The NBA offseason is already moving at record speed. less than a month ago, the Lakers were celebrating their championship after winning game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Now, the league powers are coming together to determine when to begin next season. Amongst the topics of conversation, of course, is how to plan out this offseason’s activities. The draft will be held next month, and free agency is expected to begin in a matter of days following the draft. According to Marc Stein, training camp could open on December 1st. That means that free agency would almost certainly open less than a week after the draft. The league recognizes that the goal of this season is to recoup some money whilst preparing the league for a return to normalcy in 2021-22. This is an unprecedented turn-around for the NBA, but it should not stop teams from making necessary adjustments where needed and look through the lens that the association is looking through. But, with a scaled money market this offseason, free agency may not be the route by which we see re-alignment in the NBA. Rather, working the phones with other front offices may be the vehicle for change.
Of course, free agents will sign deals. In fact, one NBA agent I talked to expressed concern about the unrelenting nature of the offseason’s timeline. He believed that players would make rash decisions. But, the real shift will likely come from trades–and the financial numbers prove it. While no salary cap has been publicly revealed yet, that number could look to be just under $110 million, with a luxury tax threshold of just over $132.5 million. Sixteen of the league’s thirty teams are projected to have less than $1 million in practical space or are already above the cap. Four teams have between $1 million and $9 million in practical space. The remaining ten teams have more than $10 million in practical cap space. Those ten teams, you ask? The Knicks, Hawks, Blazers, Hornets, Suns, Timberwolves, Pistons, Pelicans, Kings, Heat, and Raptors.
The Heat, Raptors, and Blazers are the only three teams on that list with legitimate playoff aspirations. So, that leaves seven teams positioning for the lottery that would make attractive third-party candidates to make bigger deals work. Alternatively, those teams could be used as salary-dump candidates for teams looking to make separate, bigger trades that would see them take on cash for which they would not otherwise have space.
But, what would be the motivation for those teams to take on dead money? They can be enticed by future first and second round picks from teams willing to mortgage (part of) their futures for chances to make runs over the next few seasons. One agent told me that we could see teams reluctantly sacrifice assets that they would not ordinarily sacrifice in order to come to an agreement with a team with cap space to take on their dead money.
Those teams with supplies of cap space will find themselves in unique situations this offseason. With many teams in the playoff hunt looking to make changes to bolster their rosters, they will use those teams with space as resources towards securing the pieces on their dry erase boards. The unique power that these rebuilding teams will have is the capacity to dictate how easy it is for contenders to make moves. In an unprecedented year around the globe, the unprecedented could happen in the NBA–rebuilders can dictate what the future looks like for contenders.
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