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Surveying the Buyout Market: Can Anyone Help the Clippers?

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In years past, Doc Rivers' squad has been a major player at this time of year.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As happens every season after the trade deadline, teams begin off-loading contracts via buyouts.  The Nets surely would have loved to trade Joe Johnson's massive expiring contract and get something back in return, but once that hope fell through, they were willing to let him leave in exchange for Johnson forfeiting some of his salary.  The same applies in numerous cases around the league every year, some with more goodwill than others.

In the last few days, several names have hit the buyout market: Anderson Varejao signed with Golden State, David Lee signed with Dallas, Steve Novak signed with Milwaukee, and J.J. Hickson signed with Washington.  None of those names were particularly interesting for the Clippers, who only play 1 big man off the bench, which means that any of those names would have had to earn minutes against Cole Aldrich, who is playing quite well this season for the Clippers.  However, as guards start to hit the market, the Clippers might emerge as stronger players.  While the team has plenty of depth, basketball front offices are always looking for upgrades, and the Clippers could particularly use point guard help in Austin Rivers' absence, and support shooting beyond J.J. Redick and Chris Paul is still a long-term concern.

Today, Joe Johnson and Andre Miller were bought out by the Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves, respectively.  The Timberwolves are also likely to buy out Kevin Martin.  One other name to keep an eye on, though there haven't been any reports, is Caron Butler.  Butler has hardly gotten off the bench for George Karl's Sacramento Kings this season, and the team promised to trade him in December but never found a deal.  A soon-to-be 36-year-old who has only played in 9 games for a lottery team (and is on a minimum contract) is a prime candidate for a buyout.

Johnson is the stud of the buyout season this year--he's up to 48% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc since January first, and he brings efficient shot-creating and shot-making ability to the table--which is why nearly every playoff team in both conferences are after him.  Kevin Martin is just a less attractive version of Johnson--a similar SG/SF player who is still an above-average shooter but isn't a great all-around player.  Martin is a 39% career three-point shooter who is at 37% this year in a reduced role and shot 39% each of the past two full seasons.  He's worse all-around than Johnson but his shooting touch still has a lot of teams interested and he could help the Clippers space the floor.  Both of these players are essentially locks to end up on good teams within the next week.

Andre Miller is a more interesting case--he's been waived by the Timberwolves already and will seek a roster spot with a playoff contender, but it's hard to see where he fits in.  He's about to turn 40, and he's spent the better part of a decade as the steady hand PG on young up-and-coming teams.  Miller has never been a three-point shooter and as such he isn't suited to playing off of others well at this point, so it's hard to plug him right in to a system as a support player in the way Johnson and Martin will be used.  I'm sure some team will sign him for depth reasons at point guard, and end up getting some use out of him, but it's much harder to imagine him being a big contributor to a team in the NBA Finals or Conference Finals.

Caron Butler should get bought out--he deserves to go play for a good team and it's actually pretty surprising that nobody better than Sacramento tried to sign him last summer.  I mean, he has really improved his shooting late in his career, shooting 39%/39%/38% in each of his last three seasons, including a stretch where he shot 44% from deep in 2014 after being picked up by Oklahoma City during buyout season.  He isn't on the Joe Johnson tier, but if teams are lining up for Kevin Martin as the second-best buyout season wing, there's no reason that one of the teams that doesn't  get either shouldn't pick up Caron.  The fact that he's only made 9 appearances for Sacramento might be hurting him, and it's possible that he's not talking to the Kings until his agent can line up interested teams, but it makes a whole lot of sense for him to get bought out and join a playoff team.

Keep in mind that these players are looking for two things--a chance to play, and a chance to win.  They're looking for contending teams that could utilize their skill set, and for veterans like these four who have made a TON of money in their career, the guarantees that teams regarding playing time and a team's championship potential will far outweigh the pull of any exceptions that teams might have.  Remember, any player who is bought out is leaving money on the table to chase a ring (in the case of Miller and Butler, not very much, but Johnson and Martin are both giving up millions for this chance).