- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
Now that the season is over, next year has become this year for the 22 teams no longer in the playoffs.
Who will have the cap space to make a difference in this summer's free-agent market?
Assuming there's a $45 million cap (it could be as high as $50 million, depending on what happens with the CBA), the Atlanta Hawks will have roughly $24 million in cap room. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Seattle SuperSonics will have $21 million, the Charlotte Bobcats roughly $20 million. The Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Hornets will have about $11 million. The Milwaukee Bucks have cleared about $9 million. Will they really want or be able to use it? The Sonics likely will spend all of their room re-signing their own free agents. The Cavs will use roughly half of theirs in an attempt to re-up Zydrunas Ilgauskas. And the Bobcats likely will save much of their cap space for summer 2007.
That leaves the Hawks, Cavs (roughly $10 million to $12 million), Hornets, Clippers and Bobcats as the players in the free-agent market. Since only one of those teams, the Cavs, is in any position to compete for the playoffs (though the Clippers are getting close), the free-agent destinations for top veterans will be very limited.
This year's list of free agents isn't top-heavy, but it's deep. Ray Allen, Michael Redd, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Antoine Walker and Ilgauskas top the list of unrestricted veterans. Of that group, Allen and Abdur-Rahim are the most likely to bolt for new teams.
The restricted free-agent class looks much better, but remember, going after restricted free agents in the summer is always a dicey proposition. Only two top restricted free agents changed teams last summer. The Nuggets stole Kenyon Martin from the New Jersey Nets (the Nets eventually agreed to a sign-and-trade) and the Phoenix Suns pried Quentin Richardson away from the Clippers.
Here's Insider's second look at the free-agent class of 2005. Although the names on the board may leave fans breathless, there's little chance most of these guys will leave home.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss