What to expect in new era of NBA free agency
The NBA's free-agency period usually features plenty of action but this year will be an unprecedented experience.
The salary cap is expected to make a giant leap from $70 million to $94 million, which means most every team in the league will be able to make maximum-salary offers.
So in honor of the cap's geyser-like rise, here are 24 points about free agency 2016:
First of all, not every team will be able to offer a max contract. (1) Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers are the teams with the highest payrolls and won't have as much cap space as everyone else. That's why there has been talk that if Kevin Durant wants to join the Clippers, (2) it most likely would be in a sign-and-trade for Blake Griffin.
Since no one expects LeBron James to leave Cleveland (3) after bringing home that elusive title, Durant is easily the biggest prize this year.
According to multiple reports, Durant plans to meet with Oklahoma City first, then listen to pitches from five teams this weekend on Long Island -- the Clippers, Golden State, Boston, Miami and San Antonio. It appears the Knicks and Lakers will be left out.
The Durant chase seems simple. The Thunder had a 3-1 lead over Golden State in the Western Conference finals and added Orlando's Victor Oladipo in a draft-night trade for Serge Ibaka. All Durant has to do is look around and ask, "Which of these options gives me a better chance at winning a title than OKC?"
Golden State does, the rest don't. So unless Durant feels a strong need to jump to his biggest rival, (4) he's going to stay in Oklahoma City, for at least one more year.
The best free agent who may legitimately consider switching teams is (5) probably Atlanta's Al Horford. There's no guarantee he leaves the Hawks, but he likely will look at teams closer to championship contention, such as San Antonio or Boston.
Another center who will be in high demand is (6) Miami's Hassan Whiteside. There has been talk of Golden State having interest and the Lakers are expected to make a big push.
Since Whiteside likely will get a maximum offer, this is a good time to point out (7) NBA teams and fans need to get used to salary inflation. Guys who would get $15 million per season will be making $20 million now.
The top-of-the-line guys will go from $20 million to $25 million-$30 million, and that might be a conservative view. Salaries will continue to grow next year when the salary cap is (8) expected to rise another $20 million.
According to NBA salary-cap expert Larry Coon, (9) the league's max salaries should be around $22.2 million for players with six years or less; $26.6 million for guys from seven to nine years; and $31 million for players in the league for 10 or more years.
That last number is where James' next deal will start. Durant has nine years in the league, which is why (10) so many expect him to sign a two-year deal with an opt-out.
The reason for the huge jump is the NBA's massive television deal. So (11) don't be surprised when your cable or satellite bill keeps going up.
When players are coming off their rookie-scale contracts, they are restricted free agents, which means their current teams can match any offer. Some guys (Detroit's Andre Drummond, Washington's Bradley Beal and Lakers' Jordan Clarkson) are locks (12) to stay where they are.
Among restricted free agents (13), the most intriguing name is Golden State's Harrison Barnes. He seems almost certain to get a max offer worth $95 million over four years.
If the Warriors cash in on Durant, Barnes is definitely gone. If Golden State doesn't sign another expensive free agent, what will they do?
The Warriors already have five guys making at least $11 million per season and next summer Steph Curry will go from being the biggest bargain at $12.1 million to a deal well above $30 million per year.
That's why many believe (14) the Bulls could be the team to give Barnes that max offer. A good fit with Jimmy Butler, he played in high school with Doug McDermott and might be attainable.
In theory, the Bulls could wait until next summer to attempt a free-agent haul, but why? The competition will be just as fierce and salaries will be higher.
The Bulls are going from a big three of Butler, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol to just Butler. They should try to (15) land a top-line guy if at all possible this summer. It would be better to stay a playoff contender so they can try the "we're one player away" sales pitch next year.
As history has shown us, (16) winning is the most important factor in free agency. The Lakers and Sixers figure to have a tough time filling their cap space.
The Bulls might be in bad shape coming off a 42-40 season, which is why they'll probably have to (17) overpay for a top guy. They also must (18) convince players they are serious about winning and can pull off the high-scoring offense coach Fred Hoiberg has in mind.
Other players expected to (19) re-sign with their current teams are Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and, despite his agent trying to build leverage, Miami's Dwyane Wade.
Next on the list of (20) free agents who could switch sides are Memphis' Mike Conley, Toronto's Bismack Biyombo, Dallas' Chandler Parsons, Charlotte's Nicholas Batum, Houston's Dwight Howard, New Orleans' Ryan Anderson, Atlanta's Kent Bazemore, and Gasol and Joakim Noah.
This summer (21) might also be big for trades. Since most every team is below the cap, salaries don't have to match up. This could be another strategy for the Bulls. If (22) Griffin or Sacramento's Rudy Gay is available, the Bulls figure to get involved.
Likewise, (23) some teams may keep trying to pry Butler away. Maybe Boston decides it has a legitimate chance at Durant (unlikely) or Horford if they can pair him with another all-star like Butler. I don't think the Bulls want to move Butler, but (24) expect the calls to continue.
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2011-12: $58.044 million
2012-13: $58.044 million
2013-14: $58.679 million
2014-15: $63.065 million
2015-16: $70.0 million
2016-17: $94 million (projected)
July 1: Teams can begin negotiating with free agents, 12:01 a.m. EDT
July 7: Teams can officially sign free agents, 12:01 a.m. EDT