2021 NBA buyout market: Midseason free agency, who could be available after the trade deadline

2021 NBA buyout market: The NBA trade deadline isn’t necessarily intended to purvey true contenders. Most of the time those teams are short on trade assets because those assets were spent building a contender in the first place.

They usually lack tradable salaries because their highly-paid players are all essential parts of their rotation.

The buyout market, on the other hand, is the rule. Markieff Morris was a quintessential element of the Lakers’ championship run last season.

But every team in the playoff hunt wants to get better. Not everyone has the means to do so through a trade. But nearly anyone can pluck midseason free agents with the right delivering pitch. The blockbusters may stop on Thursday, but teams are far from finished constructing their rosters.

2021 NBA buyout market: How do buyouts work?

A buyout happens when a player and team mutually choose to part ways. The player abandons an agreed-upon quantity of his promised salary, and in negotiation, is cleared and permitted to engage with any other team as a free agent.

If a team buys a player out, he cannot re-sign with or be challenged off of reservations by that team for one year or until the end of the agreement that was bought out, whichever comes next.

That condition typically continues for one year, though, as buyouts on multi-year deals are a rarity (though Blake Griffin was an exception this season). Usually, the kind of player that gets bought outfits the succeeding guidelines:

  • Is in the final year of his contract.
  • Is a veteran whose age, injury history, declining skills, or positional redundancy limits his original team’s interest in retaining him as a free agent in the upcoming offseason.
  • Is currently on, or was traded to before the deadline, a lottery team that has little to gain by employing such a veteran for the remainder of a season.

The motives are simple for both sides. The team is qualified to save a bit of money. The player is enabled to pick a new team that better sets him at that moment. Ordinarily, they are driven either by a want to fight for a championship or an opportunity to show their worth to a winner before approaching NBA free agency.

2021 NBA buyout market: What timeline does the mid-season free agency market generally follow?

Buyout negotiations typically begin in earnest once the trade deadline has passed. At that point, teams know for certain who has and has not been traded and what needs they still have to fill.

News began pouring in almost immediately at 3 p.m. ET about who could hit the market and where they might land.

Not all buyouts are negotiated overnight, though. While the trade deadline was on March 25, teams have several weeks to decide whether or not they want to buy out their players.

In a normal season, the unofficial deadline to do so is March 1, as that is when bought-out players must have signed with new teams in order to be eligible for the playoffs. This season, that date has been moved to April 9.

This restriction only applies to players who have been bought out, though. Players who were not under contract with another team earlier in the season are eligible for the postseason as long as they sign by the end of the regular season.

2021 NBA buyout market: How can teams afford to sign free agents in the middle of the season?

The New York Knicks have $13.5 million in space, and the Charlotte Hornets have roughly $1.8 million. Both would certainly like to add talent ahead of their playoff pushes, but typically, the best players join teams that are closer to winning championships.

Most buyout contracts are worth the minimum salary. From a cap perspective, that means that most buyout contracts are worth the same amount, which would be a pro-rated portion of the minimum salary for a second-year player (as the league reimburses teams for the extra salary of older players to prevent teams from intentionally targetting younger ones).

For the whole season, that would be around $1.62 million, but the actual amount paid to a player and counted beneath the cap depends on when the contract is signed. This regular season is 146 days long.

The trade deadline falls on the 93rd day of the season. Therefore, a player would receive roughly 36.3 percent of that minimum figure if he signed with a new team on deadline day, and slightly less with each passing day.

Lakers Considered Favorites For Center Andre Drummond

2021 NBA buyout market: Unlike the other exceptions mentioned, Disabled Player Exceptions do not prorate. The following potential playoff teams have Disabled Player Exceptions:

  • Brooklyn Nets (Spencer Dinwiddie): $5.7 million.
  • Golden State Warriors (Klay Thompson): $9.3 million.
  • Washington Wizards (Thomas Bryant): $4.2 million.

Money is rarely the deciding factor for an NBA free agent who has been bought out, but it never hurts. Conversely, just having this money doesn’t mean every team will spend it.

Several of the teams listed here have to contend with the luxury tax, or won’t be able to recruit a top player, or simply won’t have any interest in altering their existing roster. The money is merely a tool at their disposal.

2021 NBA buyout market: Who are the top potential buyout candidates this season?

This list is simultaneously incomplete and overstuffed. Ultimately, there is no set formula that leads to a buyout, so we’ll try to use the criteria above while also establishing a few other categories to watch.

There will be notable players to get buyouts that are not listed here. There will also be plenty of players on this list that don’t get bought out.

But on paper, these are the players to watch in midseason NBA free agency, either because they have already changed teams, or because there is a chance they still might.

  • Andre Drummond
  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • Otto Porter Jr.
  • Hassan Whiteside
  • Darius Miller
  • James Ennis
  • Rodney Hood
  • James Johnson
  • Kelly Olynyk
  • Avery Bradley
  • Mo Harkless
  • Austin Rivers
  • Gorgui Dieng
  • Jeff Teague
NBA Trade: Andre Drummond agrees to contract buyout with Cleveland Cavs
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