2014 Free-Agent Shopping Lists for Teams with Most Cap Space

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

2014 Free-Agent Shopping Lists for Teams with Most Cap Space

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    The NBA's salary cap is likely set to increase by about $5 million this summer, leaving it at approximately $63.2 million. 

    That's good news for teams rich in cap space. They just got a little bit richer.

    It's also good news for any team looking to make a run at the likes of Carmelo Anthony should he opt out of his current contract with the New York Knicks. There's also a chance one or all of the Miami Heat's Big Three could terminate their contracts early.

    In all likelihood, however, free agency will probably be a slightly more tame affair. Anthony could very well be on the move, but he may wind up at his destination via a sign-and-trade so that he could land with a preferred suitor like the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets.

    That could take him out of the equation for most of the teams on the list.

    As for the teams on this list, they all have one thing in common: Over $10 million worth of cap space this coming summer.

    All cap figures are taken from Hoopshype.com.

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks signed Paul Millsap last summer, and there's no doubt that the relatively safe move helped propel the team to the postseason.

    The organization isn't positioned this offseason to make a huge splash. It simply doesn't feature the kind of talent that would attract another superstar. But another move of Millsap proportions could be in order. The Hawks could have close to $15 million in cap space with which to work.

    The key will be finding someone who actually fits into Atlanta's newfound culture. As Grantland's Zach Lowe notes, "[General manager Danny] Ferry comes from the Spurs tree, which means he prizes coachability and quiet workers." 

    So that probably rules out Lance Stephenson.

    But the Hawks could certainly use a swingman of that ilk. Another Indiana Pacer, Evan Turner, might be a solution. Turner is a restricted free agent, but the Hawks might be willing to invest more than what the Pacers have in mind.

    Atlanta is an organization that also cherishes shooting so don't be surprised to see a more modest move aimed at acquiring someone like guard Jodie Meeks. 

     

Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics will likely be patient with using their cap space. They have only around $47 million committed next season with Kris Humphries' contract expiring, but Boston general manager Danny Ainge isn't looking to make minor, piecemeal upgrades.

    He's more likely looking to surround point guard Rajon Rondo with premier talent, perhaps by making a run at the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love either via the trade market or in free agency come next summer.

    The best thing Ainge can do in the meantime is look to surround some of his young pieces, like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, with veteran leadership.

    That could mean adding role players, like a Kirk Hinrich or Mike Miller. But don't expect any significant expenditures, since doing so now would potentially complicate Ainge's ability to go after superstar talent when it becomes available.

    At the moment, this franchise is in rebuilding mode, and it's unlikely someone like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony would take his talents to Boston. That might change in time, but now probably isn't the Celtics' moment to strike.

Charlotte Hornets

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    According to The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan has some ambitious plans for the offseason.

    MJ explained as much, using Al Jefferson's success as evidence that big names can thrive with the franchise: "I always thought it was a great destination. I think Big Al (Jefferson) proved you can come here and make a big difference. Hopefully we can look at that and attract some other superstar."

    That's probably easier said than done, given the rival suitors that most superstars destined for free agency over the next couple of summers will have. It's hard to see a legitimate superstar passing up the Los Angeles Lakers to sign with Charlotte.

    The next best bet might be a high-risk, high-reward option like Lance Stephenson. Grantland's Zach Lowe writes: "Stephenson would provide some juice for an offense that needs it, as well as ensure that Kemba Walker isn’t overburdened. He just spent four years learning a defensive system that isn’t much different from what Steve Clifford runs. Charlotte got a taste of winning, and they’re hungry for more."

    Restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe would also represent an upgrade over Gerald Henderson at shooting guard, but he could come at an especially steep price.

    A small forward like Rudy Gay or Luol Deng would take some pressure off the shooting-challenged Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets ultimately must be able to space the floor more effectively, so a swingman who can knock down three-pointers should be high on their list of needs.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Much of the Cleveland Cavaliers' offseason plans will depend on whether the club brings back small forward Luol Deng and center Spencer Hawes. If the Cavs sign both to lucrative long-term deals, much of that cap space could dry up.

    Keeping the current group together isn't necessarily a high priority given the disappointing 2013-14 campaign. There's a young core in place, and the backcourt is pretty much set with a three-man rotation of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack. The task at hand is really to find a solid wing player or big man who complements their No. 1 overall selection in this summer's draft.

    The direction Cleveland takes in the draft will likely shape any subsequent free-agent plans. Drafting center Joel Embiid would would put the priority on signing a swingman (or re-signing Deng). Drafting Andrew Wiggins would mean looking for a veteran center (or re-signing Hawes).

    Cleveland's cap space will also take a hit if the club picks up its $9.8 million option on Anderson Varejao. 

    With or without Varejao, the Cavs should be fairly well stocked in the painted areas, especially if they re-sign Hawes.

    But if Deng departs, look for Cleveland to make a run at a veteran replacement like Trevor Ariza or Shawn Marion. Even if the organization opts to draft Wiggins, having a more experienced mentor around certainly couldn't hurt.

     

Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks currently only have over $26 million on the books for the 2014-15 campaign, but there will be a strong inclination to keep much of this group together after nearly upsetting the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game first-round series.

    Dirk Nowitzki isn't going anywhere, so he'll add to that cap figure. Vince Carter and/or Shawn Marion may very well return to, so when it's all said and done the Mavericks will probably only have room for one major signing.

    The club could always make a run at a superstar like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh (in the event they opt out of their current contracts), and that would probably require parting ways with one or both of Carter and Marion.

    Dallas' cap figure will also depend on how much of a hometown discount Nowitzki offers upon re-signing. All indications are that the 35-year-old will accept a steep paycut in order to help build a winner as his career winds down.

    More than any other major free-agent player, Dallas may have the clearest-cut needs.

    The first priority is upgrading at small forward. Even if incumbent Shawn Marion sticks around at a lower price, a borderline star like Luol Deng makes a lot of sense. The 29-year-old Deng averaged 16 points and 5.7 rebounds, splitting time between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers last season. He'd give the Mavericks some needed length, solid defense and improved perimeter shooting.

    The other big need is a center, although it sounds like Dallas will pick up its team option on Samuel Dalembert. 

    Pau Gasol would be an intriguing upgrade, and if Chris Bosh becomes available, a return home to Dallas would be a fitting next step for the Miami big man. A more realistic target might be Marcin Gortat in the event the Polish Hammer becomes to pricey for the Washington Wizards' taste.

Detroit Pistons

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    The Detroit Pistons' rebuilt front office now features president of basketball operations (and head coach) Stan Van Gundy along with general manager Jeff Bowers.

    Their first priority will be re-signing restricted free agent Greg Monroe. The 24-year-old's rookie contract is expiring, and he's in store for a pretty big raise. Even so, the club will have some spending money with Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey coming off the books.

    The frontcourt appears to be set unless the Pistons look to make a trade. The bigger need appears to be on the wing, where rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is still developing.

    That could make the Pistons bidders for a player like Lance Stephenson or Evan Turner. Both Pacer forwards are versatile swingman who can pass the ball, a nice perk for a team that could definitely use another playmaker in the rotation.

    Someone like Nick Young could come in and take some of the pressure off Caldwell-Pope in the short-term.

    The Pistons could also look for a true small forward to ultimately replace Josh Smith. At the moment, Detroit has Smith playing small forward, and its unclear whether that's actually sustainable. Playing from the 3-spot forces Smith to take more outside jumpers than anyone wants to see. He's much better playing near the basket as a power forward.

    So as to avoid logjams, that may mean a trade is in fact in order. But we've yet to hear any indications that Detroit plans to move either Smith, Monroe or emergent center Andre Drummond. If anyone's going to be on the move, it's probably Smith.

    If Rudy Gay opts out of his contract with the Sacramento Kings, he'd immediately become a prime target.

    For similar reasons, Luol Deng would also be a strong fit.

     

Los Angeles Lakers

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    General manager Mitch Kupchak has a narrow window of opportunity to surround Kobe Bryant with championship talent in his final years. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly averse to making any big signings this summer.

    Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding reported in March that the Lakers, "are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer."

    Ding explained:

    Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love,LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.

    That's consistent with reports that the organization probably won't be pursuing Carmelo Anthony this summer.

    Nevertheless, the franchise appears to be keeping an open mind, according to USA Today's Sam Amick:

    The slow pace of the Lakers' coaching search that began April 30 when Mike D'Antoni resigned has been timed deliberately with the upcoming free agency period in the NBA, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Specifically, the idea that the Lakers could beat the odds and land the likes of the Heat's LeBron James, the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony or any of the other superstars who may be free agents on July 1 has led the Lakers to plod through their process so as to not limit their potential options.

    So at the top of L.A.'s to-do list is the possibility of pulling off a free-agent coup, stealing away the superstar likes of James and, perhaps, Anthony. If that doesn't come to fruition, the club still has to put together a rotation around Bryant and point guard Steve Nash.

    There are a number of options who played with the team last season, including Nick Young, Jodie Meeks, Kent Bazemore, Jordan Farmar and—of course—Pau Gasol. While it's unlikely all of them return, they're a starting point for a team that at times showed some impressive scoring ability last season.

    The problem was defense. If the franchise does make any long-term commitments this summer, a solid defender like Luol Deng could be one solution.

    Boston's restricted free agent Avery Bradley and former Laker Trevor Ariza would also improve the team's perimeter defense, so don't count out a move along those lines if the price is right.

    There's a good chance this will be a relatively quiet offseason, though. If the Lakers are holding out for 2015, it will look to preserve cap space and avoid signing anyone to long-term deals. It's less exciting in the short-term, but it could certainly prove prudent over the long haul.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Milwaukee Bucks' roster will receive its biggest jolt from the No. 2-overall selection in this summer's draft.

    Beyond acquiring one of either Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins, the Bucks may have a pretty quiet offseason. Though the club is scheduled to have only $43 million on the books, it has to think about maintaining the flexibility to re-sign youngsters like Brandon Knight, John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    The organization has already made long-term commitments to Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo.

    With so many young pieces in place and another one on its way via the draft, the Bucks front office and coaching staff now have to think about how to get those prospects playing time. A small forward like Luol Deng would be great to have around, but his presence could come at the expense Antetokounmpo's development.

    Look instead for Milwaukee to unearth a veteran or two who won't require substantial minutes. Someone like the Brooklyn Nets Shaun Livingston would be an intriguing option to provide backcourt depth and versatility.

    Any of the Lakers' castaways would similarly help improve this club's depth (e.g., Jodie Meeks or Nick Young).

    Outside of some marginal upgrades, most of Milwaukee's improvement will come from young guys currently on the roster getting better. Such is the nature of a rebuild.

Orlando Magic

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    The Orlando Magic have big money to spend, but the club is really focusing its attention on developing young talent internally. It's already been burned once by a big-name star (Dwight Howard), so don't look for the Magic to try and swing any superteam ambitions just yet.

    The Magic has the No. 4 and No. 12 overall picks in the upcoming draft, so a young core led by Victor Oladipo and Maurice Harkless will get a little deeper. Other than a veteran signing or two, Orlando may not have much personnel movement. 

    Orlando also has a team option for Jameer Nelson worth $8 million. Whether the club keeps him around will accordingly impact its ability to bring in outside talent.

    So too does long-term planning. The Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz explains:

    The Magic can offer a free agent a deal in either of these ranges this offseason, and more next season.

    Orlando's needs don't exactly match up with the stars possibly available this summer. Younger players such as Greg Monroe and Lance Stephenson are appealing. But they are restricted free agents, meaning their teams can match any offer.

    It is why GM Rob Hennigan is aiming to the summer of 2015, when he has roughly $36 million in the coffers. Presumably, the perfect target would be Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge and Rajon Rondo are other stars who could be on the market. Klay Thompson, Reggie Jackson and Kawhi Leonard are restricted.

    In the meantime, Orlando will continue developing its youngsters, perhaps hoping that their eventual growth will play a role in attracting additional talent. The team's shopping list could grow much longer before long.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Philadelphia 76ers are still firmly entrenched in the early stages of a rebuild. The good news is that Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel will get the team off to a solid start.

    And the No. 3 and No. 10 overall selections in this summer's draft certainly won't hurt.

    Given the team's trajectory, don't count on it becoming a major destination for veteran talent. A shooting guard like 23-year-old Lance Stephenson might make sense, but it wouldn't make sense to bring in someone who's looking to win now.

    So forget about guys like Paul Pierce.

    Like many young teams stockpiling high-caliber prospects, the 76ers have to be careful about overspending now so that they have the flexibility to keep this group together as rookie contracts expire. It's the same reason the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't sign expensive talent to supplement younger versions of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

    Even then, it became too expensive to keep James Harden around, too.

    Philly could face a similar situation as so many premium prospects come into their own and demand big raises.

    ESPNInsider's Amin Elhassan (subscription required) cites Kirk Hinrich and Richard Jefferson, among others, as the kind of veterans who could help turn the Sixers' fortunes around sooner rather than later. They'd be fairly inexpensive solutions who could help lead a young locker room and develop talent.

    That may be about as ambitious as Philadelphia gets this summer. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey, head coach Brett Brown noted that the team still isn't a premier free-agent destination, saying, "No free agent is going to want to come to Philadelphia at this stage. Why would a good free agent want to come in and be a part of a rebuild?"

    Good question.

    Philadelphia's improvement will continue to come through the draft and internal improvement. This young core has a long way to go.

Phoenix Suns

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    With Emeka Okafor's contract coming off the books, the Phoenix Suns will have plenty of money to spend this summer—potentially in the range of $25 million.

    A big chunk of that could go to combo-guard Eric Bledsoe. Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears cites "NBA sources" who believe "it will take full max deal to control" the 24-year-old. 

    Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 43 games this season for the Suns. Alongside point guard Goran Dragic, Bledsoe helped make up one of the best young backcourts in the league, albeit an undersized one.

    He could also become part of trade talks, especially if the Suns are serious about making a run at the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love.

    The Suns may not be big spenders this summer, even if they have the resources to be. The team has three first-round draft picks that will require some resources to sign, at least if those picks aren't moved in trade talks.

    That said, Phoenix could certainly use a veteran big man—particular one who's patient enough to be part of a young, up-and-coming team that almost made the playoffs this season. This club isn't going to contend anytime soon, but it did turn heads this season.

    If things don't work out with Bledsoe, look for the Suns to become far more aggressive—either pursuing a shooting guard to replace Bledsoe or a top-shelf big man like restricted free agent Greg Monroe.

    Shooting guard options could include Indiana's Lance Stephenson or Evan Turner, Boston's Avery Bradley and Utah's Gordon Hayward. All except Stephenson are restricted free agents, but Phoenix would have enough money to overspend and make the current teams of these free agents think twice about matching offer sheets.

Toronto Raptors

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    The Toronto Raptors could use much of their $20-or-so million in cap room to re-sign veteran point guard Kyle Lowry, almost certainly the club's most consistent performer throughout the postseason. After making just $6.2 million this season, Lowry is in store for a big raise, perhaps one that would nearly double his previous salary.

    The organization will also have decisions to make on restricted free agents Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson. 

    If it chooses to keep the current group together, say goodbye to that cap room—at least for now. Chuck Hayes and Landry Fields will be coming off the books after next season. That could be another reason for the franchise to remain fiscally stingy in the short-term. It might have a better shot at free agents down the road a little ways.

    If talks with Lowry break down, the club could instead look at making a pricey run at restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe. He'd pick up where Lowry left off, but he could be even more expensive.

    A less pricey option might be the Sacramento Kings' Isaiah Thomas, also a restricted free agent. Even restricted free agent Avery Bradley might be able to fill in and become a full-time starting point guard. He's mostly played at the 2-spot in Boston thanks to Rajon Rondo's presence, but he could probably play the point in the mold of Indiana's George Hill.

    One way or the other, the Raptors should find a point guard to continue guiding them to ever greater playoff heights.

Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz's first offseason decision is how much to spend on restricted free agent Gordon Hayward. With the market set to determine his value, the franchise has to determine if it's willing to match whatever offers Hayward happens to fetch.

    It's highly unlikely that figure will be anywhere near the range of a max deal, but it could still get pricey. The two sides could have very different views when it comes to settling on the right price. Back in 2013, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported on failed extension talks:

    Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey and Hayward's agent Mark Bartelstein had been seriously trading proposals for the past week, but couldn't come to terms on an extension, sources said.

    The sides never came close on a deal, remaining several million dollars apart, league sources told Yahoo. Hayward had been seeking a deal in the four-year, $50-million plus range, sources said. 

    Wojnarowski nevertheless suggested that matching another team's offer sheet this summer, "is the likely scenario."

    The Jazz would still have some remaining cap room, even as Derrick Favors' four-year, $47 million extension is set to take effect.

    But Utah will likely be pretty conservative when it comes to shopping. The team has the No. 5 overall selection in this summer's draft and will eventually have to give raises to youngsters like Trey Burke and Alec Burks.

    To keep this whole thing financially sustainable, you probably won't see any other big deals happening in the short-term.

    If the club doesn't re-sign Hayward, look for it to pursue a veteran swingman like Luol Deng. The Jazz could use some locker-room leadership with new head coach Quin Snyder entering his first campaign as at the helm of an NBA team. Deng could provide that.

Washington Wizards

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    The Washington Wizards likely won't have to look very far to spend their money this summer. The club's own free agents—Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza—stand a good chance of returning after helping Washington to an impressive playoff run that included a first-round victory over the Chicago Bulls.

    Gortat and Ariza each made around $7.7 million apiece this season, and at least Gortat will be in store for a raise. 

    The big man proved a valuable complement to Nene Hilario, and there's no reason to blow up an emerging young core. According to The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg, "Gortat, of course, has flirted with this question for months, never saying he definitely wants to remain in Washington, but never suggesting he’s likely to leave."

    The organization reportedly wants to re-sign both Gortat and Ariza, and that would occupy most—if not all—of its remaining cap space.

    So this might not be the most thrilling offseason in franchise history, but it could be a productive one. Sometimes maintaining continuity is the best move a team can make.