First the standard caveat this summer - lockout, unknown rules, all that . . .
A hard cap might change the system dramatically but it also appears to be a position the NBA Players Union won't accept.
Assuming the owners and players eventually agree on how to split up the pie before losing a season, at some point the enjoyable off-court part of the NBA will resume (free agency, trades, etc.)
Last week's report on trade targets (On The Block: Who Should Be Ready to Move?) and HOOPSWORLD's always-thorough Jason Fleming put together a list of free agents to work of off (2011 Free Agents: Position-by-Position) and a list of Who's Got Space?. . . so once the league is back in business, what should happen?
Keep in mind what's to follow is completely hypothetical and there's no way to address every single issue with every single free agent on every single team:
David West to the Indiana Pacers - West is one of the top free agents this offseason despite a knee injury (ACL) that ended his season in March. The Pacers made the playoffs this past season and have been targeting this summer with cap room for a number of years.
The Pacers are a young team. For now, they're committed to building around Danny Granger which means Indiana needs to bring in a veteran.
West is a former All-Star. He's not a beast on the boards but he has a very steady face-up jump shot that should mesh nicely with center Roy Hibbert and point guard Darren Collison (his former New Orleans teammate).
Although Tyler Hansbrough had some strong moments at the four this past year, against the Chicago Bulls in the first round he needed 60 field-goal attempts to score 56 points (33.3%) from the field.
Hibbert, Hansbrough and West would make a solid tandem inside to go with Granger, Collison and the recently acquired George Hill from the San Antonio Spurs. The team is eager to see Paul George develop into a core piece.
The Pacers are open to moving James Posey's expiring contract, Brandon Rush and Dahntay Jones for complementary parts.
It might make sense to keep Mike Dunleavy at a good price, to help flesh out the roster. He's not spectacular but he's solid enough.
One thing about West, he can be very humble and unassuming. Playing in Indiana might appeal more to him than in a glitzier market like New York or Los Angeles. More importantly, the Pacers may have a ton of cap room . . . whatever that means post-lockout.
Losing West means the Hornets re-sign Carl Landry and land Reggie Evans.
Nene Re-signs with the Denver Nuggets - The rules may change. Teams may find ways to open up additional cap space but going by the list of teams projected to have cap space, Denver seems the inevitable answer for Nene.
The Pacers have Hibbert and now David West.
The Sacramento Kings already have DeMarcus Cousins and now J.J. Hickson.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are Ricky Rubio and like two dozen big men. The Los Angeles Clippers are well-stocked at the four and five.
The Washington Wizards are rebuilding and have JaVale McGee. The only competition might be the New Jersey Nets but they may look to mind their finances closely with an eye ahead to Dwight Howard.
If the sign and trade survives the new CBA, Nene can try and force something but even that seems a stretch.
The Nuggets, post-Carmelo Anthony, were much, much better than people expected. The team needs him back and, in order to get paid, that's where he'll turn to stay.
Denver also keeps restricted free agent Arron Afflalo. Kenyon Martin ends up somewhere else. Where? How about the New York Knicks on a one-year?
Kris Humphries and Andrei Kirilenko to New Jersey Nets - It's not quite clear how the money will break down given the new rules, but Humphries is the kind of banger/rebounder Brook Lopez needs alongside him.
The Nets have literally no one at the four and the duo of Hump and AK will be strong in the East.
Does Kim Kardashian want to be a Jersey girl? No, but the Nets are moving to Brooklyn, so it will do.
Kirilenko will give fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov a discount (although the market for Andrei won't be nearly as high as his just-expired contract).
Andrei can play also play the three if the Nets want to go big and Travis Outlaw struggles again in his second season with the team.
DeAndre Jordan Re-signs with the Los Angeles Clippers - D.J. is a restricted free agent but more importantly he's Blake Griffin's best friend on the team. That's not to suggest Jordan hasn't earned a big deal without putting in the work. He made great strides this past year as a starter, especially defensively.
Keeping Jordan allows the Clippers to trade Chris Kaman at a later date.
If the long-term answer doesn't appear at the three over the offseason, Shane Battier would be an economic pickup
A Number of Re-signings - Most restricted free agents, like Jordan, will stay home. The Boston Celtics gave up too much (Kendrick Perkins) not to keep Jeff Green. Figure the Celtics keep Delonte West as well and lure a big man like Joel Przybilla for a couple of years.
Greg Oden has nowhere else to go but to Portland for the $8.8 million already offered (for one year).
The Miami HEAT have no one at the point but rookie Norris Cole and will have to make sure Mario Chalmers sticks around. There's a chance the Mid-Level Exception goes away in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) but the players are adamant it stays. If the HEAT can generate some level of spending power, Samuel Dalembert will sign.
The Philadelphia 76ers will keep their restricted free agents as well (Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young). Look for Andre Iguodala to be shopped but there may not be enough time post-lockout for Andre to be dealt before the season.
Marc Gasol will stay with the Memphis Grizzlies. If budget doesn't get too out of control then O.J. Mayo will be shopped. If money is an issue, then Rudy Gay may end up on the block but the safer bet is Mayo.
Nick Young will stay with the Washington Wizards. So too will Rodney Stuckey (and Jonas Jerebko) in Detroit with the Pistons and Marco Belinelli with the Hornets.
Mark Cuban will keep the band together with Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and even Caron Butler. DeShawn Stevenson may need a new home but he could re-sign for the minimum and an even smaller role.
Vince Carter Waived by Phoenix Suns, Signs with the Charlotte Bobcats - The Suns will try to trade Carter but instead will cut him for $4 million instead of paying him $14.3 million. The Bobcats need a vet two-guard and Vince won't mind going home in his old age. The Bobcats also need a five but that's going to have to come in trade.
Lack of depth at the position would mean Kwame Brown back to Charlotte for another year.
The New York Knicks Sign Troy Murphy to a One-Year Deal - Ever mindful of the 2012 free agent class, the Knicks pick up Murphy who is a solid rebounder and a decent shooter (after an off season). Money isn't clear exactly because Kenyon Martin as noted above goes to New York as well, but put it down.
Yao Ming Retires. The Houston Rockets Re-Sign Chuck Hayes - He may be way, way too short to be a center but it's worked for him in Houston. Long-term the Rockets need to reshuffle the deck . . . and they will via trade.
Jeff Foster Signs with the Los Angeles Lakers - L.A. needs a backup to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and Foster has played for Coach Mike Brown in Indiana. The Lakers also sign a younger power forward prospect instead of Derrick Caracter.
L.A. could use a combo guard to back up Kobe Bryant. How about Willie Green?
They will shop Lamar Odom but the timing may have to wait until the season starts.
The Lakers are another team looking at the 2012 free agents and Odom happens to have a very attractive, partially guarantee contract that year.
Jamal Crawford Re-signs with Atlanta Hawks (reluctantly) - It comes down to teams with the resources to spend and Crawford, after looking around extensively, takes the best he can get financially in Atlanta.
Trade Market Too Confusing to Even Guess On - Before teams make blockbuster deals, they typically look to solve their problems via free agency. When they get shut out on their targets, then they act.
While there's just too much up in the air to make any bold predictions, the Orlando Magic need to land Josh Smith from the Hawks. He's not even the perfect fit next to Howard but he's a guy Dwight is close to.
Jameer Nelson and Brandon Bass would appear to be the most attractive pieces but isn't Jeff Teague emerging in Atlanta? If the Hawks move Smith, while Bass might help, they need a true center to allow Al Horford to play the four.
Kaman would make sense in Atlanta except thus far L.A. hasn't any interest in Smith.
The Clippers would like Iguodala but the Sixers (so far) want more than Kaman.
Regarding Jameer, not many teams need starting caliber point guards. The Lakers, HEAT, Knicks (thinking beyond Chauncey Billups, although Nelson's extra year could be an issue), Phoenix (anticipating Steve Nash moving on), San Antonio Spurs (if Tony Parker ends up back on the block), Toronto Raptors (if Jose Calderon finally moved) and possibly a couple of other teams might.
The Bucks have a point guard to spare in Beno Udrih, Shaun Livingston, Keyon Dooling . . . or even Brandon Jennings although if he's dealt, it's probably not during the offseason.
The Suns may move Nash at some point or let him finish out his contract. Aaron Brooks is a restricted free agent who will draw some interest around the league but may end up staying in Phoenix (possibly on a short-term deal). Grant Hill stays to finish out his career. Michael Redd seems a natural fit.
The Bobcats can offer Boris Diaw, D.J. Augustin and others to try and get a center although Bismack Biyombo may end up a Ben Wallace-like starter at the five.
The Chicago Bulls need a two but may go short-term and preserve their spending power in 2012 as well.
Could the Bulls go Sasha Vujacic on a one-year deal?
Who is Left?
The Magic need to improve but given the options, letting Jason Richardson go for nothing may not make enough sense.
How about Tayshaun Prince to Golden State? Dorell Wright is the starting three so there's that concern, but Prince would add size and defense to a team that badly needs it.
The Sacramento Kings have to pay someone but who and at what position? They've got a sizable investment now in John Salmons and the rest of the starting lineup includes young, promising kids.
Ink restricted free agent Marcus Thornton back to Sacramento.
Another quandary - the Detroit Pistons. Where do you start?
Big Baby Davis? He had a terrible playoff but he may end up sticking Boston.
J.R. Smith? Somewhere else. Call it Minnesota Timberwolves. No it doesn't make sense to put Smith next to Michael Beasley and the impressionable Ricky Rubio, that's why it's as good as a lock.
Wilson Chandler? He could end up staying in Denver for the one-year tender.
Tracy McGrady? Shannon Brown? Aaron Gray? They'll find jobs but the crystal ball is running low on juice.
What about amnesty if that comes into play?
Players like Rashard Lewis, Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas (or Hedo Turkoglu), Marvin Williams, Brendan Haywood, Al Harrington, Rip Hamilton, Andris Biedrins, Travis Outlaw, Josh Childress could all hit free agency and mix up an already complicated, shortened off-season.
Of course if the lockout lasts a full year, the 2012 class of free agents may have already played their final games for their current teams . . .