NBA Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline: Predictions for Top Buyout Candidates
The buzzer is about to sound on the NBA buyout market.
For win-now veterans stranded in win-later situations, they have between now and March 1 to finalize buyout arrangements with their current clubs and maintain playoff eligibility should they latch on elsewhere.
Some players have already orchestrated their exits and joined forces with teams better aligned with their personal timelines. Goran Dragic took his talents to the Brooklyn Nets. Tristan Thompson hit the Windy City to run with the Chicago Bulls. The Milwaukee Bucks bulked up their perimeter defense with DeAndre' Bembry and Jevon Carter.
More movement could be in the works, but only educated guesses can be made regarding what's to come. Those are precisely what we are here to make by predicting whether the top buyout candidates—the realistic ones, not the no-buyout-talks-happening Dennis Schroder types—will hit the market and where they should consider going if they do.
Kent Bazemore, Los Angeles Lakers
Kent Bazemore started the first 13 games of this season. He was out of L.A.'s rotation shortly thereafter.
He is an energetic, disruptive defender on the perimeter, but his slow shooting start had turned him into a one-way player. His three-point percentage dipped five points from last season (40.8 to 35.8), and his field-goal connection rate took an even bigger hit (44.9 to 33.1).
Assuming teams chalk this up to a sluggish start—he still hasn't cleared 500 minutes yet—and think a return to form is likely (if not imminent), then he should drum up a decent amount of interest if he makes it to the market. On that front, The Athletic's Jovan Buha and Bill Oram reported ahead of the deadline that "dumping" either Bazemore or DeAndre Jordan was seen as the "next-most likely move" to trading Talen Horton-Tucker or Kendrick Nunn.
The Lakers, of course, stood pat at the deadline, so they might be even more inclined to subtract someone to gain roster flexibility for other buyout options.
Bazemore hasn't fit in Hollywood for whatever reason, but he could hit the ground running elsewhere. That should be incentive enough for him to push for a change, and if the Lakers think his roster spot would be better filled by someone else, they should be agreeable to the idea.
Prediction: Bazemore and the Lakers negotiate a buyout
Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Warriors, Celtics, 76ers
Derrick Favors, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last summer, the Utah Jazz salary-dumped Derrick Favors into the Sooner State to cut costs ahead of Mike Conley's free agency. The 30-year-old Favors has appeared out of place ever since on a Thunder team focused exclusively on the future.
That the trade deadline came and went without a Favors deal says nothing about his position with the team. He makes $9.7 million this season and has a $10.2 million player option for the next. Even center-needy shoppers could not have justified that cost for an interior big who has likely played his best basketball already.
But the Thunder have gotten what they needed from him already. That probably happened as soon as the trade was finalized since the draw wasn't Favors but the future first-round pick attached to him. If OKC hoped to squeeze some veteran leadership from him during the process, he should have unloaded all of his words of wisdom by now.
The lone hangup is that pesky player option since it's likely richer than any amount Favors could find in this summer's free agency. But there should be a middle ground in which he gets most of his money and the Thunder soak up whatever savings the buyout arrangement brings.
Prediction: Favors and the Thunder negotiate a buyout
Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: 76ers, Warriors, Raptors
Gary Harris, Orlando Magic
Gary Harris spent the past three seasons searching for a three-ball that had seemingly disappeared overnight. Somehow, someway, he finally found it—fortunately in a contract year, no less—and just like that he is back to flashing the three-and-D skills every contender could use more of on the perimeter.
Of course, Orlando isn't contending for anything other than draft-lottery odds, so his two-way contributions are effectively going to waste.
His production—now up to 11.4 points per game and 38 percent three-point shooting—is the type that can positively impact winning, but winning has become a foreign concept in Orlando. The Magic emerged from the All-Star break with an NBA-worst .217 winning percentage, and there's no telling when (or how) this will get turned around.
Combine that with Harris' expiring $20.5 million salary, and he looks like an obvious buyout candidate. Except that he's just young enough for the Magic to keep (27), and his turnaround might convince the club to bring him back. According to veteran reporter Marc Stein, Harris hasn't pushed for a buyout and might be interested in re-signing this summer.
Prediction: Harris finishes the season with the Magic
Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Nuggets, Jazz, Cavaliers
Cory Joseph, Detroit Pistons
Cory Joseph is a defensive tone-setter who flashes enough ball control (career 3.0 assists against 1.1 turnovers) to steer a second-team offense. Throw in his history with head coach Dwane Casey in Toronto, and you can understand the Pistons' initial interest, even if Joseph was primarily a money-matcher in the 2021 trade that sent Delon Wright to the Sacramento Kings for a pair of second-round picks.
Why does Joseph still reside in Detroit? That's harder to answer. The Pistons valued him enough to give him a two-year, $10.1 million deal last summer (next season is a $5.2 million player option), and perhaps they shared Jerami Grant's belief that the club might compete this season.
But few teams face a longer road to relevance than the Pistons, which could presumably put the 30-year-old Joseph on the chopping block.
His player option may have scared off suitors at the deadline, but if a buyout cut that cord, contenders could be drawn to his ferocity, leadership and experience (82 playoff games, plus a championship ring with the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs). If teams are buying his three-point shooting (42.9 percent this season, 34.3 for his career), he might even spark a mini-bidding war.
Or rather, he would if the Pistons would actually let him go. Casey promoted Joseph to the starting lineup in mid-January, and he has averaged their fourth-most minutes since. Unless Joseph starts pushing for a change—hard to imagine, since he presumably knew what he was signing up for—the Pistons have no obvious incentive to make one.
Prediction: Joseph finishes the season with the Pistons
Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Bulls, Warriors, Lakers
Robin Lopez, Orlando Magic
Most of the players listed here became buyout candidates over time. Robin Lopez, on the other hand, had a compelling buyout case before the ink dried on the one-year, $5 million deal he inked with Orlando last summer.
To be clear, his side of the arrangement makes sense. That's good money for a 30-something backup big if you can get it, and perhaps no NBA player (other than maybe his twin brother, Brook) would be more appreciative of the proximity to the Disney parks.
But the Magic already had Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba in the center mix before Lopez arrived. Not to mention whenever Jonathan Isaac makes it back to the hardwood, his ideal spot in the modern NBA might be at the 5, too. So, Lopez's fit was awkward from the start, and that awkwardness hasn't disappeared, which is why he seldom sees the floor (27 games, 466 minutes) despite being rock-solid at both ends.
Lopez reportedly hasn't pushed for a buyout, per Stein, but hopefully the basketball gods intervene. He has too much to offer as a reliable defender, active rebounder and hook-shot specialist to spend the rest of this season stranded on Orlando's sideline.
Prediction: Lopez and the Magic negotiate a buyout
Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Warriors, Lakers, 76ers
John Wall, Houston Rockets
Is it wishful thinking to even include John Wall in this discussion? Probably.
He presents the stiffest challenge to our "realistic" qualifier, as the idea has been broached multiple times and always gets shot down. The latest dispatch on the subject, courtesy of B/R's Jake Fischer, said Wall "seems entrenched in Houston with zero inclination to accept any type of buyout."
That doesn't leave any real wiggle room, but it hasn't fully extinguished our hope of seeing the 31-year-old break out of Space City and into a playoff team's rotation.
It's tough to tell what Wall has left since injuries and his current exile have limited him to 72 appearances since the start of 2018-19. He made 40 of them last season and wasn't particularly efficient, shooting a career-worst 40.4 percent from the field and posting his lowest assist percentage since his rookie year (36.2). Saying that, though, he still went for 20.6 points and 6.9 assists per night on a team that had to navigate around its messy divorce from James Harden.
If Wall is healthy, he is by far the most talented player among all buyout candidates, which makes it a shame that our crystal ball can't see an agreement coming to fruition. There is simply too much money involved ($44.3 million salary this season, $47.4 million player option for the next) to think the sides can negotiate their way to a number that works for everyone.
Prediction: Wall finishes the season with the Rockets
Best Landing Spots if Bought Out: Lakers, Heat, Clippers
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.