Some NBA executives for small-market teams are reportedly pushing the league to look into making changes to the buyout process after Andre Drummond (Lakers), Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge (Nets) signed deals in big markets.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote smaller markets feel "the odds are unfairly weighted against them and that the salary-cap system has been contorted to satisfy the glamour markets' supply of star talent for championship runs."
As Wojnarowski noted, the complaints of small-market NBA teams hold little objective merit. His report cites data showing 39 buyout players over the last 15 seasons were impactful rotation players in the playoffs, 20 of whom signed with major-market clubs, leaving 19 for the small markets. It's about as direct an even split as can possibly exist.
These smaller market clubs were also given every opportunity to trade for Aldridge, Drummond and Griffin and chose not to. Drummond and Griffin were on the shelf for more than a month before receiving buyouts. Aldridge was out for three weeks. Each of their respective clubs released a statement trying to coax offers, but no one bit.
JJ Redick seemed like he was headed on a similar path, with a buyout and likely signing with Brooklyn coming after the All-Star break. The Dallas Mavericks wound up offering a trade package good enough for New Orleans to accept. While Redick may not be happy with the situation, he's now a member of the Mavericks.
Drummond, Griffin and Aldridge all would have faced similar situations had a team been willing to make a trade.
While there may be some merit to the argument of a "chilling effect" being put into place, it's worth exploring why those three players were available in the first place.
The Cavaliers sat Drummond after acquiring Jarrett Allen and wanting to install him as their franchise center. Drummond, who Cleveland traded for last season at a significant discount, was no longer part of the team's plans less than a year after acquiring him.
Griffin looked like a shell of himself as part of a flailing, rebuilding team in Detroit. He forfeited $13.3 million in cash to play for a contender; it was the definition of a mutually beneficial agreement, given the Pistons were on the hook for $38.9 million in salary for him next season.
Aldridge is the only one of the three who could have reasonably remained a member of his former team's rotation, but the Spurs played their most inspired basketball of the season without him. Their mutual parting of ways came after San Antonio found its groove while starting Jakob Poeltl at center when Aldridge was out with an injury. The Spurs were 7.6 points better over a 100-possession sample with Aldridge on the bench. That's not exactly a hallmark of a paradigm-shifting player.
The names on the buyout market may have been bigger in 2021, but that doesn't necessarily mean the competitive balance of the league is being irreparably harmed.