Nearly every team faces difficult free-agency decisions in a given offseason, but this summer presents plenty of intriguing choices for a multitude of franchises.
Big names are floating out there, but there aren’t necessarily enough top-level talents to fit every team with needs and money to spend.
Free agency begins with Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith before making a dramatic drop to the Andrew Bynum question mark and a next-tier talent like Andre Iguodala. It’s a game of musical chairs, as teams hope to sign a limited crop of elite players, and some teams will be left out.
Deciding where to invest dollars and how to set the direction of a franchise comes with tough decisions, and some organizations may be choosing their path for years to come.
The Los Angeles Lakers are resting their hopes on the decision-making of Dwight Howard.
Still considered the league’s elite center, Howard holds all the leverage in his free agency. He can opt to stay with the Lakers for more money, or he can find a better scenario elsewhere.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported Thursday, “Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skill set, one source said.”
The Lakers are in a bind with or without Howard. There is no cap flexibility to improve the team above what was seen last season. Kobe Bryant returns following his Achilles surgery while Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace each return under large contracts.
Even if Howard returns, the Lakers only remake the same team that just barely made the postseason last year before being swept in the first round. And if he doesn’t return, it’s that same team without the league’s top center and perhaps without an amnestied World Peace.
The decision rests on Howard, whose return would undoubtedly enhance the Lakers’ situation next season but, more importantly, would help the future of the franchise.
The good news in Los Angeles is that either way the situation clears following this transitional season. The only contract on the books for 2014-15 is the $9.7 million owed to Nash.
Of course, that’s also the reason Howard’s decision is monumental. Having the league’s best center as an anchor to a remodel puts the Lakers in a better situation.
There may not be an offseason of decision-making more intriguing than that of the Utah Jazz.
With eight free agents, including starters Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams, the Jazz have money to work with and choices to make. Utah should have more cap space than any team other than the Atlanta Hawks.
The Jazz could work to re-sign each part of that core, but Utah could decide to restructure the team entirely. The decisions made this offseason will direct the franchise for years to come.
The Jazz could opt to sign just Jefferson or just Millsap and chase another free agent to fit a new direction.
More money opens up if Utah lets Jefferson walk, as ESPN's Marc Stein recently tweeted, and the Jazz could chase a new look. Money could be re-directed to free-agent guards Monta Ellis, O.J. Mayo or toward restricted free agent Tyreke Evans.
Re-signing Millsap and bringing in a free-agent guard along with a center such as Chris Kaman to join Marvin Williams and Enes Kanter is one of many hypothetical scenarios as an alternative to re-signing Jefferson.
The San Antonio Spurs are contenders to win the West again next season, but offseason decisions may play a role in how the team does it.
Tiago Splitter, a restricted free agent, should be the team’s priority. Though his postseason was rough, he contributes as a low-post option and helps rebound. It may not fully be San Antonio’s decision, as Splitter should receive offers elsewhere.
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:
Until we know what the market says, and how that impacts our planning for the future…you can’t answer with incomplete information. But he’s been a great fit for both our team and our culture. His movement on the perimeter as a screener or a roller is superior. He’s not at a point he will command a double-team in the post. You’d love to see that develop, but I’m not sure it’s fair to put him in that position. You have to evaluate a cost for what that is.
Buford was also quoted in the same article that 36-year-old Manu Ginobili seems to be a fit to return to San Antonio: “We’ll evaluate the alternatives, but I think all of our hopes are that Manu finishes his career in San Antonio.”
The other option is to use that money differently. San Antonio can add further depth to the perimeter with shooter Kyle Korver and defender Matt Barnes.
The Spurs must choose whether or not to spend money on returning their guys or head in a new direction for talent.
The Detroit Pistons must choose whether or not to become active in free agency or save cash while their young core develops.
It seems that Detroit will want to make an intelligent signing, but if the team cannot find the right fit then it’s best to sit on valuable flexibility.
Already with a young, developing core of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler, it’s vital that Detroit doesn’t make the wrong decision in overpaying just for the sake of making a move.
Detroit isn’t ready to contend next season, and bringing in anyone who can’t add to the future is a mistake. Any free-agent decision that is made must be done with the thought of three years from now.
That means a young player like Tyreke Evans or O.J. Mayo makes more sense than a veteran like Andrei Kirilenko or Tony Allen.
Detroit has money to spend, but its decisions on how to spend it will define next season and beyond.
The Hawks have huge decisions to make as the team with more cap space than anyone.
As Josh Smith leaves, the Hawks will look for the right free agent to pair with center Al Horford. Pairing Dwight Howard in the frontcourt with Horford, who can also play power forward, is the big play.
However, the Hawks can also spend wiser and chase young free agents with upside such as Tyreke Evans, O.J. Mayo or make an offer to restricted free agent Brandon Jennings.
Al Jefferson and Andrew Bynum are secondary options if Howard goes elsewhere and Paul Millsap is another possible play.
The Hawks could also hold on to flexibility with lesser free agents, and make a move for the summer of 2014.
The Houston Rockets can make room for a free agent like Dwight Howard.
Houston will use its team option to rid Francisco Garcia's $6.4 million contract and could move pieces such as Thomas Robinson, Aaron Brooks or Carlos Delfino to create flexibility this offseason.
To create enough salary cap space for Howard, the Rockets could also opt to trade Jeremy Lin or Omer Asik if necessary.
If the Rockets are able to snag Howard, they would immediately move into contenders in the West, adding to a core of Harden, Chandler Parsons and perhaps Asik.
Houston has a decision if it wants to continue with a young roster that challenged the No. 1-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (without Russell Westbrook) or chase top-tier free-agent talent if possible and possibly give up some of that youth.
Houston can also figure out a way to stay youthful while also adding an elite player.
The Rockets also could choose to add veteran free agents such as Antawn Jamison or Nate Robinson to add experience and depth.
A first-round loss isn’t the goal. To become true contenders, the Milwaukee Bucks will need to decide what direction the franchise wishes to take.
Restricted free agent Brandon Jennings stated during last season that if the Bucks match an offer from another NBA team, he will leave following the one season of the matched deal. So it starts there.
Complicating things is the unrestricted free agency of backcourt mate Monta Ellis. The Bucks could opt to bring Ellis back and match an offer to Jennings, re-creating what earned them a playoff spot last season.
That would mean relying on enhanced chemistry between the pair and continued increased productivity from Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova.
The other option is J.J. Redick, who becomes another unrestricted free agent. He’s not that game-changing player that Jennings or Ellis is, and they’ll have to decide if he’s worth returning.
The Brooklyn Nets have already added Jason Kidd as their head coach, and with little cap flexibility any personnel decisions will need to be made via trade. Still, there is a free-agency element.
Since the current stars—Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson—are primed to win now, it makes sense that the Nets would look to improve immediately rather than resting on the hope of a different outcome with the same recipe.
So naturally, the Nets are already popping up as potential buyers of veteran talent. The first report has them chasing the Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
From Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski: “The talks are centering around a package that would include Gerald Wallace, Tomike Shengelia, the expiring deal of Kris Humphries and three future first-round picks, sources told Y! Sports.”
Three future first-round picks?
That’s a lot to give up for a one-year shot at a title. Granted, the addition of Pierce and Garnett certainly surges the Nets into a position as contenders, but the Nets must decide if it's worth risking their future.
If they do that, the Nets will still need to add depth to an elite starting lineup. This is where free agency comes into play.
If Brooklyn moves ahead with this deal, the need will be to capture a mid-level player for depth.
This summer, the Mavericks are seeking the big splash they didn’t get last time around.
Owner Mark Cuban has always had a focus on winning, but last season he made the correct decision in signing players to one-year deals to remain flexible this offseason. Now this year, as Dirk Nowitzki begins to fade, it’s important the Mavericks follow a win-now mentality.
The Mavericks are huge players this offseason, and, like everyone else, Dwight Howard is their top target. The Mavericks could also chase Josh Smith, who gives instant versatility alongside Dirk Nowitizki.
Dallas could re-sign O.J. Mayo, but a bigger splash would be to make an offer to restricted free agent Brandon Jennings.
The other option would be to go big with a Smith, Andrew Bynum or Al Jefferson-type and bring in a lesser-paid guard such as Jarrett Jack or Jose Calderon.
With money to spend and plenty of roster space, the Mavericks have decisions this offseason.
The Los Angeles Clippers rest on the decision of Chris Paul, though it’s seems evident at this point that he will sign immediately once free agency begins.
Paul is the league’s elite point guard and his presence alongside a coach like Doc Rivers will be valuable. The Clippers are pushing for a title and taking the next step may take some interesting decisions.
As of now, the Clippers currently have a backcourt led by superstar Chris Paul and the defensive talents of Eric Bledsoe. In the frontcourt, it’s the athleticism of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin while off the bench it’s the scoring of sixth man Jamal Crawford. Caron Butler and Willie Green also maintain the perimeter.
Assuming Paul decides to stay, the Clippers could shop Bledsoe in the hopes of luring a talent like the Orlando Magic's Arron Afflalo.
The team may or may not be able to afford Matt Barnes if he's offered a multi-year deal elsewhere.
It's going to be the loss of depth that could hurt the Clippers though. With only six players, including Paul, set to be under contract for next season, Los Angeles will need to make sharp offseason decisions to bring the right depth.
Recruiting veterans to the minimum to play alongside Paul and under Rivers will also be part of the equation.