On Monday, we looked at the star-studded free-agent class of 2010, and there's more good news for fans eager to see some moves next summer: Nearly a third of the league will have enough salary-cap space to make a run at one or more free agents.
Given current projections, nine teams -- the New jersey
Nets, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings -- could have significant money under the salary cap to spend in 2009.
Now for the bad news: Teams won't be nearly as far under the cap as they had hoped.
Last summer, NBA GMs were projecting a cap of $62 million to $64 million in the summer of 2010. But when the league reported the cap numbers for next season on June 30, the league memo mentioned that the NBA is now projecting a 5-10 percent decrease in the cap for the summer of 2010.
A 5 percent decrease makes for a $53.6 million cap next year (down $4 million from last season's $57.7 million cap). A 10 percent worst-case scenario? Teams will be playing with a cap below $50 million.
That means teams such as the Knicks that were projecting a $64 million cap will likely have $10 million to $14 million less to work with than they thought they would just 12 months ago.
So how much will each team have to spend? It's an inexact science a year away, but here's what our research came up with. For the purposes of this projection, we're going with a $53.6 million cap.
has one of the best opportunities to land a big-time free agent. The Nets are likely to be somewhere between $25 million and $27 million under the cap, depending on where they draft and the number of cap holds they have on their roster next summer.
New York Knicks
The Knicks aren't too far behind New Jersey. They could have $24 million in cap space next summer, though there are a few caveats for Knicks fans.
First, that number is with only six players under contract and six minimum cap holds. Second, it doesn't factor in David Lee or Nate Robinson. If they sign for more than a one-year deal, the number goes down significantly. GM Donnie Walsh will try hard this summer to trade Jared Jeffries and/or Eddy Curry for an expiring contract to clear more cap space, but in this economic climate, it won't be easy.
The Heat are also poised to have some serious cap room next year. If Dwyane Wade opts out, they technically won't have one guaranteed contract on their books. More realistically, though, they'll pick up options on Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook and Mario Chalmers and keep Wade's cap hold -- putting them at between $20 million and $22 million under the cap next season. (This number comes with an assumption that they waive a few guys, including James Jones.)
Those are the three teams with the big bucks. But a few other teams can get $10 million or more under the cap as well:
The Timberwolves should be between $16 million and $18 million under the cap next season, depending on whether they pick up their option on Ryan Gomes. New GM David Kahn should be poised to spend the money. But the real question is, will any top NBA free agent choose the Wolves over big-market teams like the Knicks, Nets, Bulls and Heat?
The Bulls can get between $13 million and $15 million under the cap if they decide to dump Tyrus Thomas, who will be a restricted free agent. If they extend Thomas or sign him as a free agent (or just keep his cap hold on the books, for that matter), they'll have significantly less.
The other factor for the Bulls will be what John Salmons does. Salmons has an early-termination option in his contract. If he terminates his contract and the Bulls don't re-sign him, they would clear an extra $6 million in cap room and could get as much as $20 million under the cap.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder will also be in good shape.
GM Sam Presti has been spending his money carefully and should have $14 million to $15 million in room next summer.
The Rockets, assuming they don't re-sign Tracy McGrady, can get $12 million to $14 million under if they don't pick up team options on Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes. However, they have a couple of significant restricted free agents -- Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry -- whom they probably want to keep. If they keep both, they'll have much less cap room. All of this assumes that the injured Yao Ming won't terminate his max contract in 2010.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers could get around $10 million or $11 million under next season, and if they could find a way to clear a little more cap room, I actually think they could be a serious free-agent player. With a young nucleus of Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Al Thornton, along with a veteran point guard like Baron Davis, they could be pretty attractive to a top-level free agent who wants to play in L.A. If they found a home for Chris Kaman, that would give them another $10 million in room. I know it's the Clippers, folks, but they have a better young team to build around than the Knicks or Nets do.
The Kings should be somewhere between $9 million and $10 million under the cap. But given their financial woes of late, they might not be as willing to spend it as would some other teams.
A few other teams could have big money if one of their top free agents leaves next summer.
The Cavs could be between $19 million and $20 million under the cap if LeBron James left. The Suns could be between $7 million and $8 million under if Amare Stoudemire bolted. And the Raptors
could clear between $6 million and $7 million under if Chris Bosh