NBA Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline: Predictions for Top Buyout Candidates

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2021

NBA Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline: Predictions for Top Buyout Candidates

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Midseason NBA free agency is already unfolding right before eyes, but it's about to get a tick more intense.

    Some of the biggest buyout names have already found their new digs: LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond, Gorgui Dieng, Blake Griffin, etc. Another, in Austin Rivers, is available but hasn't officially decided what's next.

    Other buyout possibilities, though, are still just that: potential options. They haven't yet negotiated exits from their incumbent squads. Many of them never will. Perhaps some of them shouldn't. But a handful of might-be impact players or at least recognizable faces will invariably hit the open market prior to April 9—the last day someone on an NBA contract can be waived and maintain playoff eligibility should he sign with a different team.

    Our mission is to suss out the juiciest could-be buyouts and forecast what comes next. Anyone who is considered less than a coin-toss candidate won't be included. Names like Sterling Brown and Marc Gasol aren't worth talking about when it seems highly unlikely their teams will show them the door.

    Focus instead will lie with recently traded veterans who are out of place in their new homes, or with players who were generating buyout speculation long before now.

Avery Bradley, Houston Rockets

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Imagine signing with a perceived title contender only to miss most of the season in the league's health and safety protocols and with injuries and then, before you return to the floor, getting traded to the...Houston Rockets. That's rough.

    It is also the situation Avery Bradley finds himself in now. He has returned from his strained right calf to make his debut for the Rockets, but the immediate fit between player and team is sketchy.

    Negotiating a quick divorce is best for both sides. Bradley's team option for next season could complicate matters, but Houston has roughly 1 trillion guards after its fire sale. A 30-year-old could-be free agent isn't going to top the list of priorities, and he shouldn't have trouble securing a multiyear pact over the summer that nets him noticeably more than the $5.9 million he's owed next year.

    Earning himself an annual raise should actually be easier on a different team. The Rockets are done playing meaningful games this year. Bradley will do more for his stock if he can latch onto a postseason shoo-in and remain healthy while pestering opposing backcourts and knocking down his triples.

    Surprise, surprise (but not really): The Los Angeles Lakers have interest in bringing him back if he hits the open market, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin. They better get in line. Bradley remains a serviceable one-on-one defender versus both guard slots and is converting 40.5 percent of his treys. One or more teams might actually sign him to play inside their most frequently deployed closing five.

    Prediction: Bradley and Houston negotiate a buyout

    Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Boston, Denver, Lakers

Wayne Ellington, Detroit Pistons

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Wayne Ellington has regained some of the luster from his peak Miami days since joining the Detroit Pistons. Spitting hot fire from beyond the arc has a way of doing that.

    His 42.4 percent clip from downtown only tells part of the story. He's banging in 45 percent of his above-the-break threes, the third-highest mark in the league among 144 players who have launched at least 100 of those triples. And his 67.4 effective field-goal percentage coming around screens ranks second among everyone who has taken as many shots on those possessions.

    Ellington is also nailing a career-high 55.6 percent of his two-pointers. Breaking down defenses inside the arc isn't by any means his chief skill, but he is shooting a tidy 68 percent at the rim and has dropped in the occasional mid-range J.

    Lights-out snipers will always be highly coveted by contenders. It won't take long for a market of suitors to develop if Ellington gets bought out by Detroit.

    Except, well, the Pistons have no plans to cut him loose, per the Detroit Free Press' Omari Sankofa II. A 33-year-old flame-thrower whose Bird Rights they won't have this summer runs polar opposite to their timeline, but floor spacing is valuable everywhere. Ellington is the consummate off-ball threat and opens up the offense for Detroit's less proven core of creators.

    Maybe things change. Ellington might not want them to. He probably isn't walking into a championship-ready situation and getting 20-plus minutes per game. Showcasing his outside touch in Detroit will do more to inflate his market this summer than playing a bit part on a postseason-bound squad.

    Prediction: Ellington finishes the season in Detroit

    Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Lakers, Miami, Philadelphia

Kelly Olynyk, Houston Rockets

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Kelly Olynyk is in almost the exact same boat as Avery Bradley. After starting the year with a fringe contender, he's now on a team headed straight to Nowheresville, a thorny proposition for any soon-to-be 30-year-old in a contract year.

    Teams may already be lining up in anticipation of the Rockets and Olynyk brokering a dissolution. Boston Celtics color analyst Brian Scalabrine has reportedly pushed him to "demand" a buyout, according to the Boston Globe's Chad Finn.

    Not coincidentally, Beantown would be at the top of the waiting list should Olynyk leave Houston. He not only spent the first four seasons of his career with the Celtics, but they could use some big-man insurance after sending Daniel Theis to the Chicago Bulls in a luxury-tax dump. Robert Williams III has the two-way chops to handle more responsibility. Contributions from Luke Kornet, Tristian Thompson and Moe Wagner are less guaranteed.

    The Rockets have a say in this matter, and they might not be so keen to play ball unless Olynyk gives back a nice chunk of change. He doesn't seem to fit their long-term direction, but the Rockets also aren't brimming with rotation bigs. Christian Wood's right ankle is acting up again, so they're looking at names like Justin Patton and D.J. Wilson if they don't have Olynyk—who has started each of his first two games in Houston.

    For his part, Olynyk might be happy to fatten up his stats ahead of free agency on a team that affords him a higher-volume license. His stock could use that kind of boon. He effectively navigated minutes alongside Bam Adebayo in Miami but was hitting only 31.7 percent of his threes.

    Already resolved buyout situations might impact Olynyk's thinking, too. The Nets (LaMarcus Aldridge/Blake Griffin), Lakers (Andre Drummond) and San Antonio Spurs (Gorgui Dieng) have added bigs. Olynyk will still have a market, but it might not be one that convinces him to leave his role in Houston and surrender his Bird rights.

    Prediction: Olynyk finishes the season in Houston

    Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Boston, Charlotte, New York

Otto Porter Jr., Orlando Magic

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Sources told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes that Otto Porter Jr. had no plans to seek a buyout upon being traded to the Orlando Magic. That is not as egregious as it seems.

    Yes, the Magic have leaned into being organically terrible. That's incentive enough for both they and Porter to go their separate ways. They don't want to inadvertently deflate their draft-lottery odds, and he could be better off rebuilding his value by logging high-stakes minutes on a playoff team.

    Still, Porter should have a chance to close games and assume a higher-volume role in Orlando. He isn't going to single-handedly rescue the Magic from rock bottom, and the best way to bolster his free-agency stock is through as many on-court reps as possible. That same opportunity won't await him on most contenders, even if he'll be assured of playing deep into the summer.

    Orlando also controls Porter's Bird rights. This team might represent his best crack at bagging a richer payday unless he signs with one of the league's cap-space squads. He turns 28 in June, so he doesn't perfectly align with the Magic's reboot. But the best version of Porter is someone who can guard every wing spot and swish threes. That player archetype is a fit for every team, regardless of their timeline.

    Sticking with the Magic also opens the possibility of a shorter-term windfall—an artificially jacked-up salary on a one- or two-year deal that could help them facilitate other trades down the line. At the same time, Porter might not need the opportunity Orlando poses to him. The idea of his best stuff should ensure he gets the full mid-level exception from someone in free agency.

    Leveling up from there is more feasible if he finds a playoff-bound team with cap space this summer (New York, for instance) or syncs up with a championship heavyweight that can promise him a semi-significant role when it matters most.

    Prediction: Porter and Orlando negotiate a buyout

    Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Lakers, New York, Utah

Hassan Whiteside, Sacramento Kings

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Entry into the league's health and safety protocols on top of a right knee injury has limited Hassan Whiteside to just five appearances since Feb. 22. He has seemed like a shoo-in for the buyout market through virtually this entire stretch.

    Until now.

    Ticketing Whiteside for midseason free agency was predicated on the Sacramento Kings selling at the trade deadline and remaining healthy on the frontline. They did neither. 

    Sacramento's entire deadline consisted almost exclusively of buying. Sending Nemanja Bjelica to Miami qualified as the lone exception, and that only compromised its collection of known frontcourt talent. Marvin Bagley III is sidelined with a fractured left hand, and without Bjelica or Whiteside, the Kings have turned to Chimezie Metu as their first big off the bench.

    Retaining Whiteside still isn't mission critical if Sacramento doesn't care about the race for a play-in spot. It does. Players have talked about it, and they're not deluded. The Kings are just one game back of the 10th-place Golden State Warriors.

    Whiteside will have an interesting decision on his hands if he and Sacramento do go the buyout route. He doesn't need to land with a contender so much as he needs the chance to be a regular part of a rotation.

    Again: The Kings provide that, and they shouldn't have any qualms about keeping him when he makes so little. If Whiteside is looking for an out, though, he makes the most sense on middle-rung playoff teams with minutes to spare and shouldn't rule out squads currently on the outside looking in of the postseason picture—so long as they're still close enough to see it.

    Prediction: Whiteside finishes the season in Sacramento

    Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Charlotte, New York, Toronto


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass and are accurate entering games on March 29. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.