The NBA is a cutthroat league—a fact that will be particularly evident during the upcoming week.
That's when teams around the Association will have to make tough calls on players with currently non-guaranteed contracts. In order for the unfortunate castoffs to clear waivers by the Jan. 10 deadline, teams will have to make decisions regarding their contract by Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. ET.
If those players remain on their current rosters beyond that deadline, their contracts will be fully guaranteed for the rest of the 2013-14 season. With so many professional futures hanging in the balance, it's no surprise that there's high tension running throughout the league right now.
When teams send players packing, they don't do so mean-spiritedly; they do it for practical purposes. Money saved by cutting loose non-guaranteed talent can help avoid a luxury-tax penalty, or it can even be used to sign some new blood to a 10-day contract.
As you might expect, there aren't any enormous names among the potential cuts this year. But there are a huge number of rotation players whose fates will be decided on Jan. 7. Some of these guys are perfectly safe, while others should probably have their bags packed.
Here's a breakdown of every NBA club's potential waiver candidates and the most difficult decision in each situation.
*All salary information courtesy of Shamsports.com, unless otherwise indicated.
Candidates: Shelvin Mack, Cartier Martin and Mike Scott
After all that buildup, we begin with a situation that lacks any real tension.
Mack, Martin and Scott are all part of the Atlanta Hawks' rotation, and while no member of this non-guaranteed trio starts for coach Mike Budenholzer, they all average at least 14 minutes per contest. Mack, in particular, has played extremely well as a backup point guard.
If forced to pick one, I'd suspect that Martin is in the most danger of being cut loose, but he's the best three-point threat on the team after Kyle Korver. With Atlanta prizing triples more than ever this season, it'd be hard to see Martin leaving this roster.
All three make less than $1 million this year, so it's not as though jettisoning any of them would represent significant savings.
Expect to see these guys cruise right past the Jan. 7 deadline without much of a sweat.
Candidates: Jeff Adrien and Chris Douglas-Roberts
If it seems a little familiar to see Douglas-Roberts is on shaky ground, but it's because he's spent nearly his entire career on footing that has almost never been firm. The Memphis product has played in parts of five NBA seasons, with the Charlotte Bobcats representing his fourth team during that time.
Unable to stick anywhere since his first two years with the New Jersey Nets, the 6'7" forward is a candidate to hit the waiver wire this week.
Really, CDR is only on the 'Cats roster because of injuries to Jeff Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. To his credit, Douglas-Roberts has managed to hit over 48 percent of his shots while peppering in the occasionally spectacular chase-down block. However, with averages of just 5.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per contest, you'd have to suspect his playing time to dwindle once MKG returns in a couple of weeks.
Adrien plays just 12 minutes per contest, but he's a proven rebounder who has managed to post a PER of 16.0 in 18 games this season, per Basketball-Reference.com.
For my money, neither player seems likely to wind up on the chopping block. But Douglas-Roberts represents the tougher decision of the two.
Personally, I'd waive him on "bad haircut" grounds alone. But that's just me.
Candidates: D.J. Augustin and Erik Murphy
After failing to impress in backup duties last year, the Indiana Pacers said "thanks, but no thanks" to another season of D.J. Augustin. The undersized point guard then washed out of a cameo with the Toronto Raptors in December.
The Bulls, devastated by Derrick Rose's torn meniscus, picked Augustin up off waivers on Dec. 11 and almost immediately handed him significant minutes. Believe it or not, he's been pretty good ever since.
With per-game averages of 9.9 points and 5.8 assists in 29 minutes, Augustin isn't going anywhere. He's currently playing for the prorated veteran's minimum, per Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago, so there's almost no financial benefit to getting rid of him.
More importantly, he's earned a job.
That leaves Erik Murphy as the only other candidate. And as a rookie second-rounder with a very team-friendly deal, he's not going anywhere either.
For example, Erik Murphy with Chicago has only a $250,000 guarantee on his $490,180 salary this season, yet he is surely extremely likely to survive the whole season, as a replacement player (whom the Bulls would likely have to sign just to meet the minimum roster size) will cost about double that.
Chicago will likely stand pat, which is something both Augustin and Murphy will be happy to hear.
Candidates: Andrew Bynum, C.J. Miles, Matthew Dellavedova and Henry Sims
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been so wholly disappointing this season that you could probably make a good case for waiving just about anybody on the roster. At 11-23, Cleveland now boasts the third-worst record in the East.
Instead of contending for a playoff spot, the Cavs are, once again, in the running for the No. 1 pick.
But Miles has value as a scorer on the wing, and losing him would drastically reduce Cleveland's stash of lanky left-handers, so he's probably not going anywhere. Dellavedova has shot the ball extremely well while representing a steadying presence as a reserve ball-handler, so he's safe as well.
Sims plays just 4.7 minutes per game and hasn't touched the court in a non-garbage-time situation all year, so if Cleveland thinks it could snatch up a more useful piece on the market, he could be a waiver option.
But we've ignored the elephant in the room for long enough, haven't we?
Andrew Bynum, current topic of rampant trade discussion after being suspended by the Cavs, is looking more and more like a waiver casualty.
Per Grantland's Bill Simmons, there's growing speculation that the Cavaliers will simply turn him loose in an effort to save money: "Hearing the Cavs plan on waiving Bynum to save 6m barring a last-second miracle offer tonight. They can't get anything half-decent for him."
This makes sense for Cleveland on a lot of levels. First, it'll get rid of a malcontent without eating much of the cost. The structure of Bynum's deal is one of the few things GM Chris Grant has gotten right in his tenure.
Assuming Cleveland can't get a larger-than-expected return at the 11th hour, look for it to part ways with Bynum in an effort to save some cash. Letting him walk for nothing might be difficult, but it's better than taking on a bad asset or keeping him around to cause more trouble.
Candidates: Josh Harrellson and Peyton Siva
Last year at this time, Harrellson learned he'd been cut by the Miami Heat, costing him a bunch of money and, eventually, a championship ring.
Per David Mayo of MLive.com, Harrellson is playing it cool, despite his bad experience last year: "I haven't really been thinking about it. I know it's coming up soon. But hopefully, I've done enough in the games I've gotten to play to show him I can play, and hopefully I can stay here."
Only $150,000 of his deal is guaranteed, so if Harrellson makes it past Jan. 7, he'll be assured of the remaining $734,000 promised in his contract. Thanks to a 38.5 percent stroke from long distance, the young center should expect to hang on with the Detroit Pistons.
Peyton Siva might be another story, though.
Put simply, the Louisville product has been Detroit's worst player by a substantial margin. In 5.8 minutes per game, Siva is averaging just 0.3 points and 0.6 assists per contest. With Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups all better suited to handle minutes at the point, expect the Pistons to think about using Siva's roster spot on somebody else.
If the Bobcats were to waive Douglas-Roberts, it wouldn't be surprising to see him head to Detroit for a 10-day deal to replace Siva.
Candidate: Kent Bazemore
Bench celebrations at Oracle Arena would take a serious hit if the Golden State Warriors severed ties with Kent Bazemore. For a while there, it seemed like that possibility was getting pretty real.
For most of the first two months of the 2013-14 campaign, Bazemore couldn't touch the ball without turning it over. Clearly in his own head, the happy-go-lucky second-year player was a basket case.
Fortunately, the rangy left-handed guard has picked up his play after a disastrous start to the season. If he'd kept up that worrisome level of play, his place on the roster might not be so certain. But he's been more consistent lately, and he even dropped 12 points in 17 aggressive minutes against the Orlando Magic on Dec. 31.
A breakout summer league performance had many thinking the league's most creative celebration artist was going to take hold of the Dubs' backup point guard job and never let go. He hasn't done that, by a long shot, but at least he's playing well enough now to avoid the chopping block.
Bazemore is vital to the Warriors' chemistry, and since they've won nine straight games, don't expect them to rock the boat by throwing him overboard.
Candidates: Patrick Beverley, Greg Smith and Ronnie Brewer
Good teams—which the Houston Rockets are—don't waive dirt-cheap starters with tons of room to improve—which Patrick Beverley is. After beating out Jeremy Lin for a spot with the first unit, Beverley logged 24 starts before breaking his hand.
When he returns, he'll either retake his starting spot, or, failing that, continue to be a huge part of Houston's rotation. At the league-minimum, you can't really do much better than Beverley.
Greg Smith's deal is also non-guaranteed, but he's a bruising presence in the lane whose 14.9 PER is indicative of what he could do with more minutes. Barely playing this season won't count against Smith, whom Houston has on yet another of their seemingly unfair league-minimum contracts.
Ronnie Brewer will collect $1.1 million from the Rockets if he makes it past Jan. 7. On the other hand, if the Rockets cut him, they'll save all but $100,000 of that figure. Any guesses as to what they'll do with the guy averaging just 0.3 points per game on 25 percent shooting?
Yeah, Brewer's getting the axe. More than almost anybody else we've covered so far, he's a goner.
Houston has the best D-League affiliate in the NBA, and Troy Daniels, Robert Covington and Chris Johnson—to name just a few—would all be cheaper, more effective options in Brewer's vacated roster spot.
Candidate: Rasual Butler
Butler is the Indiana Pacers' only waiver candidate, and considering the fact that he's played the fewest minutes of any player on the roster, it'd be tempting to assume he'll be looking for a new job come Jan. 7.
But according to Scott Agness of Pacers.com, Butler's role on the team actually has little to do with his on-court production. His value is, instead, tied to his leadership.
More than his play on the court — coach Frank Vogel said in camp that it seems like every shot Butler throws up is going in — the Pacers liked how Butler looked after some of the younger guys, like Lance Stephenson, Orlando Johnson and Solomon Hill. It’s no coincidence that Butler’s locker is next to Stephenson’s and he’s frequently providing the fourth-year guard with tips or motivation.
So, while it might make financial sense to save a few hundred grand by waiving Butler, it seems as though Indiana is willing to pay for a good influence on its young talent.
It's hard to fault the Pacers for that.
Candidates: Stephen Jackson and Maalik Wayns
The Los Angeles Clippers took some of the mystery out of Maalik Wayns' future well in advance of the Jan. 7 deadline, releasing the point guard on Jan. 5, per a team press release. That decision will remove the rest of his $779,00 salary from the books this year, and it will also erase the $1.1 million qualifying offer he might have been owed for next year.
That means they can now sign another player, something Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the team probably would do because All-Star point guard Chris Paul will be out three to five weeks with a separated right shoulder.
As of now, Darren Collison is the Clippers’ only point guard.
Jackson's poor play probably puts him in danger, too. He's still a guy teammates love, but the Clippers were probably hoping to get more than 1.7 points per game out of him. At any rate, the Clips' glaring need at the point is the bigger concern.
ESPN's Arash Markazi tweeted that Bobby Brown and Delonte West, both currently playing in China, could be replacement options.
Candidates: Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall and Shawne Williams
Seeing as the Los Angeles Lakers have populated their roster with a number of players other teams have given up on a long time ago, there's always a chance that L.A. will release one or two of their waiver candidates in hopes of finding another discarded talent elsewhere.
But Henry was one of the Lakers' best players before injuring his knee, and Kendall Marshall is the team's savior du jour.
They're definitely safe.
Kelly has played 11 games since bouncing between the D-League and the Lakers, but his averages of 25.2 points and 7.6 rebounds as a D-Fender indicate that he doesn't have much more to learn down on the farm. At a cost of only $490,000 this season, he's a solid bargain.
That leaves Williams, who has started 11 games this season while serving as one of Mike D'Antoni's beloved floor-stretching forwards.
According to Ismail Senol of NTV SPOR, recently waived Hedo Turkoglu is someone who interests the Lakers. So if they pursue the veteran forward, L.A. might part with a forward to make room in the rotation. That would seem to make Williams the most likely candidate, as Kelly could simply spend more time in the D-League.
Realistically, though, I see the Lakers keeping all four of their waiver options.
Candidate: James Johnson
The Memphis Grizzlies waived Seth Curry, their only other candidate, on Jan. 5, according to the team's official Twitter account.
ESPN's Marc Stein reports there's a high likelihood that Curry returns to Memphis on a 10-day contract, which is frequently what happens with waiver situations like this. This way, the Grizzlies will get to keep their player and their roster flexibility.
That leaves James Johnson as the only other non-guaranteed option.
Since signing on nine games ago, Johnson has outplayed every other wing on the roster. In 21.9 minutes per game, the 26-year-old from Wake Forest has averaged 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds on 48 percent shooting from the field.
Don't expect him to go anywhere.
Candidates: Michael Beasley and Roger Mason
If any team knows the value of a 10-day contract, it's the Miami Heat.
Last year, the Heat used Harrellson's vacated spot to bring in Chris Andersen on a 10-day trial. A few months later, he was playing meaningful minutes in a title run.
To open up another such spot, Miami would have to release either Michael Beasley or Roger Mason. Should Bynum wind up getting released, Mason would be the player more likely to be waived. But since Cleveland seems intent on waiting until the last possible minute, there's no way for the Heat to be sure that waiving Mason will be necessary.
At the same time, the Heat know they're a hot destination for virtually any player that might become available. If they think there's a chance to improve down the line, it might make sense to clear Mason's spot preemptively.
Beasley, though, has behaved and played extremely well. He's perfectly safe.
Candidates: Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price
Neither Robbie Hummel nor A.J. Price are significant cogs in the Minnesota Timberwolves' rotation, and neither will cost the team much money if they wind up sticking around for the rest of the season.
Hummell is owed just $490,000 this year, while Price is on a one-year minimum deal that pays him just $884,000.
Price might be slightly more important for whatever goals the Wolves have this season, as he's the team's third-string point guard. Should injury befall Ricky Rubio or J.J. Barea, his minutes would increase dramatically.
Hummel, though, is basically a player without a role right now. He's hitting just 29 percent of his triples and has almost totally fallen out of the rotation over the past week. Even though he's three years younger than Price and half as expensive, it seems like Hummel will be the man to go if the Wolves want to open up a roster spot.
If it's Hummel who gets the chop, the Wolves could take a shot at Turkoglu, whom Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN mentioned the Wolves discussed way back in October.
Candidates: Cole Aldrich and Toure' Murry
By waiving Chris Smith after his contract became fully guaranteed, the New York Knicks got their most difficult decision out of the way. Slotting D-League call-up Jeremy Tyler into Smith's spot—much to the dismay of brother J.R.—proved that the Knicks were still on the lookout for any help they could find in the frontcourt.
That's a long way of saying Aldrich seems unlikely to be waived this week. He's big, he's physical, and even though he's barely playing, he's a more useful banger than anyone the Knicks might find on the open market.
That leaves Murry as the only other option, and though he's not seeing much time on the court either, his minutes have picked up lately.
It's never easy to know what the Knicks are thinking, but if there were any viable options to replace either Aldrich or Murry, you'd certainly think the New York media would have made us aware of them by now.
The guess: New York stands pat.
Candidates: Ryan Gomes and Hasheem Thabeet
Releasing Thabeet would save the Oklahoma City Thunder nearly $700,000 this year and as much as $1.2 million in 2014-15, while sending Gomes packing would only get OKC out of the balance of his league-minimum contract for the rest of this year.
That said, if the Thunder choose to waive one of their two non-guaranteed candidates, it'll almost certainly be Gomes.
Neither player has done much this season, but Thabeet is still over seven feet tall and is still significantly younger than Gomes. On the slim chance that the big man might some day develop enough skill to give a few reliable minutes per game, he's worth keeping around.
Gomes is a seasoned veteran, but guys like him aren't exactly hard to come by. There are probably a dozen similarly skilled and inexpensive replacements for him in the D-League right now.
Thabeet is a rarer breed.
Candidates: Lorenzo Brown, Brandon Davies, Daniel Orton, Hollis Thompson, Elliot Willliams
We can safely rule out Thompson as a potential casualty; he's started 16 games this season, defends well on the wing and can knock down the occasional triple. On the Philadelphia 76ers, that's more than enough to warrant a roster spot for the full year.
Davies has played in 30 games but has averaged a team-low 2.1 points in about 11 minutes per contest. He's still just a rookie, though, so the rebuilding Sixers might be inclined to guarantee the balance of his $490,000 contract this year.
Williams has shot the ball horribly in his 18-game stint in Philly, which makes him a strong candidate to be cut loose. And neither Orton nor Brown have shown anything to suggest they're worthy of making guaranteed money for the rest of the year.
It's a confusing situation in Philadelphia, as the Sixers seem intent on stockpiling young players en masse, hoping to discover one or two worthwhile talents in the bunch. Anybody besides Thompson would be a justifiable cut, but it's just too difficult to pick one of the remaining four players as "most likely."
At least a couple of these guys are getting waived, but it's almost impossible to know which ones. Let's call it a four-way tie.
Candidate: Dionte Christmas
Christmas is on the hook for $490,000 this year if the Phoenix Suns don't waive him by Tuesday evening, and there's a glut of guards ahead of him on the depth chart.
With Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe receiving the lion's share of backcourt playing time, and with Gerald Green logging 27 minutes per contest, the scraps have been falling to Archie Goodwin and Ish Smith before Christmas. As a result, he's averaging just 2.3 points in 6.8 minutes per contest.
Still, they don't come much cheaper than the 27-year-old guard. So, unless the Suns want to dabble in the 10-day contract market, they're probably best served hanging onto Christmas.
Candidate: Hamady N'Diaye
So, remember all that stuff about how Christmas was a better option than mucking around in 10-day contract land?
At 26 years old and lacking any real chance to contribute to a Sacramento Kings team that already has DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, Aaron Gray and Chuck Hayes ahead of him, the seven-footer from Senegal just doesn't warrant his league-minimum salary.
It might be better for the Kings to take a few fliers on more exciting prospects for 10 days at a time than continue to write checks to N'Diaye.
Candidate: Malcolm Thomas
Even though he hasn't played a minute in the NBA this season, Malcolm Thomas is almost certainly going to wind up with a guaranteed contract.
Per Mark Deeks of Shamsports.com, San Antonio is high on the 25-year-old forward and isn't going to let him get away: "The Spurs have grand designs on Thomas's future, as well they should. He will survive."
Good enough for me.
Truthfully, the only thing we know about the 6'9" Thomas is that he's a dominant D-League player. He tore it up for two games with the D-Fenders, averaging 33.5 points and 15.5 rebounds, which is what caused the Spurs to sign him.
San Antonio promptly shipped him to the Austin Toros, where he's been averaging 15.8 points and 7.8 rebounds on 58 percent shooting in six games.
There's always the chance that San Antonio will let him go, opening up its 15th roster spot for somebody on a 10-day contract, but Thomas has been good enough to deserve a shot. I suspect he's sticking around for the duration.
Candidate: Julyan Stone
Julyan Stone is still just 25, and it's worth mentioning that when they had the choice, the Toronto Raptors waived D.J. Augustin instead of Stone to make room for Greivis Vasquez.
But we've learned a few things about the Raptors under new general manager Masai Ujiri. First, they love saving money—that's why they sent Rudy Gay to the Kings.
Second, flexibility is hugely valuable to their rebuilding efforts.
Knowing those two things, does it really makes sense for them to pay Stone a guaranteed $884,000 this year? Not really.
It certainly seems like cheaper options might be available, and if nothing else, the Raps could find somebody on a 10-day deal to address an area of need in the event they stay on their recent successful run.
If Toronto blows things up to ensure a more effective tank job, Stone could go. If they want to bolster the roster to solidify their current playoff spot, ditching Stone could make that easier, too.
As much as the Raps seem to like him, it's hard to deny that waiving Stone makes a lot of sense. We'll see what they do in a couple of days.
Candidates: Ian Clarke, Diante Garrett and Mike Harris
Most of the rumblings out of Salt Lake City have focused on the unlikely trade that might send Richard Jefferson to the Cavs for Bynum, as reported by Jody Genessy of The Deseret News, which means there hasn't been much chatter about the trio of non-guaranteed players whose fates will be determined this week.
Garrett has played the most, but Harris has been slightly more effective as both a scorer and rebounder. Remember, though, we're talking about fringe rotation players on one of the worst teams in the league, so terms like "effective" are relative.
Clarke has spent most of his season in the D-League, which makes his eight NBA games too small of a sample to make any real judgments.
It'd be one thing if the Jazz were good enough to attract potential veterans on 10-day deals later in the year, but because they're hanging around the basement in the West, it makes more sense to simply retain their current players.
All three are making the minimum for their respective experience levels, so it's not like keeping them breaks the bank.
Don't look for any of these guys to see the waiver wire.