Here's where things stand for the nine teams with cap space after Tuesday's roster tinkering by the Nets, Heat and contract-absorbing Wizards:
By trading Yi Jianlian and cash to Washington for Quinton Ross Tuesday, the Nets cleared another $2.9 million in cap space, closing in on room for two max free agents. The Heat cleared an additional $356,000 than expected by agreeing to a buyout with James Jones, but can't find a taker for the contract that would give them a clear path to two max signings in addition to Dwyane Wade: Michael Beasley and his $4.9 million salary. Technically, the Heat save the difference between Jones' $4.65 million salary and $1.5 million, which will count on the cap. But the figures below already had accounted for Jones being waived at his $1.856 guaranteed amount -- thus the $356,000 figure.
The latest breakdown, using league salary figures and consultations with team executives:
1) Knicks, $34.1 million: That doesn't include a $10.5 million cap hold for unrestricted free agent David Lee, whose rights must be renounced to have room for two max signings. The only ways to keep Lee are to 1) sign only one max free agent, or 2) dump Eddy Curry and his $11.3 million expiring contract.
2) Nets, $30.5 million: New Jersey failed in its draft-day attempt to deal Devin Harris and his $8.9 million contract, a move that would’ve put them on par with the Knicks for the most cap space. The Nets will continue to dangle Harris and others if they feel it gives them a real shot at two max players.
3) Heat, $29.4 million: Like Chicago, Miami is on the cusp of clearing room for two max free agents. Short of getting one of them in a sign-and-trade, there's only one way to finish the job: Find someone to take Beasley. Good luck.
4) Bulls, $29.2 million: Chicago cleared $9.8 million by trading Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick to the Wizards, who ironically absorbed the hit with the space provided by Cleveland in the Antawn Jamison trade. So it's possible that the Bulls could wind up recycling that space and turning it into LeBron James. But I digress. The Bulls' figure could rise to $30.9 million after Rob Kurz and Chris Richard (both non-guaranteed deals) are waived, and they’d get awfully close to the room for two max free agents by dumping James Johnson ($1.8 million) on a team with cap space.
5) Clippers, $16.8 million: As things stand now, the Clips have room for only one max player, and it’s likely to stay that way. They’ll go all-in for LeBron, but anticipating a no, will quickly switch gears to a second-tier free agent, with Joe Johnson the likely target.
6) Kings, $14.9 million: Sacto doesn’t intend to be a major player in pursuing free agents, but GM Geoff Petrie and assistant GM Jason Levien will still be quite busy. The Kings will field numerous calls from teams trying to unload salaries into Sacramento’s space, an avenue that would provide cash and future draft picks to continue the rebuilding process.
7) Timberwolves, $13 million: If GM David Kahn is able to dump Al Jefferson ($13 million), the T-Wolves’ space could increase significantly. Short of that, Minny will be in the same boat as the Kings as facilitators for other free-agent movers and shakers. According to a source, the T-Wolves turned down Miami's offer of Beasley for Ryan Gomes.
8) Wizards, $7.5 million: All that space, and then some, disappears if Washington picks up Josh Howard’s $11.8 million team option for 2010-11. That’s unlikely. It’s also a long shot that the Wizards will be players in the free-agent derby, preferring instead to wait until the financial framework of a new CBA is set. While Washington still has room to absorb Beasley, the chances of them taking on a player with character questions are slim to none, given the image hit they took last season with the Gilbert Arenas incident. They're more likely to trade Arenas than trade for Beasley.
9) Thunder, $5.5 million: GM Sam Presti finally delved into his cap space to acquire Daequan Cook and the expiring contract of Morris Peterson, deals that yielded 11th pick Cole Aldrich and future draft picks.