Not only is the free agent class of 2019 set to be top heavy with plenty of star talent, it could also end up being one of the most impactful offseasons the league has seen in a while in terms of redistribution of power. Players like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler will all have the opportunity to remain with their current team, seek contracts elsewhere, or try to join forces and create the NBA’s next superteam.
Franchises around the league know this and have been trying to work their way into contention for these big names. Currently, 11 teams in the NBA will have enough cap space for at least one max contract player. While certain players, depending on experience level, can command a higher max contract than others, just about all the top tiered free agents for this summer except Kevin Durant will be eligible for the max starting at $32.7 million.
Some teams will surprise no one as they scramble to arrange meetings and pitches with superstars, but some teams could find a way to luck themselves into landing of the premier names in the league. Here are the eleven teams with the cap space for a max contract, listed in order of least surprising to most surprising.
11. New York Knicks
As of right now, no other team in the league will have as much cap space as the New York Knicks. They are set to have a little over $75 million in room, so they could sign any two max players they want and still have some money to work with. The Knicks, and everyone else in the world, knows this.
They may wield the most spending power, but this won’t shock anyone. Big names, particularly Kevin Durant, has been linked to the franchise since before the season even started. Since trading away Kristaps Porzingis, however, the team now has a bunch of young players and picks to compliment their cap space. If they wanted to add to a pair of top-level free agent signees, the New York front office could find a way to flip those pieces into another third star (we’re looking at you Anthony Davis) or important roster players to surround those two stars.
Surprising? No. Having the potential to shake up the entire league? Yes.
10. Philadelphia 76ers
With Ben Simmons still on a rookie deal and Joel Embiid’s extension still being a value, the Philadelphia 76ers will enter the offseason with a little over $40 million in cap space. The reason they are so low on this list though, however, is because we already know what they plan to do with it, and it isn’t go shopping.
After acquiring Jimmy Butler early in the season, then making an all-in move for Tobias Harris at the trade deadline, Philadelphia filled out their team of the future. Rather than taking chances on the open market, the Sixers will most likely seek to retain both Butler and Harris, utilizing all of their cap space and some of their hard cap to do it.
It would be very unlikely that they end up letting them both walk and try to make a run at another free agent. However, if for some wild reason, one, or both, of their recent additions decide to seek employment elsewhere, then Philly would have some money to blow.
9. Los Angeles Lakers
Similar to the Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers have been tied to the possibility of just about every big-name free agent that will be available in July. They will have a little over $43 million in room to make it happen and this is why owner Jeanie Buss bought in the big guns in Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.
There has been plenty of discussion lately regarding how LeBron’s presence influences potential signees. Some still believe he is the ultimate recruiting tool, while some feel that players would rather challenge his status instead of help add to it. The Lakers will also be among the most active in the Anthony Davis trade market this offseason. If Boston isn’t able to capitalize on the advantage many feel they have in these trade talks, Los Angeles could finally get a deal done that brings Davis to the west coast.
Even if they make a trade for AD, they could still chase a max contract. It is unsure who they would aim to sign, or who even has interest playing for the Lakers. All in all, LA is expected to be exhausting all options to bring in more star talent.
8. Los Angeles Clippers
Few teams have made as much noise as the Los Angeles Clippers in terms of getting ready for the 2019 free agent class. In trading Tobias Harris, they showed their willingness to go for it this summer and believe they can land their next franchise star.
The Clippers have been keeping a close eye on Kawhi Leonard all season, as he seems to be the team’s primary target. With Jimmy Butler having been discussed as having received some interest from Los Angeles as well, they will definitely have multiple options. Any player they bring in would be able to play alongside some promising young talent in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet, and Montrezl Harrell.
As of right now, only two teams in the league have enough money for two max salary contracts, but being only about $7 million shy of that threshold, the Clippers could make it happen. It would take a little movement, and likely mean trading away Danilo Gallinari’s deal which expires after the 2019-20 season, but they could do it. The Clippers may not have the best track record of recognition, typically being viewed as a little sibling to the other LA franchise, but if they are set to change that all this summer.
7. Dallas Mavericks
The same trade that gave the Dallas Mavericks Kristaps Porzingis also brought along some hefty salary by way of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee. What is promising for Dallas, however, is that their best player next season will only be in the second year of his rookie deal.
The Mavs will have just under $55 million to play with in the offseason. This team could be a surprising landing spot for a marquee free agent. The promise of playing with two of the league’s best youngsters in Luka Doncic and Porzingis, as well as a put in place cast of reliable role players could be very enticing.
Much of their offseason depends on what kind of contract the team and KP come to terms on. There’s a chance he could lock a deal down that leaves the team with max money left to work with, or he could even wait until after the team has a chance to go big game hunting and sign into the hard cap if need be.
While they have potential to shake things up a bit, Dallas, who doesn’t have the best track record in free agency, will likely finish the summer with leftover cap space or a second-tier type signing, like Khris Middleton or Nikola Vucevic. However, we can’t yet rule it out.
6. Phoenix Suns
Out of all the teams with cap space for a max contract, the Phoenix Suns have the smallest amount of operable money at their disposal. The Suns will have about $35 million to work with come July, which is just enough to chase a big name.
The downside for the Phoenix Suns is, they are the Phoenix Suns. Few franchises have had as rough of a run over the past few seasons as they have had, and with limited roster flexibility, it seems like they may need more than just one star to have a real shot at title contention.
The upside, and what makes them a dark horse destination for the upcoming free agency class is that if they got creative, they could definitely open up more space. Players like TJ Warren and Tyler Johnson could be moved and help them have the room to bring in a star player and build around them. The Suns also have a budding star of their own in Devin Booker, a promising young center in DeAndre Ayton, and a potentially extra valuable 2019 pick.
If there was ever a time for the Suns to make competent moves that could help them progress down their timeline, this could be it.
5. Indiana Pacers
Going into the offseason, the Indiana Pacers will have decisions to make. Their roster will dwindle done to little more than the core of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Tuner, leaving the front office with a lot of work to do. That said, it also grants them plenty of opportunity.
This team will finish the season with just a tad under $50 million worth of cap space. If they wanted, they could opt against bringing back many of their role players and instead chasing a big name. A proven core and coach that has the team in the top end of the Eastern Conference playoff race could be a great pitch for a player looking for a place to win, and they would have the money to bring them in and keep adding a few ancillary pieces.
The Pacers remain a very potentially dangerous team for 2019 offseason.
4. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks have found a way to turn it around in the second half of the season and have given real reason to believe their young talent has the makings of a good NBA team. Couple that with roughly $59 million in free cap space and they could be quite the sleeper landing spot for a free agent looking for a team of their own to lead to the promise land.
A core of Trae Young, John Collins, Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter, and DeAndre Bembry offer a lot to a player looking to sign somewhere with a decent supporting cast already in place. The Hawks have plenty of picks at their disposal, as well. Those picks could be used to convert young pieces into proven help, or even to make more cap room.
If Atlanta was able to move either Miles Plumlee or Kent Bazemore’s expiring contract in the offseason, they would have enough cap room to sign two max contracts. The ability to offer a star to come to Atlanta with a player of their choosing and join forces with a young squad already in place might be enough to give the Hawks a shot.
Being a smaller market, their chances aren’t as great as other teams around the league, but Atlanta has all the potential to shock the NBA in free agency.
3. Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings have made a point this season to let the world know that this franchise is ready to compete. Strides ahead of where they have been in recent season, the young Kings are fighting for their first playoff appearance this season in over a decade. They could continue their success into the offseason, as their cap situation presents them with about $41 million to work with if they chose to pursue a max contract player.
Second-year point guard De’Aaron Fox has been absolutely electric, and a list of young talented players on the roster like Marvin Bagley III, Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdonovic make a solid case for any player looking for a team that can give them both the money and a realistic shot at winning.
The addition of Harrison Barnes at the trade deadline has limited their spending ability somewhat, but with little roster need outside of a star, that wouldn’t hurt them too poorly. Assuming he opts into the final year of his deal, Barnes makes a total of nine players on roster for the Kings. If the 10th were to be a max level addition during free agency, then Sacramento’s roster would already be close to complete.
2. Utah Jazz
It almost feels impossible, but the Utah Jazz will have just over $35 million worth of cap space by the time July rolls around. Currently the sixth seed in the West, the Jazz could have one of the best cases to be made for any small market team in search of a max level player.
Utah has one of the best young players in the game in Donovan Mitchell, a Defensive Player of the Year center in Rudy Gobert, and one of the best coaches in the league in Quin Snyder. For any free agent that is looking for a team familiar with success that could go to the next level if they had an elite player in the league, the Jazz would be the perfect example.
1. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets may be the most interesting team in regard to free agency potential. Although there has been discussion about their ability to chase star players in the offseason, just how big their advantage is cannot be overstated. Brooklyn is only one of two teams currently with enough cap room for two max free agents.
In addition to that cap space, they also have one of the best young cores in the NBA. Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and Joe Harris are about as good as it gets for teams with double max availability. The potential of moving Allen Crabbe’s player option for next season and be able to re-sign D’Angelo Russell on top of two max players is monstrous.
The Nets can offer two superstar players the chance to team up in a large market, play for a team that has already seen postseason success (Brooklyn is currently sixth in the East), and join forces with a proven roster that already has one All-Star player on it.
Make no mistake about it, the Brooklyn Nets have the best shot at surprising everyone and constructing a very formidable team for the 2019-20 season.