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NBA Saturday: Breaking Down the Buyout Market

The buyout market is taking shape. Here is the latest on players that are or will soon be up for grabs.

Jesse Blancarte

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After the trade deadline passes each season, at least a handful of teams start buyout discussions with players for various reasons. For teams, it’s an opportunity to save some money on players who are not in the team’s long-term plans. For the players, it’s an opportunity to hit the market and sign with a contender or a team that will give them a big role and a lot of playing time to showcase themselves for a new contract in the offseason.

Here is a breakdown of the players that have already been waived this season and the players that are likely to be bought out in the next few days.

Joe Johnson –

Johnson reached a buyout agreement with the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday and has committed to signing with the Miami HEAT, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical. Johnson is probably the best overall player on this season’s buyout market and has been shooting the ball particularly well since early January.

Johnson joins the HEAT in search of an opportunity to prove he’s worth another sizable contract in the upcoming offseason. At age 35, Johnson is well past his best years, but he can be an impact player for the HEAT, who are now thin in the backcourt with Beno Udrih and Tyler Johnson out for the season.

David Lee –

The Boston Celtics acquired Lee last offseason by trading Gerald Wallace and Chris Babb to the Golden State Warriors. With Draymond Green taking over as a do-everything power forward for the Warriors, there wasn’t much of a role left for Lee in Golden State.

Unfortunately, Lee never had much of a role with the Celtics either. In 30 appearances, he averaged 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.3 percent from the field.

Lee opted to sign with the Dallas Mavericks and is already making an impact. In his second game with his new team, Lee tallied 14 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. Lee is still capable of rebounding the ball and having the occasional scoring outburst, but his days as a 20-10 player are past him and his defense has always been problematic. Still, as far as buyout pick-ups go, this is a pretty solid one for the Mavericks.

Ty Lawson –

It’s been a rough season for Lawson, who was acquired by the Houston Rockets last offseason for Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, a 2016 first-round pick and cash consideration.

Lawson started the first 11 games of the season, but became a backup when J.B. Bickerstaff took over for Kevin McHale. The fit was always going to be tricky since both he and James Harden are ball-dominant guards. The hope was the two could learn to play off of one another, but that never came together.

The Rockets tried to trade Lawson before the trade deadline, engaging in discussions with teams like the Utah Jazz, but were unable to move him.

Lawson will draw interest from teams once he hits the market. However, Lawson hasn’t been an impact player all season and he comes with obvious issues (though reports indicate that he has conducted himself in a professional manner with the Rockets this season). If a team signs Lawson and can somehow get him to play at, or close to the level he played at in his peek years with the Nuggets, it will be a major addition.

Lawson has averaged six points, 3.5 assists and 1.7 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game for the Rockets this season.

Marcus Thornton –

Thornton, age 28, has played in 47 games this season for the Houston Rockets. He was originally included in the February 18 trade with the Detroit Pistons that was going to send Donatas Motiejunas to Detroit.

However, the Pistons voided the trade because of Motiejunas’ ongoing back issues, meaning that Thornton ended up staying put in Houston. Now, it is being reported by The Vertical that Houston will waive Thornton.

On the season, Thornton has averaged 10 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, while shooting 33.8 percent from distance and 47.3 percent from the field. Thornton is a career 35.9 percent three-point shooter. His ability to score the ball in bunches and spread the court with his streaky three-point shooting will make him an interesting buyout acquisition for teams in the need of scoring on the wing. Though he is shooting below his career-average from distance, he is still a decent threat from the outside.

Anderson Varejao –

Varejao was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, along with a second-round pick, in exchange for a second-round pick. Portland immediately waived the long-time Cavalier and Varejao soon after signed with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Varejao is an above average passer with a good motor. His size and ability to move the ball quickly should be a nice addition to the Warriors’ second-unit, especially with Festus Ezeli still sidelined.

J.J. Hickson –

The Denver Nuggets and Hickson agreed to a buyout last week and he soon after signed on with the Washington Wizards.

Hickson appeared in 20 games for the Nuggets this season. He averaged 6.9 point and 4.4 rebounds in 15.3 minutes per game.

Hickson, age 27, has bounced around the league, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers and the Nuggets. Hickson had one of his best statistical seasons in 2010-11 with Cleveland, where he averaged 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.

Andrea Bargnani –

The Brooklyn Nets waived forward Andrea Bargnani last Saturday. The former No.1 overall pick signed a two-year, veterans minimum contract (with a second-year player option) during the offseason.

In 46 games with the Nets, Bargnani averaged 6.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and shot just 18.8 percent distance and 47.1 percent from the field. It is unclear at this time where Bargnani may go, or if he will sit out the remainder of the season.

Bargnani is a career 35.4 percent three-point shooter, which in theory should make him a worthwhile addition for any team in need of court-spacing from the power forward or center positions. But with Bargnani taking just 0.3 three-point attempts per game and hitting just 18.8 percent of his attempts, it’s hard to see what kind of value he can bring to teams at this point.

Kevin Martin –

On Thursday, Marc Stein of ESPN reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves and shooting guard Kevin Martin are in advanced negotiations on a contract buyout.

Martin, age 33, has made a name for himself throughout his career for shooting well from three-point range (38.5 percent) and for drawings fouls and getting to the free throw line frequently. Martin’s per game numbers are down this season, but just last season he averaged 20 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, while shooting 39.3 percent from distance and 44.2 percent from the field.

Martin has averaged just 21.4 minutes this season and his shooting percentages have dropped off. However, Martin could be a nice addition for any team in need of a scoring-wing who can space the court. Martin’s defense is problematic, but there’s no doubt he is a scoring threat that opposing defenses will have to account for.

Andre Miller –

On Thursday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced that they had finalized a buyout with Andre Miller.

Miller, age 39, is a steady-handed floor general with a ton of experience. He isn’t much of a shooter and is limited in what he can do physically at this point in his career. But Miller’s game has never been dependent on athleticism and if a team is in need of an experienced point guard, there aren’t many players, if any, out there with more experience than Miller

In 26 games with the Timberwolves this season, Miller averaged 3.4 points and 2.2 assists per game.

Update: According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Miller has committed to signing with the San Antonio Spurs.

Chris Copeland –

The Milwaukee Bucks waived Copeland to clear a roster spot to add Steve Novak, who was bought out by the Nuggets, who acquired Novak in the deal that sent Randy Foye to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Orlando Magic soon after claimed Copeland off free agency waivers. Copeland, age 31, has never put up huge numbers in his short NBA career. However, in his first two seasons, he shot over 40 percent from distance and is a 36.5 career three-point shooter.

Steve Novak –

Novak, age 32, can do one thing exceptionally well, and that’s shoot the long-ball. Novak is a career 43.1 percent three-point shooter. If there was ever a team that needed additional shooting to space the floor, it’s this year’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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NBA Saturday: Harden-Paul Look to Further Houston’s Offensive Revolution

While questioned at first, the James Harden and Chris Paul tandem presents a lethal duo for the Houston Rockets, writes Dennis Chambers.

Dennis Chambers

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A marriage between Chris Paul and James Harden in the Houston Rockets’ backcourt was questionable from the minute it started.

After having a career year being the initiator of Houston’s offense, how was James Harden suddenly going to adjust having to share the backcourt with arguably the greatest floor general of his generation?

Yes, Harden played with superstar talent in Oklahoma City. But this is different. The Rockets were Harden’s team, and he’d come into his own as a superstar and an alpha dog during his time in Houston so far.

Through just a few games in the preseason though, it’s been evident that some of the questions about Harden and Paul’s fit were overstated.

Neither players’ averages will jump out at you. Harden is averaging 18.8 points and 10.2 assists in five games, while Paul is averaging 10.3 points and 8.3 assists in three games. Those numbers will inflate as the team shifts into regular season play and both guys start to play full-blown starter minutes.

But the game averages aren’t what helps paint the picture of how effective Harden and Paul can be with each other.

Giving Harden — one of the league’s best scorers — another elite playmaker on the court allows him the freedom and opportunity to score easier buckets.

The Rockets were an offensive powerhouse last season under Mike D’Antoni. They ranked second in the league in points per game and offensive rating, and third in the league in pace. Behind D’Antoni’s analytical offensive revolution in Houston, the Rockets were also the league’s top three-point shot takers and makers.

Insert Paul, a floor-spacing wizard.

During the first preseason game for the Rockets, in just over a three-minute span,they displayed how this offense is going to work.

Seven possessions, seven buckets, six three-pointers, twenty points. In three minutes and 18 seconds.

Paul accounted for five of those six three’s, assisting four of them and hitting another himself.

When Harden was on the floor last season for the Rockets he boasted a 50.7 percent assist percentage, which means every other bucket his team scored came from his hands. With capable shooters around him, Harden was able to open the doors for his teammates, but shouldering a load that heavy can only take you so far. A Western Conference semifinals loss is how far it can take you, to be exact.

By bringing Paul onboard, suddenly the world isn’t being asked of Harden anymore. And for a player that averaged 29.1 points per game last season without a threat like Paul alongside him, that’s a potential nightmare for opposing defenses.

There is still a question of who will know when to take the offensive reins while Harden and Paul share the court. But the man with a beard bigger than his scoring numbers doesn’t seem too concerned.

“It’s just a flow,” Harden said. “You don’t know. I guess that’s a good thing too, because it keeps the defenses on their heels. But, catch and shoot opportunities, I had several. Just gotta get used to that. He had a couple as well. So, it’s gonna be a lot of fun out there.”

Being on the receiving end of some buckets will be a newer experience for Harden. Last year Harden was assisted on just 9.5 percent of his two-point field goals and 31.7 percent of his three-point field goals, despite shots from downtown consisting of nearly 50 percent of his shot attempts.

Putting Paul in an opportunity to get open looks from the perimeter isn’t such uncharted territory for the future hall of fame point guard. Last season, 78 percent of Paul’s buckets from beyond the arc came from an assist.

Operating a high-speed offense with two elite playmakers and shot makers is a dream come true for D’Antoni.

“The more point guards you can have on the floor, the better,” D’Antoni said following the Rockets’ preseason opener.

In an NBA climate where superstar players are teaming up across the league to take a calculated shot at the Golden State Warriors, having two in the bank the way the Rockets do certainly help their cause.

A ball-screen set by either Harden or Paul for the other, followed by a drive that collapses the defense only to have the ball kicked right back out by the screener for a wide open three is the benefit of having two point guards at once.

Or various iterations of pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops that Harden and Paul can use to set the other free is the beautiful problem D’Antoni will have as he draws up the next play for the Rockets on his whiteboard.

Paul’s best backcourt peers throughout his career have been different versions of a similar mold. Whether it was Peja Stojakovic or J.J. Redick, spot up shooters have been paired with Paul over the years because of his innate ability to find the open man. Never before has Paul had someone beside him who not only could create for himself at the same level Paul does, but also create for others.

In that same respect, D’Antoni has never had an offense that features two ball-handlers of that caliber either.

“Normally, my offenses have been one kind of Hall of Fame point guard,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said on Rockets media day. “Now we’ve got two that’ll be on the court the whole time.”

Pairing two ball-dominant point guards together caused some to scratch their heads and wonder whether they can play effectively with one another. After a few preseason games, it’s clear that people in and around the NBA will continue to scratch their heads, wondering how to defend Houston’s offensive attack with Paul and Harden leading the way.

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NBA Saturday: Is Markelle Fultz Destined to Hit a Rookie Wall?

Sixers’ coach Brett Brown worries about a rookie wall for Markelle Fultz, but elite point guards before him have climbed it, writes Dennis Chambers.

Dennis Chambers

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It’s no secret that the Philadelphia 76ers’ talented rookies will have big roles and will be heavily relied on this season.

Young legs and a high motor are usually things to envy in the world of professional basketball, but for the Sixers, they may have a bit too much of that on their roster. With a bevy of young lottery picks set to fill out its rotation, Philadelphia will be relying heavily on two players who have yet to step foot on an NBA court for a regular season game.

Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are both poised to make their rookie debuts for the Sixers on Oct. 18 against the Washington Wizards. For Simmons, he’s had the benefit of being in an NBA locker room for over a year now. He has worked with NBA strength coaches, had the benefit of team chefs, and experiencing the day-to-day schedule of what it means to be an NBA player. Granted, he doesn’t physically know the rigors of a full professional basketball slate, but he’s at least been around those who have for over a year.

Fultz, on the other hand, is 19 years old, fresh out of college, and being thrust into the starting lineup of a team that has legitimate playoff aspirations. While Simmons will act as the team’s primary ball handler, and therefore de facto point guard, Fultz will still line up at the one spot for the Sixers and will shoulder his fair share of the playmaking responsibilities.

After playing in just 25 games last season at the University of Washington, and at just 19 years old, it’s not clear if Fultz can handle the workload over an 82 game season.

Brett Brown, the Sixers’ head coach, thinks Fultz will definitely have an adjustment ahead of him during his rookie year.

“It’s two things,” Brown said in reference to Fultz adjusting to the NBA game. “The first is, the athleticism in the men that jump you right from the get-go is relentless. There is no, sort of unforgiving stage. It is very, very ruthless that he’s going to experience. Not so much in preseason, when all of sudden, you know, John Wall claws into him and Otto Porter is alive, that you realize that there is an athleticism and men that catches people off guard.”

Brown is accurate in his assessment from the perspective that Fultz will surely face a higher intensity of defense than he ever has before in his basketball life. When ultra-athletic guards like Wall or Russell Westbrook step in the path of Fultz, the sheer physicality of the matchup will be taxing on the body of someone who is still growing and physically maturing. But this isn’t unprecedented ground for a rookie point guard. In fact, like Fultz, both Wall and Westbrook were once in similar positions as high lottery picks who were expected to step into a primary roles right away and make a big impact.

By scanning the landscape of the NBA, you find that most of the league’s best point guards were once top draft picks thrust into starting roles that demanded heavy production. Westbrook and Wall made their debuts at 20 years old. Kyrie Irving was 19 years old when he hit an NBA court. Stephen Curry was just legally able to drink alcohol, and Damian Lillard was 22 when he suited up for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Coach Brown believes there becomes a specific time frame that may represent when Fultz could begin to slow down due to the physical demands of the game.

“Then we’re going to talk about January the 10th,” Brown said. “And talk about a rookie wall, because of the nature of our league. That evolution, along with other things, most comes to my mind when you say ‘What’s Markelle got to look forward to?’ Those things is what I’ve learned with young guys.”

In accordance with the date Brown mentioned and the obvious hurdles an NBA season presents for a rookie, the wall that the Sixers’ coach mentioned surely impacted some of the league’s best guards during their rookie season, right?

Not so fast.

With the aforementioned guards as examples, when you go back to check their respective rookie season’s, you’ll find almost the exact opposite of what Brown is suggesting. After that Jan. 10 mark, almost all of these guards saw a spike in their production. Curry’s scoring average jumped from 12.3 points a game during the first half of the season to 21.6 points per game. Russell Westbrook’s scoring and assist numbers jumping from 14.1 points and 4.9 assists to 15.6 points and 5.6 assists per game — small increases but still notable.

Certain efficiency traits like shooting percentages didn’t hold up as well, but there was no catastrophic drop off from any of the guards that walked in Fultz’s shoes before him. In fact, despite Brown’s concerns heading into this season, the elite company that the Sixers’ rookie point guard is hoping to join one day all hit a stride in during their rookie campaigns as the second half of the season started to set in.

What Fultz has that most of the other lead guards weren’t fortunate enough to have, however, is the relief of not suiting up as the team’s primary ball-handler each night. Fultz will be able to find his way and develop his rhythm at his own pace while Simmons carries the torch as the team’s primary playmaker.

Having the opportunity to go up against Simmons in practice on a daily basis is a benefit too. Fultz has good size in his own right, standing at 6-foot-5. But with Simmons stretching the measuring tape to nearly seven feet, and playing against the likes of the other Sixers’ big bodies, Fultz feels he’ll have the necessary preparation.

“Our backcourt is kind of big,” Fultz said. “You got Ben, you got Joel (Embiid), got Dario (Saric), everyone out here who is 6-foot-5 and above. Coming out here you’re gonna get a good chance to guard that every day in practice. So with them, trying to get my shot off against them, get layups off against them, also guarding them, all of those will help me get ready for the games.”

Brown notices a certain fire in Fultz that may help him overcome the rookie wall, if and when it comes.

“He is incredible when he wants to please, he wants to learn, he lets us coach him,” Brown said. “Good people, like he’s got a foundation that he doesn’t want to let people down. Then you look at the other side and you say, he’s got a great basketball body. Look how long he is, he’s got those high hips, all that.”

As the Sixers get ready to embark on their first meaningful season in recent memory, they will be trusting a lot of responsibility to a 19-year-old who played just 25 games last season. But despite his youth and lack of experience in a bigger and tougher basketball world, the numbers are on Fultz’s side, to a certain extent.

If Fultz proves to be in the class of Curry and Wall, the Philadelphia 76ers may have a point guard that hurdles the rookie wall and hits his stride this season when they’ll need him the most.

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