With the 2010 free agency period set to begin July 1 -- and teams able to sign players starting July 8 -- here's a look at what each team is in need of when shopping on the market.
There are few good options when it comes to dealing with free agent Joe Johnson. Sign him to the maximum deal he wants and that limits future flexibility to make the next step up the playoff ladder. Don't sign him and you take a step back and lose the focal point of the offense. Considering the Hawks' postseason flameouts the last two seasons (they were swept out of the second round both years), the time may have come to save the cash and try the unknown.
Are two Finals appearances and one title over the last three years enough? That's the question Danny Ainge will have to answer before deciding whether to re-sign Ray Allen, an unrestricted free agent, and possibly Paul Pierce, who can opt out of his $21.5 million deal for next season. Tony Allen, a backup to Allen and Pierce, is also a free agent and has said he wants to return. But there's nothing in his resume to suggest he's ready to start, which leaves the Celtics again deciding if they want to bring back the gang or begin the transition to a younger group.
While injury-plagued center Tyson Chandler is reportedly considering opting out of his $12.6 million contract for next season and power forward Tyrus Thomas is set to become an restricted free agent, the Bobcats also must concern themselves with their point guard situation. Coach Larry Brown seemed to find a comfort level last season with Raymond Felton, who provided one of the few sources of offense on which Charlotte could count. The Bobcats and Felton couldn't agree on a long-term deal last year when he was a restricted free agent. Will anything change now that he's an unrestricted free agent coming off a season in which he helped lead Charlotte to its first playoff berth?
Projected to have at least $20 million in cap space, the Bulls will be in the hunt for the elite, max-contract free agents. They need help in a variety of places as only six players are under contract for next season. A backcourt scorer to pair with point guard Derrick Rose and a long-needed low-post offensive option to play alongside center Joakim Noah are considered the top priorities.
The key to retaining LeBron James isn't a new coach but a roster upgrade, one that offers the promise of more crunch-time production. That won't be easy for the capped-out Cavs, but with owner Dan Gilbert's willingness to spend, Cleveland may be able to swipe a talent from a rival in cost-cutting mode. The Cavs could use more scoring at shooting guard or some younger options in the paint to replace the offense lost from the likely departures of free agents Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Of course, the plan takes a severe detour should James leave.
Dirk Nowitzki may not be the lead dog to take the Mavs to a title, but he's the main reason they are at least in the thick of contention in the West annually. So the offseason revolves around Dallas' efforts to re-sign the former MVP, who plans to opt out of his contract. Finding him some help is the next goal, and Mark Cuban is sure to hang the For Sale sign around Erick Dampier's $13.1 million non-guaranteed expiring contract.
Denver doesn't have many options unless it wants to plunge further into luxury-tax territory than it already did last season. Perhaps that's why reports have surfaced that point guard Ty Lawson could be available in a trade. Would that be enough to secure the low-post depth the Nuggets desperately need? Or the rugged rebounder neither Nene nor Kenyon Martin is now?
Joe Dumars essentially took Detroit out of this year's free-agent market when he signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to $90 million worth of contracts last summer. You think Dumars would like a do-over? The Pistons are coming off a 55-loss season and they are in search of an identity. A big man who can score would be a good place to start. Tayshaun Prince's $11 million expiring deal is Detroit's most attractive chip.
Golden State Warriors
The team's being for sale translates into a frugal summer, a point illustrated in dealing Corey Maggette's remaining $31 million contract for big-man placeholder Dan Gadzuric (and his soon-to-be-expiring deal) and Charlie Bell (and his remaining $8 million). That isn't the type of move for the low-post threat this team desperately needs.
With all of the attention LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have gotten for their impending free-agent tours, Yao Ming's ability to opt out and join them has received scant attention. Yes, he is coming off yet another season-ending injury, but if he's on track in his recovery from foot surgery and makes himself available, he'd certainly attract considerable interest. For all the talk that Houston may make a sign-and-trade play for Bosh, having to turn its attention to retaining Yao could complicate an important summer in which the Rockets already face a potential loss in the frontcourt should free agent Luis Scola leave.
It's no secret that point guard is the priority: Earl Watson is a free agent, T.J. Ford was benched last season and A.J. Price is recovering from a torn ACL. Some scoring options in the backcourt would be an ideal way to take the pressure off Danny Granger.
Los Angeles Clippers
Most dismiss the idea that LeBron would join the Clippers, but any team with space for a max contract and a core as potentially good as Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Baron Davis and Chris Kaman shouldn't be ruled out entirely. Still, it's hard to see someone as title-driven and basketball-savvy as James casting his lot with Donald Sterling's record of misery. That doesn't mean someone won't take Sterling's money; the key for the Clips (who need a small forward) will be finding someone willing to take it because they want to win, not just because they are looking to get paid. Of equal importance is finding a coach with a guiding philosophy and the command to tell the owner to butt out when the team struggles -- not an easy task with Sterling at the controls.
Los Angeles Lakers
With the roster largely set for next season -- point guard Derek Fisher is an unrestricted free agent and his backup Jordan Farmar is a restricted free agent -- the obvious issue is Phil Jackson's future as coach. According to reports, owner Jerry Buss might ask Jackson to take a big pay cut from his $12 million base salary. With more championship rings than he has fingers, and the fallback option of knowing that he'd be in demand elsewhere, it's unlikely Jackson would come back at a significantly reduced rate. (Of course, if Jackson's health is an issue as he goes through offseason medical tests, no amount will bring him back.)
If the Grizzlies hope to build on a 40-42 season, they have to match whatever offers restricted free agent Rudy Gay receives, and he figures to field plenty from teams that come up short in the LeBron sweepstakes. Such a deal may not be for fair value from Memphis' perspective, but in a market flush with money, 23-year-old, 20-point scorers won't come cheap. Assuming Gay returns, the next order of business is solidifying a point guard situation that Mike Conley has yet to control.
The Heat are widely seen as heavy favorites to re-sign Wade, and they have the cap space to bring in a complementary star. But much like some other clubs that stripped down their rosters for this summer's free-agent shopping spree the Heat have a lot more holes to fill than merely adding partner for Wade. Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley are the only players under contract for next season.
Trades for Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts will boost the offense and possibly soften the blow if John Salmons leaves as a free agent, though adding Maggette's contract cuts into Milwaukee's salary-cap flexibility next summer. With a restrained budget to work with the rest of the summer, the Bucks may have just enough to find a defensive- and rebound-oriented big man to help Andrew Bogut in the paint.
Even with a projected $21 million to spend, Minnesota's combination of losing, market size and cold weather doesn't make for a free-agent haven. But free agency isn't Minnesota's only option to bolster a team that is still a few years away from contending; the Wolves also have the ability to use that cap space to trade for an established player already under contract -- ideally a shooting guard or small forward who can score.
New Jersey Nets
The Nets have a tricky sell to make: Yes, they have a new owner worth $18 billion and the cap space to afford a max player and more. But less enticing is the fact that the franchise will spend the next two seasons playing before a New Jersey fan base that never supported the team all that well and has no reason now to embrace a group headed to Brooklyn in 2012-13. Still, with the right infusion of offensive talent to join Brook Lopez in the middle and Devin Harris running the point, the Nets could rebound from their 12-win debacle quickly.
New Orleans Hornets
With the Hornets facing a luxury-tax bill for next season (as the roster stands now) and the sale of the team remaining unsettled, it seems clear that New Orleans will be looking to shed money, not add it. The longer the sale remains in limbo, according to reports, the greater the likelihood the team considers giving up either Chris Paul or Darren Collison. After the way he handled the team while Paul was out this season, Collison will be attractive to teams searching for an inexpensive point guard. If the Hornets do trade a point, they need to acquire a frontcourt upgrade in return.
New York Knicks
While the truth is having the space for two max contracts in a free-agent-rich summer will translate into a hefty improvement with almost anyone the Knicks add, the media push for LeBron will make anything less feel like a failure. Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson, for instance, would make for a massive upgrade, but fans aren't likely to be too excited at having endured the last few seasons in exchange for two guys who aren't franchise players. Of course, LeBron could render this moot and make tabloid dreams come true.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have been patient and frugal during their rebuilding. Now, with expectations rising, a playoff team in place and plenty of talent available through free agency or trades, this could be the time to strike. A low-post scorer may be all that is needed for the Thunder to reach the conference finals and, more important, persuade Kevin Durant to sign a contract extension.
GM Otis Smith has said Orlando plans for a quiet summer, and with almost $80 million already committed for next season, there's some logic to that. Fortunately for the Magic, what they need most can be had for the mid-level exception or less: toughness, a nasty streak that was lacking after a veteran Boston team punched them in the mouth in the Eastern Conference finals. Ideally, the Magic would find that in someone who isn't afraid to slash to the basket consistently -- something Vince Carter was expected to do.
Shedding Samuel Dalembert's contract was a huge help in getting under the luxury tax. New coach Doug Collins has plenty of problem areas to consider, including defense, rebounding, low-post scoring (Elton Brand doesn't do much of it anymore) and three-point shooting.
Keeping pending free agent Amar'e Stoudemire was the top priority until GM Steve Kerr departed after a reported dispute over money. That, in turn, might well cost the Suns Stoudemire, too, if the unhappiness his agent expressed over Kerr's departure cannot be smoothed over. Does owner Robert Sarver share the desire to retain Stoudemire that Kerr apparently did? A history of cash-stripping trades makes one wonder. Stoudemire isn't perfect, but 27-year-old big men with his kind of explosiveness are hard to find and expensive to keep. Without him, a rebuilding effort likely would begin quickly, which could see all manner of veterans asking -- or being sent -- out.
Portland Trail Blazers
The first order of business may be hiring a new GM, as Kevin Pritchard is popular with the fans but apparently on the outs with owner Paul Allen. Where a front-office change would leave Portland is anyone's guess. Might Greg Oden land on the trading block, especially with Marcus Camby signed to a two-year contract extension? Might last year's big free-agent addition, Andre Miller, be sent packing for someone more in tune with Brandon Roy and coach Nate McMillan? At the least, Portland needs another perimeter scoring threat to relieve pressure from Roy.
Adding Samuel Dalembert was a good first step in advancing a rebuilding effort that began last year with the drafting of Tyreke Evans. The former Sixers center will add some much-needed help defensively, but the Kings still lack a reliable backcourt mate for Evans. Ideally, they could find one who will allow their Rookie of the Year point guard to shift into the off-guard role for which he seems built. The coffers are full enough to add just such a difference-maker, but with so many places to upgrade, GM Geoff Petrie has many options on this shopping trip.
San Antonio Spurs
They'd probably like to find a taker for small forward Richard Jefferson's $15.2 million expiring contract and bring in a younger, more versatile option in a sign-and-trade, but that sort of salary dump is usually reserved for the trade deadline. A more realistic goal would be to add more depth at shooting guard (and shooting in general), where Manu Ginobili has become increasingly brittle and Roger Mason is a free agent.
You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a worse free-agent recruiting effort than what the Raptors produced last season: A game plan that didn't involve any semblance of defense, uninspired teammates and a finish outside the playoffs all opened the door wide for Bosh to depart. As painful as it might be to see Bosh walk, an astute sign-and-trade likely wouldn't set back a team too much that is already in the draft lottery, could it?
Are the Jazz OK with being a luxury-tax team again? Because that would be the likely consequence of re-signing Carlos Boozer. If Boozer walks, Paul Millsap could replace him as the starter at power forward and the Jazz could focus on re-signing Wesley Matthews or exploring other options at shooting guard.
New owner Ted Leonsis will have a nice drawing card in presumed No. 1 pick John Wall to go with some $20 million in cap space. After last year's debacle, any measure of progress will be seen as a plus, even if it entails only a few mid-priced pickups that raise the overall talent level. Indeed, initial reports indicate Leonsis won't spend freely after he was burned early in his tenure owning the Capitals with some big-money acquisitions.
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