5 NBA Teams That Will Be Prime Free-Agent Destinations During the 2015 Offseason
Singling out the most attractive free-agent destinations involves more than picking NBA team names out of a feather-clad fedora.
A lot goes into spotting the hottest locales. Suitors must have ample cap space, for starters. The more they're projected to have, the better.
Incumbent talent is equally important. Convincing impact players to join a cause that doesn't already include any of their peers is a tough sell.
Recent performances also play a part. It's easier to pitch good players on good teams.
Absent a concrete foundation and imminent winning, there needs to be something else—something aside from the green. Maybe it's a history of success. Perhaps it's a friendly climate or popular market. Whatever it is, it needs to supplant the most obvious advertising points.
This summer's most attractive options will be franchises that offer the most of what free agents value. They come from all different walks of NBA life, good and bad, and have plenty of cash to throw around.
Poaching free agents is tricky business for every team, no matter the situation. Remember that. But the open market holds more promise than usual for these select few talent hunters.
The race to rival the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference is on, and no rebuilding project is better situated to soon establish itself as a legitimate threat than the Boston Celtics.
Team president Danny Ainge has amassed as many as six first-rounders between 2015 and 2017—including Boston's own—and the Celtics will have mounds of cap space to play with over the summer.
Squads in this position aren't typically flush with talent. Financial flexibility comes at a price, and that price is usually bodies. But the Celtics are an exception.
Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart make up one of the East's best point guard platoons, and they'll earn less than $10.4 million combined next season. Avery Bradley, an ideal three-and-D weapon, is a steal at under $7.8 million. Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller are still playing for their rookie scales, while Evan Turner is being paid like a rookie.
Those seven make up most of the core that clinched a totally unexpected playoff berth. The Celtics have their own free agents to worry about in Brandon Bass, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko, but no one who will hold up their offseason pursuits.
They also have Brad Stevens, a sideline stud in the making. He's extracted production out of preordained lost causes such as Turner and Zeller, and his versatile, mismatch-creating lineups are designed to let big names eat.
Boston just needs that big name. And, according to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, Ainge intends to land one this summer.
Names such as Kevin Love and Greg Monroe are already being tossed around, per Kyler, but the subject matter is admittedly irrelevant. The Celtics have the means to chase any free agent they please.
More importantly, they also have the incumbent flexibility and talent to catch any free agent interested in attaching himself to a rising stock.
Don't stop me if you've heard this one before, because let's face it, you've heard this one before.
The Dallas Mavericks remain all about free agency. They have only three guaranteed contracts on the books for next season: Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons. That number climbs to five if you assume Raymond Felton (player option) and Dwight Powell (non-guaranteed) return, which they will.
Unlike the talent-stocked Celtics, the Mavericks' nearly barren cupboard means they have a host of in-house situations to figure out. Although Rajon Rondo is good as gone, a verdict must be rendered on Al-Farouq Aminu, J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis, among others.
Signing any combination of those four will cut significantly into the Mavericks' financial plasticity. Still, if they're prepared to roll the dice, they can carve out max-contract space.
Superhuman center DeAndre Jordan and offensive virtuoso LaMarcus Aldridge are genuinely interested in playing for Dallas, according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein. Those rumors alone are assuredly enough to convince owner Mark Cuban to retrieve his lucky dice from his robot-guarded vault.
Now, the Mavericks' free-agent track record over the last four years doesn't portend good times this summer. They whiffed on Deron Williams (2012), Dwight Howard (2013) and Carmelo Anthony (2014) and have spent the seasons since their title-toting campaign (2010-11) treading water as they wait for their next score.
But they also have three playoff berths in four seasons to show during this transition period. And if they can essentially guarantee a first-round cameo while building makeshift models on the fly, imagine what they can do with a legitimate cornerstone.
Cuban is forever willing to spend like crazy, Nowitzki is still productive, Parsons isn't yet a contractual bust, coach Rick Carlisle can coax production out of any point guard not named Rajon Rondo and Dallas has good BBQ. The offseason sales pitches write themselves.
So long as the Mavericks maintain their flexibility, they'll boast the requisite clout needed to nab any one or more of this summer's biggest names.
Los Angeles Lakers
Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers are here. They're still a prime free-agent destination.
For starters, they'll have gobs of cap space and are unafraid to use it. As general manager Mitch Kupchak said to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck: "We don’t have...the time to methodically and slowly build through the draft."
Speaking of the draft: The Lakers own the No. 2 selection in the June 25 extravaganza. Tell any free agent worth a lick he can help headline a still-storied franchise with the help of Emmanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, D'Angelo Russell or Karl-Anthony Towns, and wink-and-the-gun contract agreements are immediately in play.
Kobe Bryant's swan song plays right into the Lakers' hands as well. Making an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio, Kupchak reiterated what we've known all along, per ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes: Next season is probably it for Bryant.
Even if it's not, inbound superstars can sync up with Los Angeles knowing he is, at the very least, nearing retirement, and that the franchise will be in their hands soon enough. That's yet another selling point for big names with egos. (So, all big names.)
It also says something that the Lakers aren't being portrayed as afterthoughts.
Talking with one another on The Lowe Post podcast (h/t RealGM), Grantland’s Zach Lowe and ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst brought word that Love is still a flight risk in Cleveland. Lowe himself cited the Lakers as the foremost reason.
“Part of what’s going on there is the Lakers’ boogeyman,” he said. “They don’t just say he’s out of there; they say ‘He’s going to the Lakers.’ That has as much to do with the fear people have of the Lakers as it does with Kevin Love.”
With only four guaranteed contracts on the ledger for 2015-16, the Lakers aren't just tethered to one name or a lone long shot such as Love. They can instantly become part of the conversation for Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap and whomever else they deem worthy of cashing their checks.
There is strength in dollar signs. And past championships. And warm weather. And phenomenal Mexican cuisine.
Los Angeles can pitch free agents on all four.
New York Knicks
New York is often oversold as a market. The winters are stupid, the taxes are high and the traffic is seldom worth the destination to which you're headed.
Yet, despite playing home to a relatively cruddy franchise over the last four decades, it is still the basketball mecca. That, coupled with the $25 million-plus in cap space the Knicks will enjoy, is enough for Phil Jackson and friends to crack this list.
This has nothing to do with Jackson's 11 championship rings (as a head coach), or the Knicks' hybrid triangle offense, or even their No. 4 pick in this year's draft. It has everything to do with Anthony.
Pushing 31, he is not the ideal long-term building block. But, much like Bryant's last hurrah helps the Lakers, Anthony's twilight aids the Knicks' free-agent ventures.
He will be more accepting of playing second banana to—or sharing one banana peel with—a guy such as Aldridge, Gasol, Love and whomever else the Knicks intend to pursue. He has no choice. His superstar window will close sometime over the life of his current deal, and he knows more than anyone even the best players cannot go it alone these days.
Having Anthony, a superstar for now, is just huge in general. The Knicks' surrounding talent, right down to their draft pick, is underdeveloped at best. Anthony is a proven commodity with gas left in his primal tank, making him a stronger selling point than someone such as Nowitzki or Bryant.
Beyond that, the Knicks play in a wide-open Eastern Conference. As Posting & Toasting's Joe Flynn previously underscored, that can be a useful tool under the circumstances:
Or perhaps you could point out that a Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks team won 54 games in the East as recently as two years ago. Surround Melo and a (hopefully) elite high draft pick with a few quality starters, and the Knicks could immediately vault themselves into the playoff race in the lame-ass East. It certainly beats playing the Clippers in the first round!
While the Cavaliers will lord over everyone for a while, the tier beneath them is accepting applications. For stars who value convenience—specifically those who have taken part in the West's bloodbath—the Knicks pose an intriguing fit.
Feeble? Perhaps. But it's something. Besides, high-profile franchises such as the Knicks will always, on some level, be draws no matter how bad they look from the outside.
San Antonio Spurs
When the San Antonio Spurs come calling, you listen. And this summer, general manager R.C. Buford and head coach/wine aficionado/expert scowler Gregg Popovich have their rotary phones at the ready.
"The team will probably look considerably different than it looks this year," Popovich said, per the San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald, "because we have so many free agents, and we want to re-tool a little bit."
Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein the Spurs are gearing up for (uncharacteristic) runs at big names such as Aldridge and Gasol. Though the expected returns of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, per Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher, make manufacturing max cap space difficult, it's not impossible.
Assuming the Spurs forge the necessary spending power, their sales pitch is simple: Players who feel like winning should join them.
This is a Spurs team that was one win away from clinching the West's No. 2 seed. Had another possession or two gone in their favor against the Los Angeles Clippers, they might even still be playing.
Kawhi Leonard is a lock to return, as well as an NBA Finals MVP; Tony Parker can still get his dribble drive on; Ginobili remains a versatile maniac; Popovich's minutes management can extend careers; and Duncan will end up on scads of NBA Mount Rushmores one day.
Plus, the Spurs have snatched five championships since 1998 and won fewer than 57 percent of their regular-season tilts just once in the last 26 years.
Ignoring the threat they pose as a free-agent suitor is impossible.
Sustained excellence and perpetual title contention are indomitable—not to mention commodities no other team can offer.
Salary information via BasketballInsiders.com.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale.