Every NBA Team's Blueprint for 2019 Free Agency
Eleven out of 10 applied statisticians agree: Fans who prepare for NBA free agency close to a year in advance increase their favorite team's odds of winning that offseason by Stephen Curry's free-throw percentage.
Admittedly, this probably isn't true. All right, it definitely isn't true. But let's belly flop into some 2019 talk anyway.
Here's a look at what this breakdown will cover:
- Notable Free Agents: Players who will hit the open market. This includes those who will most likely decline options. Only non-obscure free agents get face time. Sincere apologies to the Brad Wanamakers of the world.
- Options Likely to Be Exercised: Team and player options that will probably be picked up.
- Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Salaries that are partially or non-guaranteed, including team options not assured of getting picked up.
- Dead Money: Be still, Detroit Pistons fans. The Josh Smith experience will be over soon. This category will only be whipped out as needed.
- Salary-Cap Outlook: A summation of next summer's financial obligations based on meticulous research involving too many Google spreadsheet tabs, what-if hypotheticals, overestimated draft-pick holds, color-coded cells and caffeine pills. More specific scenarios will be unpacked in the text.
- Biggest Flight Risk: The player each team should want to keep most but also figures to shop around.
- Realistic Target: Ball-pit-fun speculation in line with the salary-cap outlook.
- Most Pressing Question: The most urgent or defining issue facing each team. This is subject to change during the season, but the big picture has been taken into account.
Additional musings will follow every at-a-glance outline. Let's party.
Notable Free Agents: Justin Anderson (restricted); Dewayne Dedmon (Early Bird); Tyler Dorsey (Early Bird restricted); Jeremy Lin
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Kent Bazemore (player); DeAndre' Bembry (team); John Collins (team); Taurean Prince (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: None
Salary-Cap Outlook: Max-contract ready
Biggest Flight Risk: Dewayne Dedmon
Realistic Target: Myles Turner (restricted)
Most Pressing Question: Does John Collins need a big-man partner?
It will take resisting the urge to absorb mega-awful salaries for the Atlanta Hawks to open max money next summer. They could land the No. 1 pick as planned and the Dallas Mavericks' first-rounder could convey (top-five protection), and they would still be golden.
Funneling that flexibility into a big man makes the most sense. Dewayne Dedmon doesn't fit their timeline, and they don't have a sure-thing small-ball 4.
John Collins can be groomed at the 5, but the Hawks need to see defensive progress from him there. They coughed up more than 113 points per 100 possessions when he played center, according to Cleaning The Glass. The same goes for units that feature Taurean Prince at power forward. Atlanta surrendered 118.2 points per 100 possessions while deploying those squads.
Rookie Omari Spellman is only the answer if Collins can stand full-time minutes at the 5. Baiting restricted free agents on the younger side with aggressive offer sheets would make more of a difference. Myles Turner springs to mind, and the Hawks are free to take a stab at Kristaps Porzingis if the New York Knicks get pocket shy.
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Aron Baynes (player); Jaylen Brown (team); Jayson Tatum (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Jabari Bird; Semi Ojeleye; Guerschon Yabusele (team option)
Dead Money: Demetrius Jackson ($92,857)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Luxury-tax SZN
Biggest Flight Risk: Kyrie Irving
Realistic Target: Wesley Matthews
Most Pressing Question: Will Kyrie have wandering eyes?
The Boston Celtics will blow past $150 million in commitments during 2019-20 if they re-sign both Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier and Al Horford opts into the final year of his contract. Someone will leave, if he isn't traded first, because they're not paying everyone.
Bet that one of the point guards will skip town. And don't assume that means Rozier is signing elsewhere, or that Marcus Smart will be dealt. The Celtics entered the summer "scared" that Irving could leave during free agency, according to Yahoo Sports' Chris Mannix (via NBC Sports Boston). They should be. He is a flight risk.
Boston is, objectively, a top-three situation. Irving might not care. He already won a championship and has never conformed to the conventional proving grounds. This is the same guy who asked to leave the best player alive, LeBron James. Now, he wants to play with Jimmy Butler, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe.
The Celtics could move Irving if it appears he wants to bolt for early playoff exits with the Knicks. Team president Danny Ainge is all business. He will make that call. At any rate, once the Celtics' house is in order, they should give Wesley Matthews a buzz and see if he's ready to enter ring-chasing mode.
Notable Free Agents: DeMarre Carroll; Ed Davis (non-Bird); Spencer Dinwiddie; Jared Dudley; Kenneth Faried; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (restricted); D'Angelo Russell (restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Jarrett Allen (team); Caris LeVert (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Shabazz Napier; Treveon Graham
Dead Money: Deron Williams ($5,474,787)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Two-max territory
Biggest Flight Risk: Spencer Dinwiddie
Realistic Target: Jimmy Butler
Most Pressing Question: How much are their own free agents worth?
The Brooklyn Nets are simultaneously in an enviable and difficult spot. Renouncing all of their free agents would give them a crack at more than $60 million in room, but they need to figure out how many of their incumbents are expendable.
Parting ways with DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Kenneth Faried, et al. will be easy. They don't align with the big picture. Spencer Dinwiddie, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and D'Angelo Russell are different stories.
Keeping two could remove Brooklyn from the max-contract sweepstakes. Re-signing just one won't help the sales pitches. Ditching all three will devolve into a major setback if cap space isn't parlayed into a star or two.
Dream big anyway, Brooklyn. Head coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks have created a player-friendly system and culture. Someone like Butler may not need an All-NBA comrade to come with him. The promise of logging fewer than a jillion minutes per game, coupled with what's already in place, offers a fair amount of appeal.
Notable Free Agents: Frank Kaminsky (restricted); Jeremy Lamb; Kemba Walker
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Bismack Biyombo (player); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (player); Marvin Williams (player)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Dwayne Bacon; Willy Hernangomez; Tony Parker
Salary-Cap Outlook: Not great, Bob(cats)
Biggest Flight Risk: Jeremy Lamb
Realistic Target: Terrence Ross
Most Pressing Question: Will they be rebuilding or still procrastinating?
Take anything anyone says about the Charlotte Hornets with a metric ton of salt. Projecting their direction is impossible.
Next summer should see them engaging in a long-awaited reset. They should have already traded Kemba Walker or be prepared to let him leave. They should be exploring ways to dump the final two years of Nicolas Batum's deal while seeing whether expiring pacts for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Marvin Williams can fetch any value.
Of course, what the Hornets should do is different from what they will do. This past offseason proved as much. Staying the course will dictate they reinvest in the core without making substantive upgrades. They don't have the cap space to do more than re-sign their own peeps.
Retaining Walker won't be a problem. They can offer him more money and years than any other team, and he's working off what turned out to be a bargain-bin extension; he'll want to get puh-aid.
Jeremy Lamb's future is more touch-and-go. Charlotte profiles as a tax team if it re-ups Walker. Cannonballing further into financial abyss to keep Lamb, of all people, would be weird. Regardless, if the Hornets are looking to extend their stay on Mediocre Lane, they should see if Terrence Ross' stock has fallen enough to latch on for mid-level money.
Notable Free Agents: Ryan Arcidiacono (Early Bird restricted); Justin Holiday (Early Bird); Robin Lopez; Cameron Payne (restricted); Bobby Portis (restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Kris Dunn (team); Lauri Markkanen (team); Denzel Valentine (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Omer Asik ($3 million); Jabari Parker (team option)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Jabari Parker-dependent
Biggest Flight Risk: Justin Holiday
Realistic Target: Terry Rozier (restricted)
Most Pressing Question: Will Jabari Parker be a one-season rental or long-term piece?
Picking up Jabari Parker's team option will not torpedo the Chicago Bulls' maneuverability next summer. They'll have a direct line to more than $25 million in room if they waive Omer Asik and renounce their other free agents, including Cameron Payne and Bobby Portis.
Letting Parker walk would arm the Bulls with more spending power. They could contemplate keeping some of their other free agents while enjoying close to max room. They'll then need to sign (or draft) someone to play the 3, but they need to do that anyway. Parker is not a wing. He's not even a viable small-ball 5. He's among the NBA's one-position players—a power forward through and through.
Shoring up the point guard slot tops the to-do list no matter what becomes of Parker. Kris Dunn showed flashes out of the pick-and-roll last year but suffered from sloppiness and too much score first-itis. Cameron Payne deserves a shot, but the odds he'll become the answer are slim. Zach LaVine is not a point guard.
Rozier becomes an interesting option if the Celtics re-sign Irving and don't want to jettison Smart. Restricted free agents are typically tough to get, but Boston only needs so many Anthony Davis trade chips point guards.
Chicago will need to tilt toward place-holder options if Rozier doesn't tickle its fancy. Next summer's market is light on building-block floor generals. Ricky Rubio (27), Jeff Teague (30, player option) and Walker (28) are too old. Twitter does not have the bandwidth to float all the LaVine-Russell Spider-Man memes. A Dinwiddie do-over could work. Malcolm Brogdon might be fun, too.
Notable Free Agents: Sam Dekker (restricted); Channing Frye (non-Bird); Larry Nance Jr. (restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Ante Zizic (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: George Hill ($1 million); Kyle Korver ($3.9 million); JR Smith ($3.9 million)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Uber fluid
Biggest Flight Risk: Larry Nance Jr.
Realistic Target: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Most Pressing Question: Are they still trying to accelerate the post-LeBron James era?
Signing Kevin Love to an extension sent the Cleveland Cavaliers' already tenuous cap outlook into further uncertainty. They will be tapped out if they keep all of their veterans and hold on to Larry Nance Jr. And don't forget about Rodney Hood's next deal. It could come from Cleveland, and it could span longer than a year.
Non-guarantees for George Hill, Kyle Korver and JR Smith keep the Cavaliers within reach of meaningful cap space. They'll save more than $32.8 million by waiving them all. Renouncing Nance and Sam Dekker would place them near the $20 million mark, and they can chisel out additional room if they find takers for the expiring Jordan Clarkson or Tristan Thompson.
If the Cavaliers end up with significant cash to burn, they should target a wing. Cedi Osman and David Nwaba aren't enough on their own, and Cleveland has no business paying Dekker beyond 2018-19.
Morphing into salary-dump central will also be an option should the Cavaliers steer into an overhaul while moving on from their vets. They are light on cost-controlled prospects and don't have any extra first-rounders in their draft-pick armory. They'll need the assets if they embrace bottoming out.
Notable Free Agents: J.J. Barea; Dorian Finney-Smith (restricted); DeAndre Jordan (non-Bird); Maxi Kleber (Early Bird restricted); Wesley Matthews; Salah Mejri; Dirk Nowitzki
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Dennis Smith Jr. (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Ryan Broekhoff; Ray Spalding
Salary-Cap Outlook: Max money...and then some
Biggest Flight Risk: DeAndre Jordan
Realistic Target: Jimmy Butler (player option)
Most Pressing Question: How much will DeAndre Jordan cost?
DeAndre Jordan's free agency will play a huge role in shaping the Dallas Mavericks' approach next summer. They don't own his Bird rights after inking him to a one-year deal, but they'll have the scratch to meet his asking price. And depending on where that falls, they could have the funds to afford him and a star.
Butler is the quintessential target if the Mavericks remain marquee-name chasers. Klay Thompson would be as well, but well, he's Klay Thompson. He'll sign a heavily discounted deal to stay with the Golden State Warriors before he busts up their dynasty.
Butler is waaay more gettable. The Minnesota Timberwolves are not a superpower, and he's apparently frustrated with the kiddies he counts as teammates, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley and Sporting News' Sean Deveney. Putting him under the guidance of Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle is basketball nirvana.
Pass on re-signing Jordan, and Dallas' trajectory changes. Star hunting wouldn't be out of the question, but his exit would imply a stronger commitment to the rebuild. The Mavs could let Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. marinate for another year, scour the market for younger bigs and revisit the hardcore free-agency landscape in 2020, when Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell both come off the ledger.
Notable Free Agents: Trey Lyles (restricted); Isaiah Thomas (non-Bird)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Malik Beasley (team); Juan Hernangomez (team); Jamal Murray (team); Tyler Lydon (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Paul Millsap (team option)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Tight but navigable
Biggest Flight Risk: Isaiah Thomas
Realistic Target: Danny Green
Most Pressing Question: Should they enter the running for a superstar?
Dredging up the space necessary to court superstars won't be easy for the Denver Nuggets, but it's doable.
Declining Paul Millsap's team option and renouncing Trey Lyles would be a good start. That would drag the Nuggets past the $15 million cone. From there, they'll need to grease the wheels of a Mason Plumlee salary dump. Trading him plus sweeteners should transport them to Butler country. It would land them in the vicinity of Khris Middleton (player option).
Jumping through all these hoops would be a tad drastic, and signing another big name almost certainly would catapult the Nuggets into the luxury tax. But they're running short on time to make this kind of splash. Jamal Murray is extension-eligible in 2019. They'll pay top dollar for him, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic before they know it.
Standing pat leaves Denver to skulk around the mid-level market. Danny Green will cost more than the mini MLE ($5.7 million), but the Nuggets will be in business if they slink far enough beneath the tax and peddle all or most of the full version ($9.2 million).
Sure, he'll be entering his age-32 season. But Denver needs more wings until—or unless—Michael Porter Jr. goes boom. Green is an ideal fit for a fringe contender. He doesn't need the ball on offense and should have at least two years of above-replacement-level defense left in his legs by the time he reaches free agency.
Notable Free Agents: Jose Calderon (non-Bird); Stanley Johnson (restricted); Zaza Pachulia (non-Bird); Ish Smith
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Luke Kennard (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Henry Ellenson (team option); Glenn Robinson III (team option)
Dead Money: Josh Smith ($5,331,729)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Pretty friggin' bad
Biggest Flight Risk: Stanley Johnson
Realistic Target: Justin Holiday
Most Pressing Question: Are they sticking with this core?
The Detroit Pistons will have no cap space next summer unless they shed copious amounts of salary. That won't be a problem if the Andre Drummond-Blake Griffin-Reggie Jackson threesome churns out a convincing playoff bid. It will be a colossal issue if they can't rescue Detroit from the lottery.
No contracts in the NBA are truly untradeable. Timofey Mozgov has been swapped three times basically in the last year. So, yeah, the Pistons can find takers for anyone. But no one will flat-out absorb Drummond, Griffin and Jackson.
Teams that have the space are better off rolling the dice on unsigned free agents. Plus, Detroit can't afford the public relations hit that would come with giving away Drummond and/or Griffin for nothing.
Stanley Johnson's future will be a fascinating spectacle as the Pistons continue frolicking in the mud. Do they pony up to keep him just because they can't spend that money on anyone else? Do they let him walk to guarantee they duck the tax?
Johnson's development as a shooter and face-up initiator will factor into their decision, but they'll need low-cost help on the wings either way—particularly if Reggie Bullock prices himself out of town. Cheaper perimeter fare such as Justin Holiday, Thabo Sefolosha and Iman Shumpert should be on the radar.
Golden State Warriors
Notable Free Agents: Jordan Bell (Early Bird restricted); Quinn Cook (Early Bird restricted); DeMarcus Cousins (non-Bird); Kevin Durant (player option); Jonas Jerebko (non-Bird); Kevon Looney; Klay Thompson
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Damian Jones (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Shaun Livingston ($2 million)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Record-breaking tax bills inbound
Biggest Flight Risk: DeMarcus Cousins
Realistic Target: Thabo Sefolosha
Most Pressing Question: What will Kevin Durant do?
Let's get this out of the way: DeMarcus Cousins is a goner. The Warriors do not own his Bird rights, so they can only offer him 120 percent of this season's salary—about $6.4 million. Something has gone terribly wrong if he's with them in 2019-20.
Kevin Durant's next foray onto the open market is the more urgent matter. Certain people close to him believe "he will one day leave Golden State for a team that can be truly his," according to Lowe.
Predicting his departure next summer is premature. Would he really dip out just as the Warriors are opening their new arena? And when they will, in all likelihood, be working off a three-peat?
Who knows. Everything from Durant's big-picture intentions to his social media habits is an enigma. For what it's worth, the Knicks are operating as if he'll be poachable. As Lowe said during an episode of The Lowe Post podcast:
"Kevin Durant is going to be the single biggest story in the NBA now that this [LeBron James' free agency] is over. And if you don't think that all of these teams—like, if you think the Knicks noise is bogus, it's not. I'm not saying he's going there. I'm saying they are absolutely planning their offseason around him."
Assuming the Warriors once again luck into a discount-heavy iteration of this same group, they should be on the lookout for clearance-rack hedges against the twilights of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Sefolosha would be fire. They could also surf the free-agency ranks for a cheap big if they're not sold on re-signing Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney. Think along the lines of Dedmon, Brook Lopez, Kyle O'Quinn, etc.
Notable Free Agents: Carmelo Anthony (non-Bird); Michael Carter-Williams (non-Bird); James Ennis (player option, non-Bird); Gerald Green (early Bird)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Nene (player)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Isaiah Hartenstein; Zhou Qi
Salary-Cap Outlook: Relatively inflexible
Biggest Flight Risk: James Ennis
Realistic Target: Wilson Chandler
Most Pressing Question: How'd their wing depth fare in 2018-19?
The Houston Rockets caused quite a stir by punting on the returns of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. James Ennis helps alleviate some of the anxiety, and they still have PJ Tucker. But their other wings don't come close to offering the same kind of value.
Maybe the Rockets cobble together a sweet defense and feature Carmelo Anthony's trademark one-way performances. Perhaps Michael Carter-Williams helps the cause without crippling the offense's floor balance. Gerald Green could excel at defending 4s for a head coach other than Brad Stevens.
Houston better hope this new-and-probably-not-improved wing carousel pans out, or that general manager Daryl Morey can swing a trade for Bazemore. Potential solutions are otherwise few and far between, if outlandish.
Signing a big name is out of the question. Bankrolling 2019-20 salaries for Tucker, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, James Harden and Chris Paul will take the Rockets past the $132 million luxury-tax threshold. They'll be lucky if Ennis doesn't opt out and leave. And with only the mini mid-level exception to use, they'll have slim pickings.
Carroll and Green would be fantastic gets, but the taxpayer MLE may not be enough to sway either. Wilson Chandler or Sefolosha figure to be more Houston's speed.
Notable Free Agents: Bojan Bogdanovic (Early Bird); Darren Collison (Early Bird); Tyreke Evans (non-Bird); Cory Joseph; Kyle O'Quinn (non-Bird); Myles Turner (restricted); Thaddeus Young
Options Likely to Be Exercised: TJ Leaf (team); Domantas Sabonis (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Ike Anigbogu; Alize Johnson
Dead Money: Monta Ellis ($2,245,400)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Rosy
Biggest Flight Risk: Thaddeus Young
Realistic Target: Khris Middleton (player option)
Most Pressing Question: Are they a free-agent destination?
Can a team have too many free agents? Because the Indiana Pacers might.
Re-signing Bojan Bogdanovic, Tyreke Evans, Darren Collison, Turner and Thaddeus Young alone would take them out of the running for big fish. It would also keep them a plucky non-contender.
Mixing in-house free agents with rival ones is an option, but the Pacers can keep maybe Turner and two others before spending themselves out of Middleton's wheelhouse. Choosing which two will be hard. Does one of them have to be Young, or can Turner and Domantas Sabonis play together? Who makes more sense at point guard: Collison or Joseph?
Permitting everyone to walk will have its advantages. The Pacers can close in on $40 million of space while carrying Turner's hold. But clearing the deck is a risk best taken in another market. Indiana has not historically been a free-agency magnet.
If the Pacers don't think they can land a Middleton, let alone a Butler, they should look into running it back with a batch of one- and two-year deals while dotting their T's and crossing their I's via smaller-scale additions. Players like Ariza, Danny Green, Mbah a Moute, and Marcus and Markieff Morris, among others, all qualify as nifty finishing touches.
Los Angeles Clippers
Notable Free Agents: Patrick Beverley; Marcin Gortat; Tobias Harris; Wesley Johnson; Boban Marjanovic; Luc Mbah a Moute (non-Bird); Mike Scott (non-Bird); Milos Teodosic (Early Bird restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Jawun Evans (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Avery Bradley ($2 million); Sindarius Thornwell
Salary-Cap Outlook: Dual-max territory
Biggest Flight Risk: Tobias Harris
Realistic Target: Kawhi Leonard (player option)
Most Pressing Question: To start over or not to start over?
Brace yourself for the Los Angeles Clippers to nullify everything that gets said here. They've asset-collected themselves into a weird spot. They're full of playable rotation peoples but devoid of an elite cornerstone.
The Clippers have the money to afford that missing piece next summer. They can also put together some interesting spare-parts trade packages for Butler, but that's a discussion for January and February. They can grind out close to $60 million in wiggle room by renouncing all of their free agents and waiving Avery Bradley. They'll toe the line of dual-max slots if they send the super-movable Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams into other teams' cap space.
Committing to that blank slate comes off as a bit extreme. Kawhi Leonard might prefer the Clippers to the Los Angeles Lakers, as ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright said during an appearance on the Back to Back podcast (h/t Def Pen Hoops' Rob Lopez), but he's no lock to abandon the Toronto Raptors. Besides, the Clippers have yet to beat out the Lakers for A-listers who get to choose between the two.
Flirting with a happy medium is more in tune with the Clippers' indistinct direction. They have already offered Tobias Harris an extension, per NBA.com's David Aldridge, so they're interested in retaining him. A full-tilt teardown is also in play if this season flat-lines. That may not neutralize the Clippers' interest in Leonard or other stars, but it would affect how they disburse their cap space.
Los Angeles Lakers
Notable Free Agents: Michael Beasley (non-Bird); Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Early Bird); JaVale McGee (non-Bird); Rajon Rondo (non-Bird); Lance Stephenson (non-Bird); Ivica Zubac (restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Lonzo Ball (team); Josh Hart (team); Brandon Ingram (team); Kyle Kuzma (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Salary-Cap Outlook: Hi, Kawhi.
Biggest Flight Risk: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Realistic Target: Kawhi Leonard (player option)
Most Pressing Question: Is LeBron James a free-agent magnet?
Stretching Luol Deng and renouncing most of their other free agents puts the Lakers on track for max money. They have the green light to contact Durant if LeBron feels like shooting his shot, but a fully healthy Leonard is just as good, maybe better, and almost three years younger (27). He does more to preserve their open-ended window.
Does any of this matter?
James was once considered the ultimate recruiter. That reputation is taking some hits now. Irving wanted to get away from him in Cleveland. Paul George didn't wait for him to sign with the Lakers before announcing his return to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Leonard might prefer the Clippers or even the Philadelphia 76ers to joining James, per Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania (h/t RealGM).
ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski refuted this train of thought. That bodes well for the Lakers. Even if they whiff on Leonard and every other premier target, they're fine. They have James under lock and key, and their stash of youth is brimming with star potential (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram) and rotation-player reliability (Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma).
Oh, make no mistake: The Lakers need to go for next summer's top prizes. But there should be a comfort in knowing their future isn't dependent on a free-agency coup.
Notable Free Agents: MarShon Brooks (Early Bird); Omri Casspi (non-Bird); JaMychal Green; Andrew Harrison (restricted); Wayne Selden (restricted); Garrett Temple
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Marc Gasol (player)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Dillon Brooks; Ivan Rabb ($371,758)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Could be worse
Biggest Flight Risk: JaMychal Green
Realistic Target: Wayne Ellington
Most Pressing Question: Is the Mike Conley-Marc Gasol era going strong?
Consider the Memphis Grizzlies the Clippers of the Southwest Division—minus the cap space. They have a bunch of free agents and could sell off their top players at midseason if they're not in the playoff race.
Spending money on Kyle Anderson doesn't help clue us in to their long-haul aims. His addition is a matter of affordable opportunity (the San Antonio Spurs didn't match!), and going on 25, he's young enough to be part of a rebuilding project.
Only the trade deadline will offer clarity on Memphis' future. And that might even be stretching it. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol (if he opts in) can always be flipped later if the Grizzlies decide to get their hands dirty.
In the event they perpetuate their aversion to starting anew, they'll need more freewheeling floor balance. This year's roster doesn't have a single high-volume three-point marksman. Conley, MarShon Brooks or Wayne Selden is the closest they come, which, yeah...
Targeting Wayne Ellington with the non-taxpayer's mid-level is a worthy gambit. He'll more than offset the spacing concessions made when playing Anderson at the 3, and every team could use more players who are comfortable swishing quick-fire off-balance threes. Depending on the outcome of JaMychal Green's free agency and Chandler Parsons' health, the Grizzlies may also need to suss out frontcourt crutches for the second unit.
Notable Free Agents: Wayne Ellington; Rodney McGruder (restricted); Justise Winslow (restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Bam Adebayo (team); Goran Dragic (player); Hassan Whiteside (player); Tyler Johnson (player)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Derrick Jones
Dead Money: AJ Hammons ($350,087)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Woof
Biggest Flight Risk: Wayne Ellington
Realistic Target: Rudy Gay
Most Pressing Question: Will any of their big-money contracts be traded?
The Miami Heat did not undergo any appreciable changes this summer...because they couldn't. Their books are too far gone. Next year will be the same story unless they move one of their pricier pacts.
Check out the remaining balances on their largest contracts entering 2019-20:
- Goran Dragic: 1 year, $19.2 million
- James Johnson: 2 years, $31.4 million
- Tyler Johnson: 1 years, $19.3 million
- Kelly Olynyk: 2 years, $26.7 million
- Josh Richardson: 3 years, $32.6 million
- Dion Waiters: 2 years, $24.8 million
- Hassan Whiteside: 1 year, $27.1 million
Richardson's contract might wind up being a steal. A then-33-year-old Dragic's price point is palatable. Olynyk is making about market value.
Everyone else is hard to reconcile. The Heat have made Waiters, Whiteside and Tyler Johnson available, according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. Expect them to get zero nibbles without having to attach buffers they don't have.
Flipping Whiteside and Tyler Johnson will get easier next summer, when their deals will be expiring. It still won't be too easy. The Heat will be forced to exhaust free agency's dregs if they remain on this treadmill—and even that might be too expensive. They'll soar past $140 million in obligations if they plan to retain Ellington, Rodney McGruder and Justise Winslow. Ergo, they have difficult to decisions to make over the next year.
Notable Free Agents: Eric Bledsoe; Malcolm Brogdon (restricted); Brook Lopez (non-Bird); Khris Middleton (player option)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Thon Maker (team); DJ Wilson (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Sterling Brown; Pat Connaughton
Dead Money: Spencer Hawes ($2,007,058); Mirza Teletovic ($3,500,000); Larry Sanders ($1,865,546)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Hello, luxury tax (probably)
Biggest Flight Risk: Khris Middleton
Realistic Target: Darius Miller
Most Pressing Question: Are they willing to pay the luxury tax?
Skirting the luxury tax in 2019-20 is not a realistic option for the Milwaukee Bucks if they're at all married to their nucleus.
Floating cap holds for Eric Bledsoe ($22.5 million) and Middleton ($19.5 million) alone takes them oh-so-close to the $132 million demarcation. While their actual salaries could fall a tick lower, paying Brogdon more than cancels out those prospective savings.
Unloading expiring deals for Matthew Dellavedova or John Henson would go a long way, but the Bucks will need sweeteners. Getting Mirza Teletovic's $3.5 million hit wiped from the bottom line due to medical retirement helps some, but not a lot.
Tripping over themselves to evade the tax is also a dangerous ploy with Giannis Antetokounmpo two years out from free agency. The Bucks could underwhelm next season, and they might still feel an obligation to reinvest in their own as a sign of good faith.
Showing one of Bledsoe or Middleton the door won't unlock a bunch of cap space. Letting both leave won't be worth the sub-$20 million in room it creates. Sink or swim in 2018-19, the Bucks will need to pay the piper next summer just to maintain the status quo. Cheapish wings with dependable three-point strokes, such as Darius Miller, will represent the apex of their potential upgrades.
Notable Free Agents: Jimmy Butler (player option); Taj Gibson (Early Bird); Tyus Jones (restricted); Derrick Rose (Early Bird); Anthony Tolliver (Non-Bird); Karl-Anthony Towns (restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Justin Patton (team); Jeff Teague (player)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: None
Dead Money: Cole Aldrich ($685,340)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Andrew Wiggins makes how much?
Biggest Flight Risk: Jimmy Butler
Realistic Target: DeMarre Carroll
Most Pressing Question: Can they convince Jimmy Butler to stay?
Next summer's free agency is a non-starter for the Timberwolves. They have no money.
In-house upkeep is their only priority. They have matching rights on Tyus Jones and Karl-Anthony Towns. Everyone else, aside from maybe Derrick Rose, is a risk to fly the coop.
Butler's wandering eyes are the biggest concern. He wants to play with Irving, per Lowe. The Timberwolves can't begin to indulge his longing. Nor can they sell him on a remotely similar fondness. Penciling in max deals for both Butler and Towns will carry them right up to the tax.
Coach-president Tom Thibodeau can do some things to ensure access to the full mid-level exception. Renouncing Jones' $7.3 million hold helps a ton and, given Thibs' affinity for Rose, feels inevitable. But this minimal pliability goes out the window if Taj Gibson comes back—which, barring a breakout from Gorgui Dieng, also seems like a formality.
Dangling the taxpayer's mid-level won't net a game-changer. Carroll or someone similar is the ceiling return on that money. Short of pawning off Dieng (two years, $33.5 million) or Andrew Wiggins (four years, $122.2 million), the Timberwolves don't have much else to which they can aspire. They can only hope they're good enough this year as constructed to sway Butler. If they're not, he could walk or be traded at the February deadline—in which case the Timberwolves would be staring down the barrel of another rebuild.
New Orleans Pelicans
Notable Free Agents: Alexi Ajinca; Ian Clark (Early Bird); Cheick Diallo (restricted); DeAndre Liggins (Early Bird); Darius Miller; Nikola Mirotic; Emeka Okafor (Early Bird); Elfrid Payton (non-Bird); Julius Randle (player option, non-Bird)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: None
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Frank Jackson ($506,143); Garlon Green; Kenrich Williams; Troy Williams
Salary-Cap Outlook: Moderately flexible
Biggest Flight Risk: Nikola Mirotic
Realistic Target: Khris Middleton
Most Pressing Question: Should they carve out superstar space?
Julius Randle could put the New Orleans Pelicans in a tantalizing position if he opts to re-explore the open market next July.
No, they won't be fast-tracked for max space. But renouncing all of their free agents except for Darius Miller would clear a passageway to more than $20 million in room. That number will mushroom if they stretch-and-waive or find a trade partner for the final year of Solomon Hill's deal.
Consolidating that money into a splashier name would be huge. Anthony Davis will be one year away from his own free agency (player option) and eligible to sign a designated veteran extension. Opening up, say, Butler money has to pique his attention. Signing Middleton would probably do the same. Successfully offloading Hill would allow New Orleans to sniff around scenarios in which they chase the latter while keeping Mirotic. Just saying.
Exhausting these cap-clearing scenarios would admittedly gut the supporting cast. Unless they're working off a conference finals cameo, the Pelicans shouldn't give a damn.
Impressing Davis is the only mission that matters. Shooting for the moon helps them do it. Miss the mark, and he'll at least see they tried. Randle, Mirotic, Elfrid Payton and mid-level-exception candidates will always be there as fallback options.
New York Knicks
Notable Free Agents: Kadeem Allen (non-Bird); Ron Baker (restricted); Trey Burke (Early Bird); Mario Hezonja (non-Bird); Enes Kanter; Luke Kornet (Early Bird restricted); Emmanuel Mudiay (restricted); Kristaps Porzingis (restricted); Noah Vonleh (non-Bird)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Frank Ntilikina (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Damyean Dotson; Lance Thomas ($1 million)
Dead Money: Joakim Noah ($6,431,667)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Cloudy, with a chance of Kyrie Irving
Biggest Flight Risk: Trey Burke
Realistic Target: Kyrie Irving (player option)
Most Pressing Question: How much cap space will they have?
Please do not fall into the thirst trap that is the Knicks' salary-cap outlook.
Durant is on their mind, per Lowe. They are front-runners in the "Who will land Irving if he leaves Boston?" sweepstakes. They will be linked to every other big-name free agent under the sun before the conclusion of 2018-19. That's how these things work. The slightest whiff of cap space is enough to put the Knicks at the forefront of free-agency pipe dreams.
Here's the thing: They don't have that much wiggle room.
Stretching Joakim Noah would save the Knicks around $12.9 million next summer. He'll be on the books for $6.4 million through 2021-22, but they're prepared to withstand that blow, according to Wojnarowski and his ESPN.com colleague Ian Begley.
That alone doesn't give the Knicks max space. Nor does renouncing all of their free agents not named Porzingis. Waiving Lance Thomas gets them into range for Irving or Butler, but they'll still be short of Durant's full max ($38.2 million).
Stomaching Noah's dead money for the right to quasi-gut the roster and maybe-but-probably-not land a superstar is one way of rebuilding. And hey: Perhaps it works. Chasing Durant isn't a bad idea. But the Knicks should reconsider the lengths they're willing to travel for long-shot hypotheticals. It makes more sense for them to pore over salary-dump markets for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee before paying Noah to play for another team.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Notable Free Agents: Alex Abrines (restricted); Raymond Felton (Early Bird); Nerlens Noel (player option, non-Bird); Patrick Patterson (player option, Early Bird)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Terrance Ferguson (team); Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Abdel Nader; Kyle Singler
Salary-Cap Outlook: Expect Dennis Schroder salary-dump rumors
Biggest Flight Risk: Nerlens Noel
Realistic Target: James Ennis (player option)
Most Pressing Question: Does general manager Sam Presti have any tricks left?
Trading Anthony to the Hawks dropped the Thunder's 2018-19 payroll just below $150 million and slashed their tax bill by more than 40 percent. They turned a player who didn't fit, along with a first-round pick, into ones they seem to like (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Dennis Schroder) while saving money. They get to spin that as a monumental victory in the short term.
Things get hairier when looking at the bigger picture. The Thunder will run into identical operating-cost problems next summer. If they re-sign Alex Abrines, and Patrick Patterson doesn't opt out, they could be headed for a $160 million player-salary tab, which puts them around $28 million over the tax. The repeater bill on that excess: $104.5 million.
Beefing up the roster within these financial constraints should be impossible. A tidy fit such as James Ennis can price himself beyond the taxpayer's mid-level exception with a standout season.
Counting on Schroder to reboot his trade value doesn't help. Oklahoma City is not the ideal place for his reinvention. He and Russell Westbrook will play together, because duh. It might not work out. Neither one managed to finish in the 35th percentile of spot-up efficiency last year.
Sam Presti is a master at eleventh-hour resourcefulness. Whether he's capitalizing on Reggie Jackson's departure just before he gets paid or turning spare and ill-fitting parts into George, Anthony and now Schroder, he unearths unforeseen opportunities. Good thing, too. The Thunder will need him to pull another rabbit out of his hat next summer—preferably one who can defend across all wing positions and shoot threes at a league-average clip.
Notable Free Agents: Khem Birch (Early Bird restricted); Jerian Grant (restricted); Jarell Martin (restricted); Terrence Ross; Nikola Vucevic
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Jonathan Isaac (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Isaiah Briscoe; Wesley Iwundu (team option); Jonathon Simmons ($1 million)
Dead Money: CJ Watson ($333,333)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Is it 2020 yet?
Biggest Flight Risk: Terrence Ross
Realistic Target: Spencer Dinwiddie
Most Pressing Question: Will they spend on a point guard or nah?
For a team so hopelessly outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Orlando Magic are not sporting an advantageous payroll. Backpacking free-agent holds for just two of Jerian Grant, Jarell Martin, Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic brings them right up to or past next year's salary cap.
Orlando should still end up with room. Martin and Vucevic are dispensable with Mo Bamba, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac on the roster, and after turning 28 in February, Ross won't quite fit the restructuring timeline.
Grant could be a keeper if he plays well. The Magic don't have another worthwhile point guard flier on the docket, and next year's draft class isn't teeming with stud floor generals. If Grant doesn't work out, they'll have the money to pursue an alternative solution.
Renouncing all of their own free agents would open close to $20 million in space, depending on where the Magic's draft pick lands. That'll be more than enough to talk shop with lankier combo guards such as Brogdon and Dinwiddie. It might get them in the door with Kemba Walker, but he's a little too old for their tastes (28). Russell could be right up their alley if he doesn't sign an extension with the Nets and the price is right.
Notable Free Agents: Jerryd Bayless; Wilson Chandler; Amir Johnson (Early Bird); T.J. McConnell; Mike Muscala; JJ Redick (Early Bird);
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Markelle Fultz (team); Furkan Korkmaz (team); Dario Saric (team); Ben Simmons (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: None
Salary-Cap Outlook: Max money and max appeal
Biggest Flight Risk: T.J. McConnell
Realistic Target: Kawhi Leonard (player option)
Most Pressing Question: Can they sign a star this time?
Missing out on this summer's clique of available superstars should not deter the Philadelphia 76ers. They at least caught LeBron James' eye. They're still on the map. Next year's pool of options is a little bit deeper, and they again have open-ended access to max money.
It takes all the willpower ever to avoid advocating for Philly to stage an all-out recruiting assault on Klay Thompson. He is the perfect match for this team—a low-maintenance superstar with a rapid release and intense defensive work ethic. But targeting him feels futile, even as Golden State faces luxury-tax hell. As Warriors general manager Bob Myers told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami:
"I'll tell you this, Klay's not driven monetarily. I think he wants to be paid fairly. I think Draymond [Green]'s the same way. And obviously Kevin, he's shown it, that he doesn't have to have every last penny...I feel like if we can create a place that gives them a chance to win a championship, get paid well, enjoy going to work every day—and people think an NBA player loves going to work every day. That's not true; maybe it should be, but it isn't. If we can create a place where players enjoy it, the hope is they want to continue to do that."
Ah, well. The Sixers will just have to settle for a run at Leonard or Butler. They'll make do. They might even be able to land a free-agency headliner while re-signing JJ Redick. They'll have paid him $35.5 million for two years of service by next July. He could accept a one-season discount to run it back if he looks at his stay in the aggregate and then revisits his salary the following summer when Philly owns his full Bird rights.
Striking out again on the superstar front would force the Sixers to confront larger issues—mainly: Are they a free-agency draw? Two empty-handed summers would suggest no, in which case they'd need to reconsider the place-holder approach, flesh out the roster with longer-term alternatives and try acquiring another top gun via trade.
T.J. McConnell's free agency will be a handful either way. He shouldn't command an expensive deal, but the Sixers have to figure out how much he's worth to a pecking order that includes Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons.
Notable Free Agents: Trevor Ariza (non-Bird); Darrell Arthur; Isaiah Canaan (Early Bird); Tyson Chandler; Troy Daniels (Early Bird); Richaun Holmes
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Dragan Bender (team); Marquese Chriss (team); Shaquille Harrison (team); Josh Jackson (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Davon Reed
Salary-Cap Outlook: Solid, with avenues toward improvement
Biggest Flight Risk: Trevor Ariza
Realistic Target: Malcolm Brogdon (restricted)
Most Pressing Question: Will they be ready to spend like winners?
Hammering out Devin Booker's extension this summer does not dampen the Phoenix Sun' capacity to spend next year.
They'll begin the offseason with an obvious route to $15 million in room and can build up from there by dealing Dragan Bender and/or Marquese Chriss. Attaching a sweetener to Brandon Knight or stretching the final year of his contract opens even more space.
Will the Suns be in a position to be so aggressive? It's tough to say.
Booker's extension incites a certain urgency. Teams footing the bill for max contracts need to be thinking about a win-now window. But the Suns will still be so inexperienced. Josh Jackson will have just played out his sophomore campaign. Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Elie Okobo will only be entering theirs. Bender and Chriss aren't that far ahead of the curve.
Phoenix has a gaping hole at point guard and the money to fill it. Positionless setups that see Booker, Jackson and Knight initiate the offense by committee have a spot in the arsenal, but won't entirely cut it. Okobo needs time to stew.
Fortunately, the Suns have the flexibility to sign someone of consequence, but pinpointing the right investment will be tricky. They're too committed to go unproven and cheap yet not seasoned enough to go established and expensive. They need an in-between option who reflects their inconclusive timeline. Brogdon, Dinwiddie, McConnell and Delon Wright all fit that bill.
Portland Trail Blazers
Notable Free Agents: Al-Farouq Aminu; Wade Baldwin IV (Early Bird); Seth Curry (non-Bird); Jake Layman (restricted); Nik Stauskas (non-Bird)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Zach Collins (team); Caleb Swanigan (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: None
Dead Money: Festus Ezeli ($333,333); Andrew Nicholson ($2,844,430); Anderson Varejao ($1,913,345)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Womp womp
Biggest Flight Risk: Al-Farouq Aminu
Realistic Target: Garrett Temple
Most Pressing Question: Are Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both still in town?
The Portland Trail Blazers' approach to free agency should be on the simpler side. They won't have money and are thin on trade assets. They should be focusing on their own free agents and searching for inexpensive upgrades on the margins.
And maybe they will. But that would mark the third consecutive summer in which they've danced around the luxury tax to keep a non-contender intact. That brand of patience doesn't exist in the NBA—especially if the Blazers aren't coming off a playoff appearance.
Consider what the New York Times' Marc Stein wrote while responding to a mailbag question about which Western Conference postseason team will be displaced from the bubble this year: "Portland. Meh offseason. Only made the playoffs three games ahead of the ninth seed. And this season, Dallas, Los Angeles and Denver all should be better. It wouldn't shock me to see some Damian Lillard rumors start flying this season."
The future of the backcourt will directly impact how the Blazers tackle 2019 free agency. Trading Lillard or CJ McCollum won't manufacture cap space, but it would signal a potential reset and the lack of urgency to spend that comes with it.
If the Blazers remain against breaking up their backcourt band, then next summer will unfold a lot like this one. They'll cross their fingers that Al-Farouq Aminu won't cost a small ransom, rummage through bargain bins and hope their Groundhog's Day trajectory doesn't invite trade requests from Lillard or McCollum.
Notable Free Agents: Willie Cauley-Stein (restricted); Deyonta Davis (restricted); Kosta Koufos; Ben McLemore (Early Bird); Zach Randolph (Early Bird); Iman Shumpert
Options Likely to Be Exercised: De'Aaron Fox (team); Harry Giles (team); Buddy Hield (team); Justin Jackson (team); Skal Labissiere (team);
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Jamel Artis; Yogi Ferrell; Frank Mason
Dead Money: Matt Barnes ($2,133,541)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Brinks truck ain't big enough
Biggest Flight Risk: Willie Cauley-Stein
Realistic Target: Justise Winslow (restricted)
Most Pressing Question: Can they get an actual wing?
The Sacramento Kings' 2019 offseason should be pretty straightforward. They will have effortless access to $60 million in space if they renounce all of their own free agents and remain low on talented wings. Ipso facto, they should earmark a chunk of that money for a small forward who jibes with their rebuilding timetable.
Except, well, they are the Kings. Nothing is ever that simple with them.
They entered this summer with the same small-forward void. So naturally, they drafted Marvin Bagley III, a big, over Luka Doncic, a 6'7" point wing. And then they threw $78 million at Zach LaVine, a guard. And then they traded Garrett Temple, a kind-of-sort-of wing, for Ben McLemore, a shooting guard who shouldn't play the 3. And then they signed Nemanja Bjelica, a should-be 4. And then they took a cheap flier on Yogi Ferrell, another guard, because, I guess they're still bitter about Dallas' stealing Wesley Matthews from under their noses in 2016.
This is to say: The Kings are roller coaster loop-de-looping their way through a glass case of their fans' emotions. And that's in a normal offseason. Next summer will be an acid trip. They don't own their first-round pick, and they'll need to start thinking about new deals for Cauley-Stein (restricted), Buddy Hield (extension-eligible) and Skal Labissiere (extension-eligible).
Reinvesting in a foundation that hasn't accomplished anything is scary. At the same time, so is ousting players still on or just coming off their rookie-scale deals.
Cap space comes as little consolation under the circumstances. The Kings should be kicking around semi-aggressive offer sheets for restricted free agents like Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson or Kelly Oubre Jr., facilitating salary dumps and giving their youthful base time to develop. But they've yet to show they can stick to a central vision. They exist in this enduring state of non-committal acceleration. And while having a ton of cash to burn equips them to break this cycle, it also allows them to indulge their typical inconsistent behavior even further.
San Antonio Spurs
Notable Free Agents: Dante Cunningham (non-Bird); Manu Ginobili; Rudy Gay (Early Bird);
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Dejounte Murray (team); Jakob Poeltl (team); Derrick White (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Pau Gasol ($6.7 million)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Suboptimal
Biggest Flight Risk: Manu Ginobili
Realistic Target: Trevor Ariza
Most Pressing Question: Can they keep avoiding a teardown post-Kawhi Leonard?
Relax, relax, relax. Manu Ginobili is only a flight risk because he turns 42 next July and retirement will be beckoning. He isn't about to pull a Tony Parker and get his bag elsewhere.
Outlining anything definitive for San Antonio's 2019 offseason would be irresponsible. Too many unknown variables are at play following Leonard's departure.
Head coach Gregg Popovich could follow Ginobili into the sunset. The Spurs could miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and lean into the ground-up reconstruction they eschewed in the Leonard trade. DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray could blossom into a top-five backcourt and encourage San Antonio to do the same. A riveting postseason push could beg for salary dumps that help hook a premier free agent.
As of now, the Spurs will begin next summer with no irreplaceable free agents and nothing more than the non-taxpayer's mid-level to burn. If their DeRozan experiment succeeds, they'll be working off an impressive playoff performance and looking for a veteran wing defender and shooter who replaces some of what they lost in both Leonard and Danny Green.
Ariza, Carroll, Tyreke Evans, Matthews and Terrence Ross would be but a few of many names to watch in this scenario.
Notable Free Agents: Danny Green; Kawhi Leonard (player option); Delon Wright (restricted)
Options Likely to Be Exercised: OG Anunoby (team); CJ Miles (player); Pascal Siakam (team); Jonas Valanciunas (player)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Malachi Richardson (team option)
Dead Money: Justin Hamilton ($1,000,000)
Salary-Cap Outlook: Livably restrictive
Biggest Flight Risk: Kawhi Leonard
Realistic Target: Luc Mbah a Moute
Most Pressing Question: Is Kawhi Leonard vibing Canada?
Talk about your straightforward offseasons.
Retaining Leonard is priority numero uno for the Raptors. He keeps their NBA Finals window wide open and simplifies their roster-building process. They won't need anything more than minor tweaks and additions if he sticks around.
At least one or two other wings would become collateral damage of Leonard's return. The Raptors should be committed to paying the tax for a genuine contender, but they're looking at more than $150 million in player salary if they hang on to everyone. Unless they pawn off expiring contracts for Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas, two or three of Danny Green, CJ Miles, Norman Powell and Delon Wright may need to go.
Landing cheaper help becomes imperative if that's going to fly. Someone such as Reggie Bullock, James Ennis, Mbah a Moute or Darius Miller would at least begin to fill the resulting gaps at a fraction of the cost.
The Raptors will shift course if Leonard flees. They'll have squeaky-clean books in 2020, so next summer would become all about shedding salary and waiting out their fresh start.
Notable Free Agents: Alec Burks; Ricky Rubio; Thabo Sefolosha; David Stockton (Early Bird restricted); Ekpe Udoh
Options Likely to Be Exercised: Tony Bradley (team); Donovan Mitchell (team)
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: Derrick Favors; Raul Neto; Georges Niang; Royce O'Neale
Salary-Cap Outlook: Peachy Keen
Biggest Flight Risk: Ricky Rubio
Realistic Target: Tobias Harris
Most Pressing Question: Are upper-echelon free agents open to signing in Utah?
The Utah Jazz are less than a year away from becoming the ultimate litmus test for all great basketball fits that don't hail from mammoth markets. Denver could turn out to be this team, but its flexibility has too many strings attached. Utah's proximity to top-shelf spending power is more organic.
Renouncing all of their own free agents and waiving Derrick Favors' non-guaranteed deal would give the Jazz Butler, Leonard and Klay Thompson money. Futzing around with one or two of their other non-guarantees gets them Durant bucks.
Setting their sights lower would permit the Jazz to straddle both sides of the fence. Holding on to Favors or Rubio would remove them from the max-star discussion but leave them with enough scratch to get sit-downs with Tobias Harris and Middleton.
Poaching even a fringe star sends a message to the rest of the league: Fit trumps location. The Jazz have almost all the trimmings of a budding beast with Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and a smorgasbord of plug-and-play worker bees like Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles. They epitomize the meaning of "one player away."
Affording that player won't be a problem. Locking him down could be. But an unremarkable free-agency track record should not stop the Jazz from trying. Preserving cap space should take precedence. They're too good to bypass pitches for next summer's hottest names. They can aim for singles and doubles on the open market and trade block after—or rather, if—they strikeout with their home run swing.
Notable Free Agents: Thomas Bryant (Early Bird restricted); Jeff Green (non-Bird); Dwight Howard (player option); Jodie Meeks (Early Bird); Markieff Morris; Kelly Oubre Jr. (restricted); Austin Rivers; Tomas Satoransky (restricted); Jason Smith
Options Likely to Be Exercised: None
Non-Guaranteed Salaries: None
Salary-Cap Outlook: Bust-up-the-Biggish-Three expensive
Biggest Flight Risk: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Realistic Target: Darren Collison
Most Pressing Question: Has the Big Three already peaked?
Same issues, different offseason. The Washington Wizards' core of Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and John Wall has been on the verge of passing its use-by date for at least a year.
Shaking things up with the additions of Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and Austin Rivers buys them one more season, but another early playoff exit will necessitate a wholesale makeover. Paying into the tax for this roster is questionable as it stands, and Washington's operating costs are only going to balloon. Wall's salary nearly doubles in 2019-20, when he, Beal, Porter and Ian Mahinmi will combine to make $107.9 million.
Put another way: Four players will run the Wizards almost the entire salary cap. Tack on new deals for Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky, and poof! Luxury-tax city.
Changing out non-stars doesn't make enough of a dent in the bottom line. Washington would have to get rid of close to everyone, and a Beal-Porter-Wall tricycle isn't good enough to drag a minimum-contract hodgepodge to anything special.
Divesting one of the Big Three members into cheaper prospects and role players is the only way for the Wizards to keep things reasonable. That should help them deepen the rotation and shirk an unruly tax bill. The right package would unlock the full mid-level exception to use on a steadying hand for the second unit.
Choosing the Wizards' odd man out is a hard-knocks decision for a different time. The upcoming season will influence their view of the nucleus and its future a great deal. Maybe this group finally detonates and earns itself another year; cost be darn tootin'd. For the time being, though, it sure feels like 2018-19 will be the last hurrah for the Wizards as we've come to know them.