Each week throughout the 2021-22 NBA season, we’ll dig deeper into some of the league’s biggest storylines to see if trends are more fact-based or fiction-based moving forward.
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The 2022 NBA buyout market is robust
When the trade deadline passed without the Lakers budging, “NBA Today” host Malika Andrews shared ESPN colleague Adrian Wojnarowski’s report that Los Angeles “focus on the buyout market“, former players turned panelists Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson laughed.
They know the history of the league’s buyout market, especially Perkins, who was waived after the February 2015 trade deadline and joined the Cleveland Cavaliers from LeBron James. Perkins played a wasted 33 minutes in eight playoff appearances and had no significant 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 streak. Drummond signed with the Lakers, while Griffin and Aldridge joined the Brooklyn Nets, and the two title favorites lost in the first and second rounds respectively.
People often point to 38-year-old PJ Brown as the best buyout addition in NBA history, but he doesn’t even qualify. Brown came out of retirement to join the Celtics in March 2008 and made a clutch bucket in the dying moments of a Game 7 win over the Cavaliers in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The same goes for Chris Andersen, who sat at home all season when James’ Miami Heat signed him to back-to-back 10-day contracts and eventually added him to their playoff rotation in January 2013.
The list of top 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 final. Traditionally, the buyout market has represented false hope.
This year’s contenders have two weeks to negotiate a buyout before 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 could actually win significant minutes for a competitor in the right situation. Whether or not any of them want to join a team under .500 Lakers bound for the play-in tournament is another matter altogether.
Goran Dragic, San Antonio Spurs
As soon as the Toronto Raptors traded Goran Dragic’s $19.4 million expiring salary to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday for Thaddeus Young and the right to move up 10-15 spots in the draft, signals an impending gap. The Mavericks are considered the favorites to land Dragicwho played in the Slovenian national team with Dallas star Luka Doncic, but the 35-year-old will have several suitors in the coming weeks.
Dragic started for the Heat in the 2020 playoffs before a foot injury in the Finals. Back issues plagued him last season and he hasn’t played since leaving the Raptors for personal reasons in mid-November. There’s no guarantee he can stay healthy, although he can make a significant contribution as a playmaker.
Dennis Schröder, 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 is already planning to give up Freedom. Assuming the Rockets have no chance of re-signing Schroder, he should also find his way to the buyout market.
The Lakers let Schroder walk in free agency in 2021, and his market was so low that the Celtics signed him to a one-year contract. The league took another shot at Schroder at the deadline, when Boston bought him off everyone else and found little to no value in return. Schroder isn’t without talent and could be a decent point guard option for, say, the Milwaukee Bucks, but his decision making has never translated into a playoff basketball victory at a high level and can be difficult to integrate 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 when that deal ends in Orlando.
Harris was a net negative taking in $20 million a year and shooting below league average from 3-pointers the past three seasons, but he’s back to 39% this season, and that’s a lot. more attractive on a minimum contract for the rest. of the season. He could probably start for the Lakers right now.
Robin Lopez, Orlando Magic
There is perhaps no veteran happier stacking DNPs for an abysmal team than Robin Lopez in Orlando, where he can spend his days off at Disney World. If he wanted to compete for a playoff team, the Magic would surely accept a buyout of his expiring salary of $5 million, and he could provide one-time service as a backup center for a contender. The Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors come to mind as teams that can use glass-breaking size in an emergency behind Joel Embiid and Kevon Looney, respectively.
Lopez helped tip the Washington Wizards’ lone playoff victory last season. The last time he played for a real contender, however, he was limited to a few playoff minutes behind his brother Brook on the 2020 Bucks. There are worse options to avoid disaster in a playoff game if a center departure encounters reprehensible problems.
There may not be any other significant playoff contributors beyond the aforementioned four players who will become available. John Wall is a long shot at best. The Rockets should keep him in case the Lakers are desperate enough to trade Russell Westbrook and a draft pick for the final year of Wall’s deal this summer. Eric Bledsoe and the Blazers aren’t long for each other, but he could actually hurt a playoff team. The Los Angeles Clippers own Robert Covington’s Bird Rights, so don’t expect to see him hit the market.
Guys like De’Andre Bembry, DJ Augustin, E’Twaun Moore and Freedom will soon clear waivers, but the teams that rely on them to fill playoff minutes are in trouble. The 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 didn’t help mediocre-to-bad teams, what hope does a contender have of effectively integrating 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 could help a contender. Changing the result of just one game could be all the difference a team needs this year. Dragic may not turn the Mavericks or the Lakers or anyone else into a contender on the street, but he could make a late jump in a Game 7 if the rest of the team is good enough to get him there. History reminds us that this is wishful thinking, as the buyout market is never robust and always better in theory than in practice.
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is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him or follow him on Twitter!