NBA buyout guide: Who are the best players likely to reach midseason free agency, and where will they go?
Typically, in the NBA, the buyout market is only as good as the deal deadline that preceded it. While it’s hardly unheard of for teams to turn away veterans they’ve kept throughout the season, it’s not exactly the norm. Even if the losing team has a veteran with an expiring contract, they usually prefer to keep that player if he is suitable for the locker room, and when they are, such players are not always keen to leave mid-season anyway.
No, the best buyout candidates are almost always brought to market through bidding. These are players who may have actually contributed to their previous teams but were sold as payroll ballast in a larger deal to a franchise that doesn’t need them. When this happens, the player offers to give up part of his salary – often any amount he earns from a proportional minimum deal with someone else – in exchange for the right to find a new team through a free agent.
We just had one of the most active deadlines in recent years and as such we are heading towards one of the most active buyout markets in recent memory. Let’s take a look at some of the most likely ransom candidates in the coming days, and where they might end up once the dust settles.
We knew about Westbrook’s upcoming buyout even before he was traded. When Wednesday’s Utah deal was just a rumor, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes revealed that the Jazz would likely buy Westbrook out upon arrival. Expect news on this front soon, and we’ve already covered several possible directions in detail. Here.
So far, reports have linked Westbrook to the Clippers and Bulls, though those Clippers reports came before the team added Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland in the deadline. It is unclear whether these steps will change the situation. More important to Westbrook is the flood of bad press he received after he was traded. One source described him as Dave McMenamin of ESPN like a “vampire” in their locker room. He had hot exchange with Darwin Ham on Tuesday. He had one with Phil Handy at the start of the season. Sam Amik of The Athletic and Jovan Buha reported that there were members of the organization who thought they might have to drop him, and that “the coaching staff struggled with Westbrook’s unwillingness to be held accountable for his game.”
Teams will be wary of adding a personality like Westbrook to their locker room at the end of the season. Someone is going to do it, and the Clippers, judging by his pre-existing relationship with Paul George and the fact that he won’t have to leave Los Angeles, are probably the favorites. But signing him is a significant risk that no team will take lightly.
Shams Charania from Athletic reports that the Hornets are likely to buy Jackson after acquiring him on Thursday, and we already have an idea of where he’s headed. Haynes informed that Jackson would most likely contact the Suns if he received a ransom, and that makes sense. All four of Phoenix’s top defensemen have been injured this season, and Phoenix are desperate for depth after trading most of their roster for Kevin Durant.
Of course, the Clippers let him go for a reason. His scoring has declined significantly, and over the past two years he has made just 33.3% of three-point shots. Given his size and defensive limitations, one might wonder how much more Jackson has to offer a playoff team. Luckily, the Suns have so many top-notch talent that they should be able to hide Jackson’s weaknesses pretty well.
Another team to watch? Denver Nuggets. Jackson is at the top of their buyout wish list, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post, and the seasoned point guard grew up in Colorado Springs. Denver’s back-up spot suddenly opened wide after the Nuggets sent Hyland to the Clippers, so don’t be surprised if they swoop in and grab him before Phoenix does.
Danny Green is an intriguing buyout target for the same reason he might not get a buyout at all: he fits everywhere. Green’s skill set in 3-D can help any team, and he is a respected veteran teammate. The Rockets didn’t buy Dennis Schroeder last season, so they may not buy Green now. If they do? Keep an eye on two of his former teams, the Lakers and the 76ers, as destinations that could use him in their rotations.
Keep in mind, however, that Green, 35, has only played three games since returning from an ACL tear. There’s really no way to know how much he still has left in the tank, but given the minimum cost of buyback add-ons, there will be a lot of teams wanting to find out.
Patrick Beverley looked almost unplayable early in the season, but over the past two months or so, he’s found his shot, shooting 42.6 percent of his 3-pointers over the last 25 games. He is no longer the defender he once was, he has lost a lot of speed and fouls too often. But it’s also undeniable that he’s a defensive culture setter who can still help teams in smaller doses.
Orlando is probably too far out of the playoff race to justify keeping him, so expect him to enter the buyout market soon. If he does, his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, will instantly become the favorite to re-sign him. Last season, he became a fan favorite. reports indicated at the start of the season that he would like to return.
Here is one of our few non-trading candidates. Kevin Love was a 6th Man of the Year nominee last season and started the season just as effectively. However, he has only shot 36.8% from the field since the beginning of December and recently fell out of the rotation. Pair that struggle with his career-long defensive woes and it’s not hard to see why Cleveland might be ready to move on. Matt Moore of Action Network reported that Love could be a candidate for buyout.
Love is the icon of the franchise. If he wants to stay with Cleveland, the Cavs will gladly keep him. If he wants to play elsewhere, he will most likely be accepted. If he goes public, the Lakers make sense given his UCLA roots and former partnership with LeBron James. However, the Lakers just traded two big players, so it’s not clear how interested they are in adding another one. How about Denver as a fallback for recently acquired Thomas Bryant? Love’s departure would allow them to maintain some stylistic continuity as Nikola Jokic retires to the bench. The 76ers are also in dire need of another backup big man, although they would prefer a traditional center to a power forward like Love.
The Clippers were John Wall’s escape from Houston eight months ago. Sending him there on the deadline was almost cruel, but luckily for Wall, he was unlikely to stay there. Without a $47 million contract standing between him and free agency, the Rockets will likely buy him out fairly quickly.
But the big question is, can Wall still play? The Clippers signed him to put pressure on the rim and pick up the pace. He wasn’t effective, didn’t defend close to his peak, and didn’t shoot at an acceptable percentage. Wall probably can’t help a rival at this point, but hey, the Wizards are always open to new forms of mediocrity. Why not re-sign Wall and sell some tickets and T-shirts in the middle of another lost season?
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Washington is working on a buyout for Will Burton, which is not particularly surprising given his performance this season. His numbers are declining across the board, and he’s pretty much fallen out of the rotation lately. However, he was a valuable starter last season in Denver, so some team is sure to give him another shot at the rotation.
A reunion in Denver would make a lot of sense, but unfortunately the Nuggets can’t get Barton back until a year has passed since they traded him. As such, teams need to learn a bit about how to handle the ball on the bench. How about Mavericks? They have two elite ball handlers in Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic, but there are very few of them. Barton could provide valuable insurance.
Harania reported that the Pacers would buy Serge Ibaka, and that would be fine with him. He wanted Milwaukee to trade him so he could find consistent playing time and now he would have a chance to do so. However, this does not mean that he will have a queue of eager potential employers. Ibaka barely played this season. The Bucks didn’t use it last season, and the Clippers sent it to landfill by 2022.
Ibaka is one of the best 3-and-D centers in the last decade. This is a rare and valuable set of skills. He can probably still shoot 3s. If he’s going to find a new team, he’ll have to convince them that he can still defend himself. It won’t be an easy task for the 33-year-old big man, who hasn’t had much success over the past year.