Each week during the 2021-22 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
[ Last week’s Fact or Fiction: LaMelo Ball, Anthony Davis and the biggest All-Star snubs ]
The 2022 NBA buyout market is robust
When the trade deadline passed without the Lakers making a move, “NBA Today” host Malika Andrews shared ESPN colleague Adrian Wojnarowski’s report that Los Angeles will instead “focus on the buyout market,” former players turned panelists Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson erupted in laughter.
They know the history of the league’s buyout market, especially Perkins, who was waived following the February 2015 trade deadline and joined LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Perkins played 33 garbage minutes over eight playoff appearances and made no meaningful impact on Cleveland’s 2015 Finals run.
Even last season, when three former All-Stars — Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond — were bought out, none of them swung a playoff series. Drummond signed with the Lakers, while Griffin and Aldridge joined the Brooklyn Nets, and the two title favorites lost in the first and second round, respectively.
People often point to a 38-year-old PJ Brown as the best buyout addition in NBA history, but he does not even qualify. Brown came out of retirement to join the Celtics in March 2008 and made a clutch bucket in the waning moments of a Game 7 victory against the Cavaliers in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals.
The same is true of Chris Andersen, who was sitting at home all season when James’ Miami Heat signed him to back-to-back 10-day contracts and ultimately added him to their playoff rotation in January 2013.
The list of best buyout signings in NBA history includes Tim Thomas (2006 Phoenix Suns), Peja Stojakovic (2011 Dallas Mavericks), Derek Fisher (2012 Oklahoma City Thunder), Boris Diaw (2012 San Antonio Spurs), Joe Johnson (2016 Miami Heat ) and Enes Kanter (2019 Portland Trail Blazers). Only Stojakovic won a title, and he was unplayable in the Finals. Traditionally speaking, the buyout market has false hope.
This year’s candidates have two weeks to negotiate a buyout by the March 1 deadline to be eligible for playoff rosters, and there are at least a few intriguing players who could become available. A handful of them might actually earn meaningful minutes for a contend in the right situation. Whether or not any of them want to join a sub-.500 Lakers team bound for the play-in tournament is another matter entirely.
Goran Dragic, San Antonio Spurs
As soon as the Toronto Raptors traded Goran Dragic’s $19.4 million expiring salary on Thursday to the San Antonio Spurs for Thaddeus Young and the right to move up 10-15 spots in the draft, word of an impending spread. The Mavericks are considered frontrunners to land Dragicwho played on the Slovenian national team with Dallas star Luka Doncic, but the 35-year-old will have multiple suitors in the weeks to come.
Dragic did start for the Heat in the 2020 playoffs before a foot injury in the Finals. Back problems plagued him last season, and he has not played since leaving the Raptors for personal reasons in mid-November. There is no guarantee he can stay healthy, even if he can make a meaningful contribution as a playmaker.
Dennis Schroeder, Houston Rockets
The Boston Celtics traded the expiring contracts of Dennis Schroder, Bruno Fernando and Enes Freedom to the Houston Rockets on Thursday for Daniel Theis. Houston already plans to waive Freedom. Assuming the Rockets have no chance to re-sign Schroder, he should also find his way to the buyout market.
The Lakers let Schroder walk in 2021 free agency, and his market was so low that the Celtics signed him to a bargain one-year deal. The league had another shot at Schroder at the deadline, when Boston bought him to everyone and found little to no value in return. Schroder is not without talent and could be a decent backup point guard option for, say, the Milwaukee Bucks, but his decision-making from him has never translated to winning playoff basketball at a high level and can be difficult to incorporate into an established culture .
Gary Harris, Orlando Magic
Gary Harris is no longer the promising prospect who signed an $84 million rookie contract extension with the Denver Nuggets in 2017, but Harris is still a serviceable 3-and-D wing at the end of that deal in Orlando.
Harris was a net negative cashing $20 million annually and shooting below league average from 3-point range the past three seasons, but he is back up to 39% this season, and that is a whole lot more attractive on a minimum contract for the remainder of the season. He could probably start for the Lakers right now.
Robin Lopez, Orlando Magic
There may be no veteran happier to stack DNPs for an abysmal team than Robin Lopez in Orlando, where he can spend his off days at Disney World. Should he want to compete for a playoff team, the Magic would surely accommodate a buyout of his $5 million expiring salary, and he could provide spot duty as a backup center for a contender. The Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors spring to mind as teams that can use some break-glass-in-case-of-emergency size behind Joel Embiid and Kevon Looney, respectively.
Lopez did help swing the Washington Wizards’ lone playoff win last season. When last he played for a real contest, though, he was limited to garbage playoff minutes behind his brother Brook on the 2020 Bucks. There are worse options to stave off disaster in one playoff game should a starting center find foul trouble.
There may not be another meaningful playoff contributor beyond the aforementioned four players who will become available. John Wall is a long shot at best. The Rockets should keep him around in case the Lakers get desperate enough to swap Russell Westbrook and a draft pick for the final year of Wall’s deal over the summer. Eric Bledsoe and the Blazers are not long for each other, but he might actually hurt a playoff team. The Los Angeles Clippers own Robert Covington’s Bird Rights, so do not expect to see him hit the market.
Guys like De’Andre Bembry, DJ Augustin, E’Twaun Moore and Freedom will clear waivers soon, but teams relying on them to fill playoff minutes are in trouble. Same goes for Jeremy Lamb, Tomas Satoransky, Ben McLemore, Cory Joseph, Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, Mike Muscala, Semi Ojeleye, Raul Neto, Jake Layman and Juancho Hernangomez. If they were not helping mediocre to bad teams, what hope does a contender have to effectively incorporate them into an eight-man playoff rotation over the next six weeks.
In a season with no clear title favorite, the odds are greater that Dragic, Schroder or Harris can help to contend. Altering the outcome of a single game might be all the difference a team needs this year. Dragic may not transform the Mavericks or Lakers or whoever into a contender off the street, but he could make a jump shot late in a Game 7 if the rest of the team is good enough to get him there. History reminds us that is wishful thinking, because the buyout market is never robust and always better in theory than practice.
– – – – – – –