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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 Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers

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After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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NBA Daily: Anthony Davis is Shouldering New Orleans’ Playoff Hopes

After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, Anthony Davis has played MVP-caliber basketball to keep the Pelicans playoff hopes alive.

Dennis Chambers

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Nineteen games have passed since DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon during the New Orleans Pelicans game against the Houston Rockets.

At the time, Cousins was the second leg of an All-Star frontcourt combo with Anthony Davis, playing the best basketball of his career and appeared poised to send the Pelicans to their first playoff appearance in three years.

Immediately following the injury, New Orleans lost five of their next six games. In a crowded Western Conference playoff race, doubt was beginning to set in down in the Big Easy about whether the Pelicans could cope with the loss of Cousins.

Then, fitting in with the always unpredictable and chaotic nature of the NBA, Anthony Davis skyrocketed into other-worldly levels of production, and New Orleans followed suit. Before Friday’s loss to the Washington Wizards, the Pelicans won 10 straight games while Davis averaged 35.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 2.8 steals per game. Over the course of those 10 contests, Davis topped 40 points three times, and 50 points once.

Every question that was thrown Davis’ way following Cousins’ injury about whether he could shoulder the load of a Pelicans’ playoff run seemed to be answered.

The Western Conference is no joke. Currently, the playoff race is so tight that the 4th-seeded Pelicans are only two and a half games out of ninth place. While Davis has clearly been unstoppable, in order for the Pelicans to maintain their relevance in the playoff picture, he’s going to need some sort of help.

Luckily for him and his team, he’s gotten just that.

During New Orleans’ win streak, Jrue Holiday emerged as the team’s second option, looking more lethal than the Pelicans could’ve ever hoped when they signed him to an extension last summer. Holiday’s averages of 24.9 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds — all while shooting a blistering 43 percent from beyond the arc — positioned the eighth year point guard as Davis’ second fiddle.

This heightened production is the result of head coach Alvin Gentry’s offense finally coming to fruition in its most effective form. Gentry loves to play “pace and space” basketball, and the Pelicans’ No. 11 and No. 9 ranking in pace the last two seasons reflect that. While Cousins is fantastic in his own right, and a cross between the old-school big man and today’s new hybrid big, his insertion in New Orleans’ lineup slowed things down just a bit. Before the injury, the Pelicans were still pushing the fifth fastest pace in the league, but after losing Cousins the team is now pushing the ball faster than any club in the Association. As a result, Davis’ freakish athletic advantages are proving to be overwhelming for opponents.

With 17 games left on the schedule, the Pelicans only have five opponents remaining who are either already in the playoff picture or just outside of it. Matchups against Houston, Boston, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Golden State and Portland (among others) remain. Continuing the excellence Davis and his teammates are producing is the only conceivable way to imagine the Pelicans hosting a playoff series — or even staying in the playoff landscape for that matter.

The enhanced level of play from Davis and Holiday make the Pelicans a threat to compete every night, assuming the production continues as it did over the course of the team’s winning streak. But the injected play of the team’s supporting cast since Cousins went down is not to be overlooked while surveying New Orleans’ recent success.

Since Nikola Mirotic arrived from Chicago he’s added a scoring and rebounding punch outside of Davis that the Pelicans desperately needed. In the wake of Cousins, he’s finding success inside Gentry’s running system that allows him to shoot over seven three-point attempts a game.

All of the running and scoring the Pelicans have become accustomed to over the last month needs to be orchestrated by someone on the court, otherwise, it can turn into a hot mess quickly. By using Rajon Rondo on the court at the same time as Holiday, Rondo becomes responsible for quarterbacking an offense that needs precision accuracy and execution. At the same time, it allows Holiday to move and rotate without the ball, putting him in a more natural situation to score rather than set up an offense.

Is losing an All-Star player ever ideal for a team’s hopes at making the playoffs? Absolutely not. But when Cousins went down for the Pelicans, followed by their first week of basketball without him, the team quickly looked to be on the outside looking in of the playoff race.

Instead, with just about a month left on the regular season schedule, Davis and Co. are playing well above expectations and are in position to host a playoff series for the first time since 2008 when Chris Paul was running around in a teal jersey.

Davis is an MVP candidate, the New Orleans Pelicans are a playoff team, and Cousins in wearing a walking boot on the sidelines. The NBA is a wild ride of unpredictability.

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NBA Daily: A Reinvigorated Bench is Pushing Philadelphia’s Recent Success

Once a major weakness, the Philadelphia 76ers’ bench could provide some much-needed firepower during the postseason.

Dennis Chambers

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Consistently winning games in the NBA is one of the harder tasks in professional sports. The rigors of an 82-game schedule, playing consecutive nights, or sometimes three games in four days, can really take a toll on players. In order to be successful, the first order of business would be to have superstar caliber players. But what comes next, competing for 48 straight minutes, is arguably just as crucial.

The Philadelphia 76ers have a few star players in hand. Joel Embiid is already amongst the league’s best, and Ben Simmons seems to be climbing the ladder on a daily basis. But those two didn’t stop the Sixers from dropping multiple games earlier this season where they either had the lead or were in a close battle.

A major reason for that: the Sixers’ bench was thin. Razor thin at times, while the team dealt with injuries.

When the trade deadline approached at the beginning of February, and Philadelphia was in the middle of a playoff race, they were viewed as a team that could potentially make a move for a key veteran off the bench to ensure a postseason berth.

The deadline came and went, and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo stood pat, unwilling to give up any assets for a rental. A frugal move, but not one that would help the Sixers realize their playoff dreams after declaring them as such for the entire season.

There’s another plus about having star players in the NBA, though. Usually, veteran guys gravitate towards them, viewing stars a way to be part of something meaningful. In the case of Philadelphia, they experienced that for the first (and second) time over the last three weeks since beginning their rebuild.

After securing buyouts with the Atlanta Hawks, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova decided to head north to Philadelphia for a playoff push. Ilyasova spent the first half of last season with the Sixers before being traded away, but he returns to a much different situation.

“It’s always great to be back here,” Ilyasova said. “It was a helluva speech Brett Brown made to get me here. We’re playing good basketball. It’s a tremendous job that they did compared to last year and they play as a unit.”

Tremendous growth almost puts what the Sixers are doing lightly. In terms of their starting unit of Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid, they rank near the top of the league with their 18.9 net rating. For comparison’s sake, that’s more effective than Golden State’s starting five.

Ilyasova and Belinelli were brought on board to complement the winning basketball Philadelphia’s starters have already established. On Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets, the team’s newest bench weapon came up in a big way.

In his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center, Ilyasova played a big role in the Sixers’ come from behind win, scoring 18 points while adding four rebounds and three assists. Outside of the team’s starters, he registered the highest plus/minus rating on the team.

“Tonight you were going to see him and Dario a lot with each other,” Brown said of Ilyasova’s performance. “You see him have the ability to make great passes from that pick and roll spot.  I put him and Joel in some pick and rolls and they delivered. You saw him take a massive charge at the end of the game that he got rewarded for.”

Following back-to-back wins over Cleveland and Charlotte, the Sixers find themselves holding onto the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. On top of that, Philadelphia is just two games behind Cleveland for the 3rd seed with 21 games remaining in the regular season.

Now that the Sixers have players like Ilyasova and Belinelli to add to their regular reserve group, Brown is excited to tinker with the team’s versatility moving forward. Having the benefit of a 6-foot-10 point guard in Simmons leads to constant mismatches on the court, and the Sixers’ head coach doesn’t want to forget that moving forward.

“All over the place,” Brown said. “Whether it’s (Ilyasova) making a three, or him passing to Joel, or him taking a charge. Him coexisting with Dario Saric. I think that flexibility, that versatility, is what excites me the most about him. It’s not like we don’t know each other, we know each other very well. He knows the system quite well. There’s still lots to refamiliarize him with.”

This late in the season, adding Ilyasova deserves just one explanation from Brown.

“He’s a massive pick up at this stage in my eyes,” Brown said.

Along with the recent additions, the Sixers also have a rotating carousel at the backup center position. Whether it’s Richaun Holmes or Amir Johnson that subs out Embiid, the team’s growing fluidity in their rotations have Brown pleased with the results.

“I think that we have something unique,” Brown said. “You know you gotta juggle and figure out with Richaun and Amir. I thought Richaun was a little down tonight, and so Amir sat back-to-back. You have those options available, and that’s a team. That’s what a team is about. If you can get a team to believe in what I just said, then you’ve got it all.”

Brown went on the boast about his team’s “legitimate locker room” saying they’re one of the most cohesive bunches he’s seen during his time in the NBA. Brown added, “I’m lucky to coach it.”

With just over a month remaining in the regular season, a hotly contested playoff race, and plenty of games to play, the Sixers are far from finishing what they started.

But with the upward trajectory of their recent play, coupled with the new bench additions, the team from Philadelphia that just spent years in the NBA’s basement is on the cusp of achieving what they set out to do at the beginning of this season.

“I think it’s a collective, progressive growth born out of rough times early in the season,” Brown said. “And now sort of delivered into March that we’re really close to achieving something in our eyes that’s special and was a declared goal. And that is to play in the playoffs.”

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