We have seen many predictions on what free agents are going to what team over this lockout period. Truth is, it's all speculation. With the collective bargaining agreement yet to be signed, we still do not know the new rules free agents will have to abide by going forward.
One of the major factors that will determine the landscape of free agency will be this possible new version of the amnesty clause. Although not agreed on as of yet, there is little doubt that there will be some form of the clause present when the smoke finally clears. The latest version discussed would not only alleviate salary cap penalties, but would lessen the cap hit by 75 percent.
ESPN recently ran an article listing the cap ramifications if the most likely salary is released. Based on their numbers, there are five teams that will have over $20 million in free cap space.
Looking at those five teams, where will the spend their new found cap space? Let's explore...
Amnesty clause casualty: Al Harrington
Salary cap space after move: $30 million
The Denver Nuggets will presumably have the opportunity to shed Harrington's $16.5 million guaranteed when the lockout is lifted. The move is almost a forgone conclusion and will leave the Nuggets with the ability to sign multiple players.
Although they made the playoffs last season, the Nuggets are in rebuilding mode. Good sense says they will look to make solid, not splashy moves this offseason.
Unrestricted free agent Nene is the cream of the 2011 crop and will get multiple offers all over the NBA. He has been said to be looking to play with a contender and has already turned down a four year, $50 million extension with Denver last season.
With few contending teams having the cap room to sign Nene outright, the Nuggets may be able to obtain some assets in a sign and trade similar to the Carmelo Anthony move.
Restricted free agent guard Arron Affalo seems to be a priority and Denver will most likely match any reasonable offer. Swing man Wilson Chandler is a bit more complicated, being that he is playing in China at the moment. He is also a restricted free agent and could be matched as well.
With forward Danilo Gallinari one year away from hitting restricted free agent status, the Nuggets will have the luxury to watch his progress this season and make a decision on him in 2012.
Expect the Nuggets to be much more active in the trade market, looking for a sign and trade deal for Nene and moving former All-Star Andre Miller to a team looking for help at the point. Denver will probably save most of their chips to spend next year.
Amnesty clause casualty: Rashard Lewis
Salary cap room after move: $29 million
Rashard Lewis is also a virtual lock for the amnesty chopping block. His hefty $25 million plus will create ample maneuvering room for the young Wizards crew.
The first priority in the nation's capitol will most certainly be 6'6" swing man Nick Young. Young had a breakout season in 2011, netting 17.4 points per game in just under 32 minutes per game. The 25-year-old looks to be on the verge of stardom and the Wizards are most certainly looking to pair him with phenom John Wall for the foreseeable future.
The Wizards are almost certain to give Young a max extension to avoid the free agent frenzy that could occur if he hits the market as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Depending on what the collective bargaining agreement lays out, that deal could take up anywhere from $12 to $14 million the first year.
Thaddeus Young could be a target for the Wizards as well. The athletic forward had another solid season for the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging a respectable 12.7 point on 54 percent shooting. Young is a restricted free agent this offseason, but with the Wizards set with significant talent at every position but small forward, extending a significant offer to Young could be a low risk, high reward move. Young, Young and Wall may sound like a law firm, but could be a force for years to come in the Eastern Conference.
The Wizards will most certainly be looking to get in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes in 2012 as well and with new ownership taking over, Washington could just sign Nick Young and make small moves with an eye towards next summer.
Amnesty clause casualty: Dahntay Jones
Salary cap room after move: $23 million
Unlike the Wizards and Nuggets, all expectations are that the Indiana Pacers will be extremely aggressive this offseason. Dahntay Jones has $2.7 million due this year and a player option for $2.9 that he will most definitely exercise next season. Shaving that off the cap will allow Indiana to make at least one major move this season.
Free agent David West is firmly set in the cross-hairs of the Pacers. West decided to opt out of the final season under his contract, forfeiting $7.5 million to hit the free agent market. The move was somewhat risky, as West is coming off a torn ACL and recently turned 31 years old. Demand for West and his 19 points per game will definitely be there and the Pacers will be right there in the mix. Expect the Pacers to get their guy, probably in the four year, $40 million range.
Roy Hibbert seems entrenched at center and he is set to become a restricted free agent next summer. Hibbert has his issues. He seems tentative at times and has stretches where he goes missing. He is 7'2", however, and that is something that can not be taught. He's highly skilled in the post, a fantastic passer and is still only 24 years old. With season averages of 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, there is little chance Indy will let him go. His deal will most certainly be in the $8 to $10 million range.
If there is anything left after paying West and Hibbert, the Pacers could turn their eye to fortifying the the bench. They will need some depth up front. West slides Tyler Hansborough to the bench, a role in which he is much better suited for. They could look to add a back-up big man to the mix. Middle men like Aaron Gray, Kwame Brown, Hilton Armstrong and Kyrylo Fesenko will all get a look from the Pacers.
Amnesty clause casualty: Travis Outlaw
Salary cap room after the move: $21.5 million
Like the Pacers, the New Jersey Nets will be highly motivated to make major moves this offseason. With Travis Outlaw's $24 million guaranteed off the books, the Nets will be looking to hook a big fish this year and and the biggest fish of all next year.
The Nets will have to be competitive this year to keep superstar point guard Deron Williams interested in sticking around for the big move to Brooklyn in 2012. Nene, as noted earlier, is looking to move and a Deron Williams, Nene, Brook Lopez union could propel the Nets into the playoffs next season.
Nene's bruising post play and physical defense exactly what is needed in the New Jersey lineup. He averaged a solid 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting a league-leading 61 percent from the floor. He has the versatility to play power forward as well as center and is a great contrast to Lopez's high post game. Nene will be expensive, but the Nets really need a player of his caliber and will gladly foot the bill.
Another player bound to get a look here is former Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko, who is presently playing in Russia, is a versatile forward who could add depth to the Net lineup. His length has always been a factor defensively and the connection between he and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is undeniable. Kirilenko's 11.7 points coupled with his ability to disrupt the opposition, will be a welcomed addition.
Amnesty clause casualty: None
Salary cap room after move: $24 million
This one is a head-scratcher. While it is hard to see the money conscious Kings not using the amnesty clause on swing men Francisco Garcia or John Salmons, the NBA is discussing a minimum payroll threshold. If that is the case, the Kings may opt to keep both and move them in a trade rather than let them walk for nothing in return.
That being said, the Kings could go in many directions. One option is to retain explosive guard Marcus Thornton. Thornton struggled for much of the year but averaged 21.3 points in 27 games with the Kings after being traded in February. Thornton is a restricted free agent and will most certainly get a sizable deal on the open market.
If they choose to retain Thornton, they could go with a three guard look with Thornton and Tyreke Evans in the backcourt and Salmons or Gracia joining the starting lineup. Conventional wisdom tells you 'the Evans playing point guard" experiment could be coming to an end. In that case, the Kings could look to move a few pieces—maybe Garcia and Jason Thompson, for example—for a more conventional point guard like Jameer Nelson.
With no players available that could really move the dial this offseason, the Sacramento Kings could very well choose to hold on to Marcus Thornton and keep their hands in their pockets.