NBA general managers throughout the league are already sweating bullets. Calculators in hand, front-office number-crunchers are already poring over their payrolls in advance of a 2014 free-agency period that could be one of the most important in league history.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh can all terminate their contracts after the 2013-14 season, which would instantly create a quartet of high-priced courtships. In addition to those marquee names, Kyle Lowry, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol and Luol Deng (just to name a few) will also be looking to cash in.
Oh, and some guy named Kobe Bryant might also become available as an unrestricted free agent.
What follows is an explanation of every NBA team's payroll situation for the 2014 offseason. Since we don't yet know what the precise salary cap will be, the current figure of $58.7 million is the basis for all of the forward-looking analysis. That number could rise or fall depending on what the league and players' union agree upon, but it won't move much.
In addition, it's important to note that "maximum available cap room" figures on each slide represent the difference between the amount of each team's fully guaranteed payroll and the salary cap of $58.7 million. Player and team options, qualifying offers and nonguaranteed deals will potentially add to those figures.
Don't worry, that will all be explained on a team-by-team basis.
Finally, consider these explanations as snapshots of every squad's financial situation. The complicated minutiae involving cap holds and trade exceptions won't appear here unless absolutely necessary.
Discussions about money can only be so exciting, though. So we've spiced things up with a team-by-team look at which free agents might end up collecting checks from your favorite organization.
So, let's open up every team's balance sheets and see what the future holds.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $13.3 million
The Atlanta Hawks swung and missed on Dwight Howard and Chris Paul during this past free-agency period—a disappointing result, but one that preserved most of the team's long-term flexibility. With just $45.4 million in guaranteed salaries for the 2014-15 season, the Hawks will once again be players on the free-agent market.
If the Hawks guarantee the final year of Lou Williams' deal (for $5.5 million), pick up every team option they have and make qualifying offers to their potential restricted free agents, they'll still have just $52.5 million devoted to player salaries for the 2014-15 season.
The good news is that no matter what Atlanta does with its current payroll, the team will be under the salary cap as it heads into free agency next summer. The bad news is that without a trade or a buyout to free up some extra cash, the Hawks won't be able to afford to pursue a maximum-salary player.
At present, Atlanta has Kyle Korver to stretch the floor, Paul Millsap and Al Horford up front, and a handful of smallish ball-handlers. Based on the current roster, the Hawks should probably look to spend their 2014 cap space on a capable wing defender.
New coach Mike Budenholzer will look to bring as many elements of his former team, the San Antonio Spurs, to Atlanta as he possibly can. So expect the club to pursue rangy, three-and-D swingmen.
Trevor Ariza and Brandon Rush will be unrestricted free agents worth chasing, and neither figures to command huge dollars. If the Hawks opt to trim payroll as much as possible—down to that $45.4 million figure—unrestricted free agent Luol Deng could be a splashier option.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $10 million
As the Boston Celtics embark on their rebuilding project, there's a very good chance that some of the team's more expensive veterans find themselves playing in another city well before summer 2014. Kris Humphries and his $12 million salary will come off the books after the upcoming season, but you can bet that the team will look into moving Gerald Wallace, who'll be due $10 million in 2014-15.
At present, Boston has $48.7 million in guaranteed 2014-15 payroll, meaning that the absolute most cap room the team could have (barring any trades or salary dumps) is about $10 million.
The Celtics have team options on Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and MarShon Brooks that would add up to about $5 million. Plus, Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford will be up for qualifying offers totaling nearly $7 million. It seems likely that the team would want to keep most of those young players around.
Fortunately, Boston can offset some of the cost of retaining its youth by buying out the final two years and $10.8 million on Keith Bogans' contract. His deal is set in stone for 2013-14, but becomes nonguaranteed next summer.
Rest assured that if the Celtics clear enough space, they'll make a run at every big name on the free-agent market. But assuming the team can't shed at least another $12 million from the $48.7 million it has earmarked for next year's salaries, max players won't be an option.
And when you factor in the strong likelihood that Boston will be paying for a high lottery pick after next June's draft, there really isn't enough money left to sign a big name.
That's probably just fine by the Celtics, though. Rebuilding efforts of this magnitude typically take more than a year. With only $15.7 million in guaranteed money on the books in 2015-16, it's much more likely that Boston's overhaul is actually two offseasons away.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $0
The Brooklyn Nets are going to spend a minimum of $82.9 million on player salaries during the 2014-15 season. Every penny of that amount is fully guaranteed.
If Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche exercise their player options, and Tornike Shengelia and TyShawn Taylor receive qualifying offers, that total could rise to almost $90 million.
Obviously, the luxury tax doesn't scare the Nets.
Brooklyn seems committed to operating in a different financial universe than the rest of the NBA, so it's probably not a good idea to rule out another massive sign-and-trade exchange like the one that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the team this offseason.
But barring a repeat of that kind of blockbuster, Brooklyn can't acquire any more talent unless it uses the taxpayer's mid-level exception and its minimum-salary slots. There won't even be many openings on the roster, either, as Pierce and Shaun Livingston are the only players slated to come off the books after this season.
Unless there's another Russian former All-Star who's willing to take a very curious pay cut by signing for the mid-level exception next summer (looking at you, Kirilenko), Brooklyn isn't going to be a free-agent player in 2014.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $39 million
The Charlotte Bobcats splurged on Al Jefferson this summer, but even with his $13.5 million salary on the books, the team only has $19.7 million in guaranteed money devoted to its 2014-15 payroll.
Obviously, when the Kitties retain their core by picking up team options on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($5 million), Bismack Biyombo ($3.9 million) and Kemba Walker ($3.3 million), that number will rise. But even if Charlotte picks up all of its other options, only $35.6 million will be earmarked for player salaries in 2014-15.
Thanks to the expiring deals of Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions, the Bobcats are going to be flush with cash next summer.
So if there's a max-salary player on the market who would entertain the notion of playing for the historically dysfunctional Bobcats, finances won't be a problem.
Gerald Henderson is due a qualifying offer this summer, but negotiations haven't gone anywhere, so there's a chance that he won't be around much longer. If that's the case, expect the 'Cats to pursue a shooting guard with some size.
Thabo Sefolosha will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and his mixture of long-range shooting and wing defense would go a long way toward shoring up Charlotte's shaky perimeter D. On the restricted market, Gordon Hayward and Quincy Pondexter could also be nice fits.
The Jefferson signing proved that the Bobcats still have to overpay for free agents. So don't be surprised if a mid-tier player ends up landing a big deal in Charlotte for the second offseason in a row.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $0
The Chicago Bulls are going to chase a championship for the next couple of years, and to do so they'll have to eat a modest luxury-tax penalty.
With at least $61 million (and as much as $66 million) devoted to salaries in 2014-15, Chicago won't have much flexibility. That's not a particularly big problem, though, because the current roster is certainly capable of making deep playoff runs for the foreseeable future.
Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng will both be unrestricted free agents after this year, so the Bulls can spend what they want in order to retain them. Obviously, that would lead to steeper tax penalties, so it's possible that Chicago will simply rely on the organic growth of Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague to pick up the slack.
The Bulls made excellent use of the taxpayer's mid-level exception this year by inking Mike Dunleavy to a two-year, $6.6 million deal. If they make a similarly savvy move next summer, they'll be in good shape.
The time to amnesty Carlos Boozer seems to have passed, but if Chicago finds itself out of contention next year, the topic could come up again as ownership seeks to avoid paying the tax down the road.
Assuming Hinrich and Deng are cap casualties next summer, the Bulls will be on the lookout for low-cost veterans to play reserve minutes at the point and at small forward.
Toney Douglas will be an unrestricted free agent after he completes his one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors this season, and his reputation as a dogged defender would make him an ideal fit behind Derrick Rose.
Vince Carter has quietly turned himself into a respectable defender, and his underrated passing skills might actually make him an adequate substitute for Deng. If Vinsanity wants to chase a title, he could be had for the mid-level exception next summer.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $48.4 million
Here's a fun question: Can you name the member of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the most expensive guaranteed contract in 2014?
If you said Jarrett Jack and his $6.3 million salary, congratulations; you either cheated or have a surprisingly strong grasp on the Cavs' payroll situation.
Cleveland has flexibility all over the place.
Andrew Bynum, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller all have team options for the 2014-15 season, each of which the Cavs are sure to pick up. Assuming the team retains all of those players, and if we factor in Anthony Bennett's rookie deal alongside Jack's guaranteed contract, Cleveland's projected payroll jumps to about $37 million.
But if the organization wants to cut costs, it can buy out the final year of Anderson Varejao's deal, and then choose not to pick up the final nonguaranteed years of Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee.
In other words, the Cavs have about $16 million in wiggle room next summer even if they keep the risky Bynum around for a second season.
Cleveland definitely has the chance to go after potentially available big names like Bosh, DeMarcus Cousins or Dirk Nowitzki. And if Bynum can't stay healthy, you can bet that the Cavs will make a push to sign a high-end big man.
But you know, I can't help but feel like I'm forgetting another free-agent target the Cavs might be interested in.
If only there were a superstar with an early-termination option that could fill Cleveland's hole at the small forward position. And wouldn't it be ideal if said superstar actually had ties to the area, or perhaps even played there in the past?
Look, if LeBron James decides that the championship run in Miami is over, the Cavs will move heaven and earth to open up enough money to sign him to a max deal. Forget all of the bad blood still lingering from "The Decision." Cleveland is uniquely positioned to quickly clear enough space to sign James, and it'll jump at the chance to do it.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $39.9 million
By the time summer 2014 rolls around, no member of the Dallas Mavericks' 2011 championship team will be under contract. That sounds more dramatic than it actually is, though, as Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion will be the only title-winning holdovers on the roster this year.
Nowitzki has long made it known that he'd be willing to take a pay cut in the interest of attracting free agents, and he'll get the chance to put his money where his mouth is once the 2013-14 season concludes.
Dallas hasn't had much luck in pursuing big-name free agents over the past couple seasons, but for the third year in a row Mark Cuban's club is poised to throw huge dollars at every All-Star on the market.
At the moment, the Mavs have just $18.8 million in guaranteed contracts after this season.
Assuming the team fully guarantees the second year on Samuel Dalembert's deal and eventually signs Brandan Wright this offseason, that number will rise a bit. But however you slice it, Dallas is going to have max dollars (and then some) to spend a year from now.
Cuban has expensive tastes, so expect the Mavs to at least be in the conversation for every star who becomes available. If Bosh terminates his deal early, don't be surprised to see Dallas offer to max him out. The same goes for Carmelo Anthony, James, Wade and any other splashy name on the market.
With top-flight perks, an owner that's desperate to win, one of the best coaches in the business and a former MVP willing to sacrifice his own salary, Dallas is going to be a desirable destination.
Maybe the third crack at free agency will be the charm.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $6.2 million
Don't be misled by the available cap space listed above. Once the Denver Nuggets pick up team options on Kenneth Faried, Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier, they'll be nestled right up against the salary ceiling.
If the team doesn't buy Andre Miller out of the final year of his nonguaranteed deal and Darrell Arthur opts in to the $3.5 million he's owed for the 2014-15 season, Denver could be looking at as much as $65.5 million in total payroll.
And that's luxury-tax territory, friends.
The Nuggets are locked in to long-term, eight-figure deals with Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari, so, for the most part, they'll go as far as that trio takes them. Barring a massive trade, it's going to be very difficult for the Nuggets to clear a significant amount of cap space until summer 2016.
Keep in mind, though, that the team has a trade exception worth nearly $10 million that it got from the sign-and-trade agreement it made to send Andre Iguodala to the Golden State Warriors. If the Nuggets want to make use of that in a move to add to their payroll, they'll have to do so by July 10, 2014.
The mid-level exception netted J.J. Hickson this year, so it's definitely possible to sign decent talent with limited resources. Denver will have to rely on that strategy next summer as well.
Notably, the Nuggets won't be able to rely on the biannual exception after using it to sign Nate Robinson on July 22.
Lacking perimeter shooting outside of Randy Foye, the Nuggets could do worse than offering the MLE to Ben Gordon or Jodie Meeks, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents. Other than that, Denver will have to rely on getting low-end free agents to bite on a minimum-salary deal.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $38.7 million
It's hard to know how much $17 million weighs (Are we talking dollar bills? Gold krugerrands? Nickels?), but it's sure going to feel good when the Detroit Pistons get out from under the combined salaries of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey.
That relief will come in summer 2014, and it will leave the team with Josh Smith ($13.5 million) as the only Piston with an annual salary of more than $6 million.
Don't get too locked into that $22 million in guarantees, though. Detroit is going to have to make a qualifying offer to Greg Monroe for $5.5 million. After that, it will have to exercise team options on some combination of Brandon Knight, Chauncey Billups and Andre Drummond.
If Jonas Jerebko opts in to the final year of his deal, the Pistons are probably going to be looking at an overall payroll of around $44 million. But even if that's the case, Detroit is going to have room to offer potential free agents a deal that matches—or even slightly exceeds—the big one they handed to Smith this past summer.
Of course, the smarter play might be to divvy up that money in a way that better addresses a couple of the team's key needs.
Assuming Monroe isn't traded during the season, Detroit's frontcourt is set. But the backcourt positions aren't quite so solid.
For a team with so much muscle up front, a legitimate floor-spacer is critical. Knight looks like a viable rotation player, but he's definitely not the kind of knockdown shooter the Pistons need at the guard spot.
Anthony Morrow will be an unrestricted free agent, and the last year of Willie Green's deal with the Los Angeles Clippers is nonguaranteed. Either of them could help create space for the Pistons' bigs to operate in the middle. Best of all, one-dimensional shooters like those two would likely leave Detroit with enough extra room to sign a restricted free agent to a big offer sheet.
If the Pistons wanted to solve their distribution problems by inking last year's leader in total assists, Greivis Vasquez, to a hefty offer sheet, the Sacramento Kings might be hard-pressed to match it.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $15.8 million
It took sacrificing their first-round picks in 2014 and 2017 to do so, but the Golden State Warriors cut loose about $20 million in dead weight by shipping Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson to the Utah Jazz as part of the complicated three-team exchange that also brought Andre Iguodala to the Bay Area.
The result of that massive deal is that the Dubs currently have just one overpaid player: David Lee. He'll be owed $15 million per year in 2014-15, but Andrew Bogut's $14 million deal will expire after this upcoming season. That'll leave the Warriors, at worst, almost $5 million under the 2014-15 cap.
Bogut is a critical piece to the team, though, and if he manages to stay healthy this season the Warriors will certainly try to shift things around in order to re-sign him. If the Aussie commands more than the Warriors are willing to spend, don't be surprised to see the Dubs dig deeper into the possibility of trading Lee for a replacement center, something they at least gently explored this past offseason.
Golden State is counting on organic growth and the addition of Iguodala to help them take the next step this year, so it's unlikely that they'll be major players on the 2014 free-agent market. This roster is pretty well locked in for the next three years.
If any big moves take place, they'll probably come during the season and feature the $11 million trade exception the Warriors took back in the Iguodala deal.
The Iguodala deal proved that Golden State is now a desirable free-agent destination. Iggy left larger offers on the table because he wanted to play for the Warriors. That's a significant change, and one that very much affects how much value the Dubs can expect with what should be a fairly modest amount of cap space next summer.
Assuming the Warriors go into free agency with about $5 million, the mid-level exception and the biannual exception, they could pretty easily snag three useful role players.
If Kent Bazemore doesn't prove to be ready for backup minutes at the point this season, Golden State could probably make competitive offers for Kyle Lowry, who'll be unrestricted, and Andre Miller, whose final year in Denver is nonguaranteed.
Of course, it's also no longer a good idea to assume that the Warriors won't involve themselves in the pursuit of marquee free agents—cap situation be damned.
The Dubs have a wealth of inexpensive, highly sought-after assets (think Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson, both of whom will make just $3 million in 2014-15), so if they want to make a move or two to get involved in the discussion for potential free agents like Chris Bosh or even LeBron James, they have the flexibility (ambition) to make that happen.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $5 million
After picking up options on Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Chandler Parsons, the Houston Rockets will find themselves right around cap limit. And once they fully guarantee years for Francisco Garcia, Patrick Beverley, Reggie Williams and a few others, they'll be comfortably over it.
General manager Daryl Morey has shown in the past that he's always willing to shuffle the deck, so it's reasonable to expect a few minor trades at some point this season. But with James Harden and Dwight Howard on huge deals, the core of the Rockets won't appreciably change anytime soon.
Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik's contracts will both count against the cap for $8.4 million this season and next, so more than $50 million of Houston's payroll is tied up between the quartet of Howard, Harden, Lin and Asik.
Overall, the Rockets are going to chase titles with the group they have. Only the minor role players have any chance of changing over the next couple of seasons.
If none of Houston's inexpensive power forwards ends up working out alongside Howard, expect the team to dangle its mid-level exception next summer.
Elton Brand can hit a mid-range jumper with the best of them, and if Channing Frye opts out of the final year of his deal with the Phoenix Suns, he could get a multiyear contract from the Rockets as a floor-stretching 4.
Of course, if Morey finds takers for Lin or Asik—a distinct possibility—the Rockets' free-agent options could expand substantially.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $9.8 million
There aren't many teams with a starting five as dominant as the one the Indiana Pacers will trot out over the next couple of seasons. But that kind of talent costs money.
Between Roy Hibbert ($14.9 million), David West ($12 million) and George Hill ($8 million), Indy is on the hook for about $35 million for the 2014-15 season. Danny Granger's big deal will be wiped away, but the Pacers will have to negotiate a new contract with Lance Stephenson and contend with Paul George's status as a restricted free agent.
Fortunately, George will only cost the Pacers $4.5 million in 2014-15. Remember, though, that he'll only be around if the Pacers match what's almost certain to be a max offer on the restricted market.
In other words: Indiana is going to have to dip into the luxury tax to keep its first unit intact for the long haul.
More immediately, the Pacers are in pretty good financial shape. They'll go into summer 2014 under the cap, but with the ability to exceed it in order to retain their own free agents. That's a good position to be in, but thanks to the luxury tax it'll also be an expensive one.
As a legitimate championship contender, the Pacers aren't unique in their limited ability to bring in outside talent. It seems like every team in the title hunt is more interested in keeping together its own group of players than adding to it from options on the open market.
The Pacers proved they could make smart moves with only the mid-level exception and the biannual exception this summer, bringing in Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson to bolster an atrocious bench. They'll most likely have to rely on the MLE and minimum deals to do the same next year.
If George signs an offer sheet that Indy chooses not to match, there will be a major hole on the wing. But the Pacers' salary constraints won't allow for expensive replacements. That means it might be a good idea for Indiana fans to get comfortable with the idea of rooting for Marvin Williams or Caron Butler.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $0
When teams spend big to retain their own free agents, this is what happens. The Los Angeles Clippers were delighted to max out Chris Paul, but his salary ($20 million in 2014-15) combines with Blake Griffin's ($17.7 million) to eat up an awful lot of cap space.
DeAndre Jordan's ridiculous $11 million hit doesn't help much either.
Costs aside, the Clips have their entire rotation under contract through the 2014-15 season, which means they really won't have to do much to supplement it a year from now. Overall, LA is on the hook for at least $64.8 million next summer.
That number could rise as high as $74.8 million if the team fully guarantees deals for Jamal Crawford and Willie Green, and if Darren Collison opts in to the $2 million he's owed after this season.
The Clips got insane values by splitting the MLE between Matt Barnes and Collison this year, and as a title contender in Los Angeles it's likely that they'll continue to attract players at a discount. In addition, LA will once again have the use of the biannual exception after using it on Grant Hill in 2012.
Of course, with a rotation already filled out, the Clippers might end up having more salary exceptions than open roster spots. It's possible that the team simply doesn't use its available exceptions in an effort to keep the tax penalties from getting too painful.
A backup center like Jermaine O'Neal (currently on a one-year deal with the Warriors) could also be a nice fit at the veteran's minimum. Or, in the alternative, the Clips could give Ryan Hollins another $900,000 to ride the pine.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $48.1 million
If it really is always darkest before the dawn, I guess that makes it the equivalent of 4 a.m. for the Los Angeles Lakers. Things are pitch black this season, but the light of a new era is creeping over the horizon next summer.
Only Steve Nash and Robert Sacre have guaranteed money coming to them in the 2014-15 season. And if Nick Young opts in to the second year of his deal, the Lakers will still have just $11.8 million on the books.
Complications abound, though, as Kobe Bryant's salary negotiations could get tricky. If No. 24 is willing to take less money to stick around, LA could offer a pair of maximum deals to potential free agents. It should also be noted here that Bryant leaving Los Angeles as a free agent seems utterly impossible.
He's not going anywhere.
For that reason, he's not going to appear as a free-agent option for any other teams. Imagining him in another uniform just feels wrong.
Assuming Bryant will put his ego on timeout for a second and take a pay cut for the good of the team (a massive assumption, I know), absolutely everyone is in play for the Lakers.
Surely, you've already seen the mockups of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony alongside Bryant in the Purple and Gold. And if you haven't, here you go.
The Lakers are going to start over next summer, and they're not going to be a team that does so with baby steps. Rest assured: At least one (but probably two) huge free agents are going to end up in Los Angeles.
It's sort of staggering to think about it this way, but the Lakers are going to get to put together a potentially dominant Big Three just one year after their ill-fated Big Four failed to live up to expectations.
All that stands between the Lakers and a new beginning is a hefty tax bill this season. Things will brighten up substantially after that.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $20.1 million
Depending on a handful of factors, the Memphis Grizzlies' salary-cap situation could feature anything from $20.1 million in available space to a hefty luxury tax penalty in 2014-15.
The biggest determinant in that equation is Zach Randolph's $17 million player option. If the big man wants to play out the final year of his deal and hit unrestricted free agency in 2015, a good chunk of the Grizzlies' flexibility disappears.
For what it's worth, the rest of it will probably be gobbled up in team options and qualifying offers. Ed Davis and Quincy Pondexter are going to be restricted free agents in 2014, so it will cost Memphis about $7.5 million to keep them from hitting the unrestricted market.
When the dust settles, it's actually most likely that the Grizzlies are substantially over the cap and well into the luxury tax next summer.
All signs point to the Grizzlies being over the cap a year from now, so they'll have to make small improvements with the typical tools: MLEs and biannual exceptions.
Perimeter shooting is still a need, so if the Grizzlies can't retain unrestricted free agent Jerryd Bayless, they'll have to seek out another outside threat with their limited resources. With the bi-annual exception or the league minimum, Anthony Morrow would provide a nice platoon option with the all-defense, no-shooting game of Tony Allen.
Other mid-level possibilities include Ray Allen and Brandon Rush.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $58.7 million
That available cap space figure is not a typo. The Miami Heat currently have zero guaranteed dollars set aside for the 2014-15 season. Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Chris Andersen have player options; Norris Cole will be subject to a team option; and Jarvis Varnado is only owed a qualifying offer.
More prominently, James, Wade and Bosh all have early-termination options that could allow each one of them to hit unrestricted free agency.
Suffice it to say that the Heat's future after this season is a bit unclear.
If the Big Three decide to stick around, so will the rest of the supporting cast. In that event, Miami will have more than $74 million devoted to eight players next summer. Filling out the rest of the roster by using the various available exceptions and minimum slots is now old hat for the Heat, so they'll almost certainly be able to field yet another terrific team if the gang wants to stay together.
But there should be a real concern among Miami fans that the 2013-14 season will be the last one of this latest championship era. Wade has fallen apart at the conclusion of each of the past two seasons, and Bosh might want to be a No. 1 option elsewhere.
It's hard to peg the chances of the Heat disbanding after this year, but it's certainly not impossible.
Proceeding on the assumption that the Heat's stars stick around, the team will need to either re-sign or find replacements for the perimeter duo of Ray Allen and Shane Battier. Both are unrestricted free agents in 2014, and as the guys who create vital space in Miami's offense, they (or players like them) are integral to the team's success.
Both should be willing to come back cheaply, but if one or the other retires, the Heat will have to hunt around for adequate replacements.
Morrow keeps popping up in this section, but he'd be a good option here. Or perhaps if things don't work out for Andrei Kirilenko in Brooklyn, he'd opt out and take mid-level money from the Heat.
Even Ben Gordon, who'll be unrestricted, might want to chase a ring with Miami.
If the Heat's superstar trio disbands, the organization can spend whatever it wants on whomever it wants next summer. But the more likely scenario is that Miami continues to add choice veterans to a championship core.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $34.3 million
The Milwaukee Bucks are substantially under the cap this summer, and whether or not Brandon Jennings returns, they'll be in even better financial shape in 2014.
Currently, the Bucks have just $24.4 million devoted to player salaries after this year, with O.J. Mayo slated to make $8 million and Ersan Ilyasova in line to collect $7.9 million. Other than that pair, though, Milwaukee isn't on the hook for any long-term or big-dollar deals.
So even if the Bucks retain Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders by issuing qualifying offers a year from now, there's going to be plenty of cap room to spend. In fact, if we assume Jennings leaves this summer, the Bucks don't figure to have more than a maximum of $40 million in projected salaries for the 2014-15 season.
With Sanders, Ilyasova and John Henson likely to be around as the Bucks' frontcourt core for a while, the clearest area of need in Milwaukee is in the backcourt.
Mayo is a decent option at shooting guard, but he's probably better suited for a bench role. So the Bucks ought to target both guard positions next summer. Assuming they keep their books relatively clear, there should be plenty of money to find capable free agents.
If the Bucks are willing to overpay, they could sign restricted free agent Avery Bradley to an offer sheet that the Celtics would be afraid to match. Milwaukee is starving for backcourt defense after watching Monta Ellis and Jennings pull their saloon-door act for the better part of two years, and Bradley would be a nice change of pace.
Kyle Lowry and Lance Stephenson, both unrestricted, would also help toughen up the Bucks' backcourt.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $13.8 million
Before getting to the salary-cap situation for next summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to have to figure out what to do with restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic this year. Currently signed to a qualifying offer for a little more than $6 million, negotiations could net Pekovic a long-term deal to stay in Minnesota that should be worth at least $10 million per season.
If the Wolves agree to pay the big man that kind of money, they'll have no cap room a year from now.
The only flexibility Minnesota will have in 2014 will come in the form of team options on Ricky Rubio ($4.7 million) and Derrick Williams ($6.3 million). But those players are both significant parts of the team's future, so it's hard to see the Timberwolves simply letting them walk away.
So go ahead and trim that $13.8 million figure at the top of the slide down to about $3.8 million. And that reduced amount will only be available if the Timberwolves don't extend Pekovic.
Naturally, if Pekovic gets a big offer elsewhere and the Timberwolves don't match, they'll need to find a replacement center next summer.
Spencer Hawes is set to make about $6.6 million this season, but as an unrestricted free agent next summer, perhaps he'd be interested in heading to Minnesota for the mid-level exception. If he's not interested, guys like Andris Biedrins and Nazr Mohammed could suddenly become viable options.
And no Wolves fans are going to be very excited about that.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $13.7 million
Between Eric Gordon ($14.9 million), Tyreke Evans ($11.3 million), Jrue Holiday ($10.4 million) and Ryan Anderson ($8.5 million), the New Orleans Pelicans have more than $44 million already guaranteed for the 2014-15 season.
Toss in Anthony Davis' team option and that figure creeps north of the $50 million mark.
That's a pricey core, but with the right supporting cast it might be good enough to compete for a postseason berth. The problem, though, is that it's going to be very difficult for the Hornets to fill out a respectable roster with the limited money they have left over.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith and Greg Stiemsma will be unrestricted free agents next summer, but if the Pelicans retain the other nine players they're currently paying, they'll end up with a total payroll of almost $56.5 million. That means they'll have to add a handful of bodies to fill out the roster minimum deals and the mid-level exception.
The Pelicans desperately need a traditional center to play alongside Davis, who they seem to view as a perimeter-oriented big man on offense.
Robin Lopez is already gone, and with stretch-4 extraordinaire Anderson as the only other capable forward on the roster, New Orleans is going to have to find a banger on the open market. Guys like Marcin Gortat and Chris Kaman aren't ideal fits, and both will probably be well out of the Pelicans' price range, so Nazr Mohammed or Andris Biedrins (both unrestricted free agents) might be the best they can do.
Then again, if a team is willing to take on Gordon's deal, it's possible that the Pelicans could gain the flexibility they need to address the hole they have in the middle.
"You're not opting out, right?" "Good, me either."
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $31.4 million
It's technically possible that the New York Knicks could have as little as $27.3 million on their payroll for the 2014-15 season. By that logic, it's also technically possible that J.R. Smith will become a pass-first point guard next year.
In other words, it's not gonna happen.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani all have early-termination options next summer. Assuming they all choose to play out the final year of their deals, their combined salary of about $58.2 million takes the Knicks right up to the salary cap.
If we include all of the other contracts the Knicks are likely to pay in 2014-15, their payroll is going to shoot right past the luxury tax line without looking back. All told, New York is probably going to be on the hook for more than $90 million next summer.
As you might imagine, that significantly limits the team's ability to make big moves on the free-agent market.
The Knicks' next offseason is going to look an awful lot like this one. Other than the taxpayer's mid-level exception and minimum salaries, New York has no other way to add players to the roster without engaging in high-end sign-and-trade deals.
Unless the Knicks can somehow convince both Stoudemire and Anthony to exercise their early-termination options, they're going to be stuck searching for bargain-basement additions for another summer.
Maybe Stephon Marbury's available.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $0
The salary-cap situation for the Oklahoma City Thunder is pretty simple: They're going to be in the luxury tax no matter what they do.
With more than $62 million in guaranteed money, OKC's overall cap figure could rise as high as $70 million if it picks up all of its various options and guarantees deals for Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton. Those guys might not be worth keeping around, but it's a near certainty that Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones III will all see their team options picked up.
Either way, though, the Thunder are going to chase a title while paying the luxury tax.
If you're looking to blame someone for the team's lack of financial flexibility, Kendrick Perkins is probably a good guy to start with. After all, he seems to get blamed for everything else that goes wrong in Oklahoma City.
Despite becoming a net-negative player, his contract is fully guaranteed for $9 million this year and next year. And as a small-market club, using the amnesty to get rid of him doesn't seem to be an option; the Thunder don't want to pay a player not to show up.
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka combining to make about $56 million in 2014-15, the Thunder are basically capped out. And with the tax looming for a second year in a row, it's not even a lock that they'll use any of their exceptions to add talent.
One expenditure that the Thunder should at least consider is using their Bird rights (the ability to exceed the cap to retain their own free agents) to keep around unrestricted free agent Thabo Sefolosha. He'll hit the market as one of the only elite defensive stoppers next summer, so he's likely to be in high demand.
Unless Jackson suddenly shows the ability to shut down larger guards, OKC is going to need Sefolosha to handle marquee scorers in the playoffs. It might be worth incurring a tax penalty to give the shooting guard a salary in the neighborhood of $5 million per year.
Other than that, OKC is going to have to rely on the development of Jones III and Lamb. They're not going to be free-agent players for a very long time.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $31.8 million
It's a near certainty that the Orlando Magic will have a ton of cap space next summer.
The final year of Jameer Nelson's deal contains a $2 million buyout option, and Al Harrington could very well earn a buyout on his nonguaranteed deal before the 2013-14 season even starts. As a rebuilding club, the Magic really have no incentive to keep Nelson or Harrington around, so there's a great chance that the overall payroll for the 2014-15 season ends up just a few million dollars over the guaranteed figure of $26.9 million.
The team options on Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson are no-brainers. At a combined total of about $8.5 million, Orlando will be able to retain all four of those players in 2014.
Even if both Harrington and Nelson stick around, the Magic will be almost $10 million under the projected cap. And if both buyouts occur, Orlando would suddenly have the money to sign a max player.
It's no secret that free agents are big fans of Florida teams. With money to burn and with a young core in place, Orlando is going to look pretty enticing.
The Magic are well-stocked with role players, but probably don't have any talent that currently projects as elite. So don't be surprised when they end up in the conversation for just about every top-tier name in 2014's loaded free-agent class.
Restricted free agents Paul George and John Wall will both be highly sought-after commodities. Plus, All-Stars with early-termination options like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh will all be in play.
Orlando could (and should) get involved in the pursuit for whichever max-salary player will listen.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $49.3 million
Thaddeus Young will be back with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014-15, and he'll be joined by Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel. Oh, and Jason Richardson is probably going to exercise his player option to collect $6.6 million next summer.
Other than that, there's no guarantee that anyone on the Sixers' 2013-14 roster will wind up in Philly after this season.
The 76ers pretty much cleared the deck when they shipped Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans on draft day, ushering in a rebuilding era that will see the team enter into an unapologetic tank in advance of the 2014 draft. Rookies will get big minutes, wins will be hard to come by and Evan Turner will get his last chance to prove he's not an all-time lottery bust.
If the Sixers see enough out of Turner, they'll be able to make him an $8.7 million qualifying offer. Even if they do that, they could still hit the 2014 market with just less than $25 million on their books. So if the 76ers want to, they can jump right into the max-salary sweepstakes.
The jury is definitely still out on MCW after a spotty Summer League showing, so unless he really impresses this year, expect the Sixers to take a long look at veteran free agents like Kirk Hinrich and Kyle Lowry.
On a bigger scale, Philly should also be making big offers to every marquee name who will listen to them. Paul Pierce, Danny Granger and Luol Deng should all receive phone calls. And if the Sixers want to get really ambitious, they should fire out a few max offers to LBJ, D-Wade, Bosh and 'Melo if they terminate their deals early.
Truthfully, the 76ers have needs everywhere. So there's really no superstar that wouldn't be a good fit for them.
With as good of a chance as anyone to land Andrew Wiggins in next year's draft, the Sixers are going to be a surprisingly appealing destination. If they do end up winning the lottery, expect them to shoot for the stars on the free-agent market.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $42.3 million (not including Alex Len's rookie-scale salary)
The Phoenix Suns are going to struggle this season, but relief—in the form of a fresh start—is on the way next summer.
Michael Beasley's 2014-15 salary is nonguaranteed, Caron Butler and Marcin Gortat will come off the books and Phoenix has a remarkable amount of control over which of its players will return after this season.
Only four current Suns—Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Archie Goodwin and Len—have guaranteed deals for the 2014-15 season.
Expect Phoenix to pick up team options on Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Kendall Marshall. Also assume that Eric Bledsoe will get a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, and Channing Frye will exercise his $6.8 million player option.
But even with those players coming back, Phoenix will only be locked into about $30 million in player salaries next summer. That means the team will have the option to engineer a slow rebuild with a handful of moderately priced players, or swing for the free-agent fences.
There was once a time when the Suns were a desirable NBA destination. Now that the team is poised to have upwards of $25 million in cap space next summer, that could be the case again.
With a promising, young backcourt in Dragic and Bledsoe, Phoenix should be on the lookout for help in the middle. If the Sacramento Kings let DeMarcus Cousins hit the free-agent market, it might be worth the gamble of offering him a max deal.
Failing that, the Suns could take a shot at Chris Bosh (if he exercises his early-termination option), restricted free agent Greg Monroe or unrestricted big man Andrew Bogut.
There will be plenty of available big men next summer, and the Suns are going to be nicely positioned to chase whichever one they want.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $6.8 million
If the Portland Trail Blazers don't trade LaMarcus Aldridge at some point between now and the end of the season, they'll hit summer 2014 with virtually no cap room. The $6.8 million they could have next year will almost certainly disappear when the team picks up team options on Thomas Robinson, Damian Lillard and Meyer Leonard.
And if the Blazers keep restricted free agent Terrel Harris and guarantee the final year of Will Barton's deal, they'll be looking at more than $63 million in player salaries.
Aldridge is due to make $16 million in 2014-15, so if Portland wants to avoid a tax bill, it'll ramp up its efforts to trade the sweet-shooting big man sometime this season. Depending on how much money the Blazers take back in any Aldridge trade, they could free up enough money to pursue a decent free agent next summer.
Shipping out Aldridge would leave a substantial hole in the frontcourt rotation—one that the inexperienced forwards on the current roster probably won't be ready to fill for a few years. So it's likely that the Blazers would take a look at short-term deals on veterans like Kris Humphries or Elton Brand, neither of whom would break the bank as unrestricted free agents.
Of course, if the Blazers can't get fair value for Aldridge, they'll just hang onto him and use the mid-level exception to chase some extra bench help. Robinson, Dorell Wright and C.J. McCollum give Portland three rotation pieces that they lacked last year, but someone like Vince Carter might be a good, cheap option to bolster the bench.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $20.2 million
If the Sacramento Kings pick up every team option and extend qualifying offers to all of their restricted free agents, they'll find themselves about $5 million over the cap for the 2014-15 season. So while that $38.5 million in guaranteed money makes it seem like the Kings have some flexibility, the truth is that they're going to need to make a few trades to really open things up.
Incidentally, that might not be a problem.
No Kings player will make more in 2013-14 than Marcus Thornton, who'll collect $8 million. Say what you want about Sacramento's horrible management over the past decade or so, but one thing the team's thrifty owners did right was refuse to sign players to massive deals.
That means that although the Kings' talent doesn't fit together well, almost all of it is highly tradable.
Most likely, Sacramento will use next season as an organization-wide audition. DeMarcus Cousins will get a chance to prove he's worth a big extension as a restricted free agent next summer, and the rest of the moderately priced players on the roster will try to show that they're worth keeping around.
If things go south during the year, a blockbuster deal based around Cousins could clear up a great deal of space. But the team's new ownership would probably prefer to spend the year looking at its talent before making a major move.
With just $12.9 million in guaranteed salaries for the 2015-16 season, Sacramento's overhaul is more likely to happen two years from now.
Sacramento has never been an enticing destination for free agents, and it's going to take more than a year under new ownership to change that.
At the moment, it's probably more critical for the Kings to make good decisions on their own free agents than it is for them to pursue the big names on the market anyway. And besides, the team's current cap situation doesn't come close to accommodating high-salaried players.
So expect the team to focus on its restricted quartet of Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas—all of whom will be key rotation players this season.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $30.2 million
The San Antonio Spurs are geared up for yet another run at that elusive fifth title this season, and as a necessary evil of that pursuit, they'll be about $5 million over the salary cap. Fortunately, they'll regain some of their financial flexibility next summer.
Don't be misled by the hefty cap space above; it represents a scenario in which the Spurs pay only the guaranteed portion of Tony Parker's contract ($3.5 million), Tim Duncan doesn't exercise his player option ($10.4 million) and the team doesn't pick up its option on Kawhi Leonard ($2.9 million).
As long as those three players are still breathing, they'll be back with the Spurs.
Still, even if San Antonio and its players exercise all of their options, the expiration of a few other contracts will open up some room. Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Gary Neal are likely to be gone after this season, which could leave the Spurs somewhere around $3 million under the cap.
That's not much, but combined with the mid-level exception and the allure of playing for the Spurs, veteran help will almost certainly make itself available on the market.
The Spurs will probably focus on splitting the mid-level exception to keep Bonner and Diaw around, but if that doesn't work out, there will be other players lining up to get a spot in San Antonio's rotation.
Doesn't Shane Battier seem like he belongs on the Spurs? He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and if the Heat want to skew younger, he'd be a terrific spot-up option from long range. Other possibilities that might fit include Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Ray Allen.
Young players need not apply.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $34.5 million
Rudy Gay's $19 million player option is going to determine whether the Toronto Raptors are buyers on the 2014 free-agent market or merely window shoppers.
Gay has absolutely no chance to collect an annual salary as massive as the one the Raptors will have to pay him in 2014-15, and the free-agent crop next summer is already loaded, so it seems highly likely that he'll opt in to the final year of his bloated deal.
The Raps will absolutely pick up team options on Jonas Valanciunas ($3.7 million) and Terrence Ross ($2.8 million). And if they do the same with Amir Johnson ($7 million) and Tyler Hansbrough ($3.3 million), they'll have something close to $54 million committed to the 2014-15 salaries of just eight players.
Because Toronto is going to have to spend money to fill out the rest of the roster one way or another, it will almost certainly end up slightly over the cap next summer.
Until Gay's cap-killing contract expires in summer 2015, Toronto is going to be in something of a holding pattern.
The Raptors made one of the 2013 offseason's best moves by dumping Andrea Bargnani's contract on the New York Knicks, so we know that new GM Masai Ujiri has a knack for pulling off difficult deals. But even he can't create cap space out of thin air, so Toronto is going to be limited to pursuing free agents that are willing to accept low-dollar deals and the mid-level exception.
With Kyle Lowry off the books, the team will have to content itself with modest point guard options like unrestricted free agent Ramon Sessions, or perhaps Darren Collison—if he opts out of the second year of his agreement with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Don't worry, Raptors fans; the balance sheets clear up in 2015.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $53.2 million
Now here's a team with some money to spend!
The Utah Jazz are going to pay about $53 million in player salaries this season, but next summer, they'll have an astonishingly low $5.5 million devoted to guaranteed contracts. Only Trey Burke, Jeremy Evans and Rudy Gobert have fully guaranteed deals in 2014-15.
The Jazz will definitely pick up team options on Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. And they'll certainly make qualifying offers for Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward.
But even after locking those players in, Utah will still have just below $28 million devoted to payroll.
It has been historically difficult to get top-end free agents to sign in Salt Lake City, but the Jazz are going to have an extremely talented young core and more than enough money to max somebody out. In that sense, the Jazz are in the ideal situation for a rebuilding team.
The sales pitch will be tough because of the city, but Utah can still use its talent and winning pedigree as talking points when it negotiates with the biggest available names.
James, Wade, Anthony and Bosh probably aren't realistic options, but they'll absolutely get maximum offers.
The more likely outcome next summer involves the Jazz spending on a couple of pricey vets to lead their young nucleus. Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce and Luol Deng will all be unrestricted free agents, and as none of them will command maximum deals, it's possible that the Jazz haul in two players of that caliber.
Maximum Available Cap Space in 2014-15: $35.8 million
With Emeka Okafor ($14.5 million) and Trevor Ariza ($7.7 million) coming off the books after the 2013-14 season, the up-and-coming Washington Wizards are going to have some serious money to play with.
But before anyone gets too excited about the paltry $22.9 million in guaranteed salaries, keep in mind that that figure doesn't include key options on most of Washington's core players.
After extending a qualifying offer to John Wall ($9.7 million), and picking up a team option on Bradley Beal ($4.5 million), the Wizards' projected expenditures jump up to about $37 million, which puts them right on the fringes of having the room to sign a max player.
Chances are that the Wiz will at least consider picking up options on Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton. Plus, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker will be due qualifying offers as well.
So realistically, the Wizards are looking at a payroll of something in the neighborhood of $50-$55 million.
Washington's key concern next summer will be negotiating an extension with Wall after extending him a qualifying offer. But after that, the team will need to look at the free-agent market for help up front and in support of Wall.
Nene will be the only proven big man on the roster next summer, so mid-tier options like Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and Marcin Gortat (all unrestricted free agents) should warrant a look. There's also the possibility that the Wizards retain Okafor at a steep discount.
Eric Maynor has a player option of $2.1 million for the 2014-15 season, but even if he sticks around the Wizards are going to need a capable backup for the historically fragile Wall. Kirk Hinrich and Rodney Stuckey would be cheap options, while someone like Kyle Lowry (who will make about $6 million in 2013-14) could be an intriguing budget-stretching option.