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.