- Chad Ford, Senior Writer, NBA Insider
Wait 'til next year.
That's the mantra being pushed in Charlotte, New Orleans/Oklahoma City, and to a lesser extent, in Atlanta and Chicago, now that all of the top free agents have found homes and all four teams have little to show for their efforts this summer. The Lakers take this exercise one step further, telling everyone to wait two years as they prepare to make their big splash in the summer of 2007.
What they do have, along with several other teams, is a boatload of cap space with which to work next year.
Assuming the cap stays at around $50 million, a number of teams will be looking at a lot of cap room next summer. The Bobcats, Hawks, Bulls and Hornets all will have more than $10 million in cap space at their disposal.
Will they really want or be able to use it? Every year, free agent dreams always seem to come up a little short. Sure Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady bolted for new homes in 2000, and Steve Nash stunned the Mavericks last summer when he left for Phoenix. But on average, top-tier free agents rarely defect from the hometown team. Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant and, this season, Ray Allen and Michael Redd all came close. But usually it's second-tier free agents, such as Joe Johnson and Larry Hughes (although they're paid like superstars in their new contracts), who bolt.
Next season should be no different. Only one superstar, the Pistons' Ben Wallace, is available and the chances of his leaving Detroit are very, very slim.
The second group has a number of talented unrestricted free agents who will be looking for greener pastures next season -- headed by the Kings' Peja Stojakovic, the Bulls' Eddy Curry, the Sonics' Vladimir Radmanovic and the Hawks' Al Harrington.
The restricted free-agent class is shaky. Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire, the two stars from the class, are in the process of being locked up with long-term deals with the Rockets and Suns. The rest of the group is well ... unproven. That might make them available, but remember, going after restricted free agents in the summer is always a dicey proposition. Only three top restricted free agents changed teams this summer. The Hawks had to overpay for Joe Johnson and the Clippers followed form by letting restricted free agents Bobby Simmons and Marko Jaric walk.
Here's Insider's first sneak peek at the free-agent class of 2006. Sorry if this list doesn't generate a ton of season-ticket sales in Charlotte or Atlanta.
Summer's over and some teams haven't improved. So Chad Ford checks out next year's free-agent crop.