NBA free agency is upon us. It’s a market that multiple teams have been waiting for over the past couple years. Some of the game’s best players are set to hit free agency.
On the other hand, multiple teams have positioned themselves well to be big-time players in free agency. Others are in need of acing the second and third-tier of free agency to fill out their rosters.
It’s in this that we look at 10 NBA teams who must absolutely ace free agency starting Sunday evening.
Los Angeles Lakers
This is an obvious team to include. Los Angeles’ ability to open up max-contract space after landing Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade puts the team in a great position. It will also lead to general manager Rob Pelinka having major decisions to make. With only five players on the roster, Los Angeles could look to go with depth over signing a max-contract player.
If the Lakers were to sign someone of Kawhi Leonard’s ilk, they’d then only have the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.6 million) and vet-minimum room to fill out the rest of the roster. What happens here will dictate whether the Lakers are genuine NBA title contenders next season. No pressure there, Mr. Pelinka.
Losing All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford is going to hurt the Celtics big time. Though, the likely addition of Kemba Walker to replace Irving will certainly help in this regard.
Even then, the Celtics must find a way to add a center and more depth to a depleted and youngish roster. Whether that means finding a way to trade for Rockets big man Clint Capela remains to be seen. But GM Danny Ainge must be proactive in free agency even when the Kemba deal becomes official.
First-year general manager James Jones received a lot of flack for passing up on point guards with the No. 6 pick in the NBA Draft. Instead, Phoenix traded down with Minnesota and picked up two wings in that of Dario Saric and Cameron Johnson. Now heading into free agency, James must come out of it with a starter-caliber point guard. Phoenix has been linked to Nets restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell. One unnamed NBA exec expects him to land in the desert.
Meanwhile, fellow restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon is also an option. With as much as $22 million to spend, James has the opportunity to reverse the Suns’ recent struggles in free agency. Should that not happen, he’ll be a major off-season loser.
Even if the Nets were to land a commitment from Kyrie Irving Sunday evening, there’s still work for up-and-coming general manager Sean Marks to do. He’s put Brooklyn in a spot where it can land two max-contract players. The team has also yielded draft pick assets to make this work. If the Nets can’t add a top-end player to team up with Irving, it would represent a major failure for them.
The worst-case scenario? Irving has a change of heart and decides to sign with another team like the Los Angeles Lakers. That would force Brooklyn into potentially maxing out restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell and going after second-tier guys. Obviously, this would be a less-than-ideal scenario.
Dallas is going to max out restricted free agent Kristaps Prozingis once free agency opens Sunday evening. That gives the Mavericks two tremendous young building blocks with the Unicorn and Luka Doncic. Even then, there’s a lot of work these Mavs have to do in order to be considered a playoff team in what promises to be a stacked Western Conference.
Mark Cuban’s squad has been linked to the likes of D’Angelo Russell, Malcolm Brogdon, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton. Though, having what might only be $15 million to spend could limit Dallas here. That’s why the team is currently looking to move Courtney Lee and his $12.8 million salary for next season. It’s certainly going to be a hard sell.
Elton Brand and his Sixers are in a tricky position with three top-end free agents - Harris, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick - set to hit the market. At this point, it seems to be more likely that Harris and Butler depart rather than re-sign with Philadelphia. That’s evidenced by the fact that Butler is slated to meet with both the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets. For their part, the Sixers are open to a sign-and-trade.
How will this all work out? It’s a major question mark for a Sixers squad that lacks depth. The good news here is that Philly could have upwards of $60 million if it renounces Butler, Harris, Redick and six other free agents. The bad news? Top-tier players are already coming off the board.
For the first time since 2006, the Kings can be considered an attractive free-agent destination. They are coming off a tremendous 2018-19 campaign and boast a tremendous young core of Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III.
Even after re-signing Harrison Barnes to a four-year, $88 million deal, the Kings have cap space to add a max-contract player. They have been linked to All-Star big man Al Horford. Either way, Vlade Divac needs to come out of free agency with a front-line center. If so, a starting five of Fox, Hield, Barnes, Bagley III and that unnamed center would be playoff-worthy.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are solely going big-game hunting in free agency. How do we know this? The team isn’t even targeting a top talent like Jimmy Butler. Instead, Los Angeles has honed in on both Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. The ideal scenario would be to land both NBA Finals MVPs to this talented young roster.
Unfortunately, history tells us a story of a Clippers franchise that has struck out when swinging big in free agency. What if Leonard were to join the Lakers or re-sign with Toronto? Maybe Kevin Durant takes that $57 million of extra cash to re-sign with the Warriors. If so, the Clippers would have nothing to show for free agency.
Golden State Warriors
One of the Warriors’ major off-season priorities will come to a culmination Sunday evening when Klay Thompson inks his max contract. That’s a big first step. Though, the focus is obviously going to be on super star free agent Kevin Durant. The number of teams that could potentially land KD has narrowed to four with Golden State on the list. Stephen Curry joined general manager Bob Myers in visiting with Durant this weekend.
Even if Golden State were to re-sign Durant, it would have no impact on next season. He’s out for the entire campaign with a ruptured Achilles. Meanwhile, Thompson is out through at least January. This means that the Warriors must find depth without being able to spend. They only have the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.6 million) to spend. They could also be aided by two injured player exceptions worth nearly $10 million each should Durant and Thompson re-sign. It’s a big couple of weeks in the Bay Area.
Indiana made the smart decision to take T.J. Warren’s contract from the Phoenix Suns in the lead up to the draft. Unfortunately, the retirement of Darren Collison also leaves a major hole at point guard. This has to be Indiana’s focus with Ricky Rubio being the likely target.
How a potential Rubio signing plays out will determine what the Pacers have left to spend as a way to upgrade behind Victor Oladipo. They could have upwards of $33 million to spend in free agency. Assuming Rubio nets $12-$15 million per, that would still leave a nice amount of room. It’s time for these Pacers to take the next step in the Eastern Conference. A strong free agency would only help in that regard.