NBA AM: Are More Buyouts Coming?

With trade season over, some players received buyouts. There could be a few more still to come.

7 min read
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Are More Buyouts Coming?

With the NBA trade deadline behind us, the contract buyout season has started in earnest with guys like David Lee, Steve Novak and Anderson Varejao all reaching exit agreements and committing to new teams. Lee is expected to join the Dallas Mavericks, Novak is headed to the Milwaukee Bucks and Varejao agreed to sign with the Golden State Warriors.

There are a few other guys to watch as the calendar gets closer to March 1.

Before we jump into the names to watch, it might make sense to explain the virtue of the buyout and why teams and players agree to them. For the most part, a contract is a debt owed to a player. Once the trade deadline passes, that debt is locked in. The team holding the contract is paying that debt, whether they have a use for the player or not.

The nature of the “buyout” is either agreeing to reduce that debt marginally, which is something the player and the team negotiate, or the team deciding to pay the debt entirely and just waive the player.

In most cases, players leave a portion of the remaining debt on the table in exchange for being free to pick their next team. In the case of David Lee, he was owed a balance of roughly $4.19 million on his final contract year. Agreeing to shave off some of that debt is what got him his release from the Boston Celtics. A player agrees to that because they will likely pick up that money in a new deal with a new team. In the case of Lee, he is signing for a pro-rated portion of the Maverick’s $2.1 million bi-annual exception, so he will likely make up anything he left on the table and – in his case specifically – make a little more.

The Celtics did this not only to open up a roster spot, but also to earn a little good will with Lee’s agent and to save a little bit on the debt owed.

There are a few players who may still seek a buyout over the next few days, mainly because the window to reach an exit and remain playoff eligible is March 1.

Here are some names to watch:

Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets

There has been a long running belief that if Brooklyn guard Joe Johnson was not traded, he would be bought out and eventually join the Cleveland Cavaliers. While this still could happen, Johnson and his camp are saying that Joe is not overly interested in a buyout. They state that he’d like to finish out the season in Brooklyn and has even suggested he’d like to sign a new deal there.

New Nets general manager Sean Marks has to decide if Johnson is indeed part of the future and, if he isn’t, try to persuade Joe to accept a buyout on the remaining $7.907 million left on his contract. Brooklyn could outright waive Johnson, and some league insiders have speculated that Johnson’s no buyout stance may be a ploy to get the Nets to eat all of his remaining contract money.

The Nets have time to work this situation out and they do gain a little bit of leverage as the March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility approaches.

If Johnson wants to be in the postseason, he may have to agree to leave some cash on the table. The Nets do have a second hammer and that’s the threat of waiving Johnson after the March 1 deadline, which would make Johnson ineligible for the playoffs and not very desirable in free agency.

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves

The Timberwolves tried to find a trade home for guard Kevin Martin, but his pending free agency and his player option for next season made reaching a deal tough. The Wolves like Martin a great deal and view him as a great influence on some of the younger guards, so waiving him outright does not seem to be an option.

The question for Martin is will he part with some of the $2.25 million left on his deal, and the injury insurance of his player option, for a chance to be in the postseason?

The Wolves are going to lean on their young guys hard for the balance of the season, which means very little playing time for Martin. Is it better for Martin to roll the dice a little on a buyout situation and showcase his game in the postseason or simply stick out a bad situation in Minnesota and hope for a better look in free agency?

Like Johnson, Martin has a few more days to decide if he wants his freedom. It’s safe to assume if he gets it he’d be signed fairly quickly given the number of would-be suitors for him at the deadline. The question is, will he give up his security to find out?

Roy Hibbert, Los Angeles Lakers

The odds that Roy Hibbert will be bought out are fairly low. The Lakers like the veteran center, value his leadership with the young guys and do not see him as a problem they need to solve.

Hibbert has $4.952 million left on his contract and the only way a buyout becomes plausible is if Hibbert is willing to leave a sizable chunk of that on the table and request a buyout, which sources say he has not done.

The Lakers’ season is going to shift toward the young guys in a bigger and more dramatic way going forward, so there may be some incentive for Roy to at least have the conversation with the Lakers. But given how the Lakers feel about Hibbert, it’s doubtful that he is a serious buyout candidate.

You never say never in this business, but if all the indicators are true Hibbert looks like he’ll finish out his contract with the Lakers and play the mentor role going into free agency.

Players who have played on a NBA roster this season must be waived before March 1 to be playoff eligible. It is possible to be bought out and signed after March 1; however, that player would only be eligible to play in regular season games, not the postseason.

Players who have not played in the NBA this season are playoff eligible until the last game of the regular season. This includes the dozen or more former NBA players who have played in China or other international leagues as well as the D-League.

The Insiders Podcast

Basketball Insiders senior writers Joel Brigham and Lang Greene held down the Saturday edition of the Insiders Podcast and hit on the trade deadline, the buyout market and a lot of the news surrounding the NBA. Take a listen:

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Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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