There’s going to be a lot of talk over the next month about which teams are going to pursue Kevin Durant and which ones actually have a chance to snag him. But plenty of them have very fluid cap situations. Not everyone is going to be in position to offer him the max from Day 1, so let’s go over all 30 teams and establish who exactly will have the money to sign Durant. To make this easier, we’re using a projected $90 million cap with Durant taking in 30% as nine-year max player, so $27 million. However, a few teams could move up or down a tier depending on the exact cap number which won’t be released until July 8th. We’ll break it down into four categories:
Tier 1: Already Has the Cap Space, No Questions Asked, Nothing Will Change That
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Orlando Magic
- Brooklyn Nets
- Utah Jazz
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Denver Nuggets
- Milwaukee Bucks
These are the teams that, barring anything dramatic and completely unforeseen, will have max cap space on Day 1 and require absolutely no action to create that space. The Lakers seem like the only team in this group that will get a meeting, but Portland might be able to finagle their way into the fray as well if they really wanted to.
Tier 2: Could Create the Cap Space Very, Very Easily
10. Boston Celtics
11. Miami Heat
12. Washington Wizards
13. Charlotte Hornets
14. Dallas Mavericks
15. Phoenix Suns
16. Houston Rockets
17. Memphis Grizzlies
18. Sacramento Kings
19. Indiana Pacers
These are the teams that will almost definitely go into free agency with max space, it’ll just be a matter of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. Here are the specific actions each team will have to take to make sure they have the space:
- Boston has until July 3rd to waive the non-guaranteed contracts of Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. Once they do that, it will simply be a matter of renouncing the rights to their own free agents.
- We’re assuming in this scenario that Miami is letting Hassan Whiteside walk, because to keep him, Dwyane Wade and sign a max player, there are all sorts of other issues at play. But if the goal is just to create max space, as it is here, all that needs to be done is renounce their bird rights on Dwyane Wade, and then sign him using leftover cap space after Durant signed on. With Whiteside in play as well? Miami would have to trade Chris Bosh or Goran Dragic.
- Washington just needs to make sure Bradley Beal doesn’t sign an offer sheet. Once he does, his new cap number will become whatever his first year salary is and will cost the Wizards their max space. In that scenario, they’d have to let him go or trade someone else to maintain it. But they likely have an under the table deal in place to pay him the max after they’ve spent their space, so this is all moot.
- Charlotte could do it easily, they’d just have to renounce the rights to their own free agents. They won’t do that, because their own free agents are valuable and they know they have no chance at Durant, but if the goal here is simply to create max cap space the Hornets have the option to do it if they chose.
- Dallas still needs to see exactly how their player options shake out, most notably Chandler Parsons, but that’s really a technicality, in some way or another they’ll have max space. Their worst case scenario would be everyone opting in and just having to renounce Zaza Pachulia, and their lesser contracts are all eminently movable anyway.
- Phoenix just has to decline DeJuan Blair’s team option and they’re there. They’d have to renounce their own free agents as well, but Mirza Teletovic is the only one with any value and no team would ever quibble over losing him to get Durant.
- Houston just needs Dwight Howard to opt out of his contract. That will absolutely happen, their space just doesn’t technically open up until he does.
- Memphis would just have to decline Lance Stephenson’s team option (a near-certainty) and renounce the rights to Mike Conley and their other free agents. They won’t do that, but if they wanted to it’s on the table.
- Sacramento just needs one of their two player options (Caron Butler and Quincy Acy) to be declined and they’re there. Both probably will be, and even if they aren’t, they’re a rounding error away from max space anyway and could either just hope that the actual cap is slightly higher than projections or easily dump a smaller contract to get there.
- Indiana would just have to renounce their own free agents. They likely won’t, as Ian Mahinmi and Solomon Hill have value (though both will be overpaid elsewhere in all likelihood), but creating max space is entirely within their grasp.
Tier 3: Can Get There With Reasonable Work
20. Atlanta Hawks
21. New York Knicks
22. Chicago Bulls
23. New Orleans Pelicans
24. Detroit Pistons
25. Toronto Raptors
These are the teams that functionally wouldn’t have any trouble creating max space, it would just take a bit of work. Here’s how all of them could do it:
- Atlanta has only $55 million or so on the books, but Al Horford’s cap hold will be 150% of his previous salary as a non-rookie scale free agent whose previous salary was above the league average. That adds $18 million, so they’d be sitting at $73 million or so. Luckily for them, all of their contracts are easily movable. Teams would line up for the right to take Paul Millsap, but he isn’t going anywhere. More realistically, a combination of Tiago Splitter and either Mike Scott or Thabo Sefolosha gets the job done, and though that’s a decent chunk of change for any team to take on, someone like Philly would gladly do so for multiple second rounders or a protected first.
- The Knicks just have to dump Jose Calderon. Not a problem, they’re pick-neutral for the first time in centuries and can attach a protected first to get it done. And hey, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some team might just want Calderon as their backup and take him for free.
- The obvious answer for Chicago would be dumping Derrick Rose, but they don’t seem too into that idea and even if they did his market wouldn’t exactly be robust. Luckily for them, Pau Gasol opting out of his contract will get them to within striking distance and a small dump after that—Nikola Mirotic or Mike Dunleavy, both players other teams would gladly take for free—pushes them over the top.
- New Orleans has plenty of bad money tied into Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik, but most teams would gladly take Jrue Holiday for free, and even if they wouldn’t, the Quincy Pondexter-Alexis Ajinca-Dante Cunningham triumvirate is easily movable with picks attached.
- Detroit would’ve been there had they not traded for Tobias Harris, but even with him, they have $12.5 million tied into Jodie Meeks and Aron Baynes that absolutely is not necessary. They’d do well to attach a pick to that pair and ship it to Philly for the cap space.
- The Raptors obviously want to keep DeMar DeRozan, but when he opts out Toronto’s cap situation becomes far more interesting. If they were to let him go, they’d be looking at around $15 million of space. Trading Jonas Valanciunas pushes them into max territory, as would any combination of Cory Joseph, Terrance Ross and Patrick Patterson. All four are useful players are reasonably valued contracts. If they played their cards right, they could even keep DeRozan and create max space by dumping all of those guys, but that wouldn’t be a prudent strategy as no player on the market besides Durant is worth all four.
Tier 4: Has His Bird Rights
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder can pay Durant the max no matter how much money they have on the books.
Tier 5: Can Get There Through Strenuous Work
27. Golden State Warriors
28. San Antonio Spurs
Yes, both teams do have avenues to max space, it might just be more trouble than it’s worth.
The Spurs would have to move two of the Tony Parker-Danny Green-Boris Diaw trio, and as they just lost to Durant in the playoffs it seems doubtful that he’d join their team. That also assumes that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire. If they don’t, even more work goes into this.
The Warriors, meanwhile, would have to break up their supporting cast almost entirely. Their best case scenario here would be would trading the $27 million attached to Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and then renouncing all of their own free agents except for Harrison Barnes at a cap hold of around $8 million. They would then have to get Barnes to agree to wait and sign an extension after they signed Durant so they could maintain their cap space rather than exploring the market. Even under this scenario, they would have a roster of only Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Harrison Barnes and Kevin Looney with only the room exception and minimum salary slots left to sign other free agents.
They could choose to retain Festus Ezeli instead of Barnes, as he would have a lower cap hold and plays a position of greater need, but that saved money would be nearly useless in this summer’s environment. In either case, they’d be looking at a bench with five minimum salaried players and one room exception guy. So yea, it’s possible, it’s just a huge sacrifice.
Tier 6. Absolutely Cannot Get There
29. Los Angeles Clippers
30. Cleveland Cavaliers
Even if either team dumped their most expensive player for nothing, they still wouldn’t be close to creating max space. The Cavs wouldn’t bother pursuing Durant anyway. The Clippers still might, it just wouldn’t come through cap space. They’d offer Blake Griffin in a sign-and-trade. So even though they have absolutely no avenue to creating the space, the Clippers could still get involved here. That’s how crazy the Durant sweepstakes are going to be.