2022 NBA buyout market guide: Goran Dragic, Serge Ibaka among likely top free agents in season

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The 2021 buyout market has sparked one of the most unnecessary controversies in recent NBA history. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge leaving their small-market homes for the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers has caused huge outcry over class disparity in professional basketball. Why should top teams get access to former All-Stars at bargain prices just because their home teams want to save a few bucks?

It’s a complicated question that fortunately has a simple answer: buyout reform isn’t necessary because 2021 was an outlier. A few useful players usually hit the market after the deadline, but they’re almost never as accomplished as Griffin, Drummond, and Aldridge. There was genuine fear that Griffin forcing his way out of Detroit with several years remaining on his deal would spark a storm of disgruntled veterans doing the same, but the only analogous player in 2022 would be John Wall, who so far hasn’t. didn’t even consider a takeover.

What we’re going to see in 2022 is going to be much closer to the norm. The majority of players looking for buyouts will be declining veterans with expiring contracts on bad teams. A few surprises will join them in free agency as victims of the trade deadline. Beyond that? Don’t expect any big surprises. There simply aren’t any big names likely to switch teams without a trade at the deadline. Below, we’ll go over 12 of the most important numbers from the buyout season. When the dust settles, it’s a safe bet that less than half of them will end up changing teams. As exciting as 2021 was, 2022 should feel a lot more familiar.

Expiration of contracts on the wrong teams

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Harris started the season as an obvious buyout contender with no obvious value. He had played just 114 games in the previous three seasons and had seen his previously outstanding shooting slip below league average. But now the blows are falling and Harris has suddenly played himself without consideration for redemption. He’s going to be traded now, if only for an expiration paycheck and a second-round pick or two. It’s a major win for Orlando and a great example of how bad teams should handle veteran rehab candidates. The Magic took a bad contract, gave him all the minutes and shots they wanted, and will likely be rewarded with trumps now.

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Young likely fits into Harris’ “too valuable for buyout” category, especially given his more manageable $14 million salary. If nothing else, Phoenix should offer the injured Dario Saric as matching pay with a second-round pick, and there will be stronger offers. The only question is why Young hasn’t been traded yet. The Spurs have barely used him and interest has likely been running high since he landed in San Antonio. If there’s a reason we don’t yet know Young hasn’t been traded yet, it could open the door for a buyout.

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Favors will be a candidate for redemption no matter what happens at the deadline, but odds suggest he will be dealt with elsewhere before February 10. The Thunder like to turn their expiring contracts into longer-term deals with attached assets, and if they do it again, Favors will likely be considered expendable by their new team. The problem here is that favors probably wouldn’t be of much value to suitors either. He’s the first real failure of Oklahoma City’s veteran rehabilitation program, struggling on both sides of the floor and failing to generate any business interest like more than expiring salary. In all likelihood, Favors’ days as a contributing player are over.

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Lopez fits the sweet spot of the takeover from a talent standpoint: not so good that his team refuses to let him go, but good enough to actually help someone. Golden State has been eyeing Lopez as a buyout candidate for years, and this may be the moment the Warriors’ wish finally comes true. Lopez is at least a playable backup center defensively, and his ugly hook shots are good for a surprising few buckets a night. The only real delay here is that Lopez is so cheap at $5 million that an interested party could quite easily rush to the deadline and trade for him.

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The Thunder will try to trade Mike Muscala, and they have the power to keep him if they don’t. He has a very reasonable $3.5 million team option next season that they could theoretically pick up (although given their influx of draft picks, they might not have the room). You aren’t going to find a better shooter in the buyout market than Muscala, who is hitting nearly 43% of his 3s this season.

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Thompson has hardly played for Sacramento since Christmas. If the Kings were rational players, that would make him an obvious candidate for buyout. The Kings are not rational actors. They are so desperate to make the rounds that the idea of ​​saving a few bucks at the expense of possible emergency depth may not sit well with them. Plus, let’s be honest, that front office probably isn’t eager to hand the Lakers a DeAndre Jordan upgrade after all the bad blood that followed July’s aborted Buddy Hield trade.

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Knox landed in Atlanta largely as matching pay in the deal with Cam Reddish, and has only played 35 total minutes with the Hawks since. None of this is surprising, but if the Hawks have no interest in developing Knox, they’d probably be better served by letting him sign with a team that wants to give him a hard time. Knox needs to finish the season strong if he wants to get a contract from anyone next season, and his agent would surely enjoy Atlanta’s favor if the Hawks gave him the chance. Hey, saving a few bucks and clearing a spot on the list never hurts either.

Expiring contracts that could be traded

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The Clippers can save more than $40 million in payroll and luxury taxes by trading Ibaka to Oklahoma City’s cap space. The Thunder would then presumably buy him out and allow him to sign with a contender, and there would be no shortage of candidates. The Nets recruited him hard as a free agent in 2020. The Lakers would allow him to stay in Los Angeles. Milwaukee would like a big man who can shoot and protect the rim to keep them afloat until Brook Lopez returns. Where he goes will likely depend on who offers him the best role.

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The Lakers are going to clear a spot or two on the roster before the dust settles, and the easiest way to do that would be to trade Jordan and/or Bazemore. Jordan, if dealt by the Lakers, likely played his last NBA game. Bazemore could probably still help the right team if his shot goes down. He is a little lost defensively but he can still defend himself on the perimeter.

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Lamb has started to turn a corner lately. After a miserable start to the season, he has returned to around 44% from the field and 36% from behind the arc in his last eight games. If Indiana doesn’t trade him and plan to re-sign him, the budget-conscious Pacers probably wouldn’t hesitate to save a few bucks and let him join a contender. Of course, the Pacers refuse to tank, so their preference might be to keep the option to bring him back in the offseason, so overall his Bird rights are probably more valuable to them than the money they would keep. by redeeming it. If he’s treated as salary match in a larger deal involving one of the leading Pacers, he becomes a much more likely buyout candidate.

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We’re probably killing time here until Dragic becomes a Maverick. Dragic has barely played in Toronto this season and will likely be bought out either after a deadline trade for another expensive player or once such a trade is no longer possible. One important note the Mavericks are likely watching closely: If Dragic is traded then bought out, he could technically return to the Heat. Teams cannot repurchase players they have traded for up to one year after the original trade, but if the player is traded a second time, this restriction is lifted. The Heat are probably deep enough on guard with the return of Victor Oladipo that they won’t pursue Dragic, but they would be Dallas’ main competition if they tried to bring him home. Still, with fellow Slovenian star Luka Doncic as lead scout, Dragic is likely to end up in Dallas.

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Brooklyn is trying to find a new home for Millsap in the trade market, but the end result here will likely be a trade where the Nets send money or a fair pick to get him off their roster. The Nets will be a prime buyout destination and only need an empty spot on the roster to offer their prime target. As for Millsap? It was a disappointing season with his numbers plummeting across the board. He could be a useful veteran to have in a locker room, but he’s probably past the point in his career where he can help a team win on the pitch.

Multi-year redemptions

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Wall has shown no interest in a buyout so far this season. Could that change if the deadline passes without a deal? At that point, he would be looking down the barrel of two missed seasons in a row. Apart from the impact it would have on him as a player, you could argue that it also hurts his future earning power. Say Wall is giving up $5 million to become a free agent and shines in a brief stint with a new team this season. How much more could he earn on a new contract that likely wouldn’t be available if he missed two full seasons? It’s unlikely, but it’s worth discussing.

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The Lakers won’t buy Westbrook, but if he’s eventually traded for Wall, Houston would surely be open to it. Even in his state of decline, Westbrook would instantly become the most valuable player to ever receive a buyout. He’s no longer a primary option in a good team or maybe even a starter in one, but he would be an extremely valuable player on the right bench for 20-25 minutes a night. Still, his free agency hinges on the Lakers trading him for Wall, and right now that seems extremely unlikely.

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