NBA Power Rankings: Where All 30 Teams Rank as 2019 Free-Agent Destinations

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 17, 2019

NBA Power Rankings: Where All 30 Teams Rank as 2019 Free-Agent Destinations

0 of 6

    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    If you thought the largesse of 2016's cap-spiked spending spree was something, just wait until you see what's coming in 2019 free agency.

    In addition to a glut of teams with cash to burn, the market is littered with stars. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard head the list of likely free agents, and nobody knows where they're going. In addition, the relatively spartan spending on short-term deals that defined the 2018 offseason means this year's class will be chock-full of talent. Roughly 40 percent of the league will be available.

    We can't pretend all 30 teams are operating on equal terms. Goals are different across the league, and it doesn't make a lot of sense to grade ring-chasers and rebuilders with the same criteria. So the first thing we'll do is split teams into three groups: those with salary-cap space, those over the cap but under the luxury tax, and those that will incur the tax.

    We'll use Spotrac's practical cap-space projections to split our groups, though it should be noted those figures presume teams will renounce holds and clear as much room as possible. In reality, most clubs won't hit free agency with as much actual cap space as we'll list here. Still, it's a good shorthand for the financial flexibility that matters so much to rankings like these.

    From there, we'll order teams in each group based on a variety of factors that affect each destination's desirability. That'll include cash to spend, availability of playing time, competitiveness, culture, coaching, organizational stability and anything else that should influence a free agent's decision.

    You'd better get up to speed now. The whirlwind is coming.

Cap-Room Teams: Nos. 17-12

1 of 6

    Harry How/Getty Images

    17. Charlotte Hornets

    Practical Cap Space: $6.2 million

    Assuming Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist pick up their 2019-20 player options that total $28 million, and assuming Kemba Walker sticks around on a max or near-max deal, the Hornets will be well over the cap and essentially locked into the same core that won 39 games and missed the playoffs last season.

    If Walker departs, the Hornets are still in rough financial shape and will have to run a lot faster to avoid falling off the mediocrity treadmill. Either way, it's hard to conjure a good sales pitch for a free agent who's interested in Charlotte.

    The roster lacks young talent, its veterans are too expensive and there's an alarmingly low ceiling here—even if everything breaks right.


    16. Orlando Magic

    Practical Cap Space: $23.5 million

    If Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross leave in free agency, there's not enough established talent here to make a return trip to the playoffs. Not only that, but the Magic also figure to be heavily invested in developing Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and even Markelle Fultz next year, which could cut into the potential playing time of an incoming free agent.

    If Vucevic and Ross re-sign, the Magic won't have the flexibility to hand out anything beyond the mid-level exception and minimum deals.

    Head coach Steve Clifford had Orlando defending at a top-notch rate, but the team's offense is contrastingly clunky. It's hard to imagine that style of play as anything but a deterrent—not to mention the limited financial options.


    15. Phoenix Suns

    Practical Cap Space: $25.2 million

    In Devin Booker, and to a lesser extent Deandre Ayton, there's talent in Phoenix. There's also more money there than in either Charlotte or Orlando.

    Unfortunately, a couple of high-end prospects and spending power don't outweigh years of organizational capriciousness. The Suns have a new head coach in Monty Williams, and James Jones figures to have more power as general manager now that he's not effectively sharing the job. But owner Robert Sarver remains, and his tenure has been a well-documented chaosfest.

    Smart free agents should avoid a franchise so synonymous with dysfunction.


    14. Los Angeles Lakers

    Practical Cap Space: $41.8 million

    This ranking should make it clear that market size and historic reputation don't mean what they used to.

    Within the last year, the Lakers have botched free agency, destroyed morale with a midseason trade push for Anthony Davis, lost president of basketball operations Magic Johnson to an abrupt resignation, missed the playoffs, squandered what might be one of the last prime-adjacent seasons of LeBron James' career, elevated Rob Pelinka to a high seat of power, changed head coaches, inexplicably installed Jason Kidd in an assistant's role and somehow granted Kurt Rambis significant sway over big-picture decisions.

    Owner Jeanie Buss has yet to conduct business in a way that inspires confidence, and playing with James may no longer be something marquee free agents want.

    Los Angeles is a cool place to live with lots of secondary-income opportunities for big names, but there's absolutely nothing else working in the Lakers' favor.


    13. New Orleans Pelicans

    Practical Cap Space: $16.9 million

    The Pelicans have the top pick, which will yield Zion Williamson, a potentially transformative talent. But they had the same thing in 2012 when they drafted Anthony Davis, and after just two playoff trips in seven seasons, he's probably on the way out.

    We shouldn't hold the old regime's failure to maximize AD against David Griffin and the new brain trust, and a Davis trade could bring aboard more young talent around Williamson. A free agent could get in on the ground floor with a team on the rise.

    New Orleans ranks this low because it's been an NBA backwater even with Davis on the roster. That could change, and the chatter about investment in the organization is promising. But we'll need to see the Pels prove they're more than a side business of the New Orleans Saints before we can recommend them over the upcoming teams.


    12. Chicago Bulls

    Practical Cap Space: $23.8 million

    You'd be hard-pressed to find a Bulls fan with faith in general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson. The disdain for Chicago's front office also extends to the coaching community, and though current sideline-stalker Jim Boylan seems to have recovered after a near mutiny last season, it's hard to feel comfortable with him in control.

    In addition to reviled management and a hard-driving head coach, the Bulls also lose appeal on account of limited opportunities.

    Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. figure to play major minutes at the 2-5 spots. So unless you're a point guard in search of a home, you're probably looking at bench duties on a lottery-bound team. That's a tough situation, especially if you're hoping to perform well enough to earn a bigger contract on your next deal.

    Chicago has devoted fans, massive attendance numbers and a rich history. A young core and an incoming lottery pick sweeten the pot. It's too bad attitudes toward management are so sour.

Cap-Room Teams: Nos. 11-6

2 of 6

    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    11. New York Knicks

    Practical Cap Space: $72.9 million

    That, folks, is a lot of cap space. It might even be enough to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, for example. And although it might not matter much to more present-focused free agents, the Knicks also have this year's No. 3 pick and first-rounders coming from the Dallas Mavericks in 2021 and 2023. That's about as clean as rebuilding slates get.

    Of course, ownership remains a constant. James Dolan's tenure has been a tragicomic production marked by unfulfilled ambitions and unrealistic goals. There'd be something special about returning the Knicks to glory, and that should appeal to free agents possessed with irrational confidence. But it will take sustained success until we can truly believe in New York as a desired landing spot.

    The cap space, market and flexibility still give the Knicks appeal, though.


    10. Sacramento Kings

    Practical Cap Space: $37.2 million

    Who wouldn't want to run with De'Aaron Fox?

    The Kings have the makings of an exciting core with a defined uptempo identity. Free agents with an eye toward inflated stats should be swayed by that. Less superficially, though, Sacramento appears to be a team on the rise. It won 39 games last year, its highest total since 2005-06, and the drivers of that success are all ridiculously young.

    Fox and Harry Giles III are 21, and Marvin Bagley III will play most of next year as a 20-year-old. Buddy Hield emerged as an ace high-volume sniper in 2018-19, and he's the old man in the core at 26.

    Throw in a sparkling arena, a fanbase that's dying to embrace a winner and a thrilling style of play, and you've got a lot to like in Sacramento.


    9. Atlanta Hawks

    Practical Cap Space: $49 million

    Atlanta is in the early phases of a rebuild around Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and John Collins. Though they were unlucky to exit the lottery with the eighth and 10th picks, the Hawks are still asset-rich and patient enough to get the most out of what they've got.

    Head coach Lloyd Pierce's reputation is growing, general manager Travis Schlenk has that Warriors pedigree, and Young's star is on the rise. There might be more pure talent in Sacramento, but the Hawks have what feels like more stable infrastructure. Playing in the East, where postseason trips are easier to come by, doesn't hurt either. The Hawks finished 2018-19 with 10 fewer wins than the Kings, but they were only three games further removed from a playoff spot. That's a lot of extra room for error.

    Free agents should see Atlanta as an excellent buy-low opportunity—the kind of place where they could integrate themselves into something built to last.


    8. Indiana Pacers

    Practical Cap Space: $48.8 million

    We've finally hit our first playoff team in this section of the rankings, and the Pacers' well-established hatred for tanking means any free agent who signs here can count on playing competitive ball.

    That matters—partly because winning tends to attract attention (and potentially bigger salaries down the line)—but also because success is a lot more fun than failure in a competitive work landscape. Quality of life in Indiana is generally great for players who care about wins.

    Note, too, that Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner make up a terrific one-two punch...which has not proved it can produce elite offense. A score-first free agent could thrive here, and it's also important to note that role players have every chance to expand their games with the Pacers. Oladipo may be the best example, but what we saw from Bojan Bogdanovic and Domantas Sabonis last season proved there's ample opportunity for support pieces to take on major roles if they have the game to do it.

    There's nothing glitzy about Indianapolis, and the Pacers have long struggled to attract top-line talent in free agency. I guess this is an argument that Indiana should be more desirable than it's been.


    7. San Antonio Spurs

    Practical Cap Space: $9 million

    If the last 22 years are any indication, you'll be in the playoffs if you sign with the Spurs. Of course, on the flip side, what if you joined San Antonio in free agency and had to live down being a part of the first Spurs team to miss the postseason since 1997?

    That'd be a tough footnote to expunge from your legacy.

    Still, San Antonio is a model of stability under head coach Gregg Popovich. This franchise has a rich history of salvaging (Rudy Gay), prolonging (LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan) and developing (Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, Dejounte Murray) careers. Sign here, and you're basically assured of maximizing your impact on winning—as long as you've gotten over yourself.

    The Spurs abhor flash but they never stop winning, and their culture is second to none.


    6. Utah Jazz

    Practical Cap Space: $16.8 million

    Unlike the Spurs, Utah feels like it's only a piece or two away from becoming a true contender. And because the Jazz share many of San Antonio's laudable qualities—a respected coach (Quin Snyder), an emphasis on staying competitive, and a team-first approach—that distinction earns the Jazz a higher spot.

    If you're a free agent and can choose between San Antonio and Utah, you're going with the latter if a realistic title pursuit is among your priorities.

    Donovan Mitchell needs a secondary creator to juice Utah's offense, and it doesn't really matter what position that help occupies. Everything's malleable on the Jazz's roster outside of Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in the middle. Gobert, by the way, is the perfect mistake-eraser for free agents who might not have the best reputations on D.

    Ultimately, the Jazz feel more like a team that's aiming for greatness, while the Spurs have perfected "pretty good." Ambitious free agents might prefer the former.

Cap-Room Teams: No. 5-1

3 of 6

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    5. Dallas Mavericks

    Practical Cap Space: $52.2 million

    Luka Doncic is the first element of any Dallas free-agent pitch. One of the most game-ready rookies in memory, he's the rare star whose skill set scales to fit any style. He can be a primary scorer, a spacer, a facilitator, a pick-and-roll operator, an isolation weapon, a post-up threat against mismatches—anything. That versatility allows the Mavs to build however they want, putting every kind of free agent in play.

    Kristaps Porzingis is here, too. If he gets and stays healthy after a torn ACL, Dallas' offense will hum for years.

    More than that, though, the Mavericks have forced themselves into a position where winning matters now. They've dealt away their 2019 first-rounder, and they'll also send their 2021 and 2023 picks to the Knicks. Free agents who want assurances against wasted seasons and tanking will find nothing but competitive, meaningful games in Dallas.

    There's also the Mavs' long history of cutting-edge creature comforts. All else being equal, free agents will probably choose the team with oxygenated locker rooms.


    4. Milwaukee Bucks

    Practical Cap Space: $4.9 million

    Anybody want to sign on for nonstop title contention?

    That's what free agents will get if they head to Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo's presence means the Bucks will be a top-tier championship threat indefinitely.

    They will spend most of their cash retaining their own free agents this summer—a list that includes Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton (assuming he opts out), Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic. They'll still have a mid-level exception to use after taking care of their own, though, and any shooter who'd like clean looks and a minimum salary should be pestering his agent to give Milwaukee a call.

    It gets cold in Wisconsin, and Antetokounmpo's free agency in 2021 means the organization will hit a crossroads fairly soon. But for the right kind of role filler, it's hard to do better than the Bucks.


    3. Philadelphia 76ers

    Practical Cap Space: $41.2 million

    The Sixers are a bit like the Bucks in that their expenditures this summer will be more about retention than acquisition. Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick are all expected free agents, and the 76ers will vault into the tax if all three stay on market-rate deals.

    That said, the Sixers rank ahead of the Bucks because there's greater opportunity for a newcomer to make an impact. Because while the Bucks have significant depth, the Sixers are unbelievably thin. That means a player who comes aboard for the mid-level exception will almost certainly play a major role, and minutes matter for free agents.

    Philadelphia's starting five of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Butler, Redick and Harris was fantastic in its limited time together, running up a plus-24.9 net rating in the playoffs—by far the best margin of any quintet to log at least 100 minutes. But the second unit lacked a capable reserve big man, sufficient playmaking and shooting.

    So any free agent who joins the Sixers and performs reasonably well should expect to find himself logging critical playoff minutes. I'm not sure that'll be true of anyone the Bucks add to fill out the end of their bench.


    2. Brooklyn Nets

    Practical Cap Space: $54.6 million

    Where to start?

    With the terrific supporting players such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen locked into cheap deals?

    With the mountain of cap space that could grow to accommodate two max-level players if they stretch Allen Crabbe's pact?

    With Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks, a coach-GM tandem that installed a high-functioning culture while building a playoff team without control over its own lottery picks for a half-decade?

    With the major market?

    The Nets have everything a star free agent could want, with none of the organizational turmoil or pressure associated with glitzier locales. They're basically the Knicks without all the nonsense.


    1. Los Angeles Clippers

    Practical Cap Space: $59.7 million

    The Clippers have several quantifiable advantages over the other teams in this section of the rankings. They've got more cap space than anyone but the Knicks and additional incoming first-rounders in 2020 and 2021. They've also got Landry Shamet, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Ivica Zubac headlining a young core on rookie deals.

    Add that to a universally respected head coach in Doc Rivers, the front-office influence of Jerry West and an owner in Steve Ballmer whose deep pockets and emphasis on management helped retain virtually all of his executives—despite attempts by other teams to hire them away.

    Unlike the Lakers, the Clips can offer the benefits of Los Angeles living without the headache of terrible ownership, the pressure of playing with LeBron James and the uncertainty of a front office in disarray.

    Oh, and if the educated guesses of plugged-in parties are accurate, Kawhi Leonard, no-nonsense superstar extraordinaire, might be anchoring things next year. Free agents should be falling all over themselves to play for the Clips. There's no better destination for guys who want minutes, money, success and quality of life.

Over-the-Cap Teams: Nos. 8-5

4 of 6

    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    8. Washington Wizards

    Practical Cap Space: -$3.4 million

    The Wizards have over $80 million committed to John Wall, Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi next year, and what little spare cash they have will probably go to retaining restricted free agents Tomas Satoransky, Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis.

    In addition to limited financial flexibility (which will last another half-decade, thanks to Wall's contract), the Wizards are short on young talent, don't profile as a sure playoff bet and might have to trade Beal to get as close to a fresh start as possible with Wall's deal clogging the books.

    There's not much upside for free agents here—in dollars, wins or meaty roles.


    7. Detroit Pistons

    Practical Cap Space: -$8.7 million

    Though the Pistons are even more cap-strapped than the Wizards, at least they've got all that money devoted to a team that made the playoffs last year.

    Detroit badly needs playmaking guards and floor-spacers on the wing. Blake Griffin did everything last season, leading the team in total points and assists by a comfortable margin. Only Nikola Jokic amassed more frontcourt touches.

    The Pistons can't ask Griffin to shoulder the same scoring and facilitating duties for another season. If they do, another breakdown feels imminent. Though Detroit can't spend much to add talent, whatever players it does bring aboard will likely fill significant roles. The Pistons can sell opportunity.


    6. Minnesota Timberwolves

    Practical Cap Space: -$3.4 million

    Karl-Anthony Towns' offensive game should be attractive to free agents, but it has to overcome a number of factors that have long made it hard for Minnesota to add talent on the market. It's cold there in the winter, for one, and there's also the lengthy legacy of losing to consider. The Wolves have made one postseason trip since 2004.

    Andrew Wiggins eats up possessions at low efficiency, but his fat contract probably means his role will remain similarly (undeservedly) large. The Wolves also haven't settled on a coach yet, which you'd think would matter to prospective signees. That'll surely get resolved before July 1, but if we're ranking teams as they stand, that question mark has to be a factor.

    The Timberwolves have more long-term promise than Detroit or Washington, and new top exec Gersson Rosas is a branch off the Daryl Morey tree. Combined with Towns' presence, those factors give the Wolves an edge over the last two teams.


    5. Memphis Grizzlies

    Practical Cap Space: -$10.8 million

    The last major free agent Memphis signed was Chandler Parsons in 2016. That four-year, $94.8 million deal was an ill-advised overpay for a player with major health risks, and the Grizzlies, in hindsight, may have been better served setting that cash on fire.

    Parsons' deal was illustrative of a hard truth: Memphis hasn't been a free-agent target in the past.

    Maybe that will change with Jaren Jackson Jr. and, possibly, Ja Morant forming an exciting young nucleus. You've got defense and spacing from Jackson and high-octane playmaking from Morant. From there, the Grizz should just swap Mike Conley for younger assets and fill in the gaps on the wings. Easy!

    Or, at least it would be easy if the Grizz weren't significantly over the cap. Still, the possibility of having two cornerstones on rookie-scale deals for the next few years should pique the interest of young free agents looking to be part of Memphis' eventual rise.

Over-the-Cap Teams: Nos. 4-1

5 of 6

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    4. Boston Celtics

    Practical Cap Space: -$14.3 million

    We've started another tier here, as the gap between the previous four teams and these next four is miles wide.

    Even if the Celtics aren't sure what will happen with Kyrie Irving, and even if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown might be trade bait, there's still a ton of free-agent appeal here. Boston is a marquee franchise, and Brad Stevens remains one of the league's top coaches. He probably deserves a medal for surviving a brutally difficult year with "Kyrie Irving: King of Moodiness and Would-Be Leader of Men."

    The Celtics' treasure trove of incoming picks will give them three first-rounders in this year's draft. More broadly, they're well-run, ambitious in pursuing talent and—hot take—might benefit from Irving's exit. With him possibly gone, there'll be room for everyone else to spread their wings.


    3. Houston Rockets

    Practical Cap Space: -$14.6 million

    Maybe the Rockets feel a little stale after yet another playoff defeat at the hands of the Warriors (that's four times in the last five years for anyone keeping score), and maybe the idea of standing around while James Harden dribbles the air out of the ball won't appeal to everyone.

    But if we learned anything from Houston's most recent playoff loss, it's that Harden and that starting five, all of whom are under contract in 2019-20, need help. With Eric Gordon in the first unit, there's a dearth of shot creation on the bench. Though Houston won't be able to pay much for any acquisitions, someone (or several someones) will get a chance to shine on a big stage in meaningful games.

    Mike D'Antoni's offense tends to produce good numbers for all involved, and we should expect the Rockets to feature a more egalitarian approach after failing to advance past the second round with this year's extremely Harden-centric attack.

    Free agents who want to shoot loads of open threes, win games and be part of an organization that specializes in maximizing cheap talent could do a lot worse than Houston.


    2. Denver Nuggets

    Practical Cap Space: -$11.7 million

    Understand something up front: Playing with Nikola Jokic is a privilege—an honor, even! It's something free agents should be fighting for, and that'd be true even if the Nuggets weren't on a five-year run of steady improvement that portends an even bigger step forward next season.

    We've talked about getting in on the ground floor with a few other teams, but joining the Nuggets this summer would be more like leaping onto a bullet train as it whizzes past on its way to title contention.

    Head coach Mike Malone empowers his players, Denver is a fantastic place to live, and, again, you get to play with Jokic. His entire life's goal sometimes seems to be setting up a teammate with the perfect dribble handoff. How do you top that?

    The Nuggets won't have any real money to spend unless they decline Paul Millsap's team option, don't retain him and also somehow move on from Will Barton. But there are still bench minutes to be had. Everyone on the market should want them.


    1. Golden State Warriors

    Practical Cap Space: -$11.8 million

    Take note, free agents: If you embrace your role and stay ready, Steve Kerr will play you. He used 11 Warriors in the first half of that closeout Game 6 win against the Rockets. What more proof do we need that he'll give everyone a chance?

    Golden State could be on the cusp of losing key pieces. Shaun Livingston has already talked retirement, DeMarcus Cousins has always been a short-timer, Kevon Looney's postseason performance may earn him an offer richer than the Warriors can provide, and Kevin Durant might be a goner as well.

    No free agent will cut into the key roles occupied by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson (assuming he re-signs) and Draymond Green, but the Warriors are going to need bodies. They have to replenish their depth, and that'll be doubly important if Durant bolts.

    All you get as a free-agent signee is a spot on a dynastic superpower, the chance to christen a new San Francisco arena, unparalleled coaching and management, another title chase and the added bonus of living in the Bay Area. 

    The Warriors are short on cash and long on everything else. They're a ring-chasing role player's dream.

Taxpaying Teams: Nos. 5-1

6 of 6

    Zach Beeker/Getty Images

    5. Cleveland Cavaliers

    Practical Cap Space: -$26 million

    Eight-figure 2019-20 salaries for Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and John Henson mean the Cavs won't have cash to throw at free agents. In other scenarios when you're dealing with a team this bad, there's often the possibility of overpaying to land players—but not here.

    Cleveland is stuck with this roster until it finds a way to move Love. Even then, the real talent pursuit won't start until summer 2020 at the earliest.

    The Cavs hired John Beilein away from Michigan, a move that signals we're in for a long, deliberate rebuild. You don't install a longtime collegiate coach if you're gunning for the playoffs; you do it when you're trying to teach, develop and instill habits that'll pay off years down the line.

    This is no place for a free agent in search of instant gratification. The payoff in Cleveland, if it ever comes, is years away.


    4. Oklahoma City Thunder

    Practical Cap Space: -$39.6 million

    Russell Westbrook's relentlessness seems to endear him to teammates, but from afar, it's easy to see how free agents would hesitate to hitch their wagons to a star in decline, no matter how competitive he is.

    OKC will pay Russ $171 million over the next four years. He just had another knee cleanup after the season—which concluded in a third straight first-round elimination. His jumper is wholly unreliable, though he relies on it constantly, and there's almost no way to free up money for a talent infusion. Paul George and Steven Adams will combine to make nearly $59 million next year and around $63 million the year after.

    The Thunder have established a winning culture, and Jerami Grant's growth suggests Oklahoma City can be a good place for young players to develop. But if the Thunder go as Westbrook goes, which they have over the last three seasons, it's hard to be optimistic about what's ahead here.


    3. Miami Heat

    Practical Cap Space: -$31.5 million

    The Heat don't figure to be as relevant to the playoff race as the Thunder going forward, and their cap situation is nearly as bad, with one key difference: No single player is crippling Miami's financial flexibility. There's no Westbrook albatross here. Instead, the Heat are saddled with several moderate overpays that'll prevent them from spending until 2020.

    After that, they'll have the chance to swing big in free agency. And we've seen the Heat build a monster that way before.

    For now, though, Miami is in a tough spot. The only reasons it ranks ahead of the Thunder are the steady, championship-verified presence of Erik Spoelstra and the obvious allure of life in South Florida.


    2. Portland Trail Blazers

    Practical Cap Space: -$24.3 million

    The Blazers' surprising advance to the conference finals will make it much easier for them to justify running it back next year with the same roster. Good thing too, as they don't have the means to change their makeup through free agency.

    If anything, they're likely to lose a few key pieces, as Enes Kanter, Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood and Seth Curry are all on expiring deals. With around $122 million in guaranteed salary locked in for 2019-20, Portland will have to plunge deep into tax territory to bring back those players. Meanwhile, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard are all due to make eight figures in 2019-20.

    Portland figures to be competitive, and Lillard's presence might otherwise attract stars, but this franchise's ownership situation is in flux following the death of Paul Allen in October. And, again, there's just no realistic path to meaningful free-agent additions because finances are so strained.


    1. Toronto Raptors

    Practical Cap Space: -$23.6 million

    The Raptors could look a lot different next season with Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol likely to opt out of their deals and Danny Green headed for unrestricted free agency. Even if all three starters depart, the Raps will remain an attractive landing spot.

    Toronto will still have Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet, so it'll almost certainly remain competitive. Though the Raps have little history of signing major talent on the market, that group should draw interest from a star who might want to slide into Leonard's potentially vacated slot.

    The Raptors have a steady track record of success, Masai Ujiri is nearly on Daryl Morey's level of front-office wizardry, and Toronto is a diverse, cosmopolitan culture hub (that happens to be a little chilly several months of the year). A free agent who can handle the weather and won't be bothered by Drake's thirstiness for NBA friendship would be wise to sign on here.

    Of all the teams short on cash, the Raptors grade out best.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Salary information courtesy of Basketball Reference and Pick obligations via Real GM.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!