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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?

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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: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors

Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.

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The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.

Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.

With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.

After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.

Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.

The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.

Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.

After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.

One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.

While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.

As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.

Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.

As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.

Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.

Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.

Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.

Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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