NBA Free Agency 2017: An Early Look at Each Team's Top Potential Targets
If you're not down with early NBA free-agency takez, you've come to the wrong place.
Last July's $102 million salary-cap and $122 million luxury-tax forecasts will shape every team's shopping list. Squads will not be tied to players they can't afford. Even the most ambitious targets must be within reason.
Three potential marks will be listed for every franchise, ranked in order of increasing impact and fit. Every suggestion is independent of the others. Teams will not be able to sign every player. This is more of an "If Player A doesn't pan out, then this team should pivot to Player B" situation.
There will be overlap, in addition to noteworthy exclusions. Derrick Rose isn't going to make the cut for outfits in need of a point guard when Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Jeff Teague, among others, can be had at similar price points.
Free-agent formalities won't be up for consideration. Guys such as Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant aren't going anywhere; including them as options for outside suitors is pointless. A team's own free agents won't be eligible for primary-target status unless they haven't been under contract long enough for their Bird rights to transfer (i.e. Dewayne Dedmon with the San Antonio Spurs). Players with team options or non-guaranteed deals are out as well.
Summertime projections are beyond fluid this time of year, so every scenario should be consumed with a side of leeway. And remember: Salary-cap gymnastics matter just as much as team fit and needs.
1. Darren Collison
2. Sergio Rodriguez
3. P.J. Tucker
Unless they plan on blowing up their core, the Atlanta Hawks will be operating as a capped-out team over the summer.
Paul Millsap can grant them some flexibility if he opts into the last year of his deal, valued at $21.5 million, rather than exploring free agency. But it makes more sense for him to chase long-term money, and general manager Wes Wilcox told The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski re-signing him is "absolutely" Atlanta's top priority.
Pre-contract holds on Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala and Thabo Sefolosha carry the Hawks' commitments past the $100 million mark. They'll need to try ducking the luxury tax while keeping everyone and then hope the mid-level exception—projected to reach $8.4 million for non-taxpayers, per RealGM—is enough to land impactful fish.
Basically: Atlanta cannot set its sights too high.
Targeting backup-caliber point guards and defensive specialists might even be a tad ambitious. But the offense could use a second-string playmaker such as Darren Collison or, more affordably, Sergio Rodriguez. P.J. Tucker keeps with the Hawks' defensive theme and becomes particularly valuable if Hardaway or Sefolosha walks.
1. Gordon Hayward (player option)
2. JaMychal Green (restricted)
3. Serge Ibaka
Contrary to many other teams, the Boston Celtics' path to max cap space is relatively clear. Renouncing the rights to impending free agents and waiving Tyler Zeller's non-guaranteed $8 million salary gets them to almost $30 million in wiggle room after factoring in holds for their eventual first-round pick and resulting empty roster spots.
Gordon Hayward is the natural primary target. Boston is forever linked to Jimmy Butler and Paul George, and the connection between head coach Brad Stevens and Hayward is real enough to make the Utah Jazz sweat. As The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote:
Virtually any team with cap space should pursue Hayward, but considering his desire to contend for a title, it's difficult to pinpoint a situation better than the one he's in now. The only realistic team with max cap space and a less treacherous road to the NBA Finals than the Jazz is the Celtics. Brad Stevens coached Gordon Hayward for two years at Butler and the two have a bond that extends back to Hayward's high school days. There have been rumblings about the duo reuniting ever since Stevens took the Celtics job in 2013; if there's one looming threat to Utah for Hayward, it's Boston.
The Celtics should focus on cheaper contingents if Hayward proves to be a no-go. This way, they needn't gut the ledger of cap filler that will be valuable in future trade proposals for Butler or George.
Giving JaMychal Green well above market value in a short-term contract looms as a tantalizing option. He has morphed into one of the NBA's most versatile defenders, improves Boston's rebounding and spaces the floor enough to play beside Al Horford.
Serge Ibaka would rate higher if he wasn't a fringe-max candidate. His shooting and shot-blocking make him a great frontcourt fit, but if he abandons the Toronto Raptors, it's because another suitor gave him money they wouldn't.
1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (restricted)
2. Andre Roberson (restricted)
3. Otto Porter (restricted)
Who has the time to invest spending power in restricted free agents—players they typically won't land? The Brooklyn Nets.
They aren't in win-now mode and cannot consider tanking until 2019, when they'll once again own their first-rounders free and clear. As Rondae Hollis-Jefferson soaks up more time at power forward, they have every reason to toss big money at young wings and see whether it's enough for rival squads to cave.
Otto Porter is the least obtainable of this bunch. The Washington Wizards don't have the excuses necessary to let him walk for nothing—not after using a first-round pick to offload Andrew Nicholson's contract onto the Nets.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope isn't gettable in the conventional sense. While the Detroit Pistons shopped him ahead of the trade deadline, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, they too will struggle to spin his leaving for nothing. But their commitments to the rest of the roster are steep enough for Brooklyn to make Caldwell-Pope its top priority.
Overpaying Andre Roberson would be an interesting response to the market. He is a fantastic defender, and the Oklahoma City Thunder don't have the scratch to sign his equivalent, but he's not valuable enough on the offensive end to be the guy who ferries a non-contender past the luxury tax.
1. Darren Collison
2. Justin Holiday
3. Joe Ingles (restricted)
The Charlotte Hornets are in a weird spot. They own all their first-round picks and don't have a terrible contract on the books. Miles Plumlee's four-year, $50 million deal is borderline bad, but he has the chops to be a serviceable rim-runner.
Stock the docket with enough reasonably priced agreements, and your cap space is gone. That's the position in which the Hornets find themselves. They have more than $102 million in guaranteed money on the books for next season before accounting for draft picks.
Unloading some digestible commitments offers maneuverability, but dumping at-market deals for nothing is bad business. Charlotte is restricted to searching for consolidation via trade and, most importantly, scouring the landscape for quality contributors on a beggar's dime.
Darren Collison would be a great partner for Kemba Walker, both as a backup and within dual-point guard lineups. Justin Holiday and Joe Ingles are low-key Michael Kidd-Gilchrist/Marco Belinelli hybrids—adaptable defenders who can shoot threes.
Any one of them could end up being too expensive. But the point guard market is saturated enough for the Hornets to check on Collison, while Ingles and Holiday are under the radar enough to warrant sniffing around.
1. Jeff Teague
2. C.J. Miles (player option)
3. Patty Mills
Similar to the franchise's overall direction, the Chicago Bulls' cap situation is very fluid. Dwyane Wade has a $23.8 million option, Rajon Rondo's 2017-18 salary is non-guaranteed and restricted free agents Michael Carter-Williams, Cristiano Felicio, Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Mirotic are all subject to elevated holds.
And then there's the matter of the Bulls' Ross-and-Rachel, will-they-or-won't-they relationship with rebuilding: Will they trade Jimmy Butler and hit reset? Or do they remain committed to winning now?
Getting a top-10 star like Butler is hard, and the Bulls have resisted the urge to trade him thus far. They are married to winning now until they aren't. Their free-agency pursuits have to reflect as much.
Acquiring Cameron Payne doesn't preclude Chicago from signing a point guard. Carter-Williams and Rondo should be goners, and Jerian Grant's recent love affair with three-point makes isn't to be trusted.
Jeff Teague and Patty Mills are two solid, non-max playmakers who fit beside Butler. They can work on or off the ball, and either one beefs up the Bulls' wonky floor-spacing.
C.J. Miles is the combo wing Chicago doesn't have beyond Butler. He is a better shooter than Nikola Mirotic and does far more defensively shimmying between the 3 and 4 than the departed Doug McDermott ever did.
3. Derrick Williams
Assuming they retain Kay Felder (non-guaranteed) and DeAndre Liggins (team option), the Cleveland Cavaliers will have about $128.6 million on next year's invoice. Hello, luxury tax.
Sprinkle in cap holds for Kyle Korver ($10 million) and James Jones ($1.5 million), and a $140 million payroll is within reach. Even if Korver leaves or signs for substantially less, Cleveland is looking at $130 million in raw financial oughts. Goodbye, luxury-tax apron.
Keeping the band together is important when there aren't affordable alternatives. The "Playing with LeBron James!" factor is good for some pay cuts, but you can't flesh out a rotation based solely on his appeal.
Deron Williams and Derrick Williams are flight risks after signing partial-season deals. The latter, at 25, will most likely find more lucrative pastures. Cleveland needs to try to re-sign him anyway because he's shooting 43.3 percent from deep.
Andrew Bogut would have topped the list if he didn't suffer a fractured left tibia in his Cavaliers debut, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. Cleveland needs depth behind Tristan Thompson, and Nene, 34, is at that ring-chasing age. Williams' steadying hand, if nothing else, ensures James won't gripe about a dearth of playmakers during postgame pressers.
1. Jrue Holiday
2. C.J. Miles (player option)
3. J.J. Redick
Exercising it rewards him for his loyalty (and wicked-awesome fadeaways) but deprives the Mavericks of any real free-agency pull. Decline it, get him to re-sign for less, tell Devin Harris (non-guaranteed) to hit the bricks and presto! More than $20 million in flexing power appears.
Owner Mark Cuban addressed this scenario after Nowitzki signed his deal last summer while appearing on CBS Sports Radio's Brown and Scoop podcast:
We wanted to make it a two-year deal with a team option so that people wouldn't speculate that he was going to retire because Dirk is the type of guy, he's just a good guy. He would hate going city to city to city and everyone asking him if he was going to retire because he has no intention of retiring after this year and, with the team option that we have, he gave us the flexibility that said "if we find somebody that we can send the money to that he likes, we all like, then let's do it and if not, let's give the money to Dirk again which I'm fine with too."
Seth Curry and Yogi Ferell are nice pieces, and J.J. Barea will be healthy at some point. But Jrue Holiday is better than them by a wide margin—a floor general who needn't be on-ball at all times.
If the Mavericks are sold on Curry and Ferrell as the backcourt of the future, they can turn their attention to C.J. Miles, a combo forward, and J.J. Redick—catch-and-shoot terrors who offer a little defensive oomph.
1. Paul Millsap (player option)
2. Blake Griffin (early termination option)
3. George Hill
The Denver Nuggets are past adding glue guys and prospects. They stretch two to three rotation players deep at every position and will have max space without doing anything.
It's time to land a star running mate for Nikola Jokic.
Paul Millsap, 32, doesn't fit the Nuggets' timeline, but they have the headroom to sling max money if the Hawks opt for a younger direction. His offensive game complements Jokic's ball dominance, and he instantly becomes the team's best frontcourt stopper.
People close to Blake Griffin told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler the All-Star forward is "not remotely interested in changing teams," but that could change if the Los Angeles Clippers get bounced early from the playoffs. His offensive range makes for a seamless fit with Jokic; Denver just needs to get more perimeter gnats to mask the duo's shaky rim protection.
George Hill isn't a traditional superstar, but he's a high-end point guard who doesn't crimp Emmanuel Mudiay's strengths. He can play on and off the ball while assuming the toughest backcourt defensive assignments.
Sign one of these studs, and the Nuggets are immediately more attractive to the outside eye—a selling point they apparently must address since Paul George didn't show interest in playing for them ahead of the trade deadline, per ESPN.com's Chris Haynes.
1. Omri Casspi
2. Ian Clark
3. Luke Babbitt
It says a lot about the Detroit Pistons' salary-cap situation that Omri Casspi is a shoot-for-the-stars target.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's cap hold ($9.2 million) alone lugs them past $102 million in commitments—and he'll cost more than twice as much after signing his new contract. That number stands to climb depending on what happens with Aron Baynes (player option), Reggie Bullock (restricted), Michael Gbinije (restricted) and Darrun Hilliard (restricted).
Coach-president Stan Van Gundy may take a stick of dynamite to the nucleus. Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Caldwell-Pope were all on the obtainable block leading into the trade deadline, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, and Detroit will have a tough time footing luxury-tax payments for a team that isn't assured of a playoff appearance.
Pivoting to this extent takes time, and it's not like the Pistons are going to ship out core pieces without taking back salary. They're consigned to pillaging through the offseason bargain bin in pursuance of off-ball scorers.
Ian Clark (43.7 percent), Luke Babbitt (43 percent) and Casspi (47.8 percent) all put down enough of their catch-and-shoot triples to make a difference for a Detroit squad that ranks 26th in that category.
Given Jon Leuer's success under Van Gundy, the injured/unemployed Casspi profiles as the ideal target. Ian Clark overtakes him if Jackson is relocated.
Golden State Warriors
1. Zaza Pachulia
2. David West
3. Nene/Anthony Morrow
In no way, shape or form will the Golden State Warriors' offseason be about adding talent. They'll be scrapping and clawing to keep their current core intact.
Ian Clark, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant (player option), Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West are all slated for free agency. It was always going to be a challenge to run it back with this exact team, but a lower salary-cap projection has made it even harder.
Golden State doesn't own Durant's Bird rights and will have to create cap space to re-sign him if he opts out. Everyone other than Curry is in jeopardy of becoming collateral damage—specifically Iguodala and Livingston. The Warriors cannot carry both their cap holds and have enough room to re-sign Durant.
Iguodala and Livingston can help out by signing below-market deals. Ditto for the rest of the supporting cast. But there's no way everyone takes enough of a pay cut to remain in the picture. The Warriors will need to surf for minimum-level replacements.
Anthony Morrow will be in that pool after forgetting how to shoot threes. Nene could find himself there if the Houston Rockets want to throw around their financial weight on younger names. The Warriors may need to explore such options regardless, but branching out becomes even more important if they can't hang on to Pachulia and West, both of whom inked one-year deals last summer.
1. Joe Ingles (restricted)
2. Thabo Sefolosha
3. Dewayne Dedmon (player option)
The Rockets won't have trouble grinding out more than $10 million in cap space. Renouncing the rights to Nene and the K.J. McDaniels trade exception get them close even if they guarantee all their other contracts.
That's not enough to bag All-NBA free agents, but Houston seems fine running a one-star show so long as supporting cast members are ideal fits alongside James Harden. Having $10 million to burn nets a good-to-great defensive-minded wing—a real need following the exits of Corey Brewer and McDaniels.
Joe Ingles could easily price himself out of Utah with George Hill and Gordon Hayward due for mammoth pay increases. He's been the Jazz's best perimeter defender while dancing between three positions, and his 43.2 percent success rate from distance jibes with Houston's all-three-point-everything offense.
Thabo Sefolosha will be 33 when he signs his next contract, but he's a defensive monster. Tony Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are the only wings who have saved more points on the less glamorous end, according to NBA Math. Plus, Sefolosha's three-point clip (34.4 percent) will explode within an offense that generates more wide-open threebies than any other team.
Shelling out money for Dewayne Dedmon is a questionable move with Clint Capela on the roster. But Dedmon can play a similar role off the bench and inoculates the Rockets against huge offer sheets Capela fetches during restricted free agency in 2018.
1. Andre Roberson
2. P.J. Tucker
3. Donatas Motiejunas
The Indiana Pacers have a lot riding on this summer. Paul George is a free agent in 2018, and they need to impress him lest he grow fonder of the Los Angeles Lakers. As USA Today's Sam Amick detailed prior to the trade deadline:
George will be a free agent in the summer of 2018, and it's no secret that the 26-year-old Palmdale, Calif. native would love nothing more than to sign with his hometown Lakers if the future is bleak in Indiana. The fact that the Lakers are in the process of trying to land George right now, with new lead executive Magic Johnson moving fast to fill that superstar hole that Kobe Bryant left behind, only makes these next two days all the more compelling.
Fortunately for the Pacers, they'll have money to spend even while planning around C.J. Miles' (player option) and Jeff Teague's cap holds. Unfortunately for them, they aren't an established free-agency powerhouse.
Indiana must figure out how to regain its defensive swagger without compromising the pace-and-space model team president Larry Bird (thinks he) has installed. Andre Roberson cannot shoot, but he's a lockdown defender who makes life easier on George. Tucker does the same while making more three-pointers (34.3 percent this season).
Donatas Motiejunas is a nice get if the price is right. The Al Jefferson-headlined bench mob is well short of spectacular, and a three-man frontcourt rotation of Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young and Motiejunas can do some serious work on either end of the court.
Los Angeles Clippers
1. Thabo Sefolosha
2. David West
3. Shelvin Mack
There is no way for the Clippers to make a cannonball-sized splash in free agency unless they cut bait with one or more of Blake Griffin (ETO), Chris Paul (ETO) and J.J. Redick. And nobody expects that to happen.
Sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler that Paul has "verbally" agreed to stay put. He classified Griffin's next deal as "all but done" and intimated the same for Redick.
So it's back to the veteran's minimum drawing board.
Thabo Sefolosha is listed as a long shot, which is what the Clippers need to traffic in. Every so often you get a surprise ring-chaser, and he would be a perfect fit for a rotation that continues to lack a defensive belly on the perimeter.
David West and Shelvin Mack are more the Clippers' speed. West is in his second season of veteran's-minimum hopping and can supplant either DeAndre Jordan or Griffin off the pine. The market needs to dictate what Mack is worth, but it'll be good for the Clippers to get younger behind Paul, who turns 32 in May, if they can.
Los Angeles Lakers
1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (restricted)
2. Jonathon Simmons (restricted)
3. James Johnson
No bad contracts.
Say it with us, Magic Johnson (and Rob Pelinka): No. Bad. Contracts.
Paul George has eyes for the Lakers, according to USA Today's Sam Amick. He'll reach free agency in 2018 (player option) if he doesn't qualify for the Designated Player Exception by making an All-NBA team this season, which he's unlikely to do. It's on Los Angeles to preserve cap space until then.
The margin for error is thin. The previous regime left the Lakers with $30 million-plus per year in sunk costs via Luol Deng's and Timofey Mozgov's deals. Julius Randle is extension-eligible this summer, and D'Angelo Russell is right behind him in 2018.
Although the Lakers can carve out max room, they should only be rolling the dice on long shots. Forcing the Pistons' hand on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a good place to start. If they match, at least the Lakers look like they were doing something. If they pass, Hollywood has a burgeoning three-and-D talent at its beck and call.
Failing that, the Lakers should be on the lookout for versatile flyers who push the defensive bill. Enticing Jonathon Simmons, a diligent worker bee, and James "Draymond Green light" Johnson with short-term paydays is a good way to keep things interesting without bogging down the big picture.
1. Omri Casspi
2. Luc Mbah a Moute
3. Ersan Ilyasova
The impact of Chandler Parsons' contract on the Memphis Grizzlies' outlook will be fully apparent over the summer. Not only will he have drastically underachieved in his debut season, but the front office’s hands will be tied in free agency.
Leaving JaMychal Green’s hold on the books puts the Grizzlies at $96.2 million in guaranteed commitments. They’re looking at under $10 million in space even if they renounce Tony Allen, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph. Holding on to one of Allen and Randolph, let alone both, forces them to operate as a capped-out team.
Call another do-over with this mainframe, and the Grizzlies will be nose-to-nose with luxury-tax implications after funding Green’s next deal. That, in turn, could limit their ability to tap into the mid-level exception.
Bargain-bin shopping is about the only way Memphis can improve its roster. Head coach David Fizdale has done a terrific job of bringing the offense into the 21st century, but he doesn't yet have the firepower to combat the Houstons and Golden States of the world.
Knockdown shooters will be the best investments since the Grizzlies cannot count on a fully healed Parsons. Omri Casspi’s three-point conversion rate hit 39.4 percent before a broken thumb ended his season and brief tenure in New Orleans. Luc Mbah a Moute is shooting a career-best 38.4 percent from deep overall and better than 41 percent in the corners. Ersan Ilyasova is torching twine on more than 35 percent of his threes for the fifth time in six seasons.
1. Danilo Gallinari (player option)
2. James Johnson
3. Paul Millsap (player option)
Miami Heat team president Pat Riley might as well go big in free agency. He's going to have that much cap space. Albert Nahmad unpacked Miami's situation for Heat Hoops just after the new collective bargaining agreement was struck:
After accounting for all of these changes, Miami currently projects to have as much as $14 million in available cap space based upon the league's current $103 million cap projection. With [Chris] Bosh relief, the total will grow to $39 million. It will grow further, to $41 million if Dion Waiters were to decline his player option ($3.0 million), to $42 million if Reed were to do the same ($1.6 million), to $46 million if the Heat were to waive and stretch the $6.0 million salary of Josh McRoberts or $47 million if the Heat were to trade him.
From that, the cap room required by the Heat's first-round draft pick (assuming Miami keeps it) would need to be subtracted.
All this flexibility is great, but the Heat have to decide what direction they favor before using it: Are they building for the future, around Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder and Justise Winslow? Or are they trying to go for it now, using Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside as the impetus?
Danilo Gallinari balances both timelines. He is under 30, won't cost max money and gives the Heat another shot creator who can also spot up. James Johnson tilts toward the now, but he's become the team's second-most important player after signing a one-year deal.
Paul Millsap caters solely to the present. He won't be around when the kiddies reach their peaks, but slotting him beside Dragic and Whiteside inserts the Heat into the dark-horse conversation for the next few years.
1. Kelly Olynyk (restricted)
2. Amir Johnson
3. Bojan Bogdanovic (restricted)
Spencer Hawes and Greg Monroe are going to make or break the Milwaukee Bucks' offseason.
Almost $24 million gets wiped from the bottom line if they decline their player options and enter free agency. The Bucks would be able to keep Tony Snell's hold, factor in their first-round pick and conjure more than $10 million in room.
Stars won't pour into Milwaukee en masse for that money, but it allows the Bucks to browse through difference-makers—and perhaps break bread with spacier bigs.
Kelly Olynyk would be a fantastic addition to the roster. He can play next to John Henson or Thon Maker, or he can do his own thing at center. He'll be surprisingly gettable if Boston cuts salary to make way for a max contract.
Amir Johnson doesn't frequent the three-point line as much as Olynyk, but he's shooting 40.7 percent from long range on more than 50 attempts. He is a dependable pick-and-roll diver and has an above-average impact on both ends of the court, according to NBA Math.
Bojan Bogdanovic might cost less than Snell after failing to develop as a defender. He works next to Khris Middleton if Milwaukee is just looking for a floor-spacing companion.
In the event Monroe (and Hawes) elect to stay put, the Bucks have to rejigger their expectations. The cap space won't be there for Olynyk, but the mid-level exception will let them remain active.
1. P.J. Tucker
2. Tony Allen
3. Shelvin Mack
Bidding adieu to Jordan Hill (non-guaranteed), Shabazz Muhammad (restricted), Adreian Payne and Brandon Rush would give the Minnesota Timberwolves more than $20 million to dole out after paying their first-round pick. That amount rockets past $30 million if they get Nikola Pekovic, who hasn't played since Jan. 31, 2016, stricken from their record.
But they must be judicious in their spending. Both Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are extension-eligible, and Muhammad will cost semi-major coin if they want to keep him. Karl-Anthony Towns will be up for his own extension in 2018, potentially putting Minnesota on the hook for three max-level contracts before 2018-19. That's on top of Gorgui Dieng's four-year, $64 million deal, which kicks in next season.
Shedding the two years and $29.2 million left on Ricky Rubio's deal might compel coach-president Tom Thibodeau to spend more, but funneling that much money into a non-playoff team is risky with so many reinvestments on the horizon. Aiming for sensibly priced vets is the smarter play.
P.J. Tucker is the perimeter bulldog Thibodeau's defensive scheme needs. The same can be said for Tony Allen...if Minnesota isn't interested in shooting threes. Shelvin Mack is good insurance in the event Rubio gets the ax in favor of Kris Dunn (and Tyus Jones).
Additions like that won't thrust the Timberwolves into the Western Conference's contender circle, but it keeps them on the postseason-bound byway without breaking the bank.
New Orleans Pelicans
1. Justin Holiday
2. Luke Babbitt
3. Jonas Jerebko
Tack on cap holds for Jrue Holiday and Donatas Motiejunas to the Pelicans' guaranteed obligations, and there goes their cap space. They journey further from the $102 million projection if Dante Cunningham opts into the last year of his deal or they have any interest in keeping him once he opts out.
Using the stretch provision on Omer Asik opens some room, but not much. The final three years and $33.9 million of his deal would be spread out over seven seasons at $4.8 million a pop. That saves New Orleans $5.8 million ahead of 2017-18—nothing in the new cap climate. Finding a taker for Alexis Ajinca in conjunction with stretching Asik doesn't even move the needle.
Bets placed on potentially cheap gems will be the Pelicans' main source of improvement. While "cheap" and "Justin Holiday" might not go together following his breakout campaign with the New York Knicks, New Orleans has an inside edge—a familial one.
"If we can play together, that would be a dream come true and we'd be successful doing it," Holiday told the New York Post's Marc Berman of playing with his brother, Jrue. "We both want to win and both know each other's game in and out. We both know what we're going to get from each other when we play together. It just makes sense."
Reuniting with Luke Babbitt and his 42.2 percent accuracy on threes is the next-best option after Holiday—or with him, if that proves possible. Jonas Jerebko's 38.7 percent clip from downtown since 2013-14 would be an A-plus addition for those times when the Pelicans are looking to stagger DeMarcus Cousins' and Anthony Davis' minutes with a truer 4.
New York Knicks
1. Jrue Holiday
2. Joe Ingles (restricted)
3. George Hill
Would the Holiday brothers consider holding their family get-together in New York? Who knows, but the odds of a Big Apple bro-out exponentially increase if Jrue turned a blind eye to the James Dolan-Charles Oakley and Carmelo Anthony-Phil Jackson soap operas.
League sources told ESPN.com's Ian Begley that "some in the Knicks organization view Holiday as a target in free agency this summer." This is an encouraging sign, if only because it suggests team president Phil Jackson won't blow the team's $20 million-plus in cap space on Derrick Rose.
Holiday is a borderline All-Star when healthy. He's best when given the freedom to drive, but he fits the triangle offense insofar as he can play off the ball.
Joe Ingles is a great Plan B with the potential to segue into Plan A. Not one of the Knicks' wings is a plus-contributor on defense, and he leads all of the Jazz's perimeter pests in points saved, according to NBA Math.
George Hill will command close to max money and, at 31, could be fool's gold by the end of his next deal. But the Knicks need a keen passer with three-point range and a defensive conscience. Hill is all those things—so, everything Rose is not.
Oklahoma City Thunder
1. Luc Mbah a Moute (player option)
2. Omri Casspi
3. Ty Lawson
Trading for Doug McDermott was a boon on the "Russell Westbrook needs dudes who can hit wide-open threes" scale. But the Thunder need more of these victories.
Oklahoma City is 29th in uncontested three-point percentage (13th since the trade deadline) and ranks 28th when firing away from the corners. Getting hands on a standstill marksman who can play average defense would give the offense some much-needed juice.
If only general manager Sam Presti had money to spend.
The Thunder leave a $102 million cap in the dust before accounting for holds on Taj Gibson, Andre Roberson (restricted) and this year's first-rounder. Barring an epic salary dump, they have no way of evading the $122 million luxury tax if Gibson and/or Roberson is part of their future.
Nobody is taking a pay cut to play in Oklahoma City, so the Thunder need to hope the cheap remain cheap.
Ty Lawson grabs a top-three nod because the Thunder dealt away Cameron Payne. They could use another point man if he's still willing to play for peanuts.
1. Jrue Holiday
2. George Hill
3. Nikola Mirotic (restricted)
The Orlando Magic discussed a Reggie Jackson trade with Detroit in advance of the Feb. 23 deadline, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. That attempt to strengthen the 1 spot should carry into the offseason. D.J. Augustin and Elfrid Payton (extension-eligible) are in the fold, but the offense is 29th in points scored per 100 possessions, and head coach Frank Vogel hasn't been afraid to unleash C.J. Watson.
General manager Rob Hennigan can forge more than $15 million in cap space by clearing the deck of non-guaranteed deals and impending free agents. He'll chisel out more if he renounces the exception from the Serge Ibaka trade.
That should give the Magic deep enough pockets to try wooing George Hill and Jrue Holiday—two floor generals who fall on the cusp of max-contract territory. Either one can function as the off-guard next to Payton, and both are shooting better than 37 percent from behind the rainbow.
Utah and New Orleans are favorites to retain Hill and Holiday, respectively. The Magic, owners of the league's fourth-worst record, will also have the opportunity to draft one of this year's stud point guards.
This is where Nikola Mirotic comes in. He has yet to validate himself as a stretch 4, but he shoots enough threes—7.3 per 36 minutes for his career—to slide next to Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Vucevic and, in super-small lineups, Aaron Gordon.
1. Kyle Lowry (player option)
2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (restricted)
3. Jeff Teague
The Philadelphia 76ers are like the Nets, but with a bunch of first-round draft picks: They are not on the fast track toward a playoff berth and, thus, have the creative license to indulge pipe dreams and overpay more realistic options.
Poking around fantasy acquisitions comes first.
During a December episode of the Lowe Post podcast, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe said the Sixers planned on courting Philly native Kyle Lowry (via Hoops Rumors). He's on the wrong side of 30, but they need a point guard, and he's been one of the three or four best players in the East this year. It doesn't hurt to see if he's willing to run pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid.
Maxing out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a no-brainer if the Lowry pursuit goes bust or the Sixers draft a point guard. Even if their bid falls through, they'll have at least driven up his price tag at the Pistons' expense. Best-case scenario, a max offer is too rich for Detroit, and Philly lands itself an All-Defense-level talent with an improving three-point stroke.
Jeff Teague isn't a megastar, but the Sixers can afford to overpay a point guard on the right side of 30 who plays off the ball enough to thrive beside Ben Simmons and Embiid.
1. JaMychal Green (restricted)
2. Tony Snell (restricted)
3. Patrick Patterson
Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough point-blank admitted last August that he set the team up to be a major player in free agency without demolishing its foundation. Next year's salary commitments still reflect that plan, so the potential targets should too.
But the Suns won't be heavy hitters in the purest sense. They are not a hot free-agent destination. It's unlikely any of the 10 best available players consider them. They can cobble together the cash to throw max offers in the direction of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Otto Porter, but the competition to deliver those inevitably futile feelers will be fierce.
Lesser-known players who can grow with the youngsters while injecting Tyson Chandler's and Eric Bledsoe's days with a semblance of meaning should be the primary marks.
JaMychal Green fits this description better than anyone. He has turned into one of the league's most well-rounded talents. Tobias Harris, Paul Millsap and Draymond are the only players who have guarded as many pick-and-roll ball-handler and diver possessions, and he's shooting 37.2 percent from long range.
There is some redundancy in adding Green or, for that matter, Patrick Patterson to a roster that already employs Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Alex Len (restricted) and Chandler. But signing a Green or Patterson unlocks a cut-rate "Death Squad"—a lineup featuring Chriss and Green/Patterson that can switch everything.
Tony Snell, meanwhile, wouldn't be a big-time acquisition. Still, you can never have too many combo wings who clear 39 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Portland Trail Blazers
1. Roy Hibbert
2. Anthony Morrow
3. James Young
Welcome to life as the Portland Trail Blazers know it. They have no money to spend. Their roster, as currently constructed, will cost them more than $130 million next season without luxury-tax penalties.
And that's before they make decisions on the non-guaranteed deals of Pat Connaughton, Festus Ezeli and Tim Quarterman.
The Blazers technically don't even have an available roster spot. They'll need to waive Connaughton, Ezeli and Tim Quarterman just to make room for the three first-round picks they have in this year's prospect pageant.
Trades are coming. Plural. The Blazers don't have a choice. But no potential move(s) will magic cap space into existence. It'll be hard enough to consolidate assets into a single open slot.
Only the relatively unwanted will find their way on Portland's free-agency radar.
Roy Hibbert has devolved into journeyman cap dreck and would be a solid, if inferior, Ezeli replacement. Anthony Morrow used to shoot better than 29.4 percent from three-point land. James Young—well, James Young sometimes moves really well and outlasted R.J. Hunter in Boston.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
2. Ian Clark
3. Terrence Jones
Free agency isn't expected to be the Sacramento Kings' primary mode of improvement.
Sure, they might enjoy gobs of cap space. Rudy Gay and Langston Galloway could opt out of their contracts; they could move on from Ben McLemore (restricted): they could waive Arron Afflalo's and Anthony Tolliver's non-guaranteed deals; and they could forfeit their rights to free agents Tyreke Evans and Darren Collison.
But the Kings have a one-year window in which they can tank for a top draft pick. There isn't enough time for them to chase the Nets, Lakers and Suns this season, and their 2019 first-round pick will head to Philly. That leaves 2017-18.
Working toward max cap space and high-profile signings, while possible, endangers the tank. Sacramento should take flyers on young stopgaps—borderline shots in the dark.
Michael Carter-Williams can't shoot but is long and an intriguing defender; he's also only 25. Ian Clark has shown he can bury threes and be a secondary facilitator when flanked by multiple All-NBA phenoms; he's about to turn 26. Terrence Jones may or may not be a stretch forward-center who may or may not turn into a league-average three-point shooter; he's 25 too.
Lower-end gambles let the Kings conserve cap space for 2018, when fewer teams will be armed with expansive slush funds, without ruining the mandatory tank. If one of these players turns into a keeper, even better.
San Antonio Spurs
1. Kyle Korver
2. Thabo Sefolosha
3. Dewayne Dedmon
Forget everything you're about to read if Pau Gasol (player option) forgoes the last year of his contract. The Spurs would be a few miniature strategic moves and decisions away from max super-max room, at which point they might be the only team outside Los Angeles to get face time with Chris Paul.
Current projections give them a few million dollars in flexibility if Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee opt out and they renounce (the possibly retiring) Manu Ginobili. They'll hammer out more room should they drop the $6.8 million hold on Patty Mills.
Whatever money San Antonio ends up having should be used to sell another wing on the Spurs Way—preferably Kyle Korver or Thabo Sefolosha.
Imagine what Korver could do in San Antonio, actualizing the Spurs-Ray Allen partnership we deserved yet never got to see. Picture what Sefolosha could do as the geriatric Danny Green.
Re-signing Dewayne Dedmon has to be a priority as well. He's bound to opt out after working his way into the starting lineup, and his Bird rights don't belong to the Spurs. Using cap space to keep him slingshots up the laundry list of offseason missions if Gasol tests free agency.
1. Vince Carter
2. Luke Babbitt
3. Jodie Meeks
The Raptors are going to cruise into luxury-tax territory. Guaranteeing the contracts of Norman Powell (duh) and Fred VanVleet (also duh), plus one first-round hold, brings them to $81 million. From there, they have to factor in free-agent holds for Serge Ibaka ($18.4 million), Kyle Lowry ($18 million), Patrick Patterson ($9.1 million) and P.J. Tucker ($10.1 million).
For those keeping score at home, that's a grand total of $136.6 million. And this number is only going to erupt. Ibaka, Lowry and Patterson will command noticeably more than their cap holds, so keeping everyone will cost Toronto north of $160 million...before luxury-tax payments.
"I think we needed this," general manager Masai Ujiri said of the midseason moves, per NBA.com's Shaun Powell. "I think this team deserves this chance."
For this season anyway. The Raptors won't have the coin to leave this core untouched. They have tough decisions ahead. Who do they let walk? Do they trade one or more of DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Jonas Valanciunas to make room for their incumbent free agents? Is that even enough?
In other words: The Raptors are the Blazers of the East. They need to shop for plug-and-play shooters on the clearance rack.
Vince Carter, Luke Babbitt and Jodie Meeks all fit. The market will determine whether they're affordable for a team operating miles above the cap. (Yes, a 40-year-old Carter was awarded the top spot in the name of nostalgia. And feasibility.)
1. Shaun Livingston
2. Deron Williams
3. Terrence Jones
If Utah is working with cap space this summer, something terrible has happened. Gordon Hayward has left. Probably George Hill, too.
We have to assume the Jazz's worst nightmare won't transition to reality. Sources told Sporting News' Sean Deveney in January the team was prepared to offer Hayward a max deal. If the Jazz pay him, they have no reason to pass on whatever it costs to keep Hill.
Fine-tuning is finally, mercifully Utah's main responsibility.
Shaun Livingston enters the equation if the Jazz can remain far enough under the luxury tax to brandish the full mid-level exception. He won't leave the Warriors if given the choice, but they'll have some ridiculously hard calls to make as they try to fit Stephen Curry's and Kevin Durant's new deals onto their tab.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com told ESPN 700's OC and Hackett show that Deron Williams wants to finish his career in Utah. That swan song can begin immediately if Shelvin Mack leaves and Livingston is ruled out.
Terrence Jones won't be giving discounts this summer, but he jells with the Jazz's bigger picture. They are best served surrounding Rudy Gobert with four playmakers, and he is a better fit and cheaper long-haul alternative to Derrick Favors, who'll be up for a new deal in 2018. Jones can even see spot minutes at center in the (overwhelmingly likely) instance Jeff Withey bolts.
1. Shelvin Mack
2. Gerald Green
3. Anthony Morrow
Otto Porter's pre-contract hold ($11.8 million) takes Washington past the $102 million cap. His actual salary will be more than double that and make it damn near impossible for the Wizards to function as a non-taxpayer if they have any interest in re-signing restricted free agents Bojan Bogdanovic and Trey Burke.
Lower your expectations for Washington's offseason accordingly.
Shelvin Mack is the ceiling on the Wizards' free-agency impact meter. That's provided the point guard market is backlogged enough to drag down his yearly salary. John Wall needs a more even-keeled understudy, and neither Brandon Jennings nor Burke is a permanent solution.
Gerald Green and Anthony Morrow are requisite "The Wizards don't have any money and need to take a stab at perimeter afterthoughts who might be able to shoot 35-plus percent from three in limited use" mentions.
Washington should allocate a chunk of the offseason to begging the basketball gods for breakout seasons from Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky. That stands to have a bigger effect on the team's 2017-18 performance than free agency.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com and are accurate leading into games on March 6. Team salary information via Basketball-Insiders. Draft-pick commitments and additional salary information from RealGM.