Everything you need to know about this year's NBA free agency

The Big Lead: Who's Going Where?


Welcome to the NBA offseason, where the action never stops and things rarely make sense. Several teams are facing unique circumstances this summer and will need to take advantage in order to improve (Hi, Knicks and Lakers), while others may fly under the radar for a while before pouncing.

Free agency can get confusing, so we put together this handy dandy list to read up on before the madness really begins. Enjoy!

It began once the clock struck midnight on July 1.

Girl and clock panic

Yep, we're officially underway! The league has flipped its calendar to the 2015-16 season. Now the deals will start pouring in, right? Eh, kinda.

No deals can o​fficially be signed until July 9.

The first week of free agency is the moratorium, or a negotiation period. No pen can actually be put to paper until the eighth, though deals can (and have) be agreed to in principle in the meantime.

There are rules.


The NBA operates under a salary cap, which is actually pretty complicated. This coming year's cap number is projected to be $67.1 million, but won't become official until July 8 (which is a weird way of doing business, but hey).

There are exceptions (more on this soon), but generally speaking, only teams under the salary cap will be players for the NBA's biggest free agents.

Only about half the teams have room under the salary cap to sign players.

It's hard to tell precisely, but only about 15 or 16 teams figure to be under the salary cap. Even less that that have significant space to sign max-contract level players -- the Knicks, Lakers and Mavericks have this type of room. The 76ers and Magic do too, but aren't serious threats to sign a player of that caliber. The Spurs may achieve that type of space, but it would take some maneuvering.

There are exceptions to the rules.

The NBA's salary cap is what's called a soft cap, meaning that teams may go over it in certain circumstances.

Teams at or above the cap can add high-salary players via sign-and-trade deals, potentially exceeding the cap, but they're very restricted and relatively rare. Capped-out teams are additionally granted a "mid-level exception," which is either $3.5 million or $5.5 million to spend and further exceed the cap (depending on how far over the cap a team is). There are more, less lucrative exceptions, but the MLE is what's primarily utilized.

LeBron James is a free agent again.

LeBron James Pre Decision Meet and Greet

Yes! The King! He's up for grabs!

But he probably won't leave the Cavaliers this time.

Well, technically, but not really. Yes, LeBron opted out of his deal with the Cavaliers, but this won't be a Decision 3.0. Him opting out had been the plan all along, as the league enters a period in a few years where timing your free agency will become very important (more on this in a bit).

Kevin Love seems like he'll stay put with LeBron in Cleveland, too.

New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers

Kevin Love is a free agent too after opting out, but the same rules that apply to LeBron loosely apply to him, too. Love is going to listen to offers and probably even meet with other teams to hear their pitches. But indications have been that he's set to return to Cleveland -- either on a short- or long-term contract.

Big-market teams have lots of money to spend.

Hornets Knicks Basketball

This doesn't happen all that often. Right now, the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics are all major players for the league's biggest free agents.

But they're in some pretty strange circumstances.

We're about to find out just how badly players covet roster spots on those glamorous teams, though. Each of those squads has something to sell free agents on, but very little of it has to do with winning.

The Lakers and Knicks were complete disasters last season, and both have missed the playoffs two years running. The Celtics are the most encouraging of the bunch, but still finished under .500 this past season as the East's No. 7 seed.

Small-market teams are trying to get in on the fun.

Hornacek Suns Basketball

As salary cap restrictions have hampered big-market teams (a result of owners getting pissed off about Miami assembling their Big Three in 2010), less financially powerful teams have become players as well.

Teams like Phoenix and Toronto have popped up on players' lists of visits, and they're now competing with the market-Goliath Lakers and Knicks.

DeMarcus Cousins isn't a free agent, but he could be leaving Sacramento.

New Orleans Pelicans v Sacramento Kings

Things have been really strange with the Kings ever since Vivek Ranadive bought the team a little more than two years ago, and they're only getting weirder. The team fired promising coach Michael Malone early last season, only to eventually replace his successor Ty Corbin with the high-profile George Karl. This offseason, Karl has apparently lobbied for Sacramento's best player, DeMarcus Cousins, to be shipped out.

The Lakers had been primary suitors for Cousins, but they used their primary trade chip -- this year's No. 2 draft pick -- on D'Angelo Russell, who they fully intend to keep (maybe?).

Cousins is under contract at a fair price for the next few seasons. It seems as if one of Karl or Cousins need to go before opening night, and Cousins will be a lot easier to receive compensation for.

But, regardless what happens...

The Kings will do something ridiculous.

In case the point hasn't been driven home enough, the Kings are crazy. They've reportedly tried to lure John Calipari away from Kentucky to appease Cousins. They may trade Rudy Gay to create cap room for Rajon Rondo, who's fallen out of the league's list of elite point guards. Not only that, but they could be interested in bringing in Rondo along with Monta Ellis -- backcourt partners last year in Dallas, an experiment that failed miserably.

Nobody knows exactly what the Kings will do, but it will be crazy.

LaMarcus Aldridge seems checked out of Portland.

Trail Blazers Grizzlies Basketball

This one's a stunner, given his comments this time last year saying he would definitely be returning. But after shipping Nicolas Batum to the Hornets, Portland seems to be ready for a rebuild after two surprising seasons. Even more surprising, though, is one of the teams in pursuit of the forward.

The Spurs will be players for the first time in a long time.

The Spurs are in big-time on Aldridge, and are trying to achieve the cap space necessary to acquire him -- though they'll need to compete with the Lakers. This is far from the usual Spursian approach, which rarely features reaching externally for major pieces. They could also be in on another free agent.

Marc Gasol is the best player available (LeBron doesn't count).

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three

Yes, Marc Gasol. He averaged 17, eight and four last year while serving as an elite defensive center. That has more value that many realize. He's an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and the Spurs seem like a natural fit for the Spaniard. But San Antonio may be discouraged is he was their Plan A.

But he may not be that available.

According to ESPN, the center is only meeting with the Memphis Grizzlies. Nobody else. So, sure, he may be "available" the same way LeBron James is available.

Some unlikely candidates will receive huge offers.

Spurs Bucks Basketball

With NBA front offices smartening up these last few years and paying deeper attention to analytics, organizations now have a better, more detailed idea of the kinds of players they need. Specifically, two-way players who are able to both make plays and stretch the floor offensively are at a premium -- even if they don't typically light up the stat sheet.

The Danny Greens, Draymond Greens, DeMarre Carrolls and Khris Middletons of the world may not necessarily be household names, but all do the necessary things to make a difference on both ends of the court. Front office types are fully aware, and the bidding war is about to get serious. Expect all the aforementioned names to net eight-figure per-year deals, with Green possibly receiving a max offer.

Update: Yep. Looking like Middleton is about to pull in a $70 million deal.

Agents will try to involve New York and Los Angeles teams to boost their clients' price.

Here's one thing you must realize during free agency: Everything -- EVERYTHING -- you hear from a reporter is being leaked by one party for a reason. Whether it's a team trying to gain leverage by denying interest or an agent doing the opposite, each leak from a "source" is strategic on their part.

The biggest one to keep an eye out for is the never-ending "interest" on the part of New York and Los Angeles teams. Agents know that all they have to do is tell a reporter that the Knicks or Lakers are interested in their client, and that price tag instantly skyrockets.

So while the Nets, Clips, Lakers and Knicks all have their eyes on quite a few candidates, the total is significantly less than you're about to hear.

Beware of fake Twitter accounts.

It's not that hard, people. Before you retweet and text all your friends with the news that LeBron James is now a Laker and Phil Jackson has decided to coach the Cavaliers, please look for the blue check next to Fake Adrian Wojnarowski's avatar. We've all been guilty of this at least once, but together, we can put the trolls to rest.

Dwyane Wade may leave the Miami Heat.

The Heat have been the only franchise Wade has ever known. They drafted him in 2003, he stuck with the team through their 17-win season in 2008, he sacrificed the keys to the franchise when LeBron joined on in 2010 and he remained loyal after LeBron returned to Cleveland.

Now, though, the relationship seems to have soured. Wade is 33, and with a rich injury history, may not have a huge market this summer. He is said to have been seeking upwards of $20 million per season, which seems like a steep price for someone with his physical baggage. The Heat are also trying to retain Goran Dragic this summer, and Wade's price creeping too high would ruin their master plan. Oh, about that...

The Heat are trying to pull off another miracle next year.

Miami Heat Introduce LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade

...but with a slightly different cast of characters.

Yes, it could happen again. It's unlikely, but it was unlikely in 2010 when LeBron, Bosh and Wade all agreed to play for Pat Riley on discounted contracts.

Riles plans on making a Godfather pitch to Kevin Durant this time next year to play along with Chris Bosh and possibly this year's free agent duo of Wade and Dragic.

So don't expect long-term commitments from them this summer. As a matter of fact...

Expect short-term contracts.

As was briefly mentioned earlier, next summer will bring about an unprecedented salary cap jump, thanks to the NBA's new television contract with ESPN and Turner. The $24 billion deal will cause an enormous spike in basketball related income. The salary cap, as a percentage of basketball related income, will suddenly be through the roof.

From roughly $67 million this summer, the cap could rise to around $88 million next year, and over $100 million by 2017. For context, the cap has risen just $5 million from 2010 to 2015.

So it only makes sense for players to want to hit free agency next year, and then again the year after. Meaning this summer, we'll see plenty of two-year deals with opt-outs after one season -- a la LeBron's deal this past year.

And maybe some seemingly inflated price tags.

Another thing to keep in mind, if there are many long-term deals, is that the price tag may not be as inflated as it appears. What seems like an overpay under the current salary cap may turn out to be a bargain in two years, when the cap increases 40 percent.

Update: Take the Middleton deal, for example:

This time next year, there will be mayhem.

So enjoy 2015 free agency, because next year and the year after that, things will be doubly as hectic, with even more money getting tossed around.

Biggest NBA Draft Busts
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Everything you need to know about this year's NBA free agency

25. Anthony Bennett

We're trying to hold judgement given he's still just 22 years old, but it's not looking too bright for former No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett. The Cavaliers dealt him to Minnesota in the Kevin Love trade, and after averaging five points per game over 57 contests last season, the forward is on the trading block again. It's unfortunate that Cleveland selected him in a position he had no business going, and ruining his mental stability in the process.


24. Derrick Williams

Thought of in the same breath as Kyrie Irving during the months leading up to the 2011 draft, Derrick Williams eventually got scooped up at No. 2 by the Minnesota Timberwolves. The freakishly athletic forward has never been able to make his talent translate to the pro game after dominating at Arizona. He's on his second NBA team, averaging nine points over his first four years.


23. Robert Traylor

A sixth-overall selection, Robert "Tractor" Traylor never amounted to the star Milwaukee drafted him to be. He spent just a pair of seasons with the Bucks, averaging 4.5 points in 13 minutes before moving on to the Cavaliers and Hornets. One of the league's most imposing figures averaged five points over his seven pro seasons. 


22. Jared Jeffries

"Mr. Basketball" in Indiana during his high school days, Jared Jeffries was the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft by the Wizards. He actually managed to bust twice, averaging just six points and five rebounds with the Wizards, then garnering a five-year, $30 million deal from the Knicks -- where he posted even lesser numbers.


21. Joe Smith

And to think the Timberwolves went out of their way to sign this guy to an illegal contract. The 1995 No. 1 pick got off to a fine start over this first three year swith the Warriors, but it was all down hill from there. Joe Smith spent 16 years in the league with 13 different teams, averaging 11 points and six rebounds. Not bad, but for a first-overall pick, not good.


18. Michael Sweetney

Even in the famed 2003 draft class, the Knicks still managed to disappoint with their ninth-overall selection of Georgetown big man Mike Sweetney. Listed at 275 pounds as a rookie, Sweetney ballooned to 450 by the twilight of his NBA days with the Celtics. In two years with the Knicks, he averaged seven points and five rebounds.


12. Jonny Flynn

The second of three point guards not named Stephen Curry selected by Minnesota in 2009, Jonny Flynn was taken with the sixth overall pick. Flynn held down the point guard position in Minnesota during the late 2000s, and it didn't go as planned. The Syracuse product actually performed so-so in his rookie year, when he started 81 games, but tailed off dramatically after. He's been out of the league since 2012. 


11. Joe Alexander

Going eighth overall in 2008 out of West Virginia, Joe Alexander showed us one of the most swift exits from the NBA ever. After a sub-par rookie season in Milwaukee, he was shipped out to the Bulls, where he eight games in 2009-10 before falling out of the league all together.


4. Adam Morrison

The mustached man out of Gonzaga lasted just four years in the pros before falling out of the league, averaging just 11.5 minutes per game after his rookie season. But the 6'8" forward is a two-time NBA champion, watching from the bench as his Lakers teams won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.


2. Sam Bowie

With Michael Jordan still on the board in 1984, Portland selected then-promising big man Sam Bowie with the second overall pick. Battling injuries, he played in just 139 games over five years, posting 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds over his Blazers tenure. He spent more than a decade in the league as a serviceable role player, but will rest in basketball lore as one of the biggest busts in sports history -- thanks to MJ.


1. Darko Milicic

Reaffirming every NBA team's fear of drafting relatively unknown European players, Darko Milicic was famously selected second overall in 2003 by Detroit. Just after LeBron James, and right before Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He'd last just two-plus seasons there, leaving Pistons fans wondering how much successful their already-great teams of the mid-2000s could've been.



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