2021 NBA Free Agency Primer
The Finals are behind us (congrats Bucks!), and though we’re just a couple of days removed from Giannis’ 50-point performance in the closeout Game 6, it’s time to start looking forward to next season.
The NBA Draft takes place July 29, and less than a week later, we’re on to free agency. NBA free agency begins August 2 at 6:00PM EST. This is when teams can begin negotiating with players. Signings can become official beginning August 6 at 12:01PM EST.
With free agency on the horizon, I took a look at which teams might have the most cap space and put together my top-25 list of available free agents. Let’s get into it!
There’s no way of knowing exactly what each team’s cap space will be, but based on potential free agents from each squad and who might be let go and factoring in current cap space, projections can be made. I borrowed this very handy projections table from Keith Smith at RealGM, which was made shortly before the playoffs. Salaries with parentheses indicate negative cap space.
In the realm of cap space, three teams stand head and shoulders above the rest of the Association: the Knicks, Thunder, and Spurs.
- Knicks: Made the playoffs on the back of Julius Randle but have glaring needs at nearly every position, particularly point guard. The Knicks will be in pursuit of the best talent available and hope not to strike out like they did a couple of years ago in a much more talented free agent class.
- Thunder: Oklahoma City has stockpiled a massive amount of first and second-round picks for the next few years, and while the team may be looking to build through the Draft, it will likely pursue elite talent in free agency as well. The Thunder would have even more available cap if not for the recent acquisition of Kemba Walker, but Walker could be flipped soon in exchange for more assets. Keep an eye on the Thunder as potential movers on Draft night, but don’t be surprised to see them spend some serious coin on the free agent market as well.
- Spurs: San Antonio has some quality young talent in Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray, and Devin Vassell, but win-now guys are in short supply, especially with DeMar DeRozan hitting the free-agent market. Expect the Spurs to make some free agent moves, targeting areas of need like scoring and frontcourt depth.
The next tier of teams has some potential big spenders as well in the Mavericks, Raptors, and Hornets.
- Mavericks: After a rough playoff exit and turmoil among the coaching and front office staff, Dallas will need to make a serious push to get Luka Doncic some help. With a solid No. 2, the Mavs could have knocked off the Clippers in the first round, but it’s apparent that Kristaps Porzingis isn’t the Robin that Doncic needs. Expect Dallas to be aggressive in free agency.
- Raptors: Toronto put together a disappointing 2020-21 season, but there are plenty of solid pieces in place to keep this team competitive. The right free-agent signings could make this squad a contender in the Eastern Conference once again.
- Hornets: Charlotte has a ton of depth, and the team looks set for a bright future with reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball on the roster. The team’s biggest needs are in the frontcourt, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Buzz City target a top big in free agency.
Below are my top-25 free agents, listed in order of importance.
This class is not a star-studded group who can change the fortunes of a franchise, save Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul. What you'll find in this free-agent class are plenty of impactful starters and productive role players. There will absolutely be meaningful signings from this class who log minutes for playoff teams.
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