While everyone expected Craig Conroy to make a big splash in Nashville, the rookie GM stuck to the tried and true Flames mentality that size is important in the Western Conference. NBA free agency is upon us as teams can start negotiating with available players on Friday at 6 p.m. ET. With that, it’s time to dig into all the madness that will play out over the next several days and weeks.  The biggest names of this free agent class include James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green, while Brook Lopez, Fred VanVleet and Jerami Grant are sure to also cause a few rumblings with their respective decisions. Where some of those names end up could be determined by which teams have the most money to spend. Here are the teams with the most cap space that could really make a big splash: 1. Houston Rockets: $64.2M (22-60 record last season)2. San Antonio Spurs: $41.7M (22-60 record last season)3. Indiana Pacers: $32.2M (35-47 record last season)4. Sacramento Kings: $31.6M (48-34 record last season)5. Detroit Pistons: $30.8M (17-65 record last season) Every NBA summer seems to accept the challenge of one upping the previous off-season. Here are the storylines that will determine just how crazy things get in the summer of ‘23:  1. What ripple effects will James Harden’s decision have in Philly?  What ripple effects will James Harden’s decision have in Philly? The Sixers’ nightmare scenario has been realized, with Harden opting into the final year of his contract, but also with the expectation of being traded. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the LA Clippers and New York Knicks are among the teams interested, but will Philadelphia command enough of a return to remain a contender? Joel Embiid is fresh off winning an MVP, Tyrese Maxey is a rising star, and Nick Nurse has replaced Doc Rivers. If someone of the calibre of Paul George isn’t returning in the deal, one has to imagine the clock will be ticking a little faster for Embiid in terms of evaluating his future with the franchise. As good as the Cameroonian has been, the Sixers haven’t been able to advance past the second round of the playoffs during the Trust the Process era. Embiid certainly has earned his share of the blame for falling short of the ultimate goal of winning the championship, but if things go south after what was their best shot at the title these past playoffs, he may start to think about a fresh start. More from Sportsnet With Rockets possibly targeting VanVleet, Raptors could be vulnerable Report: Heat considering waive-and-stretch option with Kyle Lowry 2. What is and isn’t real with Lillard and the Blazers?  Yes, it’s true: Damian Lillard is not a free agent but this is still a major storyline that will play itself out over the following weeks (and maybe even months) because it’s been 84 years [insert Titanic GIF] and Lillard still hasn’t given us any indication if he really wants to move on from Portland.  Dame Time has put himself in position to, at the very least, be in the same conversation with Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler as the greatest Blazer of all time. Since being drafted by Portland sixth overall in 2012, Lillard has won the Rookie of the Year award, been named All-Star and All-NBAer seven times, and been selected for the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. He is the franchise leader in a host of statistical categories including total points, three-pointers made and player efficiency rating. He has led the franchise to eight playoff appearances and one conference finals. He has done nothing but produce for the franchise so the notion that he could be perceived as a bad guy or lacking in loyalty is downright silly.  Can we just get it over with, though? After rumours first swirled a couple seasons ago, we’ve had a barrage of reports on his desire to stay or go. Even Lillard himself added fuel to the fire when he went on Showtime’s ‘The Last Stand’ and said “Miami is the obvious one” when asked about possible destinations for him outside of Portland.   There was also plenty of speculation on draft day that Lillard would request a trade out of Portland if the Blazers used their No. 3 pick on a young prospect rather than trading it for a win-now piece (the Blazers selected Scoot Henderson with the pick). Portland general manager Joe Cronin then met with Lillard and his agent Aaron Goodwin to clear the air. After the meeting, Cronin said that “we remain committed to building a winner around Dame.”   But what remains to be seen is Lillard’s commitment to that cause in Portland.  3. Who has the leverage between Kyrie and the Mavs?  Kyrie Irving the basketball player would be in serious consideration to receive the maximum five-year, $276-million contract the Dallas Mavericks can offer him. He is an NBA champion, one of the game’s best scorers and, after arriving from Brooklyn via trade, averaged 27 points, six assists, five rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 58.5 per cent on two-pointers, 39.2 per cent on threes and 94.7 at the free-throw line in 20 games.  The elephant in the room is everything that happened prior to that. After premature exits from both Cleveland and Boston, Brooklyn became a house on fire with Irving providing most of the gasoline with his behaviour off the court. From proclaiming the Nets didn’t need a head coach, to opting against the COVID-19 vaccine which kept him out of home games and plummeted the team’s chances of building chemistry, to being suspended for sharing a social media post about an antisemitic movie, Irving ultimately left Brooklyn with no choice but to trade him.  They needed a desperate trade partner and they found one in Dallas, who had recently lost both Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie from their backcourt. That’s the most intriguing part of this: the Mavs are still desperate as they simply don’t have significant talent on the roster beyond Luka Doncic and Irving. If the Mavs get this wrong, then Doncic may have to evaluate whether Dallas is his best NBA home for the long-term.  What is working in the Mavs’ favour is you could argue that other teams might be deterred from taking a big swing at Irving, so we may get to see the gap between the maximum Dallas is willing to offer and the reality of what he could get on the open market.  4. Are the Spurs set to begin their next playoff streak?  The San Antonio Spurs have been quite un-Spurs like for the past few years. They failed to make the NBA Playoffs the last four seasons, ending a streak of 22 straight years in the post-season during which they won five championships. The recent playoff drought was capped off by the miserable 22-60 campaign this past year.  Last season was all part of the plan, though. San Antonio won the lottery and landed Victor Wembanyama — the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James. Now, there are plenty of whispers that the Spurs are serious about competing as quickly as possible and will look to make a key free-agent move to complement their newly-acquired Frenchman as well as wing players Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan.  With about $42 million in cap room, they could either take a giant swing at a top free agent or a couple of swings at players in the tier below. With Wembanyama expressing his preference to not play the centre position, perhaps the likes of Brook Lopez or Jakob Poeltl — who was with the Spurs as recently as February before being dealt to Toronto at the NBA Trade Deadline — would fit in quite nicely.  5. Is there any fire to the smoke in Houston?  Finishing off the Texas triangle, no team has more money to spend this summer than the Houston Rockets and, as a result, they have been linked to virtually every notable free agent out there. Brook Lopez, Fred VanVleet, Kyle Kuzma, Dillon Brooks, you name it.  The question is about whether a star really wants to join them. They are extremely young with an average of 21.7(!). Their core of Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., and Amen Thompson isn’t ready to win yet, and head coach Ime Udoka is entering his first season with the franchise after returning from a league suspension.  It appears VanVleet would be their primary target with Marc Stein reporting on his Substack that the Rockets could offer a two-year deal worth about $83.6M. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski also reported that Houston is the biggest threat to Milwaukee’s ability to re-sign Lopez with a similar big-money, short-term deal. That sounds about right in terms of where Houston stands. Netting a major free agent is likely going to take a max offer on a short-term deal so the player has not only the money incentive but also can see the light at the end of the tunnel if things aren’t working out. 6. Will the Kings enter contender status?  Sacramento were the darlings of the NBA Playoffs, returning to the post-season for the first time in nearly 17 years with an ultra-entertaining offence, lighting the beam over and over, and pushing the defending champion Golden State Warriors to seven games in Round 1.  A move that flew under the radar in the past week was when the Kings traded centre Richaun Holmes and the 24th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to the Mavs. Big whoop, right? Well, it opened up over $30 million in cap space for the Kings.  There has been some buzz Sacramento will now pursue Draymond Green in free agency — yes, the same Green who stomped on Kings all-star centre Domantas Sabonis during the playoffs — and that would certainly shake things up in the West. Golden State made their intentions to contend in the here and now clear when they traded Jordan Poole for Chris Paul, so they will definitely be up for the battle to re-sign the veteran who is arguably the heart and soul of their team.  Another free agent with a lower profile but one who could be a significant addition to their roster is Jerami Grant. The 6-foot-8 forward played with Portland last season and improved his offensive game immensely the last few years. Grant would immediately become Sacramento’s best wing defender.  Either way, it’s extremely rare to see a team that had home-court advantage in the playoffs enter an off-season with their core under contract and have cap space to sign a major free agent. Sacramento could come out of this summer the biggest winner of all.   7. How much will teams continue to prioritize the new CBA?  The Washington Wizards pushing the ‘Eject’ button on a half-decade of mediocrity was necessitated by the new CBA coming into effect July 1.  The new agreement introduces a ‘second apron’ on the luxury tax, so teams that exceed the tax by $17.5 million won’t be able to use their taxpayer mid-level salary exception anymore. They also won’t be able to aggregate salaries together in a trade, or sign-and-trade a player to acquire another team’s player. There are further penalties, but those are the big three punishments worth noting here.  Bradley Beal is an all-star calibre player but the package the Wizards received in return — a Chris Paul who is well past his prime (and was later traded to Golden State), Landry Shamet, the No. 7 pick and some first-round pick swaps — was based on Beal’s remaining four years and $207 million being an albatross under the new CBA.  The Atlanta Hawks, after a couple years of flirting with the idea of trading John Collins, also finally pulled the trigger in relieving themselves of his remaining three years and $78 million for a soon-to-be 37-year-old Rudy Gay and a second-round pick from the Utah Jazz.  Which other contracts will teams look at and decide the juice isn’t worth the squeeze? We’re about to find out.

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