SALT LAKE CITY — Ahead of the start of NBA free agency at 4 p.m. MDT Sunday, the Utah Jazz have signaled that they want to be true contenders in the Western Conference after trading for Memphis point guard Mike Conley.
The Jazz could still open up a bunch of money to spend, depending on what they do with the team option on Derrick Favors, although now it will also be time for other teams in the West to make moves that could better position themselves to compete.
The Lakers, Clippers and Mavericks are primed to be major players in free agency because of available salary cap space and because they’ve been linked to marquee free agents, while the Nuggets and Pelicans could also have enough money to make notable transactions.
In addition, the Warriors and Rockets don’t have cap space, but still could make significant moves.
Here’s a look at those seven teams and how their potential moves could impact the Jazz.
Los Angeles Lakers: On Thursday, the Lakers reportedly made a deal with the Washington Wizards that will allow them to open up a max-salary slot in addition to acquiring Pelicans star Anthony Davis.
Will the Lakers use that space (about $32 million) to sign a third star in free agency, or will they use it to sign multiple role players to complement Davis and LeBron James? Either way, Los Angeles is primed to be much better next season after it missed the playoffs in 2019.
LA Clippers: The Clippers made a surprise run to the eighth seed in the West last season with a young core. Now they’ll have more than $40 million in cap space, with Kawhi Leonard believed to be interested in heading there. Adding him would certainly make the Clippers better than they were last season. If LA traded Danilo Gallinari, it could open up enough money to have two max-salary slots.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks finished 14th in the West last season and thus have a long to climb to contention, but they’ll be getting star big man Kristaps Porzingis this season after trading for him last season even though he was injured, and Luka Doncic just won Rookie of the Year.
Dallas will have roughly $29 million in cap space and has been linked to players such as Al Horford and Kemba Walker. How much would the addition of a third excellent player vault the Mavericks up the standings?
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets, according to ESPN, could open up about $17 million if they decline the team option on former Jazzman Paul Millsap. Would Denver, which finished last season with the West’s second-best record, try to make a move that would catapult it to the top of a conference that is now wide open thanks to injuries to Warriors stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson?
New Orleans Pelicans: After trading Davis to the Lakers, the Pelicans will have about $31 million in cap space, according to ESPN. That said, it’s unclear how much New Orleans will try to compete next season, although they now have a nice young core with Jrue Holiday, No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart.
Will the Pelicans nurture the young core, or use their space to go after a marquee player after missing the playoffs last season?
Golden State Warriors: After losing in the NBA Finals to the Raptors and seeing Durant and Thompson suffer serious injuries in the process, the thought is that the Warriors’ dynasty could be over and the West is wide open.
The fact is, though, that Durant and Thompson could return on new deals. Yes, they’re both expected to be sidelined well into next season if not through the whole thing, but them returning would keep Golden State in position to be great in the future.
Houston Rockets: The Rockets are in some ways a big unknown as free agency approaches. They’re primed to be beneficiaries of a potential Warriors decline, but is the report that Chris Paul wants to be traded true? Additionally, can they find a way to land Jimmy Butler as an ESPN report earlier this week indicated they desire, or is that just general manager Daryl Morey being his typical aspirational self?
The Rockets don’t have cap space to sign any big free agents.