Sometimes, it feels like the reality of possessing cap space
does not line up with the rainbows-and-unicorns world of
possibilities that some people imagine.
Fans can daydream about their favorite franchise hunting for a
star because they have enough cap space to offer a max contract.
But even if their team is capped out, many fans still spend hours
on their online trade machine of choice until the result pops up
with a green "Success!" and they've cracked the financial code on a
If every NBA team can still wheel-and-deal, what's the benefit
to having cap space, especially with a free-agency class generally
viewed as mediocre?
It helps a lot – and often in unsuspecting ways. Take a look at
the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have absorbed undesirable contract
after undesirable contract to help add to their war chest of draft
picks. Or the Brooklyn Nets, who kept their books clean enough to
eventually pull off the James Harden blockbuster. Same with the
Atlanta Hawks, who picked up some key depth pieces in 2020 free
agency en route to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Teams get rewarded for being smart with their money. This
offseason, eight teams will have an easy path to meaningful cap
space while the rest would have to jump through more hoops. These
squads range from playoff hopefuls to aggressive rebuilders. Who
should capitalize with a spending spree or headliner trade, and who
should wait for the longer-term future?
Let's break down each team's situation, using cap numbers
provided by Basketball
Charlotte Hornets – Possible Cap Space: approx. $27.4
This estimate means the Hornets let Devonte' Graham and Malik
Monk hit restricted free agency. They'll also have Cody Zeller,
Bismack Biyombo and Nick Richards as unrestricted free agents –
notably, all bigs. Graham is probably the most coveted of the five,
and if the Hornets re-sign him, they'd have a pretty nice guard
rotation between Graham, LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier.
Charlotte barely missed out on the postseason, and that was with
a rookie leading the way and clear improvement areas inside. They
can absolutely make the necessary depth moves (Richaun Holmes?) to get close to
playoff contention, and they have the No. 11 overall pick to help
as well. Outside of Gordon Hayward's $120 million contract,
Charlotte isn't tied down to too many deals right now.
Should they spend? Yes.
Miami Heat – Possible Cap Space: approx. $34.5
The Heat would currently be over the cap, but that's before
making a decision on team options for Goran Dragic ($19 million)
and Andre Iguodala ($15 million). Those should probably be
declined, and if they also ditch Omer Yurtseven's non-guaranteed
deal, that suddenly gives Miami a ton of space.
However, the Heat would also have just five players on the team.
They have to make re-signing decisions on Victor Oladipo, Duncan
Robinson (RFA), Kendrick Nunn (RFA), Trevor Ariza, Nemanja Bjelica,
Dewayne Dedmon, Udonis Haslem and the aforementioned players
(Dragic, Iguodala and Yurtseven).
Miami is in a tough position. The Heat should be increasing
their threat level as a playoff team, but first they simply have to
worry about keeping the roster intact.
Should they spend? Yes.
Memphis Grizzlies – Possible Cap Space: approx. $24
The Grizzlies are in fantastic financial standing. With this
estimate including Justise Winslow's $13 million team option being
declined, only two players (Jonas Valanciunas and Dillon Brooks)
will be making eight figures. Memphis will have 13 players, plus
the No. 17 and No. 51 overall draft picks, at its disposal.
At the same time, the Grizzlies have been on the doorstep of the
playoffs in two consecutive seasons, despite boasting one of the
youngest rosters in the Association. There's no need to make a move
simply to make a move. Everything should be purposefully built
around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. – even if that means
politely passing on splurging this summer.
Should they spend? Probably
Toronto Raptors – Possible Cap Space: approx. $22
Perhaps the single biggest offseason decision, outside of some
superstar player options, is Kyle Lowry's unrestricted free agency.
Does the face of the Raptors make sense on an expensive contract as
he approaches age-35? Or do the Raptors sign-and-trade him and take
that gut punch? They also have to think about paying restricted
free agent Gary Trent Jr.
Toronto can get to about $22 million in room prior to those
decisions by renouncing Rodney Hood and Aron Baynes. Considering
they're still very much a win-now team with long-term commitments
to Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, I think the
franchise should pay up to keep both Lowry and Trent Jr. It's
unlikely they can match that short-term value with another
Should they spend? Yes – to re-sign their
Dallas Mavericks – Possible Cap Space: approx. $20.5
This is not a hot take by any means, but Luka Doncic desperately
needs help on both sides of the ball. Dallas has to make something happen after a
pretty tumultuous start to the offseason. They get some space with
Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.J. Redick hitting free agency.
While $20 million is not a max slot, it can assuredly net a
secondary scorer or prominent 3-and-D player who can take some
pressue off of Dallas' franchise cornerstone. The Mavericks should
feel the most pressure to spend of any team here. Every season that
they underwhelm, the "Free Luka" chants will get louder.
Should they spend? PLEASE
Oklahoma City Thunder – Possible Cap Space: approx. $38
Even with Kemba Walker getting $36 million next season, the
Thunder are free and clear in cap contexts because their
second-largest contract will be the approximately $6 million given
to the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. That's simply
OKC should continue to lean on its staple move: taking on bad
contracts paired with picks or prospects. The full-scale rebuild is
still in effect, though pieces are quickly coming together. There's
no need to get sidetracked with spending money when everything is
going according to plan. With 11 current players and six picks in
the 2021 NBA Draft (three first-rounders and three
second-rounders), the roster will fill itself out.
Should they spend? No – except to take on
contracts for young talent.
San Antonio Spurs – Possible Cap Space: approx. $48
San Antonio is at a crossroads unlike any other team. Veterans
DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay are unrestricted free
agents, and the oldest player currently under contract is now
27-year-old Derrick White. After hanging on the fringes of
contention since Kawhi Leonard departed, this feels like a real
reset for the Spurs, who now have the youngest roster in the entire NBA.
They should keep things that way. The Western Conference is as
loaded as ever and even play-in spots will be a battle. Dejounte
Murray, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell lead an intruiging young
core that still appears well away from the playoffs.
San Antonio has been winning for decades, but they should not
shell out larger deals to keep the team afloat when they can focus
on developing something bigger long-term.
Should they spend? No.
New York Knicks – Possible Cap Space: approx. $50
New York's playoff berth was the biggest surprise of the
season, so many people are forgetting that this was supposed to
be a youth-focused team. But now that the postseason is the
expectation, there's no turning back, and the Knicks have the
potential to build out a deep roster without sacrificing young
Assuming New York picks up Julius Randle's team option, they
still have a ton of room to add better-fitting parts around Randle,
R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley. The
franchise can choose to retain or bypass unrestricted free agents
Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton or Alec
Burks. They will also be the easiest financial facilitator for any
Obviously, they shouldn't get reckless, and unless the perfect
storm comes, they shouldn't part with their youth. But otherwise,
go crazy, Leon Rose and Scott Perry.
Should they spend? Yes.