Knicks, Nets Lead 2010 Free-Agent Bidders
By sending Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill to Houston, New York actually made room for two max players -- $33 million, assuming a $53 million salary cap (as is rumored) and provided the team's own free agents (including David Lee) are renounced.
The Nets created cap space long ago, and figures to have roughly $26 million of room this summer -- not quite enough for two max players, but plenty for one plus another solid player. The Clippers joined the club Tuesday by trading Al Thornton to Washington and Sebastian Telfair to Cleveland. Assuming L.A. gets a high draft pick, the Clips figure to have just enough cap space to make a bid for one of the major free agents.
The Bulls sent John Salmons to Milwaukee with only expiring contracts coming back, and took no 2010-11 salary in its Tyrus Thomas trade. Chicago has a bit more than $20 million in space slotted for the summer, without accounting for its draft picks (which now include a conditional pick from Charlotte).
Sacramento also quietly opened up enough cap space to make a bid for a big free agent, if it so chooses. The Kings would have $19 million of cap space without accounting for their expected top-10 pick. Miami has enough space to re-sign Dwyane Wade to a max contract and add a max-contract friend, with room to spare.
The Wizards have inserted themselves in the discussion by shedding copious amounts of salary. The trades of Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison (among others) left the Wizards with a $28 million payroll for 2010-11 -- that's enough space to add a max player and then some. The Timberwolves have a smidge less than $36 million accounted for in 2010-11, so the team could make a play for a max-level player.
So, as of now, that's where the league is: the Knicks and Heat can offer two players max contracts, and the Nets, Clippers, Bulls, Kings, Wizards and Wolves can go after one player each. Of course, the Cavaliers can keep LeBron James at max salary, the Raptors can keep Chris Bosh, and so on. But if there's movement, these teams are in the best fiscal position to make a bid.