Monday, August 15, 2022

Who can spend the most in NBA free agency? Knicks, Pistons among five teams with highest cap space this summer

We’re inching closer to the start of free agency (June 30, 6 p.m. ET), and while there aren’t a ton of star names set to hit the open market, that doesn’t mean things won’t get crazy. With the Mavericks and Knicks fighting over Jalen Brunson’s services, Bradley Beal’s looming decision to finally leave Washington or stay committed to the only franchise he’s ever played for and whatever happens next in Brooklyn, there’s plenty to keep an eye on when free agency begins. 

There’s also several big-name players like LeBron James and Nikola Jokic who are eligible for contract extensions, and young stars like Ja Morant and Zion Williamson who are due for rookie max extensions. There’s going to be lots to keep track of as teams begin wheeling and dealing to improve their rosters for next season, and figuring out which teams have the most money to work with can get confusing. 

So to make things easier, we’ll break down the five teams with the most cap space entering free agency. Keep in mind these numbers are not set in stone, as teams and players still have decisions to make on team and player options. As a reminder, the salary cap for the 2022-23 season is set at $122 million with the luxury-tax threshold is set at $149 million.

No. 1: Detroit Pistons

Projected cap space: $46 million

The Pistons have already made a big move this offseason by trading Jerami Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers, which landed them several future draft picks. It also got Detroit off of the remaining $20.9 million he was owed this upcoming season, which is the reason the Pistons managed to create so much cap space. Then came the draft, where Detroit continued to make smart moves, first by having the honor of picking behind the Sacramento Kings, which time has shown has been favorable for many years. That allowed highly touted guard Jaden Ivey to fall to them at No. 5 overall, and the Pistons later used one of the draft picks gained from the Grant trade to get back in the lottery and land big man Jalen Duren. So far it’s been an ideal offseason for the Motor City.

Though the Pistons were originally slated to be one of the teams interested in signing big man Deandre Ayton this summer, because their draft night went so well in landing Duren and already having Isaiah Stewart in their frontcourt, they’ve changed course. Instead, the Pistons are expected to use their wealth of cap space to sign several veteran players to fill out around their exciting young core with hopes of gradually building back toward playoff contention. There will be no shortage of veteran players the Pistons could target to address their needs of 3-point shooting and wing depth, and after some successful deals made by general manager Troy Weaver, they’ll have the money to be an active team during free agency.

No. 2: San Antonio Spurs

Projected cap space: $31 million

It’s unclear what direction the Spurs are heading in entering free agency. There have been rumors that they are willing to trade All-Star guard Dejounte Murray, but it would reportedly take three first-round picks. They are reportedly engaged in trade talks with the Atlanta Hawks over a potential Murray deal.

Trading away its best player would signal that San Antonio is focused on a longer rebuild. Perhaps the Spurs are circling the 2023 NBA Draft and projected No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama. The seven-foot point-forward is already considered as a generational type player, and certainly every rebuilding team in the league will want to heighten their chances at landing a player like that. If the Spurs trade Murray, it would surely put them at the top of the list for teams tanking for Wembanyama.

No. 3: Orlando Magic

Projected cap space: $27 million

Orlando pulled a switcharoo at the NBA Draft when it surprisingly took Paolo Banchero No. 1 overall after all the latest intel suggested the team was taking Jabari Smith, who ultimately went third to the Rockets. But with that weird bait-and-switch situation cleared up, the Magic now head into free agency with a significant amount of cap space to surround their young players with some veteran talent. Depending on how Orlando handles Mo Bamba’s impending restricted free agency — the team is rumored to be moving on from the big man — adding some frontcourt depth behind Wendell Carter Jr. is a must.

Bringing in a veteran guard should also be a priority. Gary Harris is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and will likely field several offers from contending teams looking to add a sharpshooting guard who can start or come off the bench. There’s always the option of Harris returning to Orlando, but he might want to play on a more competitive team. Elsewhere in potential moves the Magic can make is possibly trading veteran wing Terrence Ross, who is on an expiring $11.5 million contract next season. Though his production took a step back last season (averaging 10 points in 63 games), that was primarily due to Orlando focusing on growing its younger players. In a different situation, primarily a winning team, Ross could be more useful and could net Orlando a decent return. 

No. 4: Indiana Pacers

Projected cap space: $21 million

The Pacers are another interesting team whose future is in limbo right now. They dealt their franchise star in Domantas Sabonis at February’s trade deadline, and there’s been countless reports suggesting that both Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon are available via trade. Brogdon is “highly likely” to be traded, per Marc Stein, though it’s unclear what the market looks like for him right now. Brogdon’s two-year, $45 million contract extension he signed back in 2021 won’t kick in until the 2023-24 season, but he’s still owed $22.6 million for next year. 

Turner could be the easier of the two to move, as he’s playing on a $18 million expiring contract for the 2022-23 season. Buddy Hield is also another player the Pacers could look to trade, and he’s come up in trade scenarios for several teams over the years. With so many favorable trade pieces other teams want, and cap space, the Pacers have an opportunity to execute a quick rebuild around young guards Tyrese Haliburton and Chris Duarte. We’ll just have to see if they’re able to pull it off once free agency opens. 

No. 5: New York Knicks

Projected cap space: $18 million

The Knicks weren’t going to be a team with a ton of cap space this summer, but that changed during the NBA Draft last week. They orchestrated several moves, which included shipping Kemba Walker and his $9.1 million expiring contract to the Detroit Pistons, and trading their No. 11 overall pick to the Thunder. In the end the Knicks pulled off three separate trades to potentially free up to $18 million in cap space, but only if they decide to waive veteran big man Taj Gibson who has a $5.1 million non-guaranteed contract for next season. If that happens, then the Knicks will inch closer to acquiring enough cap space to go after their No. 1 target in Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson.

New York is prepared to offer Brunson a four-year, $100 million contract when free agency starts, but it would still need to clear roughly $7 million in cap space to do so. That’s easily doable if they manage to trade someone like Evan Fournier who is owed over $18 million next season, but the only problem with that is there’s no guarantee Brunson is signing with the Knicks. The Mavericks can offer more money and an additional fifth year to Brunson, and having come off a trip to the Western Conference finals, Dallas is in a better position to contend than the Knicks. However, if New York misses out on Brunson, Brogdon is reportedly their next target to fill its need at point guard. 

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