WHICH TEAMS WILL BE SHOPPERS?
ATLANTA HAWKS: Positioned well. Al Horford’s contract expires, leaving just $32 million on the books that includes John Jenkins’ qualifying offer of $3.24 million. They will have to make a decision next summer on Paul Millsap. As always, their biggest problem is convincing free agents to play in Atlanta.
BOSTON CELTICS: They will have Avery Bradley’s $8 million, possible extensions for Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller and a whole bunch of rookie contracts. Small young pieces are easier to move than old big ones, but they will have to land a stud as an attraction between now and 2016 to be able to pounce.
BROOKLYN NETS: Joe Johnson’s albatross of a contract ($24.9 million) finally ends in 2016, and they can decline the option on Jarrett Jack’s $6.3 million for 2016-17. But Deron Williams ($22.3 million) will still be on the books, and Brook Lopez can opt out next summer, which has huge long-term ramifications.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS: By the time 2016 rolls around, they will have to make decisions on extensions for Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. If Al Jefferson opts out next summer, his new deal will gobble up the 2016 space created by the expiring contracts of Marvin Williams and Gerald Henderson. But they are convincing second-tier free agents to come here.
CHICAGO BULLS: Even with Joakim Noah coming off the books, the Bulls are still committed to nearly $50 million in 2016. And that doesn’t include an extension for Jimmy Butler, a keeper. They will look very similar to what they look like now.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: If the Cavaliers swing the deal for Kevin Love and re-sign him, they won’t have much flexibility at all, even with LeBron James taking a two-year deal. Before they even get to 2016, there are extensions due for Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.
DALLAS MAVERICKS: They have $30 million committed in 2016, which does not include decisions in the coming years on Tyson Chandler, Brandan Wright and Monta Ellis. We do not know if the allure of playing with Dirk Nowitzki will still be available. You would think with Mark Cuban as owner and no state taxes, this would be a better destination than it has been.
DENVER NUGGETS: Besides their first-round picks in June, only keeper Ty Lawson ($13.2 million) is on the books right now. He probably will be joined by Kenneth Faried, who is due an extension, and Arron Afflalo ($7.5 million), who can opt out this summer. But they can cover him by declining the $7.2 million option on Wilson Chandler and stockpile room by letting go of JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari. They could be a player.
DETROIT PISTONS: There were some questions about what Stan Van Gundy was doing in his first spin as GM, but only Jodie Meeks was signed beyond 2016. Brandon Jennings ($8.3 million) comes off the books just in time for Andre Drummond’s extension. If Greg Monroe is gone, the Pistons will have tremendous options.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Buried. Already committed to $50 million for 2016, and that doesn’t include extensions for Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. The only game changer would be a reversal on their refusal to include Thompson in a Love trade offer.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: Also buried at $47 million. Even if Dwight Howard opts out of his last year at $23.4 million, GM Daryl Morey has to either re-sign or replace him. He probably will move either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas so he has only one extension to worry about.
INDIANA PACERS: Even with just $30 million committed, the Pacers could be in big trouble. Roy Hibbert and David West come off the payroll, but overpaid George Hill ($8 million) and unknown quantity Paul George ($17 million) will remain. Throw in a small market and it is doubtful anyone will come here.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: No team is on the hook for more money than the Clippers at nearly $60 million, and that doesn’t include next summer’s chore of re-signing DeAndre Jordan. Chris Paul can opt out in 2016, but that would mean leaving almost $47 million on the table.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Nick Young and the rookie deal of Julius Randle are the only salary commitments beyond the next two years. This team needs a drastic rebuild, and if the Lakers can avoid a shopping spree next summer – no small task, given the inherent impatience in LA – they could potentially add two max players in 2016.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Only committed to $23 million in 2016 payroll, but they have to make decisions on mainstays Marc Gasol and Mike Conley before then. Given their market size and free agent history, it would be unlikely that they would pop for a max guy.
MIAMI HEAT: Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts and Shabazz Napier consume $30 million, leaving plenty for a max player unless Dwyane Wade wants another lifetime achievement deal. You can almost guarantee that Pat Riley will be able to lure a superstar here in 2016.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: They will have flexibility, even if they can’t find a taker for Larry Sanders over the next two years. Over the next three years, they also have extension decisions on Brandon Knight, John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo. What they don’t have is an alluring market or a stud, unless Jabari Parker develops very quickly.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: Trading Kevin Love for Cleveland’s kids and picks adds more to the 2016 payroll but opens up more possibilities which become limited if they throw a huge extension Ricky Rubio’s way. They should trade Rubio and spare parts to Phoenix for Eric Bledsoe and build around him, Andrew Wiggins and Nik Pekovic.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: Without trades, 2016 is the next time they can really improve as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson come off the books. A huge chunk of cap room could disappear next summer with the max extension for Anthony Davis and a decision on Omer Asik. They need to stay healthy and start winning to make this a desirable destination.
NEW YORK KNICKS: They will have more room in 2016 than they will next summer, even if they give an extension to Iman Shumpert. And there’s no doubt that they can convince one of the top free agents to come to New York, especially with Phil Jackson calling the shots. The question is, can they control their spending next summer or will they show the impatience they always have?
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: They will have far more flexibility in 2017, when the combined $30 million of Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka come off the books. But Kevin Durant is a free agent in 2016, when the Thunder have $46 million in salaries not including Reggie Jackson’s extension this fall. If Durant doesn’t have a ring by 2016, the bet here is that he leaves.
ORLANDO MAGIC: The good news is the Magic are committed to just $32 million in 2016. The bad news is they have to make decisions on extensions for Nik Vucevic and Tobias Harris this fall and will still be waaaaay too young to convince a big-time free agent that they are a contender.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Their payroll for 2016 is just $17.7 million, and all of it is in the form of options or qualifying offers on rookie contracts. And unless both Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid immediately morph into stars, they will be right where they are now – with a ton of cap room that no free agent wants.
PHOENIX SUNS: Their $25 million payroll in 2016 is very misleading, because it does not include extensions for the Morris twins, a decision next summer on Gerald Green and big commitments to Eric Bledsoe and/or Goran Dragic. And does anyone else get the feeling that GM Ryan McDonough values flexibility over actual good players?
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: Another team with nothing but rookie options and qualifying offers totaling less than $20 million in 2016. Most of that room will be gobbled up by re-signing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez next summer and Nic Batum in 2016. Keep in mind that Damian Lillard invokes the “Derrick Rose Rule” if he is All-NBA once more between now and 2016, when his extension is due.
SACRAMENTO KINGS: They get some relief next summer, when Rudy Gay ($19.3 million), Jason Terry ($5.4 million) and Travis Outlaw ($3 million) come off the books and Derrick Williams ($8.7 million qualifying offer) likely joins them. Given their playoff drought, inability to lure free agents and Ben McLemore’s extension due in 2016, the Kings might be better off jumping in next year.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili almost certainly will be gone by 2016, which means the champs will have to use Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard as gate attractions to draw free agents. Even with Parker’s recent extension and the expected extension for Leonard this fall, the Spurs should have enough room to add one max player.
TORONTO RAPTORS: The current commitment of $40 million does not reflect potential extensions for Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. They also may have to up the ante on DeMar DeRozan, who can opt out in 2016 and pursue an upgrade from his $9.5 million salary. And there’s always the issue of getting free agents to continue their careers north of the border, although Kyle Lowry was cool with it.
UTAH JAZZ: Another small-market destination that top free agents really don’t consider. The Jazz’s 2016 payroll is about $39 million, but Enes Kanter and Alec Burks are due for extensions this fall – or restricted free agency next summer – which will consume some of their room.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS: If they want to lure Kevin Durant, they have to keep Bradley Beal, probably with a max extension next summer. Declining the 2016 options on Kris Humphries, Martell Webster and DeJuan Blair will clear about $12 million and should give Washington enough room to try and bring home Durant.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His column appears every Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.