The NBA should just officially label the last week in February Buyout Week. They should have teams wear those special warmups they so enjoy, like they do for FIT week or for Chinese New Year or for Green Week (my personal favorite, let's manufacture 30 teams worth of T-Shirts to be worn once or twice each to promote sustainability and help combat wasting resources). The logo of Buyout Week could be a before and after shot of Boris Diaw, looking suicidal at the end of one of the record number of Bobcats losses paired with him celebrating a playoff win with the Spurs.
It seems as if there are an unusually high number of names being discussed this year. They won't all wind up as free agents, but here's a partial list of buyout candidates so far:
|Glen Davis||Magic||bought out|
|Metta World Peace||Knicks||probable|
(Rob Mahoney of SI.com has an excellent buyout primer that you should check out.)
Of course, buyouts happen every year, but this would definitely be a whole lot name players suddenly on the market. Last year was unusually quiet, with Aaron Brooks and Raja Bell being about the only players anyone had heard of to hit the waiver wire.
A word about buyouts versus plain old vanilla waivers. A buyout is the term used when the player and the team negotiate some sort of give back of guaranteed monies in exchange for the player's freedom. On the other hand, some players are simply cut or waived without a buyout this time of year, especially players acquired in trade deadline deals for non-basketball purposes. Any player can be waived at any time if the team is willing to pay them their salary; a buyout involves an additional agreement between the sides. Jason Terry was traded to Sacramento where he will remain under contract although he will not be a part of the team. In that case, the Kings don't want him, but the two sides aren't bothering to negotiate his release for whatever reason (the official story is that he is rehabbing). Usually, veteran players NOT traded at the deadline (like Davis and Gordon, possibly Chris Kaman of the Lakers) who do not fit into the long term plans of their existing teams are the best buyout candidates.
The Los Angeles Clippers did not add any players at the trade deadline, despite one or two glaring roster weaknesses. It's becoming increasingly obvious that the absence of a trade, due in large part to a dearth of viable trade assets, was also at least in part a recognition of reality: they weren't going to do better on the trade market than they could do on the buyout market. Doc Rivers said as much to Ralph Lawler prior to the Memphis game Friday night: "I predicted this would be a high buyout year and it looks like I was right." Doc has a history of adding guys from the buyout bin to his Celtics teams -- of course he's been in the position to offer players postseason opportunities for many years. Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore and Ryan Hollins are among the waived players who saw postseason action for Rivers in Boston. Sam Cassell even got a third championship ring out of the deal.
The Clippers are considered the front-runner for Big Baby, which doesn't surprise me at all. The minute I heard that Orlando was going to buy him out (his the first one of the season) I assumed he'd be a Clipper. In fact, I've gone so far as to call it a done deal, and I see no reason to soften that stance, despite some recruiting by Davis' former teammate Kevin Garnett on behalf of Brooklyn. Any money Davis makes this season will be deducted from what Orlando owes him, so the fact that Brooklyn has a disabled player exception to spend doesn't matter one bit. Davis will be looking for a role and a chance to win, and he'll have more of each with the Clippers than with the Nets -- not to mention that Doc Rivers is recruiting his former player just as actively as KG is recruiting his former teammate. If the Heat swoop in with an offer, they would have the obvious edge in terms of title prospects, but it's hard to see Davis' his role might be on that team, whereas he'd be the de facto first big off the bench the moment he puts on an LAC uniform. In fact, I fully expect him to check into the Clippers-Pelicans game Monday night with two minutes remaining in the first quarter (he clears waivers Monday morning). You heard it here first: Glen Davis makes his Clippers debut on Monday, February 24th at 5:33 PM Pacific time.
Who else among the new crop of free agents might be of interest to the Clippers? Even after signing Davis, they'll have two more roster spots and enough room under the hard cap to pay two pro-rated veteran minimum salaries. They could have jumped through one more hoop on Thursday to get UNDER the luxury tax threshold, which they did not do, so it seems they're committed to spending what it takes to have the best possible team this season. Which says to me that they'll want to take a 15 man roster into the post season.
If indeed they have three roster spots to fill, and one of them goes to Big Baby, then the next two would likely go to one wing and one more big. Neither Ryan Hollins nor Hedo Turkoglu have been good enough to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about having them as your fourth big on a playoff team, and while there's no guarantee that anyone else will be better, I expect Rivers to at least try.
On the wing, they have an immediate need for a shooting guard as long as J.J. Redick is out, and they have a broader need for an athletic wing who can at least approximate a defensive stopper from time to time. Neither Matt Barnes nor Jared Dudley have lived up to expectations this season -- though it's far from clear that the Clippers will be able to find anyone better. The simple truth is that four mediocre small forwards isn't any better than three mediocre small forwards (including Reggie Bullock in the mix) so there may not be much help on the way on the wing.
Still, Ben Gordon is a career 40% three point shooter, and there's little evidence that he has lost his shot, only that he has lost his spot in the rotation: he was about 39% last season and has only taken 28 threes in 18 games this season. Or if you prefer to take a flyer on a wing with defensive potential, there was a time that Ronnie Brewer was viewed as a very good wing defender. Brewer's minutes have disappeared since he left Chicago (in large part because he's shot less than 35% from the field over the past two seasons) but if he could provide viable defense against the likes of a Kevin Durant in a playoff series he might be very valuable. Then there's Metta; he's a former Defensive Player of the Year and was indisputably the best wing defender in the NBA at one point in his career. However, that point is quite distant in the rear view mirror now, and it's unclear whether he would help. Whether his "attitude" (he's intense and loyal, but also a loose cannon) would be a help or a hindrance is a coin toss, but I'm not sure you want to take that chance this late in the game with a team that's already pretty good.
As for Granger, I think there's little doubt that the Clippers would love to sign him, but they will have to get in line, and unlike with Davis, they don't hold all the cards. The Heat and Spurs, last year's NBA Finalists, could both be interested in his services, and the Thunder could certainly use a bench scorer. Granger could actually be very useful for the Clippers -- Rivers likes to play small, and Granger is certainly as viable as a stretch four as Turkoglu. Granger played the four for Team USA in the World Championships a few years back and spent significant time defending Blake Griffin after David West was ejected from the Pacers-Clippers in Indianapolis last month. If Granger could provide the versatility to play the three or the four and also stretch the floor (he's a career 38% three point shooter) he could be great for the Clippers. There's no guarantee that Granger will even be bought out, but I expect Rivers to make a pitch if he is.
If you're looking for one more pure big, none of the names on the buyout list beyond Davis really fit the bill, which could leave the Clippers looking at existing free agents like Jason Collins and Ivan Johnson. Rivers won't hesitate to use 10 day contracts in the meantime as he's trying to fill his last three roster spots, and Johnson in particular would be a candidate for a 10 day tryout.