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NBA AM: Why Teams Buy Out NBA Players

Explaining why NBA teams decide to buy out players … What are NBA players really looking for in free agency?

Steve Kyler

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Why Teams Buy Out Players:  As the Philadelphia 76ers continue to talk contract buyout terms with recently acquired forward Danny Granger and the Milwaukee Bucks attempt to do the same with forward Caron Butler, a common question is why doesn’t Team X just buy out Player Y, especially when Team X is going nowhere? There are a couple of reasons some teams consider buying out players and here are a few of them:

Changing The Culture

The Orlando Magic opted to buy out not only the remaining balance of the money they owed forward Glen Davis, they also absorbed the $6.6 million owed to him next year. In total, the Magic agreed to pay Davis some $8.6 million to not be on the team any more for a couple of reasons. They wanted to open up a roster spot and playing time, but more importantly they wanted a combative and sometimes negative influence out of their locker room.

Davis struggled with the role the Magic had for him and would often vent his frustrations to other players and to the media. Davis was never “bad” but he was clearly not a happy camper going along with the program. The Magic wanted the negative influence away from their impressionable younger players, so they got rid of him.

The New York Knicks did much of the same with forward Metta World Peace and guard Beno Udrih. Neither had carved out a role in New York under head coach Mike Woodson and both expressed frustration publicly and privately about how things were being run. The Knicks tried to trade both players at several points in the season and agreed to buy them out to get them out of the locker room and off the team. They have opted to replace them with forward Earl Clark and guard Shannon Brown, both of whom may have a chance to earn minutes or at least be content with being on the team, something neither World Peace nor Udrih were willing to accept.

»In Related: The Complete List Of Salary Cap Exceptions

Money To Be Saved

In the case of Granger and Butler, both are being asked to leave a sizable amount of money on the table in exchange for their release. What’s typically being asked is for the player to leave the amount of money another team is likely to sign them for once they clear waivers. This is a straight business transaction.

Granger has some $4.04 million remaining on his deal. The 76ers will owe him that whether he plays a minute of basketball for them or not. From Philly’s chair, this is a straight expense. They owe $4.04 million. Will Granger save them $1 million to be free? How about $2 million? The Sixers were significantly under the required minimum salary “floor” defined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Had they not done the Granger deal with the Indiana Pacers, they would have had to write a check to their existing roster players for the balance. So again, this was an expense the 76ers were paying. How much will Granger reduce that expense to be free? That’s what’s being negotiated. The 76ers are more than happy to let Granger’s contract run out and eat the cost. They had agreed and planned for that when they traded for him.

In Butler’s case, cost is a factor especially for a Bucks team that tends to be on the low side of the revenue pool, but his is more of a combination of respect for the situation Milwaukee finds itself in and the chance to trim a little money off the bill.

So while Granger and Butler are being asked to leave some cash on the table, in Philadelphia this is strictly a business move to reduce outgoing cost.

Open Up Some Roster Spots

The Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings and even the New York Knicks all opted to buy out players to open up roster spots. They wanted to have the ability to either bring in new players that were sitting in the free agent pool or have the ability to add development players for an extended look or players that get released via other buyouts.

Orlando has already filled its two open spots with development players, while the Knicks have filled their two open spots with different veterans. The Kings are expected to replace guard  Jimmer Fredette once they finalize his buyout today and started working out players a few days ago. They seem close to a deal with recently released guard Orlando Johnson.

Not Everyone Wants To Play Ball

There are a few teams holding on to players that are clearly “buyout” candidates. The Utah Jazz have a couple of veterans in forwards Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams who are prime buyout candidates. While both players were surely approached about gaining their release from the 20-37 Jazz, it seems neither the player nor the team were seriously willing to engage in the quid pro quo required to gain their release. The Jazz didn’t necessarily need the roster spots and the players are unwilling to leave cash on the table. That could always change, but as of today those players seem like they are staying where they are. In Williams’ case he told Basketball Insiders recently that he really liked Utah, his family had settled in nicely and he hopes to be part of the future of the team. That’s likely one of the reasons the Jazz turned down a few trade scenarios with Williams that could have netted them a draft pick.

Some teams are reluctant out of principal to pay players to leave a team, so not everyone is willing to play ball on buying out a player.

»In Related: The History of NBA Trades

What Free Agents Look For?:  The New York Knicks’ season continues to slip away from them, having lost three straight games and eight of their last 10. More and more focus is being put on what forward Carmelo Anthony may do in his expected free agency in July. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is not that far behind Anthony with his free agency set for July of 2015, and Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant is the next one after that in July of 2016.

In talking with a number of NBA players that are either looking at free agency soon or have gone through free agency recently, there are a few things players tend to focus on in making their decision:

»In Related: Could Carmelo Choose The Rockets Or The HEAT?

Money Matters

There is a great movie line that goes something like this – anyone who says money doesn’t matter usually doesn’t have any. NBA players care about money. Money to players is more than the zeroes in their bank account. It is status, it is security and it is a validation of who they are in the grand scheme of things.

Players receiving a max contract are hard to trade. Players receiving a max contract are almost always starters. Players receiving a max contract are generally considered the team’s franchise player. Whether a player is truly “worth” a max deal is irrelevant compared to what a max contract says about a player.

Players who take the NBA minimum or sign for a low-dollar deal are far easier to trade. They are far easier to bench. There is less status with less money. Why are some guys sitting at home on the sofa instead of playing the role of an eighth man? Because it’s really hard to shake the minimum contract label after you have taken it.

Anthony doesn’t need another dollar in his bank account for his family to be secure for their rest of their lives; he’s already earned more than $135 million in his 11 NBA seasons. His next deal will be worth $100 million or more, not because Anthony needs the cash, but because he covets what the cash says about him as a player in the NBA and where he is at in his career.

Could Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant have taken less than the two years and $48 million he agreed to early in the season? Sure. Bryant has earned more than $279 million in his playing career. He didn’t need the money, but if you go back and look how his deal was characterized when announced, it was said the deal kept Bryant as the highest paid player in the NBA. That’s a status players covet almost more than the cash associated with it.

Money matters. No matter how frequently players talk about taking less to win, it almost never happens that way because the money means more in the grand scheme of a player’s image than the actual cash in the deal.

It’s the Future Not the Past

Nervous Knicks fans wonder how the current struggles and dysfunction are going to impact Anthony’s decision. Wolves fans are in the same place with Love.

The truth of the situation is that players don’t tend to look at the past as much as the future. What will tomorrow look like? When the money becomes equal, how the team will be structured, the role the player will play and the prospects of a brighter future tend to trump things that may have happened in the past.

It’s naive to think the past doesn’t matter at all, because it does, especially if the team is preaching a “stay the course” message.

The Lakers lost Dwight Howard because he could not see a brighter future in L.A. for a number of reasons. And seeing how this season has played out for him in Houston versus how things have crumbled apart in Los Angeles with all the injuries, Howard was clearly right for his own personal goals. Now next year and the year after are a different story for the Lakers, but asking a guy to wait two years until you can right the ship is a scary proposition, especially for players with a limited shelf life.

The Knicks will face this same dilemma with Anthony. They won’t have the ability to reshape the team this summer in a significant way, their message is going to be “wait until 2015” and that’s going to be a hard sell for Anthony, who will turn 30 this summer.

»In Related: The New York Knicks Team Salary Page

A franchise’s history of rebuilding and making good decisions weighs heavily into the process. There are some teams that just never seem to make bad decisions and there are other teams that can’t seem to get the decisions right. When charting who offers the best future, which is really what a new contract is about, understanding who has proven they can do it matters, especially once the money becomes equal or near equal.

In Howard’s case, he was making $20.513 million this year regardless of where he signed. He believed that Houston could make it happen faster than Los Angeles, and with the Lakers sitting at 19-38 and the worst record in the West compared to Houston’s 39-18 record, Howard got what he wanted: the chance to win this year.

The fear for New York is that another team gets to the table with a more proven track record than the Knicks and is willing to meet the $22.5 million asking price. That’s when a brighter future faster may trump what the Knicks can offer.

Can I Be Happy Here?

Having talked to a number of free agents about their decision to leave a team that seemed ideal, a recurring theme surfaces a lot: wanting to be happy.

When the money becomes equal, being in a situation where you can truly enjoy the fruits of your career matters. Being around players you know and are comfortable with matters and being around an organization that you feel a connection with matters. This is where the Knicks win the Anthony debate. He loves playing in New York and the Knicks have very wisely coddled him and involved him in all their major decisions.

Like most people who look at new jobs, where the job is located and the lifestyle that you can have in a particular market matter. Who your co-workers are and the relationships you have with management matter.

Jarrett Jack left a great situation in Golden State not just because of the money, but because of the connection he had to head coach Mike Brown. Now that situation hasn’t panned out like either expected, but Jack had options elsewhere and chose Cleveland because he thought he’d be comfortable there.

Jason Maxiell chose Orlando, mainly because of his long history with Magic assistant general manager Scott Perry and felt he could trust the situation in Orlando.

At the end of the day when the money becomes equal, believing you can be happy somewhere matters. Having a bunch of money and being miserable every day tends to be counterproductive; that’s one of the reasons Howard left the Lakers.

So as the days on the calendar tick away, and free agency becomes more and more of the focus, especially for the Knicks, understanding that when players sit down to talk about the future, there is more than zeroes being considered in the equation and for each player what’s most important to them is uniquely different.

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NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?

The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.

Bobby Krivitsky

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After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.

Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.

Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.

Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

 

 

While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).

One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.

Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.

So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.

Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.

If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season. 

Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.

If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.

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NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford

Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.

Dylan Thayer

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As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt. 

Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School. 

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.

During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie. 

“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”

If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball. 

Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.

As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause. 

This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.

The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors. 

As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core. 

Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford. 

Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to. 

Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.

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NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future

Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.

Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.

If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.

The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.

Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.

There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.

The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.

It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.

But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.

Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.

Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.

But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.

Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.

That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).

Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.

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