’t have a cap space to play with this summer, so the initial focus will be on re-signing a couple of their own free agents.

First and foremost is John Collins. Collins has developed into a top-tier power forward. His rebounding is elite, as is his finishing at the rim. He’s become a reliable three-point shooter, even as his volume has increased. This past season, Collins made major improvements defensively. He held his own on the perimeter against smaller fours, while also holding up as a small-ball five.

What does that mean contract-wise for Collins? Ideally, Atlanta would get him signed to something below the max. The Hawks would do well to add in incentives based on team-success that could bring Collins up to a near-max salary. Then, if Collins hits them, you don’t feel bad about the increased price tag.

What’s most important is that Atlanta doesn’t mess around or get cheap with Collins. If they do, there will be several teams ready to hand him a max offer sheet. History is littered with examples of matched offer sheets that worked out poorly for the incumbent team. Either the play doesn’t live up to the contract, or they do and they later leave as an unrestricted free agent.

The Hawks should get Collins signed to a fair deal before any of that hassle can even happen.

Elsewhere on the roster, Atlanta needs a backup for Trae Young. Kris Dunn was supposed to be that guy, but he was never healthy last season. He opted in and will get another chance. If he’s able to hold down that role, that’s great. The Hawks should still add another option for insurance reasons. That could be re-signing Lou Williams. He did his thing as a scoring guard off the bench. He’ll continue to do that next season, as well. And he should come cheap enough to not stress the Hawks towards the luxury tax.

Atlanta will have the full Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception to work with. That should deliver them a useful player. The team is also reportedly listening on trade offers for Cam Reddish. Ideally, they’d use Reddish or the MLE to fill the backup point guard spot or to add another big behind Collins and Clint Capela. Onyeka Okongwu is going to miss a portion of the season after shoulder surgery. Adding another big has more importance than previously thought. The Hawks arrived a year earlier than expected. But they seem built to last. This roster will get expensive in another year or two, but that’s a problem for another day. For this season, with a couple of savvy additions, Atlanta could find themselves back in NBA Finals contention.

 

Los Angeles Clippers

Offseason Approach: Over cap, will also be over the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$49.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$12.1M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Patrick Beverley, Yogi Ferrell (non-guaranteed), Paul George, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann (non-guaranteed), Marcus Morris Sr., Daniel Oturu, Rajon Rondo, Jayden Scrubb (Two-Way) Ivica Zubac

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Nicolas Batum (unrestricted), Amir Coffey (restricted – Two-Way), DeMarcus Cousins (unrestricted), Serge Ibaka (unrestricted – player option), Reggie Jackson (unrestricted), Kawhi Leonard (unrestricted – player option), Patrick Patterson (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level ($5,890,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $2,075,880 (Mfiondu Kabengele)

First Round Draft Picks: #25

The offseason for the LA Clippers starts with Kawhi Leonard, but it far from ends there. Leonard is widely expected to opt out of his contract with LA. That’s just the smart play for him to maximize his earnings. From there, most expect Leonard will re-sign with the Clippers. A handful of teams are hoping to get the chance to pitch Leonard on leaving, but after finally getting to play back home, Leonard likely isn’t heading out of Los Angeles.

After re-signing Leonard, Lawrence Frank’s real work starts. For one, Leonard will miss some, if not all, of the 2021-22 season after suffering a partially torn ACL in the Western Conference Finals. That means to remain a contender, LA needs to add some wing depth.

That could start with re-signing Nicolas Batum. Batum was excellent for the Clippers in a wing/small-ball big role. Unfortunately, LA had Batum on a veteran minimum contract and don’t have the ability to give him a sizable raise. The only path for a raise would be to sign Batum using the Taxpayer Mid-Level exception of about $5.9 million. Batum will also have other contenders as suitors after showing he’s got plenty left in the tank.

Another player that it could difficult for the Clippers to retain is Reggie Jackson. Like Batum, he also played on a veteran minimum deal last season. Unlike Batum, the Clippers have Early Bird rights for Jackson. That allows them to offer him up to a four-year deal worth over $40 million. At first glance, it would seem like that should be enough. But Jackson had a good season and a huge playoff run. Another point guard needy team, and there are several this summer, could beat that offer for the veteran ballhandler.

Serge Ibaka is expected to opt in for $9.7 million, following his season being wrecked by a back injury. That’s one frontcourt depth piece behind Ivica Zubac. Re-signing DeMarcus Cousins wouldn’t be a bad idea. He had productive moments for LA and can give them 15-20 minutes a night of solid backup center play when necessary.

With Paul George already inked to an extension, and the ability to retain some of their veteran talent, the Clippers will still be a good team. They need George to star and Marcus Morris Sr. to be a secondary scorer while Leonard is out. If they can keep pace until Leonard returns, LA will be poised to be a dangerous playoff team.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

Offseason Approach: Over cap, likely will be a tax team

Actual Cap Space: -$59.8M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $4.7M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Seth Curry, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, George Hill ($1,275,491 guaranteed), Isaiah Joe, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, Paul Reed (non-guaranteed), Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Anthony Tolliver (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Gary Clark (restricted – Two-Way), Danny Green (unrestricted), Dwight Howard (unrestricted), Furkan Korkmaz (unrestricted), Mike Scott (unrestricted), Rayjon Tucker (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level ($5,890,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $8,190,134 (Al Horford)

First Round Draft Picks: #28

Before the Philadelphia 76ers even completed their second round series loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Ben Simmons trade buzz started. Simmons had a rough series, including passing up an easy basket at a key point late in a Philadelphia loss. That sparked immediate speculation that it was time for the Sixers to break up Simmons and Joel Embiid and to move in a different direction.

Nothing in the weeks since then has slowed down that chatter. If anything, it’s become increasingly likely that Simmons will be traded this offseason. The problem for the 76ers and Daryl Morey is finding good value for the unique player that Simmons is.

On the positive side, he’s the NBA’s most versatile defender. Simmons is equally as good at defending all five positions on the floor, against most matchups. The quickest of point guards and the biggest of centers give him some trouble. Everyone else? Simmons can lock them down. There isn’t another player in the league that can do that.

Simmons is also one of the best passers in the game. His ballhandling and size combination allows him to see and make passes that others won’t even attempt. He’s also a terrific rebounder, gifted transition player and a solid finisher around the basket.

Alas, Simmons’ fatal flaw is his shooting. It’s not even that Simmons is a bad shooter. He’s become a complete non-shooter. That’s worse than being a bad shooter. Even a bad shooter gets hot occasionally and draws the defense. A non-shooter is someone a defense can almost disregard completely.

Philadelphia and Simmons said the right things about getting back to work. How they were going to work together to fix his shot. And that they both still believed in making it happen. Yet, he’s still on the trade market and the noise is only getting louder.

That screams that all parties involved know it’s over. Now, it’s about getting the best package possible in return.

What that package looks like is hard to peg. The 76ers are contenders with Embiid, so they aren’t going to want to start over with a bunch of kids. But a team acquiring Simmons isn’t likely rebuilding either. It feels like a solid veteran that needs a fresh start, along with a draft pick or two, is probably the best return here.

After dealing with Simmons, Philadelphia has some other decisions to make. Depending on who they get in return, they’ll probably need a lead ballhandler. Right now, that’s a position that’s lacking on the roster. It seems like George Hill will be waived to save $9 million and he probably won’t return. That leaves Tyrese Maxey as the only lead guard on the roster, and he’s a developing second-year player. Look for at least one, if not two, veteran additions here.

The Sixers have a decent-sized trade exception of just over $8 million from the Al Horford deal. That could return a solid player. They’ll also likely have the Taxpayer MLE of about $5.9 million to spend. Because they’re a contender, that goes further than it will for some other teams. If not a point guard, these tools will be used to add shooting and frontcourt depth behind Embiid and Tobias Harris.

Despite the Simmons drama, the 76ers have a solid team in place. With the right additions around Embiid and Harris, Philadelphia could contend for a championship. If they miss this summer, there are a lot of improving teams in the Eastern Conference that could pass them by.

 

Utah Jazz

Offseason Approach: Over cap, likely will be a tax team

Actual Cap Space: -$72.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $1.5M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Udoka Azubuike, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Elijah Hughes, Joe Ingles, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Miye Oni (non-guaranteed), Matt Thomas (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Jarrell Brantley (restricted – Two-Way), Mike Conley (unrestricted), Trent Forrest (restricted – Two-Way), Ersan Iylasova (unrestricted), Juwan Morgan (restricted), Georges Niang (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $5,005,350 (Ed Davis), $2,024,079 (Tony Bradley)

First Round Draft Picks: #30

The Utah Jazz had the NBA’s best regular season record and looked like a favorite to make their first NBA Finals in over two decades. Then they ran into a bit of a buzzsaw with the LA Clippers and were bounced in the second round of the playoffs. Now, the Jazz are one of the more expensive teams in the NBA and have limited ways of bringing in outside help.

First and foremost, Utah needs to re-sign Mike Conley. Doing so will send the team deep into the luxury tax, but it’s an absolute necessity to bring their floor leader back. Unless the Jazz plan to move Donovan Mitchell to point guard permanently, which would mute some of his scoring prowess, they need Conley. Coming off his first All-Star nod, Conley won’t come cheap, but he also shouldn’t top $25 million per season either. If Utah balks at Conley’s price, he’ll have plenty of other options, as several other teams need starting point guards.

Once the Jazz take care of Conley, they can start to figure out how to lessen their tax burden. With extensions kicking in for both Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the team has pushed to their highest team payroll ever. Utah is rumored to have explored trading Joe Ingles or Derrick Favors to reduce their salary commitments. It’s likely they’ll lose a productive player this summer at the expense of keeping costs down.

That makes it important that 2020 first round pick Udoka Azubuike shows some development and ability to back up Gobert. It’s also important for the Jazz to find someone who can play with the 30th pick this season. That’s a big ask, but such is life when your top-heavy in salaries.

With Mitchell, Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic and likely Conley, Utah will still be a top-tier Western Conference team. The challenge this summer is finding quality depth across the board. Outside of Sixth Man of the Year candidate, the Jazz could use a little help off the bench. This is especially true if they were to lose Ingles or Favors.

Utah is at a pivotal point. They’re good, but not quite good enough. But the team payroll is that of a title contender. It’s up to Justin Zanik to figure out how to balance things in his first go-around as the team’s front office decision-maker.

 

Brooklyn Nets

Offseason Approach: Well over cap and well over the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$84.6M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$26.2M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Nicolas Claxton, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Joe Harris, Kyrie Irving, Alize Johnson (non-guaranteed), DeAndre Jordan, Landry Shamet

Potential Free Agents (9): FULL LIST
Bruce Brown Jr. (restricted), Chris Chiozza (restricted – Two-Way), Spender Dinwiddie (unrestricted), Jeff Green (unrestricted), Blake Griffin (unrestricted), Mike James (restricted), Tyler Johnson (unrestricted), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (unrestricted), Reggie Perry (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level ($5,890,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #27

The Brooklyn Nets title hopes were dashed in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, as they couldn’t overcome injuries to several key players and fell to the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. The Nets will be right back in title contention, as they’ll return Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving next season. What will help Brooklyn get over the top is filling out their roster with quality depth to keep their star trio fresh and rested for the postseason.

A large part of finding depth will be Sean Marks re-signing some of his own free agents. Restricted free agent Bruce Brown Jr. is near the top of that list. Brown had a breakout season, playing every role from 3&D wing to primary ballhandler to rim-running “big” man. Brown’s versatility and ability to play without having the ball much, or getting many shots, makes him an ideal fit alongside the Nets stars. He could get an offer sheet from another team, but as long as the bidding doesn’t get silly, look for him to be back in Brooklyn.

Spencer Dinwiddie is another story. The Nets would love to have Dinwiddie back, but with Harden and Irving in place, it seems superfluous to add to an already enormous luxury tax bill for Dinwiddie. He’s looking for a large pay day, and a bigger role. It’s likely this relationship has come to an end. Up front, Brooklyn did well with Jeff Green and Blake Griffin on veteran minimum deals last season. So well, that they might not be able to retain either player on such a deal this summer. Green was solid the entire season, as both a spot starter and key reserve. Griffin looked rejuvenated after joining the Nets following a buyout from the Detroit Pistons.

The challenge for Brooklyn is that they don’t have any sort of Bird rights on either player. The most the Nets can offer either Green or Griffin is the $5.9 million Taxpayer Mid-Level exception. The guess here is that goes to Griffin. Green will have a standing offer at the minimum, but he may be able to get more elsewhere.

Beyond re-signing their own free agents, expect Marks to explore the trade market for DeAndre Jordan. The veteran big man was largely out of the rotation over the last few months of the season. Brooklyn found success with small-ball lineups and with promising young big Nicolas Claxton getting the true center minutes.

While Jordan’s on-court value has lessened, he’s still a valuable locker room presence. His $9.8 million salary could go long way towards salary-matching in a trade.

Teams are also inquiring as to the availability of guard Landry Shamet. He’s extension eligible this summer, and there is a sense he could get squeezed by the Nets ever-increasing payroll. Unless they’re blown away by a trade offer, look for Brooklyn to keep Shamet. Then they’ll deal with an extension this fall or restricted free agency next summer.

Marks will have no problem finding veteran players who get squeezed in free agency to sign on in Brooklyn. The Nets have roles and playing time to offer, and they’re a title contender. That will attract a number of players to sign on with Durant, Harden and Irving.

 

Denver Nuggets

Offseason Approach: Over cap, flirting with the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$65.8M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $25.9M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Bol Bol, Facundo Campazzo, Vlatko Cancar (non-guaranteed), P.J. Dozier (non-guaranteed), Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic, Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Zeke Nnaji, Michael Porter Jr.

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Will Barton (unrestricted), JaMychal Green (unrestricted), Shaq Harrison (restricted – Two-Way), Markus Howard (restricted – Two-Way), JaVale McGee (unrestricted), Paul Millsap (unrestricted), Austin Rivers (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $5,325,000 (Jerami Grant), $2,193,480 (R.J. Hampton)

First Round Draft Picks: #25

The Denver Nuggets could have been where the Phoenix Suns were, had they not lost Jamal Murray late in the season due to a torn ACL. Now, Denver faces an increasingly expensive roster, and they’ll be without Murray for a significant portion of the 2021-22 season. That puts Tim Connelly in a somewhat difficult spot of adding talent to keep the Nuggets in Finals contention, but without muddying the books too much for the future.

The place to start for Denver is with their own free agents. Will Barton and JaMychal Green both opted out of their contracts. However, both players have expressed some interest in returning to Denver on new deals. Barton has become an especially important player for the Nuggets. He’ll likely start next season as the team’s shooting guard. When Murray returns, Barton will either keep that spot next to Murray or could move to the bench, as one of the top sixth men in the NBA.

Green’s future in Denver is a little less clear, and is probably tied to that of Paul Millsap. Millsap is also a free agent, and there’s probably only room in the budget for one of the two veteran big men. The Nuggets have promising young big Zeke Nnaji, and they’ll play both Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon heavy minutes at the four. Look for one of Green or Millsap to return, but not both.

In the backcourt, Austin Rivers was a revelation for the Nuggets. He joined them after Murray’s injury and was solid throughout his time in Denver. If he’s willing to return on the cheap, or even for the veteran minimum, Rivers will give the team some additional guard depth while Murray is out.

It’s probably fair to expect Denver to waive Vlatko Cancar to open up a roster spot and to knock a little money off the books. Cancar never developed into the backup forward the team hoped for. With roster spots at a premium and needs on the wing, Cancar will likely be elsewhere next season.

The wing is where Denver could look for some outside free agent help. If Barton is back, the team is solid with him and Porter as starters. They’ll need some depth behind them though. The good news is that while this free agent class is light on stars, but flush with role players. The Nuggets should be able to land a quality 3&D wing, even with their minimal spending power.

Denver is right on the cusp of making a Finals run. Nikola Jokic is the reigning MVP and will keep the team afloat while Murray recovers. The key is to get enough help now, while leaving some flexibility for the future. Porter will soon be due for a new contract, and Jokic himself only has two years left on his deal. That’s going to make for an expensive team, but if Connelly makes the right moves, Denver should be able to extend their window of contention.

 

Dallas Mavericks

Offseason Approach: Likely will operate as a cap space team, with the third-most space

Actual Cap Space: -$37.5M

Practical Cap Space: $34.3M

Luxury Tax Space: $40.7M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Jalen Brunson (non-guaranteed), Trey Burke, Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Green, Maxi Kleber, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell, Tyrell Terry

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Tyler Bey (restricted – Two-Way), Willie Cauley-Stein (unrestricted – team option), Tim Hardaway Jr. (unrestricted), Nate Hinton (restricted – Two-Way), Boban Marjanovic (unrestricted), Nicolo Melli (restricted), J.J. Redick (unrestricted), Josh Richardson (unrestricted – player option)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($4,910,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: None

Despite making the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, the Dallas Mavericks have reached a transition point of sorts. It’s no longer good enough to be in the playoffs. It’s time to take a step forward toward being a title contender. Otherwise, the franchise risks going down the often-walked path of alienating a superstar due to not winning enough.

Starting this transition will be a whole new leadership structure for Dallas. The Mavs parted ways with Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle, the team’s longtime General Manager and head coach, respectively. In their places are a first-time GM in Nico Harrison and Jason Kidd on the sidelines as a third-time head coach.

Harrison and Kidd’s jobs are simple: Win enough to keep Luka Doncic happy. How they get there isn’t quite as simple. Dallas is poised to be armed with over $30 million in cap space, assuming Josh Richardson opts out. They’ve been linked in rumors to all sorts of free agents from Kyle Lowry to Lonzo Ball to DeMar DeRozan to John Collins. That sort of spending power can go a long way in an offseason short on stars. That’s a good thing, because Dallas needs to flesh out their depth.

The team would love to use some of their space to re-sign Tim Hardaway Jr., who has become an ideal wing partner for Doncic. One scenario could see Hardaway signing a smaller one-year deal, and then Dallas re-signing him to a longer and larger contract in the summer of 2022.

Beyond that, look for the Mavs to try and upgrade their 3&D options, as well as adding another shot-creator. The second need is why the team is being linked to so many primary ballhandlers. They need to ease the playmaking burden on Doncic throughout the season, so that he’s not worn down come playoff time.

Up front, Dallas will explore the trade market for Kristaps Porzingis. He continues to be injury-plagued, and his fit with Doncic has never quite materialized as hoped for. Given Porzingis is owed $101.5 million over the next three seasons, finding a trade may be easier said than done.

The Mavericks have options this summer. They can go a lot of different ways. If a star shakes free on the trade market, expect Dallas to be involved. Most players in the NBA would love to play alongside Doncic. That’s an easy sell. The question is if the Mavs have the assets to go get said star.

Doncic will sign a five-year, super max extension as soon as he’s eligible. Keeping him for the duration of that deal will depend on how the team builds the roster around him. That work starts this summer for the Mavericks new front office.

 

Los Angeles Lakers

Offseason Approach: Over cap, will be over the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$63.3M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $12.8M

Under Contract (6): FULL ROSTER
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Alfonzo McKinnie (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (11): FULL LIST
Kostas Antetokounmpo (restricted – Two-Way), Devontae Cacok (restricted – Two-Way), Alex Caruso (unrestricted), Andre Drummond (unrestricted), Jared Dudley (unrestricted), Montrezl Harrell (unrestricted – player option), Talen Horton-Tucker (restricted), Wesley Matthews (unrestricted), Ben McLemore (unrestricted), Markieff Morris (unrestricted), Dennis Schroder (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): $5,000,000 (Luol Deng)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #22

The title hangover was real for the Los Angeles Lakers, as the shortened offseason did a number on multiple players injury-wise. That led to the Lakers falling to the Play-In Tournament and a first-round ouster at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. But this is LA. The Lakers don’t really rebuild. They reload.

Here’s the challenge for Rob Pelinka though: His options for improving the team are somewhat limited. The Lakers have an extremely small amount of wiggle room under the luxury tax. That will go away as soon as they re-sign a few of their key free agents. Then, just as it was last season, LA will be pushing up against the hard cap.

Essentially, the Lakers will likely have only the Taxpayer MLE (or the equivalent) and trades for improving their roster. That’s not the worst problem to have in a year where the free agent class is fairly weak. However, as many as 12-15 teams think they can be the next Suns or Milwaukee Bucks. They’ll be pushing hard for upgrades too, and most will have more spending power.

At the very least, expect the Lakers to re-sign both Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso. Both players have become key depth pieces for Los Angeles, and one of them could end up a starter this season. Montrezl Harrell seems 50-50 on opting in or out. It’s going to come down to an evaluation for how much he can get as a free agent this summer, as opposed to waiting to hit the market in 2022.

Dennis Schroder’s free agency is a bit of a mystery. He wants $100 million, but few, if any, teams value him like that. That could lead him back to LA on a smaller-than-desired deal. That would be a win for the Lakers. Provided they can keep the contract low enough that Schroder retains some value as a trade piece, LA should do what they can to bring him back.

Reports are that Pelinka is offering the Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope $26 million salary bundle to everyone across the league. That’s probably LA’s best chance at adding a meaningful player this summer. The downside there is that it would sacrifice some depth for an older team that has been hit by injuries. It’s a calculated risk that Pelinka has to weigh.

When it comes to filling out the roster with veteran minimum signings, the Lakers are better positioned than any team in the league. They have roles and minutes available. They’re a title contender. It’s Los Angeles. Only a few teams can match the first two items. Only the Clippers can match the last one, and they aren’t the Lakers.

When you have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, you’re an instant title contender. Those two are that good. Now, it’s about finding the right players around them to take the Lakers from contender to favorite. Adding enough depth to not wear out James and Davis in the regular season is key to this offseason. If Pelinka can do that, the Lakers will be scary come playoff time.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

Offseason Approach: Over cap, flirting with the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$57.5M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $21.1M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Robert Covington, C.J. Elleby, Derrick Jones Jr., Damian Lillard, Nassir Little, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic ($4,000,000 guaranteed), Anfernee Simons

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Carmelo Anthony (unrestricted), Keljin Blevins (restricted – Two-Way), Zach Collins (restricted), Harry Giles III (unrestricted), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (unrestricted), Enes Kanter (unrestricted), T.J. Leaf (restricted – Two-Way), Norman Powell (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): $2,844,429 (Andrew Nicholson)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: None

The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off a disappointing season that saw them finish sixth in the Western Conference. The Blazers then bowed out in six games against a banged up and undermanned Denver Nuggets squad. The early loss cost Terry Stotts his head coach position after nine seasons at the helm.

Neil Olshey replaced Stotts with Chauncey Billups in a controversial hire. Now, Olshey needs to set his sights on improving the Portland roster enough to entice Damian Lillard that he should stick around for a while.

Lillard made waves before the offseason was fully underway with some reporting that he’s considering his future with the Trail Blazers. Lillard has stayed fully committed to Portland throughout his nine-year career, but frustrations seem to be reaching a boiling point. Lillard is about to start a four-year, $176 million extension, but whether he sees the end of it with the Blazers depends on the team winning or not.

To this point, Lillard hasn’t made any sort of official trade request. It’s just some noise for the moment. But if Olshey can’t put together a winning roster, that noise will crescendo.

The main components from last year will likely be back. Lillard and C.J. McCollum return in the backcourt. Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington are back up front. A couple of young backups are in place with Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little. It’s the on the wing and with the bench where Olshey has work to do.

Normal Powell opted out and will be a free agent. Considering Portland gave up Gary Trent Jr., and his restricted free agency, to acquire Powell, re-signing the scoring wing has to be the team’s first priority. Powell will command somewhere between $15 and $20 million in average salary. That’s going to push the Blazers right to the edge of the luxury tax. Spending into the tax hasn’t been a problem in the past, but it’s still a line to be conscious of.

After Powell, Portland needs some frontcourt depth. Zach Collins is likely gone after he suffered yet another injury. Enes Kanter has been a favorite in Portland and is a solid backup to Nurkic. If Kanter comes cheap enough, he could be back. It’s also possible the team could retain Harry Giles III or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for depth. And Carmelo Anthony probably has a place in Portland on another veteran minimum deal. Anthony has rebuilt his game as a scoring forward off the bench, and the Blazers would do well to keep him around.

Outside of Lillard trade swirl, the McCollum situation will hang over the Trail Blazers this offseason. McCollum hasn’t made any noise about being traded, but every year it’s ask if this is the year Portland finally splits up the Lillard/McCollum backcourt. With Ben Simmons on the market from the Philadelphia 76ers, there could be a somewhat logical match there. Simmons would slot in for the Blazers as a playmaking four, while McCollum would be the lead guard the Sixers lack. It’s not quite as easy as that, but it’s a situation worth monitoring.

Olshey knows he’s on the clock with Lillard. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but it’s arrived. Or it’s at least real close to arriving. If the Trail Blazers aren’t in contention to make a Finals run, Lillard is likely asking out. Portland still has some control, because Lillard is signed long-term. But the Blazers would likely look to do right by their franchise player, even if it means starting over.

That’s probably not happening this season though. What will happen is everything to make sure things don’t even get to that point. That should lead to one of the more interesting offseasons Portland has had in a long time.

 

Memphis Grizzlies

Offseason Approach: Will briefly go under the cap to complete trade with New Orleans

Actual Cap Space: -$8.3M

Practical Cap Space: $24.4M

Luxury Tax Space: $37M

Under Contract (14): FULL ROSTER
Grayson Allen, Kyle Anderson, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyus Jones, John Konchar, Sean McDermott (Two-Way), De’Anthony Melton, Ja Morant, Jontay Porter ($300,000 guaranteed), Xavier Tillman, Jonas Valanciunas

Potential Free Agents (3): FULL LIST
Tim Frazier (unrestricted), Killian Tillie (restricted – Two-Way), Justise Winslow (unrestricted – team option)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($4,910,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #10

The Memphis Grizzlies will get their offseason started with a bang by completing a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans as soon as free agency opens.

The deal terms see the Grizzlies acquiring Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, the 10th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the 40th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and a top-10 protected Los Angles Lakers first round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Pelicans will acquire Jonas Valanciunas, the 17th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and the 51st pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

This trade can’t be made official until the league changes over from 2020-21 to 2021-22, due to the salaries of the players involved. In order to complete the trade, the Grizzlies will decline their team option for Justise Winslow. They’ll renounce Winslow and their other two free agents, as well.

Memphis will then take Bledsoe into their cap space, while they will trade Valanciunas for Adams via salary-matching.

Adams’ and Bledsoe’s futures in Memphis seem to be heading in different directions. Adams will stick for at least a year. He’ll either start alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. in a big frontcourt, or he’ll back up Jackson. Bet on the first, as Memphis likes to have Jackson play at the four to open games.

There’s already reporting that Bledsoe won’t remain with the Grizzlies. Memphis will look to spin Bledsoe off in a subsequent deal, or they could work a buyout with the veteran guard. In the past, the Grizzlies have been willing to eat large contracts in a single season to set veterans free.

Following the completion of this trade, Memphis will be just below the cap. The Grizzlies could create a bit more cap space via waiving Jontay Porter, but it’s likely the team will hang on to the big man prospect.

The Grizzlies will look to use the Room Exception to fill out their remaining roster spot with a veteran addition for the bench. Barring another big trade, that’s likely to be the extent of their offseason.

The real get from this trade for Memphis is the 10th pick in the draft. The Grizzlies are now in range of being able to move up even further to select and immediate impact player. If they stick where they are, it’s still likely the team can come away with a rotation player.

With soon to be 14 roster spots filled, there isn’t a lot left of roster-building left to do. Memphis will continue to focus on player development with their young roster, while also pushing to win games. The Grizzlies have been a pleasant surprise the last two seasons and appear set up to be one once again.

 

New York Knicks

Offseason Approach: Projected to have the most cap space in the NBA

Actual Cap Space: -$10.9M

Practical Cap Space: $51.3M

Luxury Tax Space: $72.7M

Under Contract (7): FULL ROSTER
R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Norvel Pelle (non-guaranteed), Immanuel Quickley, Julius Randle ($4,000,000 guaranteed), Obi Toppin, Luca Vildoza (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (10): FULL LIST
Reggie Bullock (unrestricted), Alec Burks (unrestricted), Taj Gibson (unrestricted), Jared Harper (restricted – Two-Way), Nerlens Noel (unrestricted), Frank Ntilikina (restricted), Elfrid Payton (unrestricted), Theo Pinson (restricted – Two-Way), Mitchell Robinson (restricted – team option), Derrick Rose (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): $6,431,666 (Joakim Noah)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($4,910,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #19, #21

Following a surprising run to the playoffs as the fourth seed, the New York Knicks hit the offseason with legitimate expectations for the first time in a while. New York projects to have the most cap space in the NBA at just over $51 million, two first round picks and some talented players returning. After getting Madison Square Garden rocking in the postseason, the Knicks are poised to keep the good times rolling.

The first order of business for Leon Rose and the front office is to firm up the point guard position. It’s expected that fan and Tom Thibodeau favorite Derrick Rose will be re-signed, but that’s not enough. Rose is a high-end reserve guard, a la Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams, as opposed to a nightly starting option. That’s fine and valuable, but still leaves a hole on the roster.

Luckily for the Knicks, point guard is easily the deepest position in this free agent class. Whether it be a veteran All-Star type like Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry or Spencer Dinwiddie or an up-and-coming player like Lonzo Ball, or a lesser-but-still-solid veteran like Goran Dragic or Reggie Jackson, options abound for lead ballhandlers. In addition, a handful of point guards are expected to be available on the trade market. Expect New York to land someone new to pair with Rose to take care of the position for at least the next year or two.

The next focus area will be the frontcourt. Julius Randle will return off an All-Star season. Obi Toppin came on late in the year and showed why he was a high draft pick. Neither are a pure center though, and that’s where the Knicks will probably spend some money.

The team could go one of two ways with Mitchell Robinson. They can decline their team option, make Robinson a restricted free agent and ink him to a long-term deal. Or they could pick up their option and see how this season goes health and production-wise before committing to a big deal. Either way, Robinson will likely be back.

The other frontcourt option to re-sign is Nerlens Noel. He enjoyed one of his best seasons in New York and was the team’s defensive backbone. Unless the bidding gets out of hand, expect the Knicks to re-sign Noel. Taj Gibson will probably return on the cheap as well, as a veteran backup.

After shoring up either end of the lineup, New York can go to work on the wings. R.J. Barrett showed why he was so highly thought of coming out of college. In lineups that made sense, Barrett was able to score and flash his playmaking skills. Now, the Knicks need to get him some help.

Look for New York to focus on adding shooting on the wing. Because it’s a Thibs’ coached team, those players will have to hold their own defensively too. Reggie Bullock and Alec Burks could both return, as their fits alongside Randle, Barrett and Rose were solid. And the free agent class offers a lot of solid 3&D veterans.

No matter what, look for the Knicks to keep deals mostly short-term. Unless a true star lands in their laps, New York has turned a corner. The days of overpaying second, third and fourth-tier options are gone. This team may issue larger-than-expected offers, but they’ll keep them to one-year deals or two-year deals with options/non-guarantees on the second year.

It may not be a splashy offseason, but that worked out just fine last year. The fireworks will come in a year or two, when the free agent classes are deeper in star talent. Until then, the Knicks will continue to show they’re committed to winning, while maintaining the flexibility to pounce when a star comes available.

 

Washington Wizards

Offseason Approach: Over cap, just enough wiggle room under the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$69.3M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $12.5M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Deni Avdija, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant, Daniel Gafford (non-guaranteed), Anthony Gill (non-guaranteed), Rui Hachimura, Caleb Homesley (non-guaranteed), Chandler Hutchison, Russell Westbrook

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Isaac Bonga (restricted), Alex Len (unrestricted), Robin Lopez (unrestricted), Garrison Mathews (restricted – Two-Way), Raul Neto (unrestricted), Ish Smith (unrestricted), Cassius Winston (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (1): $2,161,920 (Moritz Wagner)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #15

For the Washington Wizards, this offseason really revolves around answering one question first: Does Bradley Beal want a trade? If the answer is yes, Washington has some decisions to make: What sort of package do they want back? Is this kicking off a rebuild? Do they send Beal where he wants to go or take the best deal offered?

If the answer is no, then Washington can begin planning their offseason around strengthening a team that made a run to the playoffs with a late-season push. It’s both that simple and that complex. Beal is the team’s franchise player, but for the first time ever he left it somewhat open that he’d consider leaving Washington. As of this writing, no formal trade request has been made, but Beal’s future as a Wizard is at least somewhat tenuous. He’ll be a free agent in the summer of 2022, and if Washington thinks he could leave then, they could act now versus losing Beal for nothing in a year.

If Beal commits to the franchise, then the Wizards roster decisions become clearer. The team is capped out, but has enough wiggle room under the luxury tax that they should be able to fill some of their roster holes.

Look for at least one of Robin Lopez or Alex Len to return. Thomas Bryant is going to miss some of 2021-22 due to his injury last season. Both Lopez and Len gave Washington quality minutes at the five. It’s possible, but not overly likely, that both could return. That would depend on one, or both, of them taking pay-cuts.

The Wizards also need some help on the wing. Beal is great, but there aren’t any other sure things on the roster. Deni Avdija flashed promise as a rookie, but he’s still a year or two away from being a consistent contributor. Restricted free agent Garrison Mathews became an important rotation player while on a Two-Way contract and he could return. This is also a spot where Washington could grab a veteran who gets squeezed as a free agent.

The other position of need is backup point guard. Russell Westbrook is coming off another good season, but his health is always a question mark. If Westbrook goes down, Washington needs to have another solid floor leader in place. Ish Smith could return, if he doesn’t get too expensive. Raul Neto was also good on and off the ball for the Wizards and could get another look.

Washington has to hope their young players in Avdija and Rui Hachimura both accelerate their development curve. The team seems to have a steal in Daniel Gafford, who played well after being acquiring at the trade deadline. Given the team’s limited ability to bring in outside help, that internal improvement is paramount. Those three young players represent the best chance for the team to push things forward.

Washington brought in first-time head coach Wes Unseld Jr. to help take this team from playoff contender to a threat to advance beyond the first round. Finding out what Beal’s plans are will go a long way towards determining the viability of those playoff hopes for 2021-22.

 

Boston Celtics

Offseason Approach: Over cap, up against the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$50M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $7.9M

Under Contract (13): FULL ROSTER
Jaylen Brown, Moses Brown ($500,000 guaranteed), Carsen Edwards, Al Horford, Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Jabari Parker (non-guaranteed), Payton Pritchard, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams, Robert Williams III

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Tacko Fall (restricted – Two-Way), Evan Fournier (unrestricted), Luke Kornet (unrestricted), Semi Ojeleye (unrestricted), Tremont Waters (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (2): $92,857 (Demetrius Jackson), $1,039,080 (Guerschon Yabusele)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $11,050,000 (Gordon Hayward), $6,879,100 (Kemba Walker), $5,000,000 (Daniel Theis), $4,767,000 (Enes Kanter)

First Round Draft Picks: None

On one hand, the Boston Celtics have only a couple of roster spots to fill. On the other hand, Boston has some major needs. The good news is that the Celtics should be positioned to fill those needs relatively well.

It’s already been a busy offseason for Boston. Brad Stevens moved from the bench to the front office to replace Danny Ainge as President of Basketball Operations. Stevens then tabbed Ime Udoka to replace him as the Celtics head coach. In between those moves, Stevens made his first trade, and it was a big one, as he traded Kemba Walker and the 16th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford and Moses Brown.

With a good deal more flexibility under the luxury tax from the Horford-Walker swap, Stevens can now set his sights rebuilding the roster the way he sees fit. Everything in free agency seems to start with Evan Fournier for the Celtics. The team used over half of the Gordon Hayward trade exception to acquire Fournier, but the investment was minimal otherwise. Fournier battled COVID while with Boston, but when healthy he was a terrific fit alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. His shooting, off-the-dribble scoring and passing all give the Celtics a dynamic on the wing that they lost with the departure of Gordon Hayward.

Now, it’s about how much money Fournier wants and how deep into the luxury tax Boston is willing to go to retain him. Most believe Boston doesn’t want to be more than $10-15 million into the tax. Currently, the Celtics are about $8 million under the tax. If they re-sign Fournier for anything over $15 million, the team is probably just about at their max for team salary.

There is a school of thought that says before they lock in to big money long-term with Fournier, that Boston needs to have a handle on their projections for Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith. If either player projects to develop into a starter or high-minute sixth man in the next year or so, then the need to pay Fournier is lessened. If not, then retaining Fournier is crucial.

One benefit for the Celtics is that they can likely give most of their available spending power to Fournier, because they don’t have many roster spots to fill this summer. If Fournier is re-signed, then the team has one standard roster spot to fill. That seems likely to go to 2019 second-round pick Yam Madar. Madar had a good season in Israel and is increasingly likely to join Boston this season.

Beyond that, the most intrigue for the Celtics comes on the trade market. If Bradley Beal becomes available, expect Boston to be involved. Otherwise, trades are probably more about roster balance than anything else. Right now, the team is heavy in big men and light on ballhandlers. Keep an eye on a swap of Tristan Thompson for a veteran point guard as something that makes sense for Boston.

It’s not likely to be a momentous offseason for the Celtics. Most of the big stuff has probably already happened. With better health alone, Boston will be better than their .500 record of last season. With a couple of savvy, veteran additions, they can be right back in Finals contention.

 

Miami Heat

Offseason Approach: Swing team, could use cap space or could stay over cap

Actual Cap Space: -$85.9M

Practical Cap Space: $20.5M

Luxury Tax Space: $13.3M

Under Contract (6): FULL ROSTER
Precious Achiuwa, Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, KZ Okpala, Omer Yurtseven (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (11): FULL LIST
Trevor Ariza (unrestricted), Nemanja Bjelica (unrestricted), Dewayne Dedmon (unrestricted), Goran Dragic (unrestricted – team option), Udonis Haslem (unrestricted), Andre Iguodala (unrestricted – team option), Kendrick Nunn (restricted), Victor Oladipo (unrestricted), Duncan Robinson (restricted), Max Strus (restricted – Two-Way), Gabe Vincent (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (1): $5,214,583 (Ryan Anderson)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: None

Options. That’s the key word for the Miami Heat this offseason. They have lots of options.

The Heat can create somewhere between $20.5 and $26 million in cap space without sacrificing all that much. The problem is that isn’t enough to sign or trade for a star, and Miami doesn’t have a lot of assets to offer in a trade either. The challenge for Pat Riley and the Heat front office is figure out how to get the team back into contention after they slipped quite a bit following their unexpected Finals run in the bubble.

The primary pieces Miami has returning are pretty good. Jimmy Butler is still at the top of his game. Bam Adebayo has grown into an All-Star caliber player. Tyler Herro had a sophomore slump, but is still talented. And the team has some control over the free agent process for Goran Dragic, Andre Iguodala, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson.

If Miami is ready to move on from Dragic or Iguodala, or wants to go the cap space route and bring either (or both) back after, they’ll have to decline their team options for both players. The Heat would probably have the leg up on re-signing either veteran, but they’d have some competition, especially for Dragic. With Nunn and Robinson, Miami can make both restricted free agents and retain the right to match any offers that either gets. Robinson is higher on the priority list to retain, but Nunn is going to get several offers this offseason. It might get too rich to re-sign both players.

The real question comes in with what the Heat should do with Victor Oladipo. Miami gambled somewhat on acquiring Oladipo at the trade deadline and got exactly four non-descript games out of the guard before he got hurt. Now, there are serious questions about Oladipo’s future and how big of a contract he should get this summer. He’s never really been the same after a devastating leg injury with the Pacers, but he’d still like to get one more sizable contract. That’s a major risk for any team to take. Oladipo is probably looking at a “prove it” contract, either with the Heat or elsewhere.

If Kawhi Leonard takes meetings this summer, Miami will be involved. If Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal really hits the trade market, Miami will be involved. If any star is up for grabs, Miami will be involved. That’s just how Riley works and the gravitas the Heat have.

That said, it doesn’t seem overly realistic that the Heat will land a true star. An aging former star like Kyle Lowry is possible. But a max level player probably isn’t in the cards this offseason.

Look for Miami to retain Duncan Robinson, and possibly agree to a deal early enough that they can rescind his qualifying offer and create about $3 million more in cap space. The Heat will then do what they can to add a difference-making ballhandler, while also staying in touch with Dragic and Nunn for depth purposes. Adding a stretch big that can play with Adebayo and Butler will also be a priority this offseason.

If Riley can’t land a star this summer, Miami will probably keep things relatively flexible moving forward. 2022 and 2023 look like they could have loaded free agent classes. The Heat will do what they can to be positioned to go star chasing then, just as they are most years.

 

Golden State Warriors

Offseason Approach: Well over cap and well over the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$96.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: -$30.8M

Under Contract (13): FULL ROSTER
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Damion Lee (non-guaranteed), Kevon Looney, Mychal Mulder (non-guaranteed), Eric Paschall, Gary Payton II (non-guaranteed), Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagic (non-guaranteed), Klay Thompson, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Kent Bazemore (unrestricted), Jordan Bell (unrestricted – Two-Way), Nico Mannion (restricted – Two-Way), Kelly Oubre Jr. (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): $666,667 (Shaun Livingston)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-Level ($5,890,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #7, #14

After five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors have missed out on the playoffs in back-to-back years. A combination of injuries and some roster missteps have held the Warriors back. With their stars begin to age, can Golden State get back on top?

General Manager Bob Myers has plenty to work with this offseason to get the Dubs back into contention. Stephen Curry turned in an MVP-caliber season, Draymond Green has plenty left in the tank, Andrew Wiggins was very productive and Klay Thompson should finally return after missing two straight seasons. Those are the more or less known quantities. It’s the unknown where Myers has to get it right.

The Warriors sort of have three lottery picks this offseason. They have the seventh and 14th selections in the 2021 NBA Draft and James Wiseman is coming back after playing just 39 games as a rookie. That’s the capital Myers is working with to build out the rest of his roster.

It’s no secret that Golden State is dangling Wiseman and both picks to land either another star, or to fill out their depth around their best players. They also would like to sign-and-trade Kelly Oubre Jr. to bring in additional help. The question is, what’s the best approach?

On its face, it seems like adding another star is the right move. Star talent generally wins in the NBA. The challenge is adding the right star who understands that until he retires or leaves town, everything for Golden State orbits around Curry. There are only so many stars who will willingly sign on knowing they’re playing second fiddle.

On the flip side, injuries and lack of depth have tanked the last two years for the Warriors. In 2019-20 Thompson was out, then Curry got hurt, Green went down and everything fell apart. Last season, Thompson was still out, Oubre got hurt and Curry and Green played most of the season nicked up. The result was another disappointing season.

Instead of chasing a star, the path forward may be to focus on adding quality depth. If the Warriors believe that they can get by with a combination of defensive-minded, screen-setting veteran centers, they can move Wiseman for win-now help. The young center and the picks should return a decent package of veteran players to allow Golden State to avoid major bumps if they suffer injuries again.

The same is true of a sign-and-trade for Oubre. Because the Warriors are over the tax apron/hard cap, they’re a bit limited in how they can build out the roster, unless it’s via trade. Moving Oubre for one or two players who add frontcourt and wing depth seems imperative.

Myers and his staff have done a decent job finding fringe talents and getting a lot out of them. Juan Toscano-Anderson is a steal on a veteran minimum contract. Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder both provide shooting on their minimum deals. That’s helpful in keeping an already astronomical tax bill down some.

The Warriors will also have their $5.9 million Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to use. That doesn’t seem like much, but if they look like a contender, that’s pretty good spending power to add veteran help.

The other path is to use the draft picks themselves, and hope those players and Wiseman can rapidly develop into the depth Golden State needs. The team hired Kenny Atkinson, who has a strong track record of player development, as an assistant coach. That could signal the plan is to work with some incoming young talent.

As long as ownership is willing to continue to spend, and they’re just starting to send some signals that enough is enough, the Warriors can add talent. With Curry entering the final year of his deal, and no lock to continue to play like an MVP candidate, this might be the last, best chance to build another winner. Look for the Warriors to go all in this summer for one more run at a title.

 

Indiana Pacers

Offseason Approach: Over cap, flirting with the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$36M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $15.4M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Goga Bitadze, Amida Brimah (Two-Way), Oshae Brissett (non-guaranteed), Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, Caris LeVert, Kelan Martin (non-guaranteed), Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, T.J. Warren

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
T.J. McConnell (unrestricted), Doug McDermott (unrestricted), JaKarr Sampson (unrestricted), Cassius Stanley (restricted – Two-Way), Edmond Sumner (unrestricted – team option)

Dead Cap (1): $2,245,400 (Monta Ellis)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $4,796,296 (Victor Oladipo), $2,808,845 (T.J. Leaf)

First Round Draft Picks: #13

The Indiana Pacers find themselves at a bit of a fork in the road with their roster. They’ve been a good, but never great team for a while now. The vast majority of the roster is beyond the age where it’s reasonable to expect much more progression. On the flipside, most of those players aren’t at an age where regression should be the expectation either.

This leaves the Pacers in a tough spot. Running it back doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. Blowing it up feels even less like the correct path. That puts Kevin Pritchard in a position where he has to try to rebuild on the fly. Fortunately for Indiana, they’ve got some nice pieces to make that happen with.

Outside of Domantas Sabonis (who is as close to a franchise player as the team has) and Caris LeVert (who only just got to Indiana), every other Pacer is has been realistically rumored to be on the market in recent times. It feels like this time around, something may give and Pritchard may begin to retool.

The most likely player to go is probably Myles Turner. Indiana has given it as good a try as can be expected to make it work with Sabonis and Turner playing together. It’s clear the pairing is never going to work the way it was envisioned, mostly because of the defensive end of the floor. However, it’s not like Turner is valueless. On an $18 million contract, Turner is fairly paid for what he does. If a team needs a stretch big that can also block shots, and many do, they could do far worse than Turner.

Elsewhere in the frontcourt, T.J. Warren has been rumored in trades almost since he got to Indiana. He’s now in the final year of a great value contract. If healthy, Warren has outplayed his current deal and will be looking to cash in as a free agent in 2022, or via an extension this season. The Pacers could look to move him for a player who is signed long-term, as opposed to risk losing Warren for nothing next summer.

In the backcourt, Malcolm Brogdon is the player who is most often mentioned in trade rumors. Brogdon has proven he’s equally adept at playing on and off the ball when he’s healthy. That makes him a solid fit for any team in the league. Brogdon has two seasons and $44.3 million left on his deal, but his $21.7 million for 2021-22 is easily tradable.

At this point, it’s not clear which players are part of the future in Indiana and which aren’t. That will impact the team’s decision-making with their free agents as well. Doug McDermott is coming off his best season and will have plenty of offers to pick from as a bench shooter. T.J. McConnell is also coming off a very productive season, and is one of the top backup point guards on the market. If the Pacers make trades, it’s conceivable both players will be back. If no trades are made, one, or both, could be elsewhere.

Indiana is flirting with the luxury tax line and made sure to avoid the tax last season. It’s likely that same barrier exists this year, given the team isn’t a title contender. That’s likely to cost them a productive veteran or too. That makes getting a ready-to-play-now player in the draft a priority. The Pacers have to begin replacing some of their more expensive, or soon-to-be expensive, players with younger talent.

Pritchard brought former Pacers coach Rick Carlisle back into the fold after he left the Dallas Mavericks. Carlisle didn’t return to Indiana to be part of a rebuild. It’s up to Pritchard to retool the roster and help Carlisle get the Pacers back to the playoffs, after they missed out on the postseason for the first time in six years.

 

San Antonio Spurs

Offseason Approach: Projected to have the second-most cap space in the NBA

Actual Cap Space: -$80.9M

Practical Cap Space: $48.9M

Luxury Tax Space: $77.2M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
Drew Eubanks ($500,000 guaranteed), Keldon Johnson, Tre Jones, Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Luka Samanic, Devin Vassell, Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White

Potential Free Agents (8): FULL LIST
Drew Eubanks ($500,000 guaranteed), Keldon Johnson, Tre Jones, Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Luka Samanic, Devin Vassell, Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White

Dead Cap (1): $1,242,340 (DeMarre Carroll)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($4,910,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #12

The San Antonio Spurs have led a charmed life for their entire existence. In 45 NBA seasons, the Spurs have missed the postseason only six times. They had a 22-year streak of making the playoffs snapped in 2020. Now, San Antonio is seeing how the other side lives, as they’ve missed out on the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history.

If Gregg Popovich and RC Buford have their way, that streak won’t get extended to a third year. And they’ve got the cap space to make a run at ensuring that doesn’t happen.

The Spurs are in a bit of a transition. They worked a buyout with veteran big man LaMarcus Aldridge during last season. This summer, San Antonio could move on from veterans DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills.

The good news? There’s plenty of young talent in reserve. The Spurs are particularly deep in guards with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White on long-term extensions and Lonnie Walker and Devin Vassell on their rookie scale deals. Up front, Jakob Poeltl is in year two of his three-year deal and Keldon Johnson starts year three of his rookie scale contract.

That’s a pretty nice starting point, but San Antonio is clearly lacking in a few places. They don’t have a lot of frontcourt depth. Drew Eubanks will likely be back behind Poeltl, but he’s ideally best as your third center as opposed to your backup. The frontcourt and big wing scoring are also a problem. Poeltl and Johnson are both solid players, but neither is much as a scorer.

The best option for the Spurs to fill the frontcourt void is Atlanta Hawks restricted free agent John Collins. If Atlanta and Collins don’t come to an agreement on a contract as soon as free agency opens, San Antonio should have a max offer sheet prepared for Collins to sign. That would at least force the Hawks into a position to match. If Atlanta doesn’t match, San Antonio is set at the four for years to come.

If not Collins, the Spurs could potentially make a play for Lauri Markkanen. Or they could easily outbid the Milwaukee Bucks to retain NBA Finals breakout player Bobby Portis. San Antonio can also prey on tax-conscious teams like Denver or Indiana to make a run at veterans Paul Millsap or Doug McDermott. While none of these options are nearly as good as Collins, all could make some sense for the Spurs, provided the deal terms are team-friendly enough.

On the wing, San Antonio could wait to see if Evan Fournier, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Will Barton get squeezed by their incumbent teams’ offseason plans. All would give the Spurs some of the scoring punch they need. In addition, if his market doesn’t develop as expected, the team could re-sign DeMar DeRozan. It almost doesn’t matter what San Antonio would pay DeRozan, as long as they keep the deal to one or two years, at the most. That would keep the cap sheet clean for future, deeper free agent classes.

This offseason is all about options for San Antonio. They could land younger, long-term help. Or they could sign a handful of veterans to short-term deals to get back into the playoffs. The Spurs can also use their cap space to facilitate trades, eat questionable salary in exchange for assets or go for a disgruntled star themselves.

No matter what, expect the team to keep their flexibility open as much as possible. They’ll be players this year or next in free agency or via trades. The Spurs don’t intend for missing the playoffs to become the new trend in San Antonio.

 

Charlotte Hornets

Offseason Approach: Cap Space team with plenty of spending power

Actual Cap Space: -$46.1M

Practical Cap Space: $20.6M

Luxury Tax Space: $41.9M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Vernon Carey Jr., Gordon Hayward, Caleb Martin (non-guaranteed), Cody Martin (non-guaranteed), Jalen McDaniels (non-guaranteed), Nick Richards, Terry Rozier III, P.J. Washington

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Bismack Biyombo (unrestricted), Nate Darling (restricted – Two-Way), Devonte Graham’ (restricted), Malik Monk (restricted), Grant Riller (restricted – Two-Way), Brad Wanamaker (restricted), Cody Zeller (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): $8,856,969 (Nicolas Batum)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($4,910,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #11

The Charlotte Hornets surprising signing of Gordon Hayward in the 2020 offseason paid off to some extent. Charlotte was firmly in the playoff picture until late-season injuries sunk their season. The Hornets bowed out in the Play-In Tournament, but that was still a better outcome than many expected.

This summer, Charlotte has a fairly deep roster that is full of young talent, another lottery pick and some spending power. That could launch the Hornets back to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

The Hornets have good players in place 1-4. Hayward, Terry Rozier and youngsters Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington and 2021 Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball will all return. That group even logged some minutes together in smaller lineups. While they left some to be desired defensively, that lineup was pretty good as an offensive group. Look for James Borrego to lean on that lineup more in 2021-22.

With three depth forwards likely returning in Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels, General Manager Mitch Kupchak can focus on guard depth and the center position this offseason.

The guard depth can be easily taken care of by re-signing Devonte’ Graham and possibly Malik Monk. Because of his smaller cap hold, the Hornets can retain match rights on Graham as a restricted free agent. If Charlotte and Graham can reach agreement on a new deal, the Hornets could rescind the qualifying offer for Graham and create $3 million more in cap space to use in free agency.

Unfortunately, to use that cap space, the Hornets will have to renounce Monk. That doesn’t preclude the team from re-signing Monk, but they would lose the ability to make him a restricted free agent. Monk’s career has been up and down, including a banishment from the NBA due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. This past season, Monk seemed to get things back on track. He shot 40.1% from behind the arc and became a consistent scorer off the bench. The Hornets would love to bring Monk back, but not at the expense of adding some outside talent.

As for the rest of Charlotte’s free agents, they’ll probably be playing elsewhere next season. It’s possible that Bismack Biyombo or Brad Wanamaker could return to provide depth on a veteran minimum contract, but that would come after both were renounced for cap space.

With the most likely path for guard depth revolving around re-signing Graham, Charlotte will likely invest most of their $20 million in cap space in adding a true center or even two. Richaun Holmes, Daniel Theis and Kelly Olynyk would all be sensible targets for Charlotte. The Kings are capped on how much they can pay Holmes and it’s unlikely the Bulls or Rockets would try to match a substantial offer for Theis or Olynyk. Any of the three would be a major upgrade over last season’s starting options.

Even if the Hornets add a starting five, they could still look to bring in a second player as a backup. If he ops out of his deal with the Lakers, Montrezl Harrell would be a logical fit. A three-big rotation of someone like Holmes Theis or Olynyk, buoyed by Harrell and Washington is pretty solid.

After years spent digging out from under a very messy cap sheet, Charlotte has a chance to take another big swing this summer. Last year, they surprisingly landed Hayward. This year, the Hornets will use their cap space to be a major player in free agency or in the trade market. After five years without a playoff trip, Michael Jordan wants to bust that streak. It’ll cost some money to do it, but in a market with limited spending power, the Hornets have more than enough to make moves.

 

Chicago Bulls

Offseason Approach: Over cap, but well under the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$66.3M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $26.4M

Under Contract (8): FULL ROSTER
Al-Farouq Aminu, Troy Brown Jr., Zach LaVine, Tomas Satoransky ($5 million guaranteed), Nikola Vucevic, Coby White, Patrick Williams, Thaddeus Young ($6 million guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (9): FULL LIST
Ryan Arcidiacono (unrestricted – Team Option), Devon Dotson (restricted – Two-Way), Cristiano Felicio (unrestricted), Javonte Green (restricted), Lauri Markkanen (restricted), Adam Mokoka (restricted – Two-Way), Garrett Temple (unrestricted), Daniel Theis (unrestricted), Denzel Valentine (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: None

In many ways, the Chicago Bulls already made their big offseason acquisition when they acquired Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline. While that move didn’t vault Chicago into the Play-In Tournament, it does have the team set up nicely moving forward. The Bulls will return at least Vucevic, Zach LaVine and youngsters Coby White and Patrick Williams. It’s likely that productive veterans Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young will join them.

Now, the questions for the Bulls are what to do with a handful of their own free agents and how does this team push things forward to break a four-year playoff drought?

With their own free agents, the biggest decision is with Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen struggled through another injury-plagued season, but showed some signs of improvement as well. He shot career-highs from the field (48%) and from behind the arc (40.2%). Despite coming off the bench for half the season, and having his minutes reduced, Markkanen’s counting stats stayed in range of his first three years.

The biggest issue is that Markkanen hasn’t shown enough improvement in any other facet of the game, beyond his shooting. He’s an okay rebounder, but nothing more. Defensively, he can’t stay with the quicker forwards and he’s not a good enough rim protector to be a five. On offense, Markkanen can shoot from just about anywhere. He’s really improved his finishing in the paint and at the rim. That’s made Markkanen a roll threat versus being just a spot-up floor-spacing big.

So, what’s that worth? Probably not all that much for Chicago, considering the investment the team made in acquiring Vucevic. There’s simply too much overlap in their games for both to play together, and Vucevic is clearly the better player. And playing them together makes it far too hard to put together anything resembling a competent defense.

The Bulls will likely tender Markkanen a qualifying offer, if for no other reason to maintain some control over his free agency. But unless he’s willing to take an extremely team-friendly deal, it’s probable that Markkanen will be elsewhere next season. Look for Chicago to try and work a sign-and-trade to return some value, as opposed to losing Markkanen for nothing.

The rest of the free agents don’t offer as much intrigue. Daniel Theis is a good player, and a nice fit backing up Vucevic and playing some minutes together in two-big lineups. He’s probably going to get bigger offers than Chicago can reasonably give him though. Garrett Temple could return as a veteran guard off the bench. The rest are replacement-level players.

Chicago has been linked to point guards for a while now, including restricted free agent Lonzo Ball. Because Coby White still looks more like a scoring guard vs a playmaker, his fit becomes a little odd next to LaVine and Vucevic. The Bulls are still high on White, but would love to add a passer to the mix. Look for this, along with wing depth and backup center, to be the priorities in free agency.

President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas has already started rebuilding the Bulls in the image he wants. This offseason, that will continue, but with a bit more urgency. Look for Karnisovas to remain aggressive in the trade market, while trying to add veteran depth with the team’s exceptions. Chicago wants to be back in the playoffs this season. With All-Star and Team USA member Zach LaVine a free agent at the end of the season, the Bulls have motivation to prove to him that things are headed in the right direction.

 

Sacramento Kings

Offseason Approach: Over cap, but well under the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$34.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $30.1M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Marvin Bagley III, Harrison Barnes, De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Justin James (non-guaranteed), Damian Jones (non-guaranteed), Chimezie Metu (non-guaranteed), Jahmi’us Ramsey, Robert Woodard II, Delon Wright

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Terence Davis (restricted), Kyle Guy (restricted – Two-Way), Maurice Harkless (unrestricted), Richaun Holmes (unrestricted), Louis King (restricted – Two-Way), Hassan Whiteside (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Nemanja Bjelica ($2,009,019), Cory Joseph ($3,600,000)

First Round Draft Picks: #9

Sometimes it feels like the more things change around the NBA, the Sacramento Kings remain the league’s one constant. Unfortunately, it’s not in a good way. It’s been 15 years since the Kings have made the NBA playoffs. A couple of times, Sacramento has gotten close, but they generally haven’t sniffed the postseason in a decade-and-a-half.

Over the last four-to-five years, it’s felt like there has been promise. The Kings have exciting young players and a mix of what seems like workable veterans. And then… it just sort of doesn’t happen. Monte McNair will continue trying to reverse that course in his second year as the team’s General Manager.

McNair has some intriguing returning talent to build around. De’Aaron Fox starts his five-year, max extension this season. Tyrese Haliburton starts his second campaign after garnering Rookie of the Year buzz last season. Buddy Hield is coming off his typical sharpshooter season, and do-it-all veteran forward Harrison Barnes returns as well.

Where McNair has to make some immediate decisions is in the frontcourt. Richaun Holmes is a free agent, but the Kings are limited in how much they can pay him, since they only have his Early Bird rights. That limits Sacramento to offering a first-year salary of about $10.5 million or so. There are a handful of teams who need bigs (the Charlotte Hornets chief among them) that can outbid the Kings. This might get a little trickier than Sacramento is hoping for.

Because Holmes is a viable starting center in a market filled with good-but-not-great center options, he’s going to get paid. The Kings best hope is that Holmes is happy in Sacramento where he blossomed into a starter. That could lead to a small hometown discount.

The other frontcourt decision for the Kings is what to do with Marvin Bagley III. Bagley has had issues staying healthy since arriving in Sacramento and his play has suffered because of it. Each time he takes a step forward, Bagley seems to take two steps backwards. At his best, Bagley is a versatile offense player who can score inside, either off rolls or on shots he creates himself. He has decent range on his jumper, even showing the ability to hit the three on occasion. He’s also a solid rebounder. Bagley’s defense hasn’t been much to write home about, but that describes the Kings defense as a whole in recent years.

Sacramento’s other free agents beyond Holmes, are best described as unremarkable. Terence Davis is the best of the bunch, as he’s at least got the definable skill of being a shooter. After a midseason trade to the Kings, Davis did what he’s done throughout his career, which is shoot mostly three-pointers, while making them at a decent clip. He showed a touch more of an off-the-dribble game after the trade, which could make him someone worth investing in as a free agent.

Hassan Whiteside slogged through his second go-around in Sacramento and was out of the rotation by the end of the year. It got so bad that the Kings signed Damian Jones and Chimezie Metu off the street over continuing to play Whiteside.

Maurice Harkless started most of his games with the Kings, following a trade from the Miami Heat, but didn’t make much of an impact. Harkless struggled to find his shooting stroke, and his scoring game off the bounce is all but gone. He overlaps with Barnes too much for Sacramento to make much of an effort to re-sign him.

As for bringing in outside help, the Kings will look to hit in the draft with the ninth pick, as they did with Haliburton the year prior. Ideally, Sacramento would get a wing with size or a big to pair with their three backcourt players.

In free agency, McNair will look to pick off undervalued vets using his exceptions. The Kings are rumored to be interested in trading for Ben Simmons, which makes some sense. As a small-market franchise, it’s hard for Sacramento to add All-Star talents. If they could trade for Simmons and install him as an All-Defense level, playmaking power forward, it would be a perfect fit. Rumors are that the Philadelphia would like Fox in return, and that should be a non-starter.

De’Aaron Fox is as close to a superstar player as Sacramento has had in years. He’s coming off a dominant season, where he meshed well with whatever weird lineups Luke Walton put on the floor. Simmons is a terrific talent, but you have to put the right pieces around him for him to be successful. Fox is plug-and-play and just as good. This would be a sideways move at best, and likely a downgrade.

Speaking of Walton, it was somewhat of a surprise he wasn’t let go as eight teams installed new head coaches this offseason. Walton has had some challenges adjusting to being the head man, and hasn’t always played lineups or styles that fit the Kings talent. This is probably a make-or-break season for Walton.

McNair has a challenge in front of him. There is talent in Sacramento, but there are obvious holes. Some of the talent overlaps a bit, but given the importance of having multiple creators and shooters on the floor at once, the Kings can make it work. They just have to make smart decisions on some of their veteran players, do what they can to retain Holmes and decide how to handle Bagley. That’s all easier said than done, but if McNair can nail those decisions, maybe the Kings can finally make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

 

New Orleans Pelicans

Offseason Approach: Over the cap, flirting with the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$69.7M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $22.5M

Under Contract (10): FULL ROSTER
Steven Adams, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Eric Bledsoe, Wenyen Gabriel (non-guaranteed), Jaxson Hayes, Brandon Ingram, Wesley Iwundu, Kira Lewis Jr., Naji Marshall, Zion Williamson

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Lonzo Ball (restricted), Josh Hart (restricted), Willy Hernangomez, James Johnson, Didi Louzada (restricted – Team Option), James Nunnally (restricted – Two-Way)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual Exception ($3,732,000))

Notable Trade Exceptions: Nicolo Melli ($3,897,436)

First Round Draft Picks: #10

Since they landed the number one pick in the draft in 2019, the New Orleans Pelicans have tried to speed up the rebuilding process. Normally, trading away a superstar like Anthony Davis means a lengthy rebuild is to follow. David Griffin landed a haul of players ready to start winning in that trade and replaced Davis with Zion Williamson in the draft. Then in free agency that summer, Griffin added veterans via signings and trades to put a winner together immediately.

It didn’t quite work out as hoped for as Williamson had injuries and the league shut down just as New Orleans was finding their groove. Griffin doubled-down on this approach last offseason, by trading away Jrue Holiday and bringing in Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe. This ended up working out worse than the previous iteration did. Now, the Pelicans are sort of stuck. Williamson is a burgeoning superstar. Brandon Ingram has developed into an All-Star. The challenge is that the rest of the roster features overpaid veterans or young players still finding their way. And in that a couple of key guys from the Davis trade are pending free agents with uncertain futures in New Orleans, and you’ve got kind of a mess.

When Griffin got Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, in addition to a bunch of draft picks, for Davis, it looked like the Pelicans would be set for years. Those three and Williamson gave New Orleans as exciting a young core as any team in the league. Two years later, Ingram and Williamson have lived up to the promise, but Ball and Hart might be headed elsewhere.

Both Ball and Hart are restricted free agents this summer, which gives the Pels some level of control over their futures. Ball seems to want to be elsewhere, and it looks like Griffin may not be willing to meet the price another team is willing to pay. Ball has improved his shot, which helps complement his solid passing game and above-average defense. He’s still not a knockdown shooter though, and he doesn’t really look to score. That means he has to have shooters and scorers around him to be effective. The best bet for the Pelicans is that an over-the-cap team wants Ball bad enough to work out a sign-and-trade which brings some value back to New Orleans.

As for Hart, he’s made some waves about playing elsewhere as well. His ideal role is as a really solid bench piece on a contender. Hart can score and he gets after perimeter players on defense. He’s also one of the best rebounding wings in the game. This could be another spot where the Pelicans could benefit from sign-and-trade interest with a contender that lacks cap space.

As for filling the holes on the roster that losing Ball and Hart would create, it’s likely the Pelicans will look internally. In back-to-back years, Griffin drafted Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. Both seem poised to step into bigger roles. Alexander has the size and skill to play on and off the ball, while Lewis is a smaller, scoring guard.

Those two will likely team up with Eric Bledsoe to make up the Pels backcourt rotation. Bledsoe had some struggles in New Orleans, as he replaced Holiday. He’s not the defender he once was, and his shot remains streaky. Ideally, New Orleans would use his contract in a trade to get a player who fits better with Williamson and Ingram.

The same is true of Steven Adams up front. He proved to be a clunky fit next to Williamson, as both like to work in the same space. The hope was that they form a defensive wall for Stan Van Gundy, and bludgeon teams inside on offense. Instead, Adams was consistently nicked up and took room to operate in the paint away from Williamson. Adding to the bleakness of the picture: Adams is just starting a two-year, $35 million contract extension. Like Bledsoe, it would best to use him as a trade piece. Adding the two’s salaries together, could be the answer to a talent infusion for the Pelicans.

Before any thing happens roster-wise, Griffin has to hire a coach to replace Van Gundy. After just one season, Van Gundy and New Orleans decided it would be best to go their separate ways. Now, the Pels need to nail this hire to get things back on track. It should be an attractive job, considering Williamson is there, but there are already rumors he may want out of town. That means Griffin needs to hire the right person, regardless of personnel. Getting this hire correct is arguably as important as drafting Williamson was in the first place.

As for the rest of the roster, the Pelicans could use some wing depth. It’s likely Didi Louzada, who signed at the end of last season after being drafted in 2019, will be back. He signed a contract that allows New Orleans some flexibility. They’ll likely decline their team option and re-sign Louzada to a longer deal this summer. How ready he is to contribute is a different story though.

One under-the-radar move Griffin made late last year that should pay off moving forward was signing Naji Marshall to a long-term contract. Marshall came out of nowhere on his Two-Way contract to become a key rotation player for the Pelicans. His shot needs work, but Marshall is already the team’s best wing defender. He has the size and quickness to defend 2-4, which is helpful to work around Ingram and Williamson’s deficiencies on that end.

Griffin might only have one more summer to find a workable mix in New Orleans. The Pelicans can’t afford to lose Williamson after losing Davis. There are good, young pieces in place, but the last two offseasons have seen the team miss on the veteran additions. If they can get that right this summer, New Orleans should be right back in the playoff picture.

 

Toronto Raptors

Offseason Approach: Cap space, pending guarantees and re-signings

Actual Cap Space: -$83M

Practical Cap Space: $23.1M

Luxury Tax Space: $27.1M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
OG Anunoby, Aron Baynes (non-guaranteed), DeAndre’ Bembry (non-guaranteed), Chris Boucher (non-guaranteed), Malachi Flynn, Freddie Gillespie (non-guaranteed), Rodney Hood (non-guaranteed), Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Yuta Watanabe (non-guaranteed), Paul Watson (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (4): FULL LIST
Khem Birch (unrestricted), Stanley Johnson (unrestricted), Kyle Lowry (unrestricted), Gary Trent Jr. (restricted)

Dead Cap (0):

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room Exception ($4,910,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

First Round Draft Picks: #4

2020-21 was a disastrous season for the Toronto Raptors. They were the only team to not return to their home base after leaving for the bubble at Walt Disney World to finish the 2019-20 season. The Raptors played out last season in Tampa, Florida, suffered numerous injuries and illnesses and saw their seven-year playoff streak come to an end. But things might turn around for Toronto very quickly.

In the draft lottery, the Raptors saw things bounce their way and they moved up to the fourth pick. In a draft that has four prospects considered to be ahead of all others, that was a real stroke of good luck. Toronto will likely have their choice of Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs. Mobley would slot in and fill the team’s void at center, while Suggs would give them a playmaking/scoring guard next to VanVleet in the backcourt. Given that the Raptors don’t project to pick this high in the draft again for a while, it’s unlikely they’ll move the pick, unless a trade delivers win-now talent.

The reason Toronto doesn’t project to pick this highly in the draft again is that they have a pretty good core signed through the next few years. VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are all signed through at least 2022-23, with Anunoby and Siakam signed through 2023-24 (VanVleet has a player option for this season). If Siakam can get back to his All-Star play of 2019-20, Anunoby builds on a very strong season from 2020-21 and VanVleet can rediscover his shot, Toronto has a great base to build from.

The only other player on a guaranteed contract for the Raptors is Malachi Flynn. The backup point guard flashed at time during his rookie season. He should be at least a quality backup for VanVleet, and may be able to play beside him some in dual-ballhandler lineups.

Using two ballhandlers is something Toronto got a lot of mileage out of over the last few seasons with VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. The question now is: Will Lowry be back? At the trade deadline, a deal to send him elsewhere looked so imminent that Lowry held a sort-of goodbye press conference following the Raptors final game before the deadline. That trade never came to fruition and now free agency looms.

Lowry is one of the best players on the market this summer. Despite the fact that he’ll turn 36 years old partway through next season, Lowry is seen as the sort of player who can lift a team into title contention. Both the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat were in play for the veteran point guard at the deadline, but couldn’t seal the deal. Miami could maneuver to have enough cap space to sign Lowry outright, while Philadelphia would have to work a sign-and-trade to make it happen. A handful of other contenders will see if they have a way to land Lowry as well.

The other option is that Toronto re-signs Lowry themselves and keeps the best player in franchise history home. That seems unlikely, but it also seemed unlikely he’d finish the year with the Raptors too. If Toronto can convince Lowry to take a pay-cut that makes it easier to build out the roster, there could be interest in a reunion.

Beyond Lowry’s situation, the most intrigue with the Raptors roster lies with their multitude of non-guaranteed players. A year ago, Masai Ujiri correctly read that Toronto would have the ability to be a player in free agency this summer, and signed players to contracts with that in mind. Unfortunately, multiple big name free agents, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, came off the board when they signed extensions. That leaves the Raptors in an interesting spot.

If Ujiri decides to forgo using cap space, he can guarantee the contracts for Chris Boucher and maybe Aron Baynes up front. Boucher had a terrific season as a backup big, while Baynes struggled some. Baynes’ $7.4 million contract would be a nice piece of salary-matching in a trade however.

Skipping out on using cap space would also allow Toronto to bring back a trio of young players they like in Freddie Gillespie, Yuta Watanabe and Paul Watson. All three have shown glimpses of being potential rotation players.

If Toronto goes the cap space route, they can use their projected $23 million or so to address a handful of roster holes. Gary Trent Jr. will get a new contract, as he’s a terrific fit as a 3&D wing with the Raptors core players. If Ujiri chooses to use cap space, Trent will be one of the last players signed, due to his small cap hold. Toronto can also agree to terms on a deal with him, rescind his qualifying offer and free up about $3 million more in cap space.

Who Toronto will use that cap space on is a good question. They need frontcourt depth. Some would likely go towards re-signing Boucher (assuming he’s waived from his non-guaranteed deal), but adding a free agent would be good too. Khem Birch could be back after finishing the season with the Raptors. The market is flush with sold role-playing big men. And most should come fairly affordably, as well.

On the wing, more depth is needed. This is likely where Ujiri can get creative. Toronto could use another scorer, as none of the returning players have proven to be that consistent bucket-getter playoff teams need. Whether it be via signing or trade, this is a major need for the Raptors.

Toronto has some options they can go this summer. They won’t be adding Giannis Antetokounmpo, as they were once angling to do, but they’ve still got a nice core. And now they have the fourth pick in the draft. If there is a homerun trade to be made, Ujiri will make it. No other GM in the NBA has taken bigger swings than he has. And Ujiri doesn’t miss very often either.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

Offseason Approach: over cap, plenty of room under the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$26.8M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $33.2M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Damyean Dotson (non-guaranteed), Darius Garland, Mfiondu Kabengele (non-guaranteed), Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Taurean Prince, Collin Sexton, Lamar Stevens (non-guaranteed), Dean Wade (non-guaranteed), Dylan Windler

Potential Free Agents (6): FULL LIST
Jarrett Allen (restricted), Matthew Dellavedova (unrestricted), Isaiah Hartenstein (restricted – player option), Jeremiah Martin (restricted – Two-Way), Brodric Thomas (restricted – Two-Way), Anderson Varejao (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (1): J.R. Smith ($1,456,666)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: JaVale McGee ($4,200,000), Kevin Porter Jr. ($1,717,981)

First Round Draft Picks: #3

It’s been three seasons since the Cleveland Cavaliers made the playoffs, but they’re showing signs of things turning around in the post-LeBron James era. The Cavs young players took steps forward and the front office landed a long-term center option via trade last season. With salary cap flexibility looming, Cleveland is turning the corner.

The Cavaliers will likely look to trade Kevin Love again this offseason. Love’s contract is now down to two years and $60.2 million remaining. A contender looking for a stretch big could be enticed to take on Love, especially if they can send some questionable money back to Cleveland. It’s most likely that Love will remain with the Cavs until at least the trade deadline, but a trade is more possible now than it has been during the last couple of years.

Beyond trading Love, Koby Altman will continue to build around his young core. Both Collin Sexton and Darius Garland showed real growth this past season. Sexton has become a reliable scoring option at all three levels. He also improved as a passer and remains a willing, if not always good, defender.

Garland’s shot improved greatly, especially his finishing in the paint. Midway through his rookie season, Cleveland moved Garland to more of an on-ball role, and he built on that in his second year. He now looks the part of a lead guard who can confidently run the offense.

Isaac Okoro had a strong rookie season for the Cavs. His shot needs work, but everything else is in place for the 20-year-old wing. He’s got some defensive skills, which will look better as Cleveland improves a whole on that end. He’s an improving ballhandler and a better-than-you-think passer.

Up front, the Cavaliers stole Jarrett Allen for a late first-round pick when they jumped in the James Harden trade with the Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers. Allen built on his strong play with the Nets while with the Cavs. He should be a double-double player and decent rim-protector for Cleveland for years to come. That’s assuming the Cavaliers re-sign Allen this summer, of course. His restricted free agent status should be enough to keep teams away while Allen and Cleveland work out a long-term deal.


Veterans Larry Nance Jr. and Cedi Osman are also signed for at least the next two seasons for the Cavs. Nance has become a very good rotation forward and is one of Cleveland’s more-versatile defenders. Osman hasn’t developed quite as hoped for and his shot is a mess. Ideally, Osman’s spot as a backup will be upgraded by Altman this offseason.

The best spot for that upgrade may come at the draft. Cleveland had some lottery luck and moved up to the third pick in the draft. With Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green projected to go with the first two picks, Altman will have his choice of either Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs at three. Suggs would further add to what has become a somewhat crowded backcourt, while Mobley could overlap with Allen a bit too much in the frontcourt.

It’s also been suggested that Altman could look to move the third pick via trade. While that could return Cleveland a nice haul, it would be premature to do that with eyes on attaching the pick to Kevin Love in a salary dump. The Cavs aren’t close enough to be a contender that clearing out cap space by attaching valuable picks is a reasonable strategy. If the return was solid enough and involved moving Love, sure. But that seems unlikely.

The other thought is to slide back slightly in the draft, while accumulating additional picks. Could the Orlando Magic be enticed to move up to three using the fifth and eighth picks? What about the Oklahoma City Thunder with the sixth, 16th and 18th picks? Those are trades that make some sense for Cleveland, especially if they aren’t in love with Mobley or Suggs at three.

The other rumor making the rounds is that the Cavaliers could have Collin Sexton on the block. It makes some sense, as Sexton and Darius Garland aren’t a perfect fit in the backcourt. Some project Sexton’s best role as being a scoring sixth man. He’s better than that, but his ability to put up points while playing off-ball gives teams flexibility at point guard.

In free agency, Cleveland will look to add cost-effective (read: veteran minimum) players. If their draft pick is ready to contribute and their young players show growth, it’s not crazy to envision the Cavaliers competing for a spot in the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament. Altman could use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to add a veteran or two to bolster the bench and give J.B. Bickerstaff some depth.

The Cavs aren’t far away from contending for a playoff spot. They aren’t so close that it’s time to consider trading picks and going all in either. That leaves Cleveland sort of in the middle. But, another year of growth, while maintaining future cap flexibility, isn’t a bad thing. That path should see the Cavaliers back in the postseason soon.

 

Orlando Magic

Offseason Approach: over cap, plenty of room under the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$87.9M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $39.2M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Cole Anthony, Dwayne Bacon (non-guaranteed), Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Michael Carter-Williams, Markelle Fultz, R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris, Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke, Terrence Ross

Potential Free Agents (7): FULL LIST
Ignas Brazdeikis (restricted), James Ennis III (unrestricted), Donta Hall (restricted), Otto Porter Jr. (unrestricted), Chasson Randle (unrestricted – Two-Way), Sindarius Thornwell (restricted – Two-Way), Moritz Wagner (unrestricted)

Dead Cap (0): None

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Evan Fournier ($17,150,000), Al-Farouq Aminu ($4,272,060). Gary Clark ($2,100,000)

First Round Draft Picks: #5, #8

After breaking their playoff drought with back-to-back postseason appearances, the wheels came off for the Orlando Magic during the 2020-21 season. Already without Jonathan Isaac following a knee injury in the bubble, the Magic lost Markelle Fultz after just eight games to a torn ACL. Evan Fournier missed multiple games due to a sore back and Aaron Gordon missed significant time due to various leg injuries.

At the trade deadline, Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman decided that, rather than trying to salvage things for another run at the playoffs, it was time to rebuild. Weltman traded Fournier, Gordon and All-Star center Nikola Vucevic to bring in young talent and additional draft picks, and to create some future cap flexibility.

In the end, 28 different players appeared in a game for the Magic last season, as they bottomed out. The results in the draft lottery were a bit mixed. Orlando kept the pick they acquired from the Chicago Bulls, but their own pick dropped two slots from third to fifth overall. Still, the draft will serve as a good opportunity to add some additional young talent to a roster that is now teeming with it.

Isaac is expected to be healthy to start the 2021-22 season and Fultz should return somewhere around mid-season. Those two are Orlando’s best building blocks. When healthy, Isaac has flashed All-Defense potential and his offensive game may not be as stymied if he’s playing his natural position at the four. Fultz has grown considerably while with the Magic. He’s back to looking like the lead guard with potential that he showed coming out of college. “Potential” is the key word for Orlando. In addition to Isaac and Fultz, the team will return several other youngsters. All have shown that they can be good players, but they still need further development.


Cole Anthony showed signs of being a really good lead ballhandler as a rookie. His playmaking was better than expected and he’s competitive defensively. Anthony’s shot needs work, but his form is solid and he projects to be an above-average shooter. He should pair with Fultz to give the Magic good point guard depth, and they have the size to play together in dual-ballhandler lineups as well.

Joining them in the backcourt is RJ Hampton, who was acquired from the Denver Nuggets in the Aaron Gordon trade. Hampton didn’t play much while in Denver, but showed his potential as a wing scorer while with the Magic. He’s got the size to play either guard spot, and has enough playmaking chops to run the offense at times. Like Anthony, Hampton’s shot needs work, but he should eventually become a decent shooter.

Up front, Wendell Carter Jr. (acquired from the Bulls in the Nikola Vucevic trade) and Mo Bamba will battle for center minutes. To this point, Carter has shown more skill on offense, while Bamba shows more defensive potential. It’s likely Orlando will let the two split minutes at the five for a year, while making a decision on who to keep long-term in the 2022 offseason.

Rounding out the young portion of the Magic roster is second-year wing Chuma Okeke. Okeke took a redshirt season after being drafted in 2019 and debuted as a rookie last year, after tearing an ACL in his final college season. He showed why he was a potential lottery pick before the injury. Okeke has good size and is a decent ballhandler and passer. Like so many other Orlando players, his shot needs development, but shows signs of potential.

Bringing all of this “potential” to life for the Magic will be a new head coach. After leading Orlando back to the playoffs, Steve Clifford and the club mutually decided he would not be the coach to shepherd the team through a rebuild. Weltman has said that the ability to develop players is high on his list for the next Magic coach. As of this writing, the team has not made a hire.

Weltman also mentioned that while the team will be focused on developing young players, that they would need to keep some veterans around as well. This could mean that Terrence Ross may remain the “last vet standing” for a while longer. Ross’ shooting and scoring off the bench is a luxury for a rebuilding team, but the Magic like his veteran approach with their young roster.

It’s also likely that Gary Harris and Michael Carter-Williams will stick around as well. Harris rediscovered his three-point shot in 20 games with the Magic. If he can get back to be a solid finisher in the paint, Orlando will have another solid option in their backcourt. Carter-Williams will provide depth at point guard until Fultz returns, and is also Orlando’s best perimeter defender.

Of the team’s free agents, it’s unclear who will return. Up front, Moritz Wagner played some of the best ball of his career while with the Magic. He could come back to provide a stretch element for the frontcourt. Otto Porter Jr. barely played, but if he wants to get his career back on track after several injury-plagued season, he could return to Orlando on the cheap.

On the wing, James Ennis III will probably be elsewhere, as wing shooters with size are always in some demand for playoff contenders. Ignas Brazdeikis looked good in some late-season games for Orlando and could return to give the team some shooting. Dwayne Bacon isn’t a free agent, but after being on the only Magic player to play in every game last season, he’s likely to come back despite being on a non-guaranteed contract.

This season is about health and development for Orlando. The Magic have seven players who are 24 years old or younger under contract and will add two more at the draft. That’s not a recipe for winning in the next couple of seasons, but there is considerably more upside than the team has had in years. It’s up to Weltman to hire the right coach and find the right mix of players to get Orlando back in contention.

 

Detroit Pistons

Offseason Approach: Over the cap, plenty of room under the luxury tax

Actual Cap Space: -$41.8M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $22.4M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Saddiq Bey, Tyler Cook (non-guaranteed), Sekou Doumbouya, Jerami Grant, Killian Hayes, Josh Jackson, Cory Joseph ($2.4 million guaranteed), Rodney McGruder (non-guaranteed), Jahlil Okafor, Mason Plumlee, Deividas, Sirvydis, Isaiah Stewart II

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Hamidou Diallo (restricted), Wayne Ellington (unrestricted), Frank Jackson (unrestricted – Two-Way), Saben Lee (restricted – Two-Way), Dennis Smith Jr. (restricted)

Dead Cap (2): DeWayne Dedmon ($2,866,667), Blake Griffin ($29,764,126), Zhaire Smith ($1,068,200)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9,536,000), Bi-Annual ($3,732,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Derrick Rose ($1,996,249)

First Round Draft Picks: #1

When Troy Weaver took over as the Detroit Pistons General Manager, he got busy from the jump and never really slowed down. Only Sekou Doumbouya remains from the players the previous regime acquired, as Weaver turned over 16-of-17 roster spots in a roughly four-month period. Weaver did well in the draft with his three first-round picks, as he landed Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart II. Bey and Stewart were rotation players almost from the start, with Bey becoming a full-time starter. Hayes was the starting point guard out of the gate, but suffered a hip injury that sidelined him for most of his rookie year. When he returned, Hayes flashed the playmaking skills that so many were high on. Stewart looks like he’ll be at least a high-end backup big man that plays with tremendous energy.

Free agency also delivered some good values for the Pistons. Jerami Grant proved to be well worth his $60 million contract. Grant was a near all-star, as he put up career-best numbers, and was eventually named to Team USA for the Summer Olympics. Grant was seen as such a positive value, that several playoff contenders tried to trade for him throughout the season, but Detroit held tight to a player who prioritized playing for the Pistons when he was a free agent.

The other big free agent acquisition was Mason Plumlee. While his $8 million plus price tag raised some eyebrows initially, Plumlee put together a solid all-around season. Like Grant, he also looks like a good value, considering what low-end/backup centers are paid around the NBA.

Weaver spent the rest of the offseason wheeling and dealing to add talent, eat salaries for future draft picks and to rebalance the Pistons roster. The only other long-term keeper it looks like Weaver added was Hamidou Diallo in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a restricted free agent this summer, but Detroit should be able to re-sign him to a reasonable contract to provide some additional wing depth.


The wing is where the Pistons will likely be looking at the 2021 NBA Draft. Detroit moved up in the lottery to snag the #1 overall pick and that will likely mean drafting Cade Cunningham. Cunningham projects as a high-usage ballhandling wing in the NBA. That should mean he’ll fit nicely alongside Grant, Bey and Hayes in the Pistons lineup. Because both Grant and Bey have shown to be good shooters, and Cunningham has the profile of a good shooter, you can get mileage out of those three plus Hayes, who remains a questionable shooter at this point. If you add Plumlee as a starting five, that’s a group that can all handle and move the ball as passers. Mostly, the Pistons aren’t at a point where positional overlaps should be guiding their draft philosophy, not even a little. If they identify Cunningham as the best player in the draft, he should be the pick. Detroit has plenty of time, and Weaver has shown plenty of willingness, to sort it out as they go along.

As for the remainder of their offseason decisions, it’s unlikely Detroit will guarantee Cory Joseph ($12.6 million) or Rodney McGruder ($5 million). The Pistons will probably waive both players and replace them with younger options.

In addition, despite needing point guard depth behind Hayes, it’s unlikely Dennis Smith Jr. will receive a qualifying offer this summer. If he does receive the $7 million qualifying offer, Smith should sign it immediately. He was better in Detroit than he was in New York, but Smith still looks like a shaky prospect at best. What the Pistons could do is not issue a qualifying offer to Smith, but then re-sign him to a reasonable contract befitting his still-developing, backup status. Beyond that, it’s likely Weaver will continue to move players on and off the roster, as he seeks out the right mix of talent and draft picks. Detroit isn’t under any sort of tight timeline to return to contention. That gives Weaver and head coach Dwane Casey time to rebuild correctly.

Look for a handful more trades and for the Pistons to snag an undervalued veteran or two in free agency. Most of all, look for the Pistons to keep contracts smaller and shorter-term. In 2022, when Blake Griffin’s stretched salary comes off the books, Weaver will be poised to pounce. Solid veterans on good deals, combined with developing young talent and a lot of cap space, are how Weaver can get Detroit headed back to the postseason.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Offseason Approach: Swing team. Could stay over the cap by retaining Traded Player Exceptions, or could go under and use cap space.

Actual Cap Space: -$69.9M

Practical Cap Space: $37.5M

Luxury Tax Space: $64.7M

Under Contract (11): FULL ROSTER
Darius Bazley, Charlie Brown Jr. (non-guaranteed), Gabriel Deck (non-guaranteed), Luguentz Dort, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome, Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby (non-guaranteed), Kemba Walker, Kenrich Williams (non-guaranteed)

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Tony Bradley (restricted), Josh Hall (restricted – Two-Way), Jaylen Hoard (restricted – Two-Way), Mike Muscala (unrestricted), Svi Mykhailiuk (restricted)

Dead Cap (3): Patrick Patterson ($737,066), Admiral Schofield ($300,000), Kyle Singler ($999,200)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Room ($4,910,000)

Notable Trade Exceptions: Steven Adams ($27,525,088), Trevor Ariza ($12,800,000), Danilo Gallinari ($10,100,000), George Hill ($9,590,602)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #6, #16 and #18

The Oklahoma City Thunder begin Year Two of their rebuild this summer. In fact, they’ve already started it by making the first trade of the offseason. The Thunder traded Al Horford and Moses Brown to the Boston Celtics for Kemba Walker and the #16 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. The two teams also swapped future second-round picks, as Sam Presti continued to add to his impressive stash of draft picks, while taking on some questionable salary.

What’s to become of Walker is as up in the air as a lot of the players that OKC has under contract. There are a handful of keepers who won’t be going anywhere, but it’s clear Presti hasn’t stopped his approach of moving players on and off the roster. The team’s ownership has given their GM the leeway to tear things down to the studs and build it back up as he sees fit.

How Presti approaches this offseason will be something to monitor. The Thunder are currently holders of four of the largest Traded Player Exceptions (TPEs) in the NBA. While Presti could use those to acquire some less-desirable salary from other teams, he has a somewhat limited window to use at least a couple of his larger TPEs. The $27.5 million TPE the team has from the Steven Adams trade and the $10.1 million TPE from the Danilo Gallinari trade will expire in early-August. That means Presti will have to have a deal arranged to take on salary as soon as the league year changes over, or the Thunder will lose those TPEs.

The more likely approach is that OKC forgoes their TPEs and instead goes the cap space route this summer. The Thunder can create as much as $52.4 million in space, but a more likely projection is $37.5 million. That will give Presti all the flexibility he needs to continue his wheeling and dealing.

As for what that continued trading could include, it’s hard to take much off the table. The Thunder didn’t necessarily acquire Kemba Walker for his basketball ability, although he has plenty of that left. There are reports that Presti will work with Walker on getting, and keeping, him healthy while trying to find him a new destination, as the team did with Al Horford. Walker will likely go into the season on the Thunder and the team will try to rebuild some his value, before sending him elsewhere by the 2022 trade deadline or in the 2022 offseason.

After Walker, the rest of the Thunder players are 27 years old or younger. Several of the key rotation players are still in their early-20s and have multiple years left on their rookie deals. This includes recent draftees like Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon, as well as players acquired via trade like Ty Jerome and Isaiah Roby. None of those five are likely to involved in trade talks, as their upside outweighs Oklahoma City’s desire to push for win-now players.

Two other players that can likely be taken out of trade consideration are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort. Dort was a pleasant surprise as a late-season starter in 2020 and he was even better in 2020-21. The Thunder have him on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the NBA through 2022-23.

As for Gilgeous-Alexander, the only question is: How big of an extension does he land this offseason? Gilgeous-Alexander could sign as large as a five-year, $167.9 million contract from OKC. That could also include escalator language based on Gilgeous-Alexander making All-NBA in 2022. Either way, expect the Thunder to do what they can to lock up their young star for the long-term.

For filling out the rest of the roster, Presti will likely look to continue to eat bad money from other team in exchange for future draft capital. The Thunder already have more draft picks between the first and second rounds than they could ever possibly use, but when the team is ready to make a playoff push again, Presti can cash in on those extra picks in trades. Because they aren’t quite there just yet, expect Presti to keep adding to his stash for at least one more offseason. To some extent, that approach has already paid off for Oklahoma City with the 2021 NBA Draft. The Thunder have three first-round picks and three second-round picks. There is no way OKC will bring six rookies onto the roster to this season, but Presti has the ammunition with 2021 picks and future picks to move up the draft board if there is a player there that he really wants. If the Thunder stay put, expect at least a handful of those picks to be used on “draft and stash” players. Those players will play either in the G-League or overseas for a year or two before OKC considers bringing them to the NBA.

The Thunder had a little bad luck during the draft lottery and dropped from the fourth pick pre-lottery down to the sixth pick. They also didn’t get the Houston Rockets pick, because Houston only dropped to the second pick. All that said, Oklahoma City will still get a talent infusion via the draft. The roster currently lacks wings with size and true bigs. Most of their bigs are perimeter-based and a rim-running roll-man would be nice to work with Gilgeous-Alexander.

For at least one more year, Sam Presti and the Thunder will be in asset-collection mode. That could extend into 2022, as well, but it’s likely Oklahoma City will receive some pressure to start moving things forward a year from now. If they do, the Thunder will be well-armed to do so.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves 

Offseason Approach: Over the cap, under the tax

Actual Cap Space: -$21.2M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $3.2M

Under Contract (12): FULL ROSTER
Malik Beasley, Jarrett Culver, Anthony Edwards, Juancho Hernangomez, Jake Layman, Jaden McDaniels, Jaylen Nowell (non-guaranteed), Josh Okogie, Naz Reid (non-guaranteed), Ricky Rubio, D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns

Potential Free Agents (5): FULL LIST
Aaron Brooks (unrestricted – holdover), Ed Davis (unrestricted), Jordan McLaughlin (restricted – Two-Way), Evan Turner (unrestricted – holdover), Jarred Vanderbilt (restricted)

Dead Cap (1): Cole Aldrich ($685,340)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9.5 million), Bi-Annual ($3.7 million)

Notable Trade Exceptions: None

Projected First Round Draft Picks: Leandro Bolmaro (2020 first round pick)

The Minnesota Timberwolves might be turning the corner. They played better towards the end of the 2019-20 season after Chris Finch replaced Ryan Saunders as head coach. Some of that can be attributed to Finch and some can be put on better health later in the year. The only Wolves player to appear in every game was Anthony Edwards, who validated his number one overall selection in 2020. But, even with the presence of Edwards, this team is built around Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s there where everything starts in the offseason for Minnesota. Towns is under contract for three more seasons and $101.5 million. That contract is fine, he’s a true star who delivers. It’s everyone around Towns that needs some figuring out. Finding players who maximize his skills is the most important thing for the Wolves to sort out.

Gersson Rosas has limited resources to work with this summer. The Timberwolves are well over the cap, and are only a touch under the tax. Just filling out the roster will take Minnesota into the tax, assuming they don’t shed any salaries in trades. And that’s where Rosas can actually get some work done. Minnesota’s best players around Towns are Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley. The challenge? Those three are all probably best suited to play off-ball at the two. Russell can swing over play some point guard, but he’s been at his best when in a hybrid role alongside a playmaking ballhandler. Edwards and Beasley can both slide up and play the three, but that leaves the Wolves very small and really short on defense. Eventually something has to give here. Beasley is the most likely to be traded of the three. He’s on a good contract for a scoring guard who shoots it well. Edwards isn’t going anywhere after just being drafted and Russell is one of Towns’ best friends. If Beasley’s off-court troubles are behind him, Rosas could fetch a nice return for the soon-to-be 25-year-old wing.

The ideal target for Minnesota would be a wing with size or a true four. And if that player was defensive-minded, so much the better. As currently constructed, it’s no surprise the Wolves were 28th in the NBA in defense. They simply have to get better on that side of the ball to give themselves a chance. That’s where 2020 first-rounder Leandro Bolmaro could start to factor in. He’s got good size for a wing and he’s a willing defender. Bolmaro is essentially Minnesota’s replacement first-round pick for the one they conveyed to Golden State in this year’s draft. It looks increasingly likely that he’ll be in the NBA this year.

Beyond Bolmaro, Rosas will likely look to add a defense-first four/five. If the Wolves want to go with a veteran, a player like Paul Millsap could be a good fit with the MLE. A bigger wing like Justise Winslow or Nicolas Batum could also help Minnesota. If they want to shop bargains, Semi Ojeleye, Trey Lyles or JaKarr Sampson all make sense.

Finally, if the Philadelphia 76ers put Ben Simmons on the block, the Wolves should definitely be a bidder. They can get to the matching salary fairly easily using Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and a throw-in salary or two. Beasley and Hernangomez would both fill needs for the Sixers, and Minnesota can juice things by adding in a first-round pick if necessary. As for Simmons, his lack of shooting is offset by the Timberwolves offensive weapons at every other position. He’d be able to function as a playmaking four, and maybe, with less of a spotlight on him, Simmons can rediscover his 15-foot jumper. After putting up a 16-25 record under Finch, Minnesota hits the offseason with a little bit of momentum. Making a push up the standings in the Western Conference is always walking a fine line. Push in too early, and you can set your team back for years. Wait too long, and your stars will get impatient. So far, Towns hasn’t put the pressure on the Timberwolves to start that climb. Eventually, that patience will run thin. It’s up to Rosas to pick the right time to push things forward.

 

Houston Rockets 

Actual Cap Space: -$68.5M

Practical Cap Space: None

Luxury Tax Space: $34.8M

Under Contract (9): FULL ROSTER
D.J. Augustin, Eric Gordon, Danuel House Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr. (non-guaranteed), Kevin Porter Jr., Jae’sean Tate (non-guaranteed), Khyri Tomas (non-guaranteed), John Wall, Christian Wood

Potential Free Agents (10): FULL LIST
Avery Bradley (unrestricted – team option), Armoni Brooks (restricted – Two-Way), Sterling Brown (unrestricted), Dante Exum (unrestricted), Anthony Lamb (restricted – Two-Way), David Nwaba (unrestricted), Cameron Oliver (restricted), Kelly Olynyk (unrestricted), Cam Reynolds (restricted), D.J. Wilson (restricted)

Dead Cap (1): Troy Williams ($122,741)

Projected Signing Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9.5 million), Bi-Annual ($3.7 million)

Notable Trade Exceptions: $10.65M (Harden)

Projected First Round Draft Picks: #2, #23, #24

Analysis: No one expected the Houston Rockets 2020-21 season to go the way it did. The James Harden situation lingered over the team until he was traded in the middle of January. Following that point, Houston went into a tailspin that saw them finish with the worst record in the NBA. Now, the Rockets face what looks like a multi-year rebuild.

The good news for Houston is that they own several future first-round draft picks in the coming years, following the Harden trade and other trades. The early returns from Brooklyn may not result in great picks, but with picks and swaps extending out until 2027, the Rockets may find gold down the line. In addition, the Nets picks will replace some of their own picks that the Rockets had traded away.

As for this offseason, Houston has several roster choices to decide on and three first round draft picks to make.

It seems uncertain if either Avery Bradley or Kelly Olynyk will return to Houston, after they were acquired for Victor Oladipo at the trade deadline. That trade wasn’t about acquiring Bradley and Olynyk for Houston, as much as it was about removing the headache of having to negotiate with Oladipo this summer and acquiring a 2020 pick swap with Miami.

Bradley didn’t play much for Houston and played fairly poorly when he did. The Rockets will likely decline their $5.9 million team option for next season. This will allow Bradley to join a contender and clear minutes for younger Rockets guards.

Olynyk could be a different story. He started in 24 of 27 games for Houston and played quite well. He could be a nice fit alongside Christian Wood in the frontcourt, because both can play inside and outside and Olynyk’s passing ability is a boon to the offense. The question here will be about contract length and salary demands. If Olynyk wants a short-term, team-friendly deal, he could stay. Otherwise, he’ll likely be elsewhere as well. The Rockets seem to be preparing to ride out a couple of contracts, while gearing up for a big free agency run in the summer of 2023.

That’s where General Manager Rafael Stone probably has his most work cut out for him. Can he find a taker for either John Wall or Eric Gordon? If he can, without surrendering significant capital to do so or taking back equally as bad money, then Stone will have made a major step forward for Houston.

It’s not that Wall or Gordon are finished as players. It’s that their injury histories, and bloated salaries, have no place on a rebuilding team. Wall is going to be difficult to move, given he’s owed $91.7 million through 2022-23 and that point guard is a particularly loaded position around the league right now. Gordon might be easier to trade, as he’s owed $58.7 million through 2023-24, but the final season is fully non-guaranteed unless Gordon hits some unlikely markers.

Beyond the two veteran guards, Houston has some nice building blocks in place. Christian Wood proved worthy of every penny of his three-year, $41 million deal he landed as a free agent. Kevin Porter was a steal of a trade and looks like he’s getting his career on track. Jae’sean Tate had a terrific rookie year after starting his career overseas. He looks like a keeper as a long-term rotation player. And second round pick Kenyon Martin Jr. came along nicely towards the end of his rookie season.

Stone deserves some criticism for the Oladipo portion of the Harden trade. That seemed like a shortsighted hope to keep the Rockets competitive last season. Beyond that, Stone has done a nice job in a difficult spot. He did well to recoup draft picks that were sent out by the previous regime and has several still to come. He identified Wood and Porter as solid players to build around. And Stone snagged a few interesting prospects in the draft and from overseas as well.

Barring a trade of Wall or Gordon, it’s not likely to be a momentous offseason for the Rockets. They’ll likely use their Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception to add some depth. Most of their free agents will probably be elsewhere, minus Olynyk and perhaps Cameron Oliver, who did a nice job late in the season after coming over from Australia.

This season is about building the foundation of the next Houston playoff team. That will happen through the draft, with three picks to build around, and through continued development of the team’s young players. If Stone and head coach Stephen Silas can keep the team on that path, the future is bright in Houston as the cap sheet clears up in coming years.