7 NBA Teams Primed to Land a Star in 2013 NBA Offseason

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2013

7 NBA Teams Primed to Land a Star in 2013 NBA Offseason

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    Come July 1, 2013, at least two franchise-changing NBA players will hit the market as unrestricted free agents.

    Chris Paul and Dwight Howard may end up re-signing with their respective Los Angeles franchises, but nearly one-third of the league's teams are positioned to woo them away.

    For the teams that miss out on Dwight and CP3 in free agency, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, David West and Brandon Jennings remain as potential impact additions, among other big names. 

    Some teams will assuredly preserve their cap space with an eye toward the summer of 2014, where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant could all reach free agency. That may turn the free-agent class of 2013 into the calm before the storm, contractually speaking.

    But some teams, with nearly $30 million in potential cap space available this summer, won't have a choice other than to spend some of that money on free agents.

    Based on projected cap space available, seven teams stand out as the major non-Los Angeles threats to land a star 2013 free agent.

    Note: All player and team salary information comes from either Basketball-Reference or HoopsHype, unless noted otherwise. All projected cap space calculations are my own and assume a $60 million salary cap for the 2013-14 season.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Before the Atlanta Hawks turn their attention to other 2013 free agents, they'll need to figure out what to do about one of their own.

    Josh Smith is set to reach unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career on July 1. He said during the 2012-13 regular season that he thought he deserved a max contract, and now the Hawks must decide whether they agree with that assessment (spoiler alert: they shouldn't).

    Even accounting for an $18-million-per-year max contract for Smith, Atlanta would have roughly $12 million in available cap space to spend on other free agents. If the Hawks could convince Smith to take a slight per-year discount, they'd be able to offer a max contract to a player like Dwight Howard, who originally hails from Atlanta, or Chris Paul.

    Atlanta could also opt to part ways with Smith entirely, which would give the team approximately $30 million in available cap space this summer. If the Hawks strike out on Howard and Paul, Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson and Andrew Bynum could make sense as potential targets.

    If Howard isn't fully committed to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Hawks loom as a legitimate dark-horse candidate to sign him this summer due to their abundance of potential cap space.


    Projected Cap Space Calculation:

    $18,483,000 already committed (A. Horford, L. Williams and J. Jenkins) + $4,672,310 in qualifying offers (J. Teague and I. Johnson) + $3,029,322 in team options (D. Stevenson & M. Scott) + $18,000,000 (cap hold for J. Smith) + $1,348,200 (No. 17 pick) + $1,280,800 (No. 18 pick from Houston via Brooklyn) + $980,360 (their own second-round draft pick and Houston's second-round draft pick) = $47,794,292

    $60,000,000 - $47,794,292 = $12,205,708

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    More than any other team featured here, the Cleveland Cavaliers will aim to preserve most of their available cap space for the free-agent class of 2014.

    Even if LeBron James' oft-rumored return to the Cavaliers isn't in the cards, the Cavs should have an abundance of cap room to welcome other star free agents next summer. After the 2013-14 season, Cleveland holds team options on six players' contracts and has no other contractual commitments otherwise.

    Kyrie Irving will eventually soak up a solid chunk of that available space, which the Cavs must keep in mind even heading into the summer of 2013. Their long-term decisions about Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters loom large over the franchise in a few years, too.

    That's why this summer, the Cavs are more likely to look toward internal development and their top-5 draft pick (Otto Porter?) as their source of progression than a free-agent bail-out.  

    By renouncing the rights to Wayne Ellington, Cleveland could have enough cap space to offer a max contract to a free agent like Dwight Howard if so desired. But realistically, if the Cavs do decide to pursue a free-agent addition this summer, look for it to be someone in the $6 million-$8 million-per-year range instead of a top-tier free agent.


    Projected Cap Space Calculation:

    $29,344,120 already committed (A. Varejao, K. Irving, M. Speights, T. Thompson, D. Waiters, A. Gee and T. Zeller) + $6,417,212 in qualifying offers (O. Casspi and W. Ellington) + 2,225,000 in team options (C.J. Miles) + $3,565,000 (No. 3 pick) + $1,223,200 (No. 19 pick from Los Angeles Lakers) + $980,360 (own second-round draft pick and Orlando's second-round draft pick) = $43,754,912

    $60,000,000 - $43,754,912 = $16,245,088

Dallas Mavericks

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    Months before the start of free agency, Dirk Nowitzki is already trying out his best recruiting pitches.

    After an event in mid-May, Nowitzki told reporters that he plans on taking a "significant pay cut" once his contract expires following the 2013-14 season, according to ESPNDallas.com. For a player set to make $23 million this coming year, Nowitzki's willingness to embrace a smaller salary could be a huge free-agent draw for the Dallas Mavericks.

    The Mavericks' first order of business in the summer of 2013 will be to determine whether to bring back O.J. Mayo, who plans on declining his player option to become a free agent. Mayo would likely absorb at least half of the Mavs' available cap space if they do re-sign him, which would prevent them from making another major free-agent splash.

    If Mayo signs elsewhere, Dallas' cap-space picture begins to look much more amenable to a potential star free-agent acquisition. The Mavericks would have approximately $13 million in cap space to play with, which should be more than enough to land a player like Brandon Jennings or Al Jefferson.

    The Mavericks, like the Cavaliers, should have one eye on the 2014 free-agent class as they make their 2013 free-agency decisions. That shouldn't prevent Dallas from being an active suitor in 2013 free agency, however, especially knowing that Nowitzki is willing to accept a pay cut next summer to build another championship-contending team.  


    Projected Cap Space Calculation:

    $37,215,449 already committed (D. Nowitzki, S. Marion, V. Carter, J. Cunningham and J. Crowder) + $6,614,125 in qualifying offers (D. Collison and R. Beaubois) + $4,824,000 (cap hold for O.J. Mayo) + $1,655,300 (No. 13 pick) + $490,180 (second-round draft pick) + $980,360 (incomplete roster charge) = $51,779,414

    $60,000,000 - $51,779,414 = $8,220,586

Detroit Pistons

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    After five straight sub-.500 seasons, things finally appear to be looking up for the Detroit Pistons.

    For one, the Pistons may be the runaway winner of the 2012 NBA draft. When Andre Drummond fell to Detroit at the No. 9 pick, the Pistons were more than happy to pounce, realizing the potential dominance of a Drummond-Greg Monroe combination for years to come.

    With the Drummond-Monroe frontcourt of the future established, the Pistons now must turn their attention to their backcourt. Will the Pistons attempt to re-sign Jose Calderon, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent who they traded for in January, or do they prefer the Brandon Knight-Rodney Stuckey duo?

    Heading into the summer of 2013, the Pistons should have over $20 million in cap room to play with. That's enough to re-sign Calderon at roughly $6 million-$8 million per year (if so desired) and still to have the cap room needed for another star player.

    Since the Pistons mostly need help on the wings, players like Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and Josh Smith need not spend much time considering how they'd fit in Detroit. Instead, expect the Pistons to target shooters like O.J. Mayo, J.J. Redick or Kevin Martin in free agency.


    Projected Cap Space Calculation:

    $35,172,720 already committed  (R. Stuckey, C. Villanueva, J. Jerebko, G. Monroe, B. Knight, A. Drummond, V. Kravtstov, K. Singler, K. Middleton and K. English) + $2,413,300 (No. 7 overall pick) + $980,360 (their own second-round pick and the Los Angeles Clippers' second-round pick) = $38,566,380

    $60,000,000 - $38,566,380 = $21,433,620

Houston Rockets

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    With the right moves this summer, the Houston Rockets could be moving on up into the Western Conference elite.

    James Harden broke out as a bona fide superstar during the 2012-13 season and led the Rockets' statistical-based basketball revolution (three-pointers and lay-ups = good; mid-range jump shots = bad).

    Houston additionally has a nice collection of young, relatively cheap assets in Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Thomas Robinson and Patrick Beverly.

    With some finagling this summer, the Rockets could also have enough cap space to offer a max contract to a star free agent. Houston holds over $16 million in team options on the likes of Francisco Garcia, Carlos Delfino, Aaron Brooks and others, with just over $32 million already committed for 2013-14.

    Don't expect Houston general manager Daryl Morey to go splurging $15 million-plus on someone like Josh Smith or Al Jefferson just because he's potentially got the cap space to do so. That doesn't fit Morey's long-term way of thinking, and Smith's shot selection alone would drive the Rockets batty.

    Dwight Howard, on the other hand, might be worth mortgaging the farm to land. CBSsports.com's Ken Berger reports that the Rockets are the team said to intrigue him the most, making Houston one of the NBA teams to watch closely this summer in free agency.


    Projected Cap Space Calculation:

    $32,339,230 already committed (J. Harden, O. Asik, J. Lin, T. Robinson, R. White, T. Jones, D. Motiejunas) + $16,204,636 in team options (F. Garcia, C. Delfino, A. Brooks, C. Parsons, G. Smith, J. Anderson, P. Beverly, T. Ohlbrecht) + $490,180 (second-round draft pick from Phoenix) = $49,034,046

    $60,000,000 - $49,034,046 = $10,965,954

Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Philadelphia 76ers may be one of the biggest wild cards heading into 2013 free agency.

    New general manager Sam Hinkie has less than two months to familiarize himself with the Sixers organization before free agency kicks off. In that time, he'll have to determine whether the team's medical staff believes Andrew Bynum can stay relatively healthy over the next half-decade.

    After Bynum didn't play a single game for the Sixers in 2012-13, many fans would be happy to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent and torment some other team's fanbase. Hinkie would be wise to remove emotion from the equation, as Bynum can be one of the NBA's biggest game-changing centers when healthy.

    If the Sixers decide to re-sign Bynum, that alone will likely put them over the 2013-14 salary cap and prevent them from chasing other impact free agents. If not, the Sixers should have roughly $10 million available to spend in free agency.

    Hinkie made no bones about it during his introductory press conference: The team won't be held ransom by Bynum solely to recoup some benefit from the disastrous trade. If the Sixers decide against re-signing the oft-injured big man, they could be legitimate players in the 2013 free-agent market.


    Projected Cap Space Calculation:

    $46,193,356 committed (T. Young, E. Turner, S. Hawes, J. Richardson, K. Brown, L. Allen, J. Holiday and A. Moultrie) + $1,834,100 (No. 11 pick) + $980,360 (two second-round draft picks) + $490,180 (incomplete roster charge) = $49,497,996

    $60,000,000 - $49,497,996 = $10,502,004

Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz are at a crossroads heading into 2013 free agency.

    Despite the impending unrestricted free agency of both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, the team opted against making a major splash at the 2013 trade deadline. Now, the Jazz must decide whether to re-sign either player or to start building around their frontcourt of the future: Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.

    Heading into free agency, Utah only has approximately $29 million in cap space already committed for the 2013-14 season (including salaries for 2013 draft picks). The cap holds for Jefferson ($18 million) and Millsap ($10.8 million) will loom large over the franchise on July 1, but the Jazz otherwise possess a tremendous amount of cap flexibility.

    If Jefferson and Millsap sign elsewhere or the Jazz renounce their rights to both players, Utah could have approximately $30 million in cap space available this summer. While Kanter and Favors should preclude the Jazz from the Dwight Howard chase, they could be serious bidders for some of the other top free agents on the market.

    Realistically, the Jazz will likely re-sign either Jefferson or Millsap, but not both players. That could leave them with anywhere between $10 million-$15 million in cap space to spend on other potential stars this summer.


    Projected Cap Space Calculation:

    $25,696,809 (M. Williams, D. Favors, E. Kanter, G. Hayward, A. Burks and J. Evans) + $788,872 in team options (Kevin Murphy) + $28,800,000 (cap holds for Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap) + $1,572,600 (No. 14 pick) + $1,127,200 (No. 21 pick from Golden State) + $490,180 (second-round draft pick) = $58,475,661

    $60,000,000 - $58,475,661 = $1,524,339

The Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers

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    Let's get one thing straight, Los Angeles basketball fans: If the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers fail to re-sign Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, respectively, they'll likely be up a creek without a paddle.

    See, there's this funny thing called the collective bargaining agreement. In the latest version, agreed upon in 2011, certain restrictions begin this summer for teams hoping to participate in sign-and-trade transactions.

    Essentially, teams which receive players in sign-and-trades can't be above the "apron" ($4 million above the luxury tax level) after completing the trade. Teams also can't receive players in a sign-and-trade if they've used a taxpayer mid-level exception that season, according to salary-cap guru Larry Coon.

    Effectively, that rule will dramatically limit the sign-and-trade options for both Paul and Howard.

    If the Clippers or Lakers can't re-sign Paul or Howard for themselves, there's a much smaller chance that they'll be able to sign-and-trade either player and receive assets anywhere near as valuable as either player.

    The Clippers and Lakers will enter free agency as the odds-on favorites to re-sign Paul and Howard because of their ability to offer higher per-year raises and an extra year on the players' contracts.

    If money isn't enough to convince either (or both) of the stars to settle down, Los Angeles basketball fans could be in for a rude awakening come the start of the 2013-14 season.


    Projected Cap Space Calculations:

    Clippers: $45,285,588 already committed (B. Griffin, D. Jordan, C. Butler, J. Crawford, G. Hill and E. Bledsoe) + $1,399,507 in team options (W. Green) + $18,668,431 (cap hold for Chris Paul) + $957,500 (No. 25 overall pick) + $1,470,540 (incomplete roster charge) = $67,781,096

    $60,000,000 - $67,781,096 = -$7,781,096

    Lakers: $78,186,630 already committed (K. Bryant, P. Gasol, S. Nash, M. World Peace, S. Blake, C. Duhon and J. Hill) + $1,550,000 in team options (J. Meeks) + $20,224,260 (cap hold for Dwight Howard) + $490,180 (second-round draft pick) + $980,360 (incomplete roster charge) = $101,531,430

    $60,000,000 - $101,531,430 = -$41,531,430