Which NBA teams are saving cap space for free agency?

There is a slow buildup to what NBA executives are calling one of the most talent-rich free-agent classes in recent years.  Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Khris Middleton, Kristaps Porzingis, Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler headline the group of a projected 200 players who could hit free agency on July 1.

Despite the star-studded field and the salary cap projected to increase to $109 million (from $101.8 million), teams are still feeling the ripple effect from the summer of 2016 when spending was at an all-time high. ESPN is projecting only 12 teams with cap space this offseason, an increase from nine in 2018. In 2016, there were 27 teams with room and a year later there were 16.

While the big names, such as Leonard and Durant, will see max offers either from their respective teams or new destinations, possibly the Clippers or the Knicks, expect 2018's same pattern of short-term contracts to repeat itself.

Keep in mind also that if either Kawhi or KD leaves, the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors will not open up cap space to sign a replacement. The same holds true with players such as Irving in Boston and Walker in Charlotte.

Here is an early look at the teams that are projected to have cap space, including three wild-card teams that could enter the mix in July.

Atlanta Hawks

Projected room: $42 million

Who returns: Kent Bazemore, Miles Plumlee, Trae Young, Alex Len, Taurean Prince, John Collins, Kevin Huerter. DeAndre' Bembry, Omari Spellman, first-rounder (own) and first-rounder (from Dallas)

Who may be gone: Jeremy Lin, Dewayne Dedmon, Vince Carter, Justin Anderson, Daniel Hamilton and Tyler Dorsey

Other charges: Minimum roster charge ($897,000)

The Hawks will enter the third year of their rebuild with a roster featuring six former first-round draft picks and two potential lottery selections (the first from Dallas is top-five protected).

Expect the Hawks to act as a facilitator for unwanted contracts in exchange for draft assets. Atlanta is not at a point in its roster remake to be a destination for free agents looking to win now.

The Hawks could have up to $85 million in room in 2020.

Brooklyn Nets

Projected room: $21 million

Who returns: Allen Crabbe, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs, Shabazz Napier (contract guaranteed), Treveon Graham (contract guaranteed), D'Angelo Russell (free-agent hold), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (free-agent hold), first-rounder (own) and first-rounder (from Denver)

Who may be gone: DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried, Jared Dudley and Ed Davis

Other charges: Deron Williams ($5.4 million)

There is a false narrative that the Nets have room for two max players. They don't. Yes, Brooklyn can clear an additional $28 million in room on top of max space, but that would come at the cost of two starters -- point guard D'Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Both players are free agents with holds counting against the cap ($21 million for Russell, $7.4 million for Hollis-Jefferson).

Brooklyn can explore moving the $18.5 million expiring Allen Crabbe contract, but that would likely require attaching a first-round pick to his contract. Crabbe has been injured for most of the season.

Because Russell's salary is projected to fall well below his cap hold, expect Brooklyn to have in the neighborhood of $30 million in room.

If the both players are not brought back -- an unlikely scenario -- Brooklyn will have $47 million in room.

Chicago Bulls

Projected room: $37 million

Who returns Zach LaVine, Cristiano Felicio, Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Denzel Valentine, Chandler Hutchison, Antonio Blakeney, Shaquille Harrison, Bobby Portis (free-agent hold), Ryan Arcidiacano (free-agent hold) and first-rounder (own)

Who may be gone: Jabari Parker (team option declined), Wayne Selden and Robin Lopez

Other charges: Omer Asik ($3 million)

Despite having close to $40 million in room, another potential top-five draft pick and promising young players, Chicago will be faced with obstacles when it comes to free agency. The reason? An uncertain future in leadership, notably head coach Jim Boylen.

Expect the Bulls to take a short-term approach with contracts like they did with Jabari Parker, this time with the hope of better results.

Dallas Mavericks

Projected room: $51 million

Who returns: Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic, Dwight Powell, Dennis Smith Jr., Jalen Brunson, Ray Spalding, Ryan Broekhoff, Max Kleber (free agent hold) and Dorian Finney-Smith (free-agent hold)

Who may be gone: Salah Mejri, Devin Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Wes Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki and JJ Barea

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($2.7 million)

We will see this summer how strong the impact of Luke Doncic is. Can the favorite for Rookie of the Year become the recruiting tool that the Mavericks have lacked in the past?

The Mavs project to have $51 million in room but would need to remake one of the top benches in the NBA, on top of replacing two starters in Jordan and Matthews.

Indiana Pacers

Projected room: $44 million

Who returns: Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Doug McDermott, Domas Sabonis, TJ Leaf, Aaron Holiday, Ike Anigbogu (contract guaranteed), Alize Johnson (contract guaranteed) and first-rounder (own)

Who may be gone: Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Kyle O'Quinn

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($2.7 million) and Monta Ellis ($2.2 million)

Here comes the hard part for GM Kevin Pritchard and his front office: Balance the cap ledger of a top-five team in the Eastern Conference without taking a step back in the offseason. Remember it was just two years ago that Pritchard turned a dire situation with Paul George to become one of the better teams in the NBA.

Although the Pacers can create up to $44 million in room, doing so could come at the cost of three starters: Collison, Bogdanovic and Young. Expect Pritchard to have two lines of communication open -- one for Indiana's own free agents and a second for a big catch, such as Khris Middleton.

LA Clippers

Projected room: $35.5 million

Who returns: Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Tyrone Wallace, Sindarius Thornwell (contract guaranteed) and Tobias Harris (free-agent hold)

Who may be gone: Avery Bradley (waived and stretched), Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, Patrick Beverley, Mike Scott, Milos Teodosic and Luc Mbah a Moute

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($3.6 million)

The Clippers have all but flown a flag announcing that they have cap space this summer. As ESPN's Brian Windhorst wrote, the Clippers are lining up their books to chase two max free agents.

Though there is a clear path to signing a player such as Kawhi Leonard, adding a second max player would likely necessitate the Clippers renouncing the rights to Tobias Harris and find a team to take on Gallinari's expiring $22.6 million contract.

In that scenario, LA would have $78 million in room, good enough for Leonard, Durant and $10 million left in room to fill out the roster. Signing two max players and retaining Harris would see the Clippers trade Gallinari, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.

Los Angeles Lakers

Projected room: $35.3 million

Who returns: LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Svi Mykhailiuk, Ivica Zubac (free-agent hold) and first-rounder (own)

Who may be gone: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($897,000) and Luol Deng ($5 million)

As mentioned in our trade deadline guide, there is a set timeline to how L.A.'s offseason should develop. With a max slot in place after their own free agents are renounced, the Lakers would need to sign a max player first before they explore the trade market for a star such as  Anthony Davis.

Using all of their available room would leave the Lakers limited in what they can send the Pelicans if a Davis trade materializes. Outside of LeBron James, the Lakers have only $23.3 million in available contracts to send out in a trade. (At least $22 million is needed to match salary and strike a deal.) All of the Lakers' young players would need to be sent out, including Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.

New York Knicks

Projected room: $30.7 million

Who returns: Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson, Kristaps Porzingis (free-agent hold) and first-rounder (own).

Who may be gone: Lance Thomas (waived), Allonzo Trier (option not exercised), Enes Kanter, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Luke Kornet, Trey Burke and Noah Vonleh

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($3.6 million) and Joakim Noah ($6.4 million)

Starting with Joakim Noah's waiver and then electing to bypass extension talks with Porzingis, New York made it clear that cap space in the summer of 2019 is at a premium. However, even after reducing the Noah cap hit from $19.3 million to $6.4 million in 2019-20 and saving $10 million by not extending Porzingis, there is still work to do if the Knicks' front office wants to target a player like Kevin Durant.

Because the starting number for Durant is $38 million, New York would need to trade or stretch the $12.3 million contract of Courtney Lee, after all their free agents are renounced except for Porzingis.

For the Knicks to come close to two max slots, Lee and the remaining $37 million owed to Hardaway would need to be moved without taking back any salary. Moving Hardaway will likely cost the Knicks a first-round pick.

Missing out on a superstar is not a doomsday scenario. New York is clearly a rebuilding team even if Porzingis returns healthy. Following the model used by Brooklyn (taking back bad contracts for draft assets) or Indiana (short-term deals) would be the best direction for the organization.

Orlando Magic

Projected room: $21 million

Who returns: Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Timofey Mozgov, DJ Augustin, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, Melvin Frazier, Wesley Iwundu (contract guaranteed), Jonathon Simmons (contract guaranteed), Isaiah Briscoe and first-rounder (own)

Who may be gone: Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Jerian Grant, Jarell Martin and Khem Birch

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($897,000) and CJ Watson ($333,000)

Like most teams, creating cap space in Orlando comes at a significant cost. The $21 million in potential room is mostly written in pencil, because it would see the Magic lose both Vucevic and Ross to free agency.

The two players count $36 million against the cap and their rights would need to be renounced for the Magic to use room.

Philadelphia 76ers

Projected room: $20 million

Who returns: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, Jonah Bolden, TJ McConnell (free-agent hold) and first-rounder (own)

Who may be gone: Wilson Chandler, JJ Redick, Justin Patton, Mike Muscala, Furkan Korkmaz and Amir Johnson

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($2.7 million)

Keeping Jimmy Butler's $30.6 million cap hold and renouncing all their free agents except for TJ McConnell would leave the Sixers with $20 million in room. That room would increase to $29 million if they part ways with Markelle Fultz in a trade that doesn't bring back salary.

Keep in mind that with Ben Simmons becoming extension eligible on July 1, the window for the 76ers to use cap space will run out this offseason if Butler returns. If Butler doesn't return, Philadelphia would have $50 million in room.

Phoenix Suns

Projected room: $20 million

Who returns: Devin Booker, TJ Warren, Deandre Ayton, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo, De'Anthony Melton, Richaun Holmes (free-agent hold) and first-rounder (own)

Who may be gone: Ryan Anderson (waived), Kelly Oubre Jr., Troy Daniels, Dragan Bender and Jamal Crawford

Other charges: Incomplete roster charge ($2.7 million)

Despite losing $17 million in cap space when they extended Devin Booker before the season, Phoenix could still be in a position to go free-agent shopping, most notably for a permanent solution at point guard.

Creating the room does come with the cost of not retaining restricted free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. and waiving the contract of Ryan Anderson.

Sacramento Kings

Projected room: $44 million

Who returns: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley III, Nemanja Bjelica, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, Yogi Ferrell (contract guaranteed), Frank Mason and Willie Cauley-Stein (free-agent hold)

Who may be gone: Iman Shumpert, Kosta Koufos, Zach Randolph and Ben McLemore

Other charges: Matt Barnes ($2.1 million) and incomplete roster charge ($897,000)

The Kings face the unique situation of developing their own former first-round picks with a goal of using cap space to lure free agents in 2019.

Sacramento can pitch free agents on a competitive team featuring one of the best, young backcourts in the NBA with Fox and Hield.

The wild-card teams

New Orleans Pelicans

Will GM Dell Demps have another opportunity outside of the trade deadline and the draft to persuade Anthony Davis to sign a long-term contract? If he does, free agency will be his last resort.

The pitch to Davis is the ability to pick a teammate in the offseason with a projected $32 million in cap space. However, creating the room would see the Pelicans' roster stripped bare with only Davis, Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore and their own first-round pick left on the team.

Milwaukee Bucks

Moving the contracts of John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova gave the Bucks the financial flexibility to either retain their own free agents -- Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon -- or look elsewhere. But with a team owning the league's best net rating, retaining all three core pieces should be the priority for the front office, despite the tease of creating up to $42 million in room.

The Bucks could have $22 million in room if the price tag for Bledsoe becomes too expensive and they can't retain him.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have built their roster through the draft and trades, with free agency as a distant third option. That is why the scenario of Utah becoming a player in the free-agent chase should be met with hesitancy.

The team could create north of $20 million in room but that would come at the expense of starters Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio.