Free agency is a complicated time full of misdirection, brief opportunities, and a whole lot of persuasion. We’ve put together these shopping lists to ensure every team stays on track.
2016-17 record: 53-29, eliminated in the conference finals
Unrestricted free agents: Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Gerald Green, James Young
Restricted free agents: Kelly Olynyk
The Celtics are cruising into July with big dreams, and unlike many other teams that enter free agency with far-fetched visions of wooing multiple stars, Boston’s are realistic. Plan 1A: Sign Gordon Hayward, then trade for Paul George, in that order. Plan 1B, maybe: Sign Blake Griffin, then swoop in for George. The latter actually might make more sense fit-wise, but, if reports and rumors are to be believed, the Celtics have had their sights set on Hayward for a while, and he appears to be their first choice. He’ll talk shop with Boston this weekend, sandwiched in between meetings with Miami and Utah.
The plans sound wonderful in theory. But there are plenty of potential hiccups. The wait for Hayward will be excruciating. If he does indeed opt for a reunion with Brad Stevens, Boston will then have to clear cap space to fit his presumed max contract under the salary cap — something that became a bit more difficult when the NBA slashed its cap projection from $101 million to $99 million. Even if the Celtics renounce all five of their free agents and waive Tyler Zeller, they may be squeezed on max room. That means they may have to part ways with even more assets to fit Hayward into cap space.
Then, after what could be a lengthy (by NBA free agency standards) wait, they’ll have to hope George is still available. Indiana has been talking to other PG-13 suitors, and may not be comfortable turning down other enticing deals to hold out for Boston’s package. After all, what if Hayward goes elsewhere?
If he does, and if Griffin lands elsewhere, shelling out for what could be a one-year rental for George makes significantly less sense for Boston. If Danny Ainge strikes out, he could — and probably should — hold on to his valuable assets, maintain flexibility, and build for three or four years down the road.
If everything goes right, the Celtics will add Hayward and George to a core of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and whoever doesn’t get flipped to pave way for two All-Stars. They could then add an athletic big man with their mid-level exception, and gear up to battle the Cleveland Cavaliers for East supremacy. But a lot of contingencies must be in place if the Hayward-George pursuit doesn’t go to plan.
2016-17 record: 20-62
Unrestricted free agents: Randy Foye, K.J. McDaniels (Nets will reportedly decline team option)
Restricted free agents: None
The Nets are still struggling for breath under the oppressive weight of the 2013 Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade, but the wheezing is gradually turning into deeper intakes and outtakes. Brooklyn now has a centerpiece — or at least a building block — for its rebuild in D’Angelo Russell. It has a semblance of stability and direction. But it still has a striking dearth of talent, and no chance of contending within the next few years. That means the Nets should look to make one of two moves.
First, they could snoop around for trade partners looking to offload big contracts, just like they did with the Lakers and Timofey Mozgov in the Russell deal. With plenty of cap room, the Nets can afford to take on dead weight if it means also acquiring future first-round picks or talented youngsters.
Second, they could throw money at restricted free agents coming off their rookie deals to try and pry any away from their incumbent teams. Targeting established stars is unrealistic, and targeting aging veterans is useless, but targeting a 24- or 25-year-old who can develop along with Russell meshes with Brooklyn’s timeline. Otto Porter, Nerlens Noel and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should be at the top of their list. If those big-money offers get matched, GM Sean Marks could turn to guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. or Kelly Olynyk.
The downside of handing a four-year deal to a player like Porter or Noel is it restricts Brooklyn’s cap flexibility going forward, and could hinder its pursuit of big-time free agents in 2019 or 2020. That’s why rumors have linked the Nets with veterans like J.J. Redick, who may not command more than two or three years. That would maximize Brooklyn’s cap space for more important offseasons in the future. But taking a chance on Porter or Noel might be worth it.
New York Knicks
2016-17 record: 31-51
Unrestricted free agents: Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, Sasha Vujacic
Restricted free agents: Ron Baker
The Knicks enter free agency without a team president. That, in most cases, is not a good thing. On the other hand, they’re now free from the constraints of the Triangle and Phil Jackson’s insistence on bringing in players to fit in his antiquated offense. That, undoubtedly, is a very good thing.
Jackson, however, has left the Knicks with more problems than potential for growth. The first order of business should be repairing the organization’s relationship with Kristaps Porzingis. The second should be figuring out what to do with Carmelo Anthony. Is there a palatable trade offer out there? How forgiving would Anthony be in buyout negotiations? A trade is the preferable option, but Anthony, of course, has a no-trade clause. Coach Jeff Hornacek was non-committal when asked about Anthony’s future with the team.
As for free agency, the Knicks need help in the backcourt, where they are alarmingly thin. They could basically use any guard — well, except Derrick Rose. Before Jackson’s ouster, there were reports that the Knicks had interest in re-signing their expensive, ineffective point guard. That would be absurd.
A better move would be to bring back Justin Holiday, and perhaps bring in a veteran point guard or combo guard to mentor — or simply take the load off — first-round pick Frank Ntilikina. There is reportedly mutual interest between the Knicks and Jeff Teague. Jrue Holiday and George Hill could be options in a similar realm.
Overall, the Knicks could be extremely quiet. Or a resolution to the Anthony situation could trigger a flurry of moves. With no replacement for Jackson as of Friday morning, their direction remains up in the air.
2016-17 record: 28-54
Unrestricted free agents: Tiago Splitter, Sergio Rodriguez
Restricted free agents: Alex Poythress
The Sixers won’t be too active in the coming weeks, but they’re nonetheless in an interesting spot. They have loads of cap space, but not much roster space, and a slew of players that will be up for new deals in coming years. As a result, the Sixers should limit their free agency haul to one or two players.
J.J. Redick makes a ton of sense as a top target. The Sixers can offer him big money for two years, or maaaaaybe three, without handicapping themselves when the time comes to make a real splash in free agency. Redick can space the floor for a young team that desperately needs shooters. He can also offer a strong veteran presence in the locker room.
Or the Sixers could stay patient, and wait until 2018 or 2019, when a) more attractive options could arise, and b) Philadelphia will be a more attractive destination for free agents. GM Bryan Colangelo and his staff need to refrain from spending just to spend. Handing a four-year, big-money deal to someone like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could end up being a grave mistake.
The other logical move is to extend Robert Covington on a front-loaded deal. Such an extension would allow the Sixers to pay Covington fairly while also softening his cap hit down the line to around $10 million. A Covington renegotiation, along with one veteran free-agent signing, should be the priorities.
2016-17 record: 51-31, eliminated in conference semifinals
Unrestricted free agents: Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker
Restricted free agents: None
The next few weeks in Raptor-land revolve around Kyle Lowry. Will the 31-year-old All-Star point guard bolt? Or will he re-sign? Or do the Raptors even want to bring him back? The answers to those questions should dictate the direction of the franchise this summer and for years to come.
If Lowry stays, Toronto would have no cap room, but could bring back its own guys and make another run at a top-four finish in the East. The payroll would climb to slightly unnerving levels, but that’s the price of ambition. If ownership and management decide they want to stay competitive, there is no choice but to go all in to retain Lowry, Ibaka and probably Patterson, too. Any other pieces would have to be added either using exceptions or via trade (Jonas Valanciunas should be on the block … and, if they really want to get crazy, maybe DeMar DeRozan as well?).
But if Lowry leaves, or if the team decides his price tag is too hefty, the first domino of the rebuild falls. The second domino should be to let Ibaka and Tucker walk. The third should be drawing a line in the sand during negotiations with Patterson, and possibly walking away from them if the dollar figures get out of control. The fourth could be trades of veterans for younger assets. The Raptors can’t even come close to contending without their star point guard; therefore, if they lose him, they shouldn’t even try to. They’re overdue for a rebuild, and being spurned by Lowry could force their hand.
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