From left: Isaiah Thomas (free agent), Reggie Jackson (Pistons) and Dion Waiters (free agent) USA TODAY Sports: Steve Mitchell | Brad Mills | Kim Klement

NBA buyout season: Will contenders find value in bargain bin?

Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane discuss the hottest topics in the NBA. This week's topic: buyout season.

Keane: The NBA trade deadline was an action-packed exchange of players, contracts, future draft picks, and my favorite ... conditional pick swaps! (Props to the Knicks for holding out for the right to swap first-round picks with the Clippers in 2021.)

But now it’s time for the NBA’s equivalent of shopping on December 26, buyout season! This is when all the veterans on expiring deals stuck on teams bound for the lottery can get their freedom through the magic of buyouts. Some players will give up some of their salaries to get to a playoff team, and some losing teams will dump players for nothing just to free up roster space. And then there’s semi-retired players considering a late-season comeback with a contender, also known as the "Juwan Howard Special."

So far, we’ve had Darren Collison decide to stick with his family and his religious faith rather than become a backup point guard in LA –- after getting free courtside seats out of it –- and two former Hornets latch on with contenders. Marvin Williams has joined the Bucks, because they didn’t already have enough aging forwards who can kind of shoot threes on the roster already, and his former teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has signed with the Mavericks to guard superstar scorers in the Western Conference playoffs and rarely shoot.

Do you see these two Hornets legends making an impact this season? And has anyone made more money after a disaster season than Dion Waiters, who after being suspended both for being fat and for overdosing on edibles got next season's salary bought out by Memphis?

Heery: That 2021 pick swap the Knicks negotiated might be more embarrassing than the Steve Stoute debacle on "First Take" earlier this week. 

As for your former Hornets question, I could see Williams hitting a couple of corner threes in the playoffs. That being said, I could see you and I hitting corner threes in the playoffs if they threw us in there with Giannis, Middleton & Co. That team is an absolute winning machine right now -- 41-7 when Giannis plays, 5-0 when he doesn’t. 

I don’t see Kidd-Gilchrist making much of an impact in Dallas. He might make a play or two on defense, but he’ll balance it out by injuring a ball boy with an errant shot or make his teammates ill watching the horrendous hitch in his jumper. Net zero. 

Only Andre Iguodala has made more money making less of an impact on the basketball court than Dion Waiters this season. But hey, if Waiters joins the Lakers, he’ll have an opportunity to redeem himself as their second-unit playmaker. He just has to beat out J.R. Smith in a workout. 


Pistons guard Reggie Jackson  Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Heery: What other buyout guys could you see making an impact in this year’s championship race. Is the Pistons' Reggie Jackson, not Waiters, a better fit on the Lakers? Clippers?  

Keane: I love the idea of Waiters joining the Lakers and getting some closure on LeBron sending him out of town in 2015, just like Dwight Howard is getting to erase his bad memories with the Lakers, and Frank Vogel is getting a chance to leave his terrible Orlando facial hair choices behind. Waiters doesn’t seem like he’s especially committed to personal fitness, but I can’t imagine that J.R. Smith has been hitting the gym or wearing a shirt very much during his year-plus NBA hiatus. I want to see this workout, and I want the NBA to televise it, preferably in between the Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Game Friday night.

In fact, now that the new schedule has ensured the trade deadline happens a week before the All-Star Game, that should be a new event: The Buyout Game. All the bought-out guys can scrimmage early Saturday evening, which would provide extra content for TV and address concerns that players don’t try. Trust me, the guys playing for a job are going to try very hard. Maybe the All-Stars with the lowest fan vote totals can draft the teams.

Jackson is an intriguing option for the Lakers or Clippers, though the Lakers have more money to pay him thanks to the DeMarcus Cousins disabled player exception. Jackson can handle the ball and shoot reasonably well from three. But for the Lakers, his best attribute might be that he’s not Rajon Rondo. Rondo has been so bad on both ends of the floor that the Lake Show might be better off with Reggie Jackson the baseball player. (He's 73, by the way.)

The most tempting guy who’s not on the buyout market yet is Tristan Thompson, who has a few reasons to stay in Cleveland. One is loyalty to Cleveland, but the more likely reason is that he wants to preserve his Bird rights for free agency so the Cavs can sign-and-trade him elsewhere. The Clippers seem to have a real need for another big man, as do the Celtics, Pelicans and Mavericks. Thompson (11.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg.) is having a great season for a terrible team, and he could help nearly anyone. But no Klutch Sports client has ever given back money on a buyout, and Thompson might want to stay in the Ohio and as far away from the Kardashian family as possible. 


Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Keane: Speaking of the Celtics, are they really going to stand pat with a center rotation of Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter? And shouldn’t the Knicks be buying out three or four of their power forwards this week?

Heery: Celtics fans are so thirsty for Thompson, aren’t they? However, Klutch is still a small enough operation that its loyalty to LeBron might also be a dissuading factor in TT being bought out to sign with Boston or the Clippers. If not TT, then Boston is pretty much stuck with the big man situation it has. Maybe they kick the tires on a free agent (Joakim Noah?) or try to sign Donatas Motiejunas from the CBA. (That might be tricky, though, because the league shut down operations due to the coronavirus. It might start back up and not let players out of their contracts). 

And, yes, whatever the Knicks are doing at any moment is usually the exact opposite of what a good franchise would be doing. Instead of buying out Mo Harkless, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson, they’re standing pat. I expect at least Harkless to be bought out before the March 1 deadline, though. He'd be a great wing for the Lakers to add. Same goes for the small-ball Rockets (although at 6-foot-7, he’d definitely be a center on that roster).  

Out of the rest of the buyout and free-agent players potentially available to teams -- Evan Turner, Tyler Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert -- do any of them intrigue you? Are there any perfect fits for these guys? Are we lying to ourselves thinking any of the buyout guys will make a difference?

Keane: According to ESPN's Tim MacMahon , the last buyout addition to play over 100 minutes in the playoffs for a title team was Peja Stojakovic in 2011. Maybe that means truly great teams don’t need to lean on buyout guys, but it probably means that if a team wasn’t willing to give anything up for a player, they might not have a lot of on-court value. So while the idea of Tyler Johnson is intriguing, he was only able to get on the court for 31 games for the Phoenix Suns, who aren’t even chasing the eight seed anymore. 

All of these guys feel like shopping in the clearance bin of a supermarket: It’s one thing that the dented cans are free, but are they worth the space they take up on your roster/kitchen? Isaiah Thomas can score, but he’s the worst defensive player in the league. Iman Shumpert has been available for months and even an injury-decimated team like the Blazers hasn’t kicked the tires, maybe because he made 24% of his threes for Brooklyn.

I do think a Turner reunion in Portland would be sweet, but for the most part, a buyout guy is going to help a bad team sneak into the playoffs much more than he’s going to put a title team over the top. 

Pat Heery began his sports writing career in 2016 for The Has Been Sports Blog. He practices real estate law during the day and runs pick & rolls at night. Follow him on Twitter: @pheery12

Sean Keane is a comedian residing in Los Angeles. He has written for "Another Period," "Billy On The Street," NBC, Comedy Central, E!, and Seeso. You can see him doing fake news every weekday on @TheEverythingReport and read his tweets at @seankeane. In 2014, the SF Bay Guardian named him the best comedian in San Francisco, then immediately went out of business.


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