This summer quickly became a big summer for free agent signings around the NBA. The Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all opted out of the final years of their contracts and the Knicks’ superstar Carmelo Anthony also opted out and is going to test the waters of free agency.
Everyone is going to line up and at least see if they can get one of these truly elite players to join their squads. Particularly James and Anthony. Those are the two targets of several teams.
Who has the best chance to sign these two stars? If anything, the teams lining up to at least ask James’ agent if he is interested at all have to get their books in order and figure out how much cap room they have. This should serve as a good precursor to the start of free agency Tuesday.
First, a few things as a primer. The NBA’s salary cap this year is expected to come in at $63.2 million with a luxury tax threshold of $77.0 million. These are not official numbers, and they will not become official until the moratorium ends July 10.
The second point that needs to be made is that all four of the above-mentioned players can receive a maximum salary of 105 percent of their previous salary. For James and Bosh, that means he can receive a base salary of about $20 million with raises of 7.5 percent for five years. That means James and Bosh could sign approximately five-year, $115 million contracts. Anthony makes a bit more and could receive a base salary of $22.5 million and an estimated max contract of about $129.4 million over five years.
Remember only their current teams can offer those hefty contracts, giving them a huge advantage. James and Bosh could only make their base salary with 4.5 percent raises and a limit of only four years — which amounts to $85.4 million over four years. Anthony would be able to make $96.1 million over four years if he left the Knicks.
So where will James and Anthony, undoubtedly the class of this free agency season, end up? Let’s take some guesses early on here:
In The Running
Miami Heat — Projected Cap Room: $59,148,552
The Heat do not really have a team right now. Just Shabazz Napier (their first round pick) and Norris Cole are under contract. Everyone else should be a free agent, including the big three. Thus the copious amounts of cap space.
Miami’s Big Three could easily take their three-way split of this cap space and be very happy. But that might leave them with a roster very similar to the one they had last year. That obviously did not get the job done. Miami should be looking to clear the deck some, but it all comes back to the big three.
The Heat’s ability to re-sign all three might come down to how much of a pay cut the three are willing to take. If it is enough, then the Heat could be primed for another title run. If not, someone has to go. My bet is that Wade takes a bigger pay cut (dropping down to maybe $12-15 million per year) with James getting a small bump up to the max. If I had to bet, I would say all three end up back in Miami.
Chicago Bulls — Projected Cap Rom: -$7,021,738
The Bulls still have some maneuvering to do to get under the salary cap — namely finding a taker for Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million deal or amnestying him outright. That alone, however, will not allow the Chicago Bulls to get enough salary cap space to pay the base salary for Carmelo Anthony. They would not be able to do so outright. They would still need to wriggle free about $11 million to do that.
Look for Chicago to be on the lookout for expiring contracts to acquire like the one belonging to Jameer Nelson of the Orlando Magic perhaps and takers for players like Mike Dunleavy Jr. I would not be surprised to see them push hard to make a trade there. The Bulls have about 10 days to dump salary after their meeting with Carmelo Anthony on Tuesday.
No doubt though, the Bulls are serious about acquiring Anthony and are going to do everything in their power to acquire him, viewing him as the necessary last piece. With Joakim Noah, a supposedly healthy Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler in place already, the Bulls could probably have enough to entice veteran players to hunt for a title.
If the Knicks were not so dysfunctional, you could easily see them consider going after two of the stars available in free agency this summer. Phil Jackson has brought a modicum of temperance to the organization and so New York might not be about to go on some massive spending spree like the team normally might with this much cap room.
Now, this room comes with a caveat. Amar’e Stoudemire is expected to pick up his $23.4 million player option, cutting a huge chunk into that available room. That gives New York only enough space to re-sign Anthony. The two-star dream seems a bit far fetched, but still possible.
The question for the Knicks is whether Anthony continues to believe in the Knicks roster and what they are building. New York does fall into more cap room in 2015 if Anthony decides to wait it out. Jackson will surely be able to allure players into the Big Apple. Then again, Jackson seems pretty indifferent to the idea of Anthony on his team right now. He knows he can remake the roster next summer.
Los Angeles Lakers — Projected Cap Room: $25,272,554
Give the Lakers credit for giving themselves immediate cap flexibility even after Kobe Bryant’s injury and extension and after the disaster of the Dwight Howard-Steve Nash pairing. Pau Gasol is likely gone, releasing a whole bunch of money off the books to make a big splash. If the Lakers really do have dreams of securing a Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James pairing with Bryant, they certainly could do that.
There is the prestige of the Lakers, Bryant and a promising young rookie in Julius Randle to build around. Even after Bryant is gone, the Lakers’ future looks relatively bright. This is L.A. and it is an organization that always does what it takes to win. Money is really no object.
Can the Lakers’ gravitational pull grab one of these stars? Do not put it past them even with a hard-driving and aging Kobe Bryant still dominating a lot of the talk around this franchise.
Dallas Mavericks — Projected Cap Room: $23,177,833
The Mavericks have played a long game for the last three years since winning the NBA title. They have hunted for that big-name free agent to supplement their roster and keep it afloat. Before the trade last week, the Mavericks were well in position to maybe attract a star like Carmelo Anthony (they are still expected to meet with him).
Taking on Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, however, appears to have added $9 million to the Mavericks’ payroll and they still have a major cap hold to re-sign Dirk Nowitzki as they are expected to do. Nowitzki should get a starting salary of nearly $23.9 million if they give him a max base salary. That eats up all that cap room the Mavericks have and leaves them only the mid-level exception to spend in free agency. It appears that is the direction Dallas is headed after the trades they made last week.
Those dreams of wooin Carmelo Anthony might be gone without another deal to squeeze under the salary cap.
The Hawks currently do not have the cap room to go after Anthony or James outright, but already some are suggesting they could make moves to do so. Maybe that thought gained more steam after they acquired John Salmons in a three-player trade Sunday that sent away Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira. Salmons only has $1 million of his $7 million guaranteed for next year. That would mean the trade could potentially add another $1 million to that space. The Hawks would still need to make one more cap-clearing move and renounce free agency rights to several players.
If they could pull that off, the Hawks have a surprisingly attractive roster. As an eight-seed, they pushed the Pacers to seven games and have a roster full of shooters. Jeff Teague is an interesting young player who can continue to grow and Al Horford, when healthy, is a solid center who can keep the floor spaced.
Not a good chance the Hawks get this done, but do not count them out to be players in free agency if they want.
Phoenix Suns — Projected Cap Room: $30,462,345
The Suns have quietly turned into a dark horse to get at least one of the big three. There are reports that LeBron James likes the idea of playing with Eric Bledsoe. He very easily could fetch a max contract in the open market and the Suns very easily could match it and still have another $10-15 million to spend on another max free agent.
That large cap hold on Bledsoe is why they are not considered favorites or even serious contenders. Goran Dragic is a nice player, but he and Bledsoe do not make an attractive duo for the James-Anthony duo. Phoenix will try and see if they can get a meeting. If they do, it certainly means there is some interest from the big names in playing there. And that puts them squarely in the conversation.
Cleveland Cavaliers — Projected Cap Room: $10,714,653
Cleveland has been a really popular potential landing spot for LeBron James as so many people want to see him make good on his initial promise and bring a championship to the city he grew up in (or near. . . Akron really is not that close and they still love LeBron in his hometown).
ESPN has stoked these fires and everyone wants that feel-good story. The reality of the Cavaliers’ cap situation says differently. And so too does James’ fractured relationship with owner Dan Gilbert. If James and Gilbert got along, we are probably not even talking about James being on the Heat to begin with.
For Cleveland to free up the cap space for a max guy, it would take a lot. Anderson Varejao is only guaranteed $4 million of his final year on his contract. That would create a savings of only $5 million. With Andrew Wiggins in place and Kyrie Irving, it is certainly an attractive roster. But the Cavaliers have a lot to build on moving forward.
The Rockets always seem to be in the mix to grab a big-name free agent of late. They found a way to get the cap room to go after Dwight Howard. Now those back-loaded contracts from Omer Asik (already traded to New Orleans) and Jeremy Lin are standing in the way of another big-time free agent.
Carmelo Anthony is expected to meet with the Rockets at some point in this courtship. But before Houston can sign him, the team has to find a taker for Jeremy Lin and the $8.4 million cap hit he takes. Only problem is Lin (and Asik) is owed most of his contract this year — probably around $15 million. No one wants that bill. And to sign Anthony, the Rockets likely have to renounce their rights to Patrick Beverley — fully unguaranteed contract with no guarantee date — and Chandler Parsons.
Charlotte Hornets — Projected Cap Room: $17,578,460
The Hornets have an interesting team and some cap room to spend this summer if they so choose. Al Jefferson seemed to change the culture immediately and the then-Bobcats became a playoff team last year. They need offense help either way.
There are lots of reasons for the Hornets to become players in free agency. None could be bigger than playing for Michael Jordan. And don’t forget, Carmelo Anthony is a Jordan Brand athlete. It is a long shot, but the Hornets are a growing team that could give these stars some pause.
Philadelphia 76ers — Projected Cap Room: $33,216,751
If one team wanted to make a run at nabbing two of the big-name players using all of its cap room, Philadelphia would be the one to do so. The Sixers were in danger of falling before the payroll floor last year. There are not a lot of long-term commitments. A group of players could come and reshape the franchise’s fortunes very very easily.
And they would have young rookies to come and help. Joel Embiid might be out the whole year, but Nerlens Noel is still around and was projected to be the top pick last year before tearing his ACL. Michael Carter-Williams is the reigning rookie of the year.
The only thing stopping this plan appears to be Philadelphia’s desire to remain patient and maybe wait one more draft to build things more organically. This is a young core, but just is not the right time to strike.
Just a Courtesy Call
Utah Jazz — Projected Cap Room: $26,214,368
It sounds like the Jazz’s number one priority this offseason is matching whatever offer Gordon Hayward gets — likely from the Celtics. They just are not at the stage of their redevelopment to go after the big star. Not that the big star is coming to Utah any time soon with the roster as presently constructed.
The Magic waiving Jameer Nelson has put them in position to maybe wriggle free enough cap room to sign a big-name free agent. Of course, the issue is most of the team’s cap space is going to players not currently on the roster — $18.4 million owed to Nelson, Glen Davis and Al Harrington. That means this is a young roster with little to offer a player looking to win now.
Boston Celtics — Projected Cap Room: $5,870,590
The Celtics have a ton of young assets and draft picks coming their way. That puts them in better position to acquire a star through a trade like Kevin Love. Bet that is the focus.
Detroit Pistons — Projected Cap Room: $28,022,125
The Pistons have the cap space to go after one of these big stars, but not really the desire. They are surely expecting Greg Monroe to receive a max contract this summer, but as a restricted free agent the Pistons also seem very likely to match. That will eat away at most of the cap room available to the team. Shopping Josh Smith seems most important to Stan Van Gundy right now.
Los Angeles Clippers — Projected Cap Room: -$9,593,459
The only way the Clippers get a big-name guy this year is if they are willing to part with Blake Griffin or one of their other young guys to get him. There is just no wiggle room with the way the roster is constructed. But expect Doc Rivers to remain aggressive where he can.
San Antonio Spurs — Projected Cap Room: $18,685,076
The Spurs could probably add a big name if they wanted to. Instead they will choose to spend that cap room smartly with Tim Duncan receiving a short extension and then getting some high quality, low cost veterans to complete the bench. Spurs keeping on Spursing.
Portland Trail Blazers — Projected Cap Room: $1,004,177
The Blazers have a nice young core and plenty of reason for a player to want to come to the Northwest. The one thing they do not have is cap room. And they have to plan for LaMarcus Aldridge’s upcoming free agency.
The Nuggets are collecting assets again and appear more focused on the Kevin Love race. They also have to prep themselves the re-sign Kenneth Faried in a year.
Golden State Warriors — Projected Cap Room: -$2,581,560
The Warriors are putting their hopes and dreams in the Kevin Love basket. There just is no way for them to improve their roster in a significant way except by trade.
Toronto Raptors — Projected Cap Room: $10,426,454
The Raptors are going to be focused on trying to re-sign Kyle Lowry which could prove to be very very difficult with several teams — high-profile teams — lining up to grab him. It is starting to sound like the Raptors will get to keep Lowry as he wants to remain the star of the team.
Indiana Pacers — Projected Cap Room: -$1,731,690
The Pacers are already capped out and they have to re-sign Lance Stephenson. Bird Rights will help them do that as he hits unrestricted free agency.
New Orleans Pelicans — Projected Cap Room: -$2,377,534
The Pelicans seem pretty locked into the roster they have, especially after acquiring Omer Asik. It would seem that next year is the year New Orleans might make a major move to surround Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday with a bigger piece to the puzzle. Getting Holiday healthy first might be priority one.
Oklahoma City Thunder — Projected Cap Room: -$6,995,081
Clay Bennett is not known as a big spender in this league and so it seems doubtful the Thunder will do much more than use their mini-mid-level exception to improve the roster.
Washington Wizards — Projected Cap Room: $16,699,758
The Wizards have some money to spend but Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat will get most of the attention. If they opted to renounce those rights and go after the big names, they would not have enough money to offer the max, but have the roster that would entice with Bradley Beal and John Wall. Now is not the time to strike though.
Memphis Grizzlies — Projected Cap Room: $9,604,518
It looks like the Grizzlies are going to stand pat this summer. They have already agreed to a two-year extension with Zach Randolph and it is surely for more than the $16.4 million he would have been owed this year without his player option. That eats up most of the space Memphis had available.
The Wolves are focused on figuring out what to do with Kevin Love at this juncture. The unfortunate answer is they do not have a whole lot they can do except use the mid-level exception.
Milwaukee Bucks — Projected Cap Room: $11,524,834
The Bucks finished with the worst record last season. Outside of rookie Jabari Parker, there is not much reason for the big-name free agents to even consider the franchise. Maybe new ownership and Jason Kidd will spark some interest.
Sacramento Kings — Projected Cap Room: $11,684,552
The number above does not take into account the report that Rudy Gay exercised his option which would net him $19.3 million next year. That means no room for many major moves for Sacramento.