How to fix the NBA buyout market

Nets big LaMarcus Aldridge, who took buyout with Spurs
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Step one: Don’t.

The buyout market has become the NBA’s hot-button issue. But fretting has been driven by small-market paranoia and misplaced big-name hype. The system could remain as is without issue.

Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge (Brooklyn Nets), Blake Griffin (Brooklyn Nets) and Andre Drummond (Los Angeles Lakers) chose big-market teams after buyouts this year. But bought-out players have chosen a variety of situations over a larger period of time.

In 2019, Enes Kanter signed with the Trail Blazers over the Lakers. Wesley Matthews signed with the Pacers. Wayne Ellington signed with the Pistons. Even this year, Gorgui Dieng signed with the Spurs.

Aldridge, Griffin and Drummond are also no longer stars. They could help their new teams in limited roles. But plenty of role players change teams without this much handwringing. See Dieng. The biggest difference is Aldridge, Griffin and Drummond carry a higher status because they used to be stars. Name recognition from years ago doesn’t affect winning in 2021.

Still, both teams and players have expressed issues with how things unfolded this year. When those factions align, the Collective Bargaining Agreement could change.

Current system

A quick reminder how buyouts work now: A team and player agree to reduce the amount of guaranteed money he’s owed in exchange for the team waiving him. The team saves money. The player, assuming he clears waivers, becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Too many solutions to the buyout “problem” fail to acknowledge that buyouts better allocate playing services. If the number of buyouts were reduced (either by capping the number of bought-out players a team could sign or moving up the playoff-eligibility date for waived players), more helpful players would be stuck wallowing on losing teams that don’t want them instead of on good teams that do.

That’s not good for the league. That’s not good for the players. That’s not good for the original teams. That’s not good for the potential new teams.

Buyouts should remain just as available to teams and players. If anything should change, it’s how bought-out players get to their next team.

The common ground between teams and players is wanting more competitive balance. Which means limiting player movement.

My proposal

Let teams – and bought-out players – bid.

When a player and team agree to a buyout, the amount of money the player is willing to give up becomes the opening bid.

Teams can bid with cap space or exceptions they have. If a team wins the auction, it acquires the player. The amount of the winning bid goes onto the new team’s payroll and gets removed from the prior team’s payroll.

The player can also bid. If he wins the auction, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The amount of the winning bid is subtracted from his salary and removed from the prior team’s payroll.

Under this system:

  • The player’s original team would get maximum salary relief.
  • All other teams would have an opportunity to acquire the player.
  • If the player badly enough wants to enter free agency before his original contract ends, he can still do so (provided his team agrees to a buyout in the first place).

There are downsides to this plan – primarily for bought-out players. They wouldn’t get to choose their new team unless sacrificing more money.

But the highest-bidding team would tend to value the player and plan to play him more than other teams would. And the player would be under team control no longer than his contract originally specified. It’d be like he were traded.

The teams that would have signed bought-out players as free agents also suffer. But which teams are in that position varies. Even if big-market teams have an advantage, there’d be little sympathy for them, anyway.

This plan is inspired by amnesty waivers. So, there’s at least a chance the union – which reflexively defends freedom of movement for players – would go for it. Sometimes, the most directly affected players sacrifice for the desires of the greater union membership.

Again, players would remain under team control only as long as they originally agreed in their contracts. Buyouts would be a partial, not fully open, path to early free agency.

Admittedly, this is a solution is search of a problem. To that end, my plan specifically targets the buyout market.

The bigger issue is tanking. Bad teams would be less inclined to buy out their helpful players if they were incentivized to win rather than lose late in the season.

But tanking has been a problem for many years without adequate solutions. Buyouts are getting buzz now. There could be momentum for buyout-rule revisions – especially if Aldridge and Griffin or Drummond help their new team win a title.

Of course, no matter what happens in the playoffs, that perfectly reasonable alternative also remains:

Change nothing.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.