Today’s column discusses the free-agency and personnel outlook for the five teams in the Atlantic Division, focusing on the players whose immediate futures are uncertain. There aren’t many teams with copious salary-cap space, which should result in a bevy of smaller deals, cap-clearing trades and clever use of the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s detailed bylaws. If you missed the Southeast Division preview, check it out here!
Draft Picks: 29, 40, 45
Projected Cap Space: $3.1 million
The Nets are a young, rebuilding team without many existing-personnel decisions this summer. Jahlil Okafor is an unrestricted free agent and his fate is completely unknown. The Sixers' embattled GM Bryan Colangelo, or someone close to him, may have revealed proprietary information about Okafor failing a physical during a scuttled trade with the Pelicans. Even after the Nets acquired him for next to nothing in a deal involving Trevor Booker, Okafor failed to inspire in 26 appearances. He played once in Brooklyn's final dozen games, which doesn't imply that they're keen to re-sign him.
Dante Cunningham and Quincy Acy are both productive veterans who should drum up interest around the league, potentially earning bigger paychecks and/or more substantial roles outside of Barclays Center. The Nets' biggest free-agency decision may regard Joe Harris, a four-year veteran who blossomed with an expanded role this season. The athletic swingman posted 10.8 points on 49.1% shooting, 1.9 triples (41.9% from deep), 3.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks. The lack of defensive stats was disappointing for fantasy owners, but Harris was a lighting-in-a-bottle pickup who closed strong in late March/early April. That came without D'Angelo Russell or Jeremy Lin, of course, and it's hard to see Harris being drafted in fantasy no matter where he signs this offseason.
Spencer Dinwiddie is in the final year of his bargain contract but is reportedly locked into his current deal worth $1.6 million in 2018-19. Even if the Nets wanted to negotiate an extension, the collective bargaining agreement prohibits such talks until at least December 2018. That gives them plenty of time to see how a healthy Jeremy Lin plays with guys like Dinwiddie, D'Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe, and then make personnel decisions accordingly. Oh, and Nik Stauskas could be a restricted free agent if the Nets extend a $4.3 million qualifying offer.
Draft Picks: 9, 36
Projected Cap Space: -$5.3 million
The Knicks hired David Fizdale to replace former coach Jeff Hornacek, heralding a new chapter for the floundering franchise. Fizdale wasted no time declaring that his priority is making sure Kristaps Porzingis feels comfortable and encouraged with the team's direction. Of course, it's still uncertain when KP will be healthy enough to play as he rehabs from left knee ACL surgery. Early indications are that he’ll be out until December, missing the early part of the season, but the Knicks hope to have a more definitive timetable in September.
When you look at New York's roster and contracts, questions abound. Ron Baker has opted-in for his $4.5 million salary, which settles one variable. But when Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn inevitably opt for unrestricted free agency, how much would New York pay to retain them? Will the Knicks have interest in re-signing free agents Michael Beasley, Jarrett Jack, Trey Burke and Troy Williams? Can they sell high-profile free agents on joining a 29-win team with an injured superstar? Such decisions are complicated by the fact that they still owe Joakim Noah a guaranteed $37.8 million over the next two seasons and need to keep a max-salary slot available for Porzingis in 2020. It will be an eventful summer in the Big Apple, to say the least.
Draft Picks: 10, 26, 38, 39, 56, 60
Projected Cap Space: -$927k
No matter what happens with GM Bryan Colangelo and the ongoing 'burner account' scandal that has lit NBA Twitter on fire, the Sixers are well-situated as a young, ascendant power in the East. They have locked up Joel Embiid and Robert Covington through 2022, and all their offseason moves will be made with an eye toward the future -- Ben Simmons and Dario Saric will be restricted free agents in 2021, with Markelle Fultz getting there a year later. And with six draft picks in hand, they’ll assuredly have some ‘stash’ picks who will be playing in Europe or Asia for the next few seasons.
As such, they're likely to follow a pattern similar to last summer, when they inked productive veterans J.J. Redick (one year, $23.0 million) and Amir Johnson (one year, $11.0m) to short-term deals with maximum flexibility. Redick described his lone season in Philly as "probably the favorite year of [his] career," and Philly benefited from his elite shooting and veteran leadership -- both sides should proactively try to make the numbers work. Other veteran targets could include retaining unrestricted FAs Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli.
Philly has also been long-rumored as a potential landing spot for LeBron James, but for now it's just speculation. The only other definite decisions they must make are guaranteeing the salaries of T.J. McConnell ($1.6m) and Richaun Holmes ($1.6m), both of whom are cheap and productive – Colangelo said in mid-May that McConnell’s deal would be picked up, and Holmes should be a simple 'yes' from the front office.
Draft Picks: None
Projected Cap Space: -$17.4 million
The Raptors led the East with an impressive 59-win campaign, but it was all for naught as they were swept by LeBron and the Cavs in the second round. Coach of the Year candidate Dwane Casey was summarily fired and has yet to be replaced, so there's obvious uncertainty surrounding the franchise's offseason. Personnel-wise, though, things should be simpler. The biggest decision regards restricted FA Fred VanVleet, who led an incredible effort by Toronto's bench unit and assured he'll get some lucrative offers.
Toronto has an angle to play since they can use VanVleet's Early Bird Rights to negotiate a new deal that exceeds the salary cap, but they're limited by numerous factors -- essentially, if another team wants him enough, Toronto would need to clear cap space via trade(s) to retain him. Lucas Nogueira can also become a restricted free agent with a $4.1 million qualifying offer, but it's unclear how much Toronto values him with Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam on the roster.
Draft Picks: 27
Projected Cap Space: -$15.9 million
The key variables for Boston this offseason are health and player development. Gordon Hayward had surgery on May 30 to remove the plate and screws that were stabilizing his fibula, but he's expected to be fully healed prior to training camp. Kyrie Irving also had screws removed from his left patella in early March, with an expected timetable of 4-5 months. Celtics' president Danny Ainge said at the time that Irving should be "fully healthy for training camp," but we'll believe that when we see him on the court.
It's mostly sunshine for the Celtics, though, as they came one win shy of the NBA Finals despite missing the aforementioned All-Stars, and still have Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier under guaranteed contracts next season. Marcus Smart is a restricted free agent who should command a hefty salary, and it will be interesting to see whether Boston matches a big offer for a defensive dynamo who has never shot better than 36.7% in his NBA career. They'll almost certainly guarantee the deals of Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye and Abdel Nader, which leaves just a handful of rotation players in free agency -- Aron Baynes, Greg Monroe and Shane Larkin.
That concludes the Atlantic Division free-agency overview...check back the next few weeks for my overviews of the other Divisions. And in the meantime, enjoy the Finals!