Another slow week for moves around the NBA, so this week I wanted to take a look at the period of time where transactions are the most active. Free agency. The 2022 free agency to be exact. I will be taking a look at the cap space landscape for next summer as it currently stands, as well as the positional marketplaces and who some of the marquee free agents will be. Now, we still have a long 2021-2022 season to go before we get there, a season that will be full of trades, buy-outs and more that could shift the landscape of the offseason tremendously. But for now, here is how the league stands for next summer.
The Cap Space Landscape
As of right now, next summer does not seem to be a good time to be a free agent. I currently project 23 teams to operate over-the-cap, 5 to have between $10 million - $25 million, and only 2 to have north of $25 million in space. See the breakout below:
CAP SPACE TEAMS
$25 million to max cap space: Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic
$10 million to $25 million in space: Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards
Non-Tax Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors
Tax-Payers: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz
To reiterate, this will not be a good summer for free agents that are looking to change teams or that do not have bird rights. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a flurry of extensions soon heading into the season. The two teams with the ability to generate close to max cap space are arguably the two worst teams in the league. They may be content using that cap space to absorb contracts from the slew of tax teams that will be looking to shed salary, further hampering the market for cap space free agents.
This lack of cap space could lead to a large number of sign-and-trades, a method of changing teams that has been increasing in use in recent free agencies. I think so many teams lacking cap space and operating over-the-cap isn't a coincidence. They are starting to value having assets and tradable contracts that can be moved via sign-and-trade is more valuable than just having cap space. In an era where players know where they want to be, enticing players with other talented players and a great culture may mean more than just gobs of cap space.
The Free Agents
This free agency class does not really overwhelm. Some positional markets are deep and some are shallow. The class is headlined by the potential free agency of Bradley Beal, as he has a player option to decide on. It is almost assured that the option will be turned down, but does that mean Beal will be on the move, or is he simply re-signing in Washington for more money? After Beal, the next domino to fall will be Zach Lavine. Lavine just signed with Klutch and will be expecting a max deal from Chicago. As of now I would bet that both re-sign with their respective teams, but there's a lot of time between now and then. Here's a look at each position's free agency class for next summer. (Note that * denotes a player option)
Starter-Level: Collin Sexton, Dennis Schroder, Kendrick Nunn*, Kyrie Irving*, Russell Westbrook*
Rotation-Level: Aaron Holiday, Anfernee Simons, Cory Joseph*, Delon Wright, Facundo Campazzo, Goran Dragic, Jalen Brunson, John Wall*, Kris Dunn, Patrick Beverley, Patty Mills, Raul Neto, Ricky Rubio, Tomas Satoransky, Tyus Jones
This class has some decent depth but lacks the elite top-level talent, assuming both Russ and Kyrie either opt-in or re-sign. Sexton could be an intriguing RFA offer sheet for a team looking for a lead guard, as I don't believe he will come to terms on an extension with Cleveland based on last week's Cap Talk. Also, there are plenty of guys that you would feel comfortable coming out with as your backup point guard. There's the young crop that could develop into more with more playing time in Holiday, Simons, and Brunson, or the more established vets with lower ceilings in Joseph, Wright, Beverley, Mills, Rubio, Satoransky, and Jones.
Starter-Level: Bradley Beal*, James Harden*, Kevin Huerter, Lonnie Walker, Zach Lavine
Rotation-Level: Bryn Forbes, Edmond Sumner, Gary Harris, Jeremy Lamb, Landry Shamet, Lou Williams, Malik Monk, Pat Connaughton, PJ Dozier, Victor Oladipo
This class has the top end talent but lacks the depth of the point guards. As previously metioned, Beal and Lavine headline next summer's free agency class assuming Harden either opts-in or re-signs. After those two there are the restricted free agencies of Kevin Huerter and Lonnie Walker IV. Both of those guys are on teams with solid depth at their positions and could be expendable if given a large enough offer sheet. Past those guys, the class drops off a bit. Teams may like Harris or Lamb, but unless Oladipo gets back to form, there aren't any real difference makers.
Starter-Level: Joe Ingles, Kyle Anderson, Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges
Rotation-Level: Bruce Brown, Danuel House, Derrick Jones Jr, Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Okogie, Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood, Taurean Waller-Prince, Troy Brown Jr
This small forward class is all about the restricted free agents. The Bridges' should be in line for nice paydays, especially Mikal as I touched on last week. Troy Brown Jr and Josh Okogie are intriguing defensive wings with room to grow.
Starter-Level: Jaren Jackson Jr, Michael Porter, Robert Covington, TJ Warren
Rotation-Level: Juan Toscano-Anderson, Blake Griffin, Eric Paschall, James Johnson, Marvin Bagley III, Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter Jr, PJ Tucker, Thaddeus Young, Trevor Ariza
Probably the weakest of the free agency positional groups, especially with the expectation of JJJ and MPJ to return to their respective teams. Thaddeus Young, TJ Warren, and Robert Covington can still be solid contributors. The rest of the group is either aging vets, Marvin Bagley III, or Juan Toscano-Anderson. Not great.
Starter-Level: Deandre Ayton, Jonas Valanciunas, Jusuf Nurkic, Wendell Carter
Rotation-Level: Andre Drummond, Bobby Portis, Chris Boucher, Cody Zeller, Gorgui Dieng, JaVale McGee, Kevon Looney, Mitchell Robinson, Mohamed Bamba, Montrezl Harrell, Nicolas Claxton, Robin Lopez, Serge Ibaka, Thomas Bryant, Tristan Thompson, Willie Cauley Stein
Definitely the deepest position group of the 2022 offseason. Assuming Ayton re-signs in Phoenix, it still headlined by quality starters in Jonas Valanaciunas and Jusuf Nurkic, along with young bigs with potential in Wendell Carter, Mitchell Robinson and Nicolas Claxton. If you are in the market for a center next summer, you won't be disappointed.
Nick Thoreson is a young professional working in finance who is passionate about the NBA and especially all things salary cap related.