The 2022 offseason came to a screeching halt after the first several days. Yes, there were some fireworks early on with some of the trades, and there should be some more if Donovan Mitchell, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving are moved. But in the free agency front, this was probably one of the more uneventful offseasons in recent memory.
This result wasn’t unexpected. Last year we previewed the 2022 offseason and came to the conclusion that the volume of extensions being signed due to the stalling of the salary cap in 2020 would lead to fewer high-quality free agents over the coming years. Only four teams had significant cap space this offseason but only the Knicks used it to sign players to improve their roster. The Spurs, Pacers, and Pistons all still have cap space and are likely to use it for non-competitive purposes.
The 2023 free agent market may not be any different. As of now, there are more teams projected to have significant cap space, which in theory should suggest a more robust market than in 2022. However, most of the teams are in the middle of rebuilds where they’re focused on accumulating draft picks and developing their young players. It’s possible we just get more teams rolling over their cap space like this offseason.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are currently projected to generate around $60 million in cap space next offseason. This projection includes Keldon Johnson’s newly signed extension, which will give him a starting salary of $20 million, and them getting a Top 7 pick in this year’s draft. Their projection could go down if they sign Tre Jones or Joe Wieskamp to long-term deals, and they could gain more if they waive the non-guaranteed contract of Zach Collins. After trading Dejounte Murray for draft equity, they seem likely to use their space to take on bad money with more picks attached.
The Rockets have a high variance of cap space projections depending on their decisions. They will have their own first-round pick which could be in the Top 7, as well as the Bucks’ first-rounder this season which should be somewhere in the 20s. Assuming those pick projections stand, they could generate around $75 million in cap space if they renounce all cap holds, including Kevin Porter Jr., and waive all their non-guaranteed players, including Eric Gordon’s $20.9 million salary. If they keep all those players, they could be looking at $45 million in space. They might be realistically looking at around $60 million in cap space by keeping Porter Jr.’s $9.7 million cap hold on the books, if he’s not extended, and waiving Gordon.
The Pistons are looking at having maximum cap space for a fourth consecutive offseason in 2023. They are projected to generate around $30 million in cap space, but can get to around $60 million if they maximize their space. That would include waiving Kelly Olynyk’s partially guaranteed salary for next season, as well as declining the team options for Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel. That projection includes the Pistons having a Top 7 pick in the 2023 draft. They could look to make a leap into competitiveness by using their cap space to sign veterans who can help them win.
The Magic rolled over their 2022 cap space to 2023 by re-signing several of their free agents to contracts with non-guaranteed salaries in 2023-24. They could generate a maximum amount of cap space in the $50 million range if they waive all their non-guaranteed players, which includes Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Mo Bamba, and Bol Bol. This projection includes them having a Top 7 pick, as well as the Bulls’ 2023 pick being in the late teens-to-early 20s. Their most realistic cap space projection is likely somewhere in the $20-30 million range since it’s unlikely they waive all their non-guaranteed players, but they could easily just keep them all and operate over the cap instead.
The Pacers currently have just under $30 million in cap space and could be looking at around $50 million in 2023 if they don’t add any long-term salaries. This would include not re-signing Myles Turner, and their projection could increase by another $19 million if they trade Buddy Hield for expiring contracts. Their cap space projection includes them having a Top 7 pick in the 2023 draft, as well as the Celtics’ first-round pick being in the mid-to-late twenties. They seem to be open to both using their cap space to facilitate salary dumps with draft picks attached as well as signing players who can help them compete after giving Deandre Ayton a maximum offer sheet.
The Jazz put themselves to be in a position to be major cap space players next offseason after trading Rudy Gobert. They could generate up to $40 million in cap space if they maximize their cap space, which would include waiving Mike Conley Jr. and declining the team options of Malik Beasley and Udoka Azubuike. They seem more likely to trade these players than cut them, and could generate much more if they trade Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson. Their cap space projection includes them having a Top 7 pick in the 2023 draft, as well as the two other picks they’re owed by the Wolves and Sixers being in the low-to-mid twenties. They seem likely to use their cap space to further facilitate deals that net them more draft equity.
The Hornets cap situation has completely changed now that Miles Bridges is likely out of the picture. They are now looking at generating around $35 million in cap space in 2023, a projection that includes their first-round pick being in the mid-teens, and the Nuggets’ first-round pick being in the early-to-mid twenties. PJ Washington is extension-eligible but they should still have significant cap space if they extend him to a team-friendly deal. If they have any free agent targets in mind in 2023, they could look to generate more room by trading some of their highest-paid players like Gordon Hayward or Terry Rozier.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are currently projected to generate $25 million in cap space in 2023, which includes them having a top 7 pick in the 2023 draft. They were previously projected to generate close to $50 million in cap space, but Lu Dort’s new contract and Kenrich Williams’ extension lowered it significantly. They could get to a little over $30 million in space if they waive their non-guaranteed players, which include Theo Maledon, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Vit Krecji, and Aaron Wiggins. After what will be three years of bottoming out, they could finally look to make a leap with their cap space.
The Grizzlies can still have close to maximum cap space in 2023 despite extending Ja Morant to a maximum extension. If he qualifies for the 30 percent maximum contract, the Grizzlies could generate around $25 million in cap space. That projection includes their first-round pick being in the low 20s. They could generate more if they were to trade Tyus Jones, but could easily be over the cap if they extend Dillon Brooks or Steven Adams. If they do operate with cap space, it would make sense for them to pursue a starting center like Myles Turner or Jakob Poeltl.
Potential cap space teams
There are a handful of teams that could generate significant cap space in 2023 but could operate over the cap instead.
The Nets seem like the biggest wildcard depending on what happens with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. If they were to trade Durant for draft picks and expiring contracts, and they do not re-sign Irving, they could be in a position to generate maximum cap space.
The Cavaliers are currently in a position to generate around $25 million in cap space despite extending Darius Garland to a maximum extension. However, they seem likely to extend or re-sign at least one of Caris LeVert, Collin Sexton, and Kevin Love, which would eliminate their cap space.
The Lakers are currently projected to generate over $60 million in cap space since they’ll only have Anthony Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, Damian Jones, Max Christie, and their 2023 first-round pick on the books. However, that cap space would immediately get eliminated if LeBron James signs a maximum extension. Also, it would likely be eliminated if they trade for one of their reported targets like Kyrie Irving, Myles Turner, or Buddy Hield, since they would presumably look to extend or re-sign them.
The Timberwolves could be looking at around $20 million in cap space if they do not extend or re-sign D’Angelo Russell, Jaylen Nowell, or Naz Reid. They would also need to decline the team option to Nathan Knight, and waive the non-guaranteed salaries of Taurean Prince and Jordan McLaughlin. They could get to around $30 million in space if they were to also offload Kyle Anderson, which could put them in a position to pursue a new starting point guard.
The Kings are currently projected to generate around $20 million in cap space if they do not re-sign or extend Harrison Barnes. They could get to around $30 million if they got off Richaun Holmes’ contract, which could allow them to pursue one of the top wings in free agency.
2023 Free Agents
The talent pool of free agents in 2023 may not be much better than 2022. A lot of the top players that could enter free agency could still avoid free agency by extending with their current teams.
James Harden (player option)
Khris Middleton (player option)
Draymond Green (player option)
Fred VanVleet (player option)
Bogdan Bogdanovic (player option)
Kyle Kuzma (player option)
Kristaps Porzingis (player option)
RJ Barrett (restricted)
DeAndre Hunter (restricted)
Jordan Poole (restricted)
Cameron Johnson (restricted)
Tyler Herro (restricted)
Grant Williams (restricted)