While agents and GMs continue to point out that teams without cap space can participate in free agency, too, it's worth taking a look at exactly where the cap-flush teams stand with two days left before the negotiating period begins.
The Bulls and Heat weren't the only teams whose cap space changed with draft-related trades. As things stand now, five teams have enough room to sign at least one max free agent at the going rate of about $16.6 million in the first year of the deal. Only the Knicks have more than enough room for two max players, while the Bulls and Heat are within easy striking distance through various housecleaning moves.
UPDATE: By trading Yi Jianlian and cash to Washington for Quinton Ross Monday, the Nets cleared another $2.9 million in cap space, closing in on room for two max free agents.
In all, there are nine teams with cap space heading into July 1. That doesn't mean free agency is a nine-team race, as teams that are over the cap (Dallas and Houston, for example) already are internally discussing sign-and-trade deals that could yield marquee free agents in return. Here's a breakdown of how much room each team with cap space has, using league salary figures and consultations with team executives:
1) Knicks, $34.4 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.
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) 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 the room for two max free agents by dumping James Johnson ($1.8 million) on a team with cap space.
4) Heat, $29.1 million: Like Chicago, Miami is on the cusp of clearing room for two max free agents. There are two fairly straight-forward routes by which they can finish the job: Acquire one of the players in a sign-and-trade (if someone will take Michael Beasley and his $4.9 million contract) or give James Jones ($1.8 million) away to a team that’s under the cap, such as Sacramento. If a team like the Kings were offered Jones plus $3 million cash and a future draft pick, how could they say no?
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.
8) Wizards, $10.4 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.
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.