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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 Curious Case of Markelle Fultz

The top overall pick somehow forgot how to shoot a basketball, but don’t give up on him just yet.

Dennis Chambers

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By now, chances are you’ve become aware of Markelle Fultz’s curious rookie season.

After the Philadelphia 76ers traded picks with the Boston Celtics just days before the 2017 NBA Draft, they used the top overall selection to take Fultz, a smooth combo guard out of Washington.

Known for his shooting and scoring prowess, Fultz displayed many of the traits that made him the top overall pick in summer league action. From three-point shooting to penetrating the lane, and of course, his “hesi pull-up jimbo,” Fultz had it all this summer. Which made the arrival of training camp and preseason so confusing when the first pick in the draft showed up with a different (and bad) shooting stroke.

As the story goes, Fultz then gets shut down by the Sixers just four games into the regular season after shooting the ball like the aliens from Space Jam stole all of the talents that made him capable of doing so in the first place.

The team announced Fultz had a “muscular imbalance” in his shoulder and would be rehabbing until that problem is fixed.

It’s now Jan. 13, the imbalance in Fultz’s shoulder is gone and he’s cleared for five-on-five practice, inching toward his return. There’s still one problem though.

Fultz’s shot still looks like this:

That is, well, less than ideal for a player taken ahead of every other player in the draft. When it comes to Fultz and what is actually going on (let’s be clear, no one actually knows for sure) the speculation ranges all the way from his injured shoulder to a severe case of the “yips” and being in his own head so much so that he’s forgotten how to shoot a basketball.

The latter argument is hard to buy. If you take a look at the path Fultz rode to the NBA you’ll find the story of a kid who wasn’t playing varsity ball full-time until his junior year of high school, and then subsequently used his growth spurt from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-5 to develop into one of the best players in his recruiting class.

Bottom line, Fultz didn’t cakewalk into the league. He worked to get there. So the narrative that he’s afraid or nervous of the moment is a tough sell. From an injury standpoint, at this moment the Sixers say Fultz is healthy. There is no clear explanation for the way Fultz’s shooting mechanics look.

And yet, despite all of the skepticism and poor shot attempts, you shouldn’t even be close to associating the word “bust” with Fultz.

It’s easy to forget at this point that Fultz was the consensus top pick. While there are players who are performing at a high level right now, like Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell, neither were truly considered to go in Fultz’s slot. Summer league was a reminder that Fultz belongs in the NBA. Even during this four injury-ridden regular season games, Fultz displayed the ability to get where he needed to be on the court.

Scouts around the league are confused about Fultz’s shot, but as NJ Advanced Media reported, some still believe Fultz can contribute.

“He should be contributing by now,” a Western Conference scout told NJ Advanced Media. “He’s still good enough, for sure.”

A similar sentiment was shared by another scout out west as the report highlights.

“It just all seemed odd … (but he’s still) a dynamic scorer who can really complement a pass-first point guard.”

For the Sixers’ head coach, Brett Brown, he’s now in the unfortunately familiar position of being without his organization’s top pick for an extended period of time. First Nerlens Noel, then Joel Embiid, then Ben Simmons and now Fultz.

Even in the wake of his absence, and the funky shooting stroke, Brown is still gleaming with optimism about what the scoring-guard can bring to the team once he finally hits the floor.

“I’m excited,” Brown said prior to the team’s matchup with the San Antonio Spurs about Fultz’s return. “Because he completely connects the dots to what we don’t have. Anybody that can create their own shot, anybody that can create something for somebody else, is of extreme value to the collection of what we have, and that is his skill set. And what we can get out of him, how is he going to be integrated into the team when he gets back, that’s yet obviously to be seen, but I remain highly positive and highly optimistic.”

Through Philadelphia’s 20 losses thus far this season they’ve displayed one glaring weakness. When Embiid is off the floor, the team doesn’t have a one-on-one scorer. Simmons can’t, and won’t, shoot outside shots at this point in time, and the rest of the roster consists of spot-up complementary shooters. Fultz represents an opportunity for the Sixers to have someone that puts the ball on the floor, forces a defender to commit to him and then opens up the rest of the offense as a result.

Even with a shaky shot, Fultz is still very much the player that was taken first overall.

The jury is still out on Fultz and every player in the rookie class for that matter. No career can be defined by one half of an inaugural season. There’s time for players to develop and work on their games. Most of the top picks are still just teenagers, they may even need time to mature into their own bodies.

Tatum and Fultz will continuously be linked throughout their careers because of a trade that neither of them had any say in. With the way Tatum is currently playing, it’s easy to give in and say Fultz is a bust, or the Sixers shouldn’t have made the trade with Boston.

But before definitively taking a stance one way or the other, give the top overall pick the benefit of the doubt he’s earned up until now to take the court and actually play before writing him off.

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NBA Daily: An Ode to LeBron James

On his birthday, use time to reflect how remarkable LeBron James’ career has been, in spite of the other-worldly expectations placed upon him.

Dennis Chambers

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By the time a professional athlete reaches the 15th year of his or her career, nature begins to take its course and the natural regression of gifted athleticism and skill begins to wind down.

Usually, this isn’t a conviction of the athlete’s talent level or their place amongst their sport’s history. It’s simply nature.

In his 15th season, on his 33rd birthday, LeBron James looks like he’s just getting started. Even if he’s already played enough basketball for a lifetime.

Take a quick glance at James’ numbers this season: 27.8 points, 9.3 assists, 8.2 rebounds, 56 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. He’s posting his highest player efficiency rating since 2012-13, and he is piggybacking the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 24-11 record after a 5-7 start.

Simply put, James is operating at his best during a time where most greats begin to enter their twilight.

To appreciate the sheer dominance of James’ play, first, you have to understand the gargantuan pressure he was placed under nearly 16 years ago.

Feb. 18, 2002, a 17-year-old high school junior graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. At the moment, he was taking the basketball world by storm. The feature by Grant Wahl, titled “Ahead of His Class” was the story of a hoops prodigy pictured on the cover of the world’s biggest sports magazine with the words “The Chosen One” beside him.

James had already befriended the greatest of all-time (at the time) in Michael Jordan, as Wahl’s piece outlined. He’d cozied up to the likes of Antoine Walker and Tracy McGrady. James was set to sign the biggest shoe deal ever for a rookie ball player.

When the hype is built up around an athlete from such an early age, and the expectations follow them wherever they go, it’s reasonable to understand when that player collapses under pressure. Being labeled “The Chosen One” before he was even old enough to vote would’ve been enough weight on his shoulders to crush the ordinary man, but not James.

As his career continues to wind down the road of impressive feats, statistics, and trophies, it’s almost easy to forget what James has been able to accomplish with all eyes on him from his late-teenage years, all through his adulthood. His life has been chronicled by the public, scrutinized under the lens of the social media era — to the likes of which no athlete had to deal with before him — and compared to the ghosts of the legends before him.

For every amazing highlight James would gift to us, a voice from the crowd would lash back with unwarranted negativity such as, “He’s no Jordan!” They’re right, though. James isn’t Jordan. Their games don’t line up the way that Sports Illustrated cover projected them to all those years ago. Always lauded as a playmaker, James seemed to lack what many loved to call a “killer instinct,” regardless of the countless times he would go on to score or assist a bucket that led his team to a win. To the Jordan purists, James would never be his equal. The blemishes on his Finals record always were enough to keep Jordan’s legacy at arm’s length.

By his 33rd birthday, James has been named the NBA’s MVP four times, one more than Jordan, and made it to the Finals eight times, five more than Jordan by the same age.

James, throughout his entire career, never suffered a first-round playoff exit. In his fourth year, at just 22, he carried the likes of Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, and Sasha Pavlovic to an NBA Finals appearance.

Jordan lost in the first round three times and was swept on two occasions.

But looking back on James’ career isn’t about just trying to best him in particular categories when matched up with Jordan. An honest reflection for James is looking back and recognizing that a kid from nothing worked his way to the height of his field, perfecting his craft, with those along the way always trying to knock him down a peg or two, and still managing to mount the unrealistic expectations placed upon him before he was even mature enough to realize what the outside world had done.

Looking back on James’ career in its entirety up until now allows a certain level of appreciation for this particular season. Coming off of a Finals loss to arguably the greatest team ever assembled, James’ No. 2 option, Kyrie Irving, decides it’s time for him to move on from Cleveland. For all the heroics James pulled off during their 2016 championship run, it wouldn’t have been accomplished without Irving. Instead of conceding defeat, James rose to the expectations, as he’s done countless times before. Turning in a season worthy of James’ fifth MVP trophy, in year 15, at age 33, playing more minutes than anyone at this stage of their career has done, is a microcosm of James’ entire life since that Sports Illustrated cover.

Just when you think there’s no way LeBron James can do it, there he goes again defying the odds.

So, the next time James gets brought up in conversation, keep in mind the road he’s traveled to get to where he’s at. His career isn’t perfect. No career is. But in spite of it all, James delivered on incomprehensible expectations to sports fans worldwide. Enjoy the greatness.

Happy birthday to the King.

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NBA Daily: Trae Young Looks To Be Next Up

Oklahoma’s Trae Young is taking college basketball by storm, and drawing comparisons to All-Star point guards.

Dennis Chambers

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When basketball fans glance across the college landscape to find the next wave of talent they expect to dominate the sport, they check in on the usual spots.

Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas and UCLA are among the culprits. Norman, Oklahoma, and the Sooners, though? Well, they’re not a destination that comes to mind very often when debating what young player is in position to take the reins at the next level.

Until now, that is. Meet Trae Young.

Young is Oklahoma’s freshman point guard. He’s 6-foot-2, isn’t overly muscular, and operates up and down the court with a smoothness that’s eerily similar to the guy who plays the same position out in the Bay Area.

How he looks isn’t the only thing that draws comparisons from Young to Steph Curry. Look at the numbers, and the obscene production the 19-year-old point guard is putting up. At the moment, Young leads the entire country in points per game (28.7) and assists (10.4). Young has reached the 30-point plateau four times in eleven games, including his 43-point outburst against Oregon. He’s scored 29 points on two occasions, and twice more reached 28 points.

Young’s picture-perfect shooting form and effortless release from beyond the arc are what makes this teenager so lethal. But he’s not just a one-trick pony. On Dec. 20 against Northwestern State, Young tied the NCAA record with a 22-assist performance (to go along with his 26 points). It was the first time in 20 years a player had reached 20 points and 20 assists in the same game. In six of Young’s first 11 collegiate games, he’s reached double-digit assists.

The invigoration of Young into the Oklahoma offense has Lon Kruger’s 11-20 team from a year ago at 10-1 and ranked No. 17 in the country heading into Big 12 Conference play. Make no mistake about it, that’s large, if not wholly, because of the freshman point guard.

How exactly did the Sooners land a superstar player of this caliber, though?

Well, they almost didn’t.

Young’s college choice came down to his hometown Sooners (he attended Norman North High School right down the road) and typical blue-blood powerhouse Kansas. Even with the commitment of a five-star point guard, few, if any, saw this type of impact from Young right away.

Ranking No. 23 on ESPN’s Top 100 for the class of 2017, Young was behind three other point guards: Trevon Duval (Duke), Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Jaylen Hands (UCLA).

Expecting the supernova level star Young has become almost immediately would’ve been a bit overzealous in any prediction. But that’s what makes college basketball the marvel that it is. Young has looked like the best player in the country, on a team where, at just 19 years old, he is considered “the man,” and without the usual supporting cast that players get at Duke and Kentucky.

After a 31-point, 12-assist performance against Northwestern on Friday, opposing head coach Chris Collins couldn’t do anything but rave about the teenager that dominated his team.

“With how deep he can shoot it from, you have to extend out on him, and then it just opens the floor,” Collins said. “He does a great job. He changes speeds well and he is shifty. And so the moment you are kind of a little off balance, he does a great job getting into your body and kind of playing off your movements. He’s got incredible vision. I always knew he was an incredible scorer. But the one thing I think he is underrated is his ability to pass. I thought he made some great passes and found guys.”

While the comparisons between Young and Curry are obvious, Collins offered up his own version of the mold he believes Young is fitting into.

“I had the opportunity to coach Kyrie Irving at the same age, and he was similar like that before he got hurt,” Collins said about Young. “There was just a maturity to his game that he had. He knew how to change speeds. He looked like a veteran from day one and that’s how Trae is out there. He plays at his pace. He knows where he wants to go.

Ironically, 11 games were all Irving got to play at Duke during his freshman season, and he still managed to be drafted first overall. Young may have a bit more competition than Irving did come next June for the draft’s top spot, but just over a month into his rookie campaign in college, Young is looking every bit of the best player in the entire nation.

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