Small-Market NBA Teams Concerned About Buyouts 'Helping the Rich Get Richer'

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2021

Brooklyn Nets forward Blake Griffin plays during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, March 26, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

The buyout market might have played a significant role in determining the 2021 NBA championship, which has caused complaints from small-market teams.

"The system is flawed," a small-market general manager told Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated. "You shouldn't be adding to your team this deep in a season without giving things up."

The Brooklyn Nets added veterans LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin after they agreed to buyouts with the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons, respectively. Andre Drummond signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday after parting ways with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"You're just helping the rich get richer," another small-market GM said.

Players are free to sign with any team once they agree to a buyout, but they tend to gravitate toward title contenders.

"Without a doubt, players that are entering the buyout market will only be looking at contending teams," a team executive said. "And most of the time, historically, their preference has been to go to the teams in the bigger markets."

The situation has this season benefitted the Nets and Lakers, who were both able to add veteran depth without giving up anything in trades. The cost was also low, with Drummond's contract reportedly just $794,536, per Bobby Marks of ESPN.

On the other hand, small-market teams had the opportunity to acquire any of the players through trades before a buyout. Drummond was held out of games from mid-February with the Cavaliers looking for any deal.

The buyouts are also often a result of bad contracts teams need to get off their books. It's a situation even the Lakers and Nets have dealt with, including players like Luol Deng or Deron Williams. 

Once the players become free agents, it's hard to blame them for choosing the opportunity to compete for a title or play alongside superstars such as LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

Still, it creates more inefficiency for the small-market teams already struggling to compete in the NBA.