Are You Serious?
Which teams will be heard during free agency 2013?
by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
It seems like there are only two types of teams in the League these days: those that are gaining star players and those that are losing them. If you’re a team making moves for stars, salary cap space is absolutely critical. If you’re losing your best players and entering a rebuilding phase, money is equally important.
Seemingly everyone is either going all-in or creating salary cap space for the future. In the case of the recent Joe Johnson trade, the Nets are entering win-now mode while the Hawks have decided to strip the roster down.
Suddenly many teams have big cap space lined up for a year from now, when, barring extensions, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum, Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap will headline the unrestricted free agents. Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, Blake Griffin and Serge Ibaka are the top the restricted guys in a big free-agent class.
Based on current rosters (which are subject to change at any moment) and a few free-agency assumptions, there are 18 teams in the League which will have enough cap space to make noise next summer.
I’ve broken them into six categories. “High Rollers” are the real players in the free-agency game. They’re the guys who are going to have money and, make no mistake, they won’t be afraid to spend it. “Just Might Get Involved” are the teams that will have enough money to make a splash, but might not want to because they’re not quite at the level where a big free agent can really make them a contender and they’d rather not overpay.
“Unlikely To Join The Fun” is reserved for rebuilding teams. “Please Don’t Overspend. You’ll Regret it, I Promise” is for teams nowhere near contention that must wait their turn before trying to force the issue and land a big free agent (ask the Nets how that Travis Outlaw contract worked out two summers ago).
Teams with “Deceptive Cap Space” are those with money lined up for next summer, but it’s only because their best players hit the market. They need to bring them back to be any good, but doing that wipes out the money, so the flexibility is really just an illusion. “Too Early To Tell” teams have too many undecided factors to have any clue where they’ll be a year from now. Maybe they’ll lose a big player soon. Maybe they’ll gain one.
And we’re off!
Newly appointed General Manager Danny Ferry has completely flipped Atlanta’s roster upside-down since taking over. He immediately moved Joe Johnson and the four years and $90 million remaining on his contract to Brooklyn. He also swapped Marvin Williams, who has two years left on his contract, for Devin Harris, who has just one. Suddenly the Hawks are looking at more cap flexibility than anybody in the NBA. The only guys under contract for the ’13-14 season are Al Horford at $12 million and Jeff Teague, who will be a restricted free agent.
If they so choose, Atlanta could move both players for picks, start fresh with nobody on the roster and all $58 million of the salary cap at their disposal to chase top free agents, including their own Smith. It’s uncertain which direction they will take, but it’s clear that they have endless options.
The Rockets were hoping to have a big name center on their team by now, be it Howard, Andre Drummond or someone else, but have failed thus far. What they do have are a bunch of young, cheap assets and very good cap flexibility.
Once they sign their rookies their payroll should be between $30-35 million next offseason, assuming they lose Goran Dragic in free agency and don’t make any big acquisitions before then. That leaves enough room for a max contract, and if they move Luis Scola, which they’ve been trying to do this offseason, they’ll have about as much dough as anybody next summer.
The Mavs have been looking to create cap room ever since they let Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and JJ Barea walk a year ago. The truth is, though, they still aren’t in that good of a financial situation. If they decline Vince Carter and Dominique Jones options next summer and don’t submit a qualifying offer to Roddy Beaubois, they’ll be looking at around a $41 million payroll—$17 million under the cap. Using the Amnesty Clause on Brendan Haywood would clear another nine million.
From there it starts to look pretty good, but that would only leave them with Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion on the roster. They’ll have to strip the roster down to rebuild it, and you can bet that Mark Cuban will be pushing to spend his money very aggressively.
JUST MIGHT GET INVOLVED
With Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love at their core, the TWolves have a very bright future. They have a nice chunk of dough to spend this offseason and next, and it’s crucial they invest in the right pieces. They’ve already offered Nicolas Batum a four-year, $50 million contract, which Portland can match. Without Batum, the Timberwolves have Love, Rubio, JJ Barea, Luke Ridnour, Malcolm Lee and Wes Johnson under contract for the ’13-14 season. They will have the chance to decline a $5.5 million option on Johnson’s deal, which they will almost certainly take a long look at. With Johnson, it’s around a $34 million payroll, meaning they’ll have $24 million to play with a year from now if Batum remains a Blazer.
Some of that will likely go to re-signing center Nikola Pekovic, but it’s still more than enough to go after any player they want. It’s unclear if they’d opt to continue rebuilding slowly or go for the big fish in free agency if given the chance. Batum fits into both categories.
The Kings can really do damage in the next year or two if they play their cards right. A year from now Tyreke Evans hits restricted free agency, and it seems likely that he’ll be offered at least a near-max contract (because really, who isn’t these days?) Factoring in that deal, they’ll have about $50 million committed to ten players for the ’13-14 season. If they amnesty John Salmons’ $7.5 million, they will have about $15 million in available cap space with only three spots left to fill on the roster.
They’re likely to bring back Jason Thompson this offseason, meaning it’ll probably be closer to ten million bucks for two roster spots. One of those will be a rookie meaning they’ll have around ten million to throw at one player if they want to, a great position to be in.
UNLIKELY TO JOIN THE FUN
Once rookies sign, Cleveland will have five guys under contract for the ’13-14 year: Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao. The five of them total around $24 million—making up less than half the salary cap. They will likely decide to hang onto their money rather than go for one of 2013′s big free agents, instead aiming for 2014 and beyond.
After scoring big-time in the Draft with Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, the Hornets are set up for success for a very long time. The only players under contract a year from now are Davis and Rivers once they sign, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith. They have team options on Xavier Henry, Greivis Vasquez and Gustavo Ayon. In addition, Eric Gordon will likely be back at max money. If Gordon does return on four-year, $58 million max deal and they pick up the three players’ options (hardly a guarantee), they’ll be looking at around $20 million in cap space.
That’s more than enough to make a bid for another max player, though it would make sense to keep their checkbook clean since soon enough their new franchise players will need big extensions. But if Davis makes a massive impact in his rookie season, it would make perfect sense for the Hornets to be very aggressive in free agency a year from now.
Toronto, slowly but surely, isn’t that far from being a Playoff team, and a good free-agent pickup could get them there. They have nice pieces in DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, rookie Terrance Ross and veteran point guard Jose Calderon. It also appears they’ll be adding restricted free agent Landry Fields.
They also have nice cap flexibility, but struck out on bringing Steve Nash to Canada. Even with him, though, they probably wouldn’t be contending against the top dogs anytime soon. They should wait until they see what they have in some of their young players before deciding whether or not to go all-in with this team.