A ridiculous NBA trade deadline has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean teams are done making moves. The next round of roster upgrades comes in the buyout market. Every year, veteran players on bad teams or in undesirable situations agree to give back some of the money they’re owed so they can become free agents and sign with a new team.
There has already been some movement on the buyout market: the Boston Celtics signed Greg Monroe, the Houston Rockets signed Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright, and Marco Belinelli is officially a Truster of the Process after signing with the Philadelphia 76ers.
For bought-out players, the key factors in the choosing their next team are usually money, playing time/role and winning. It’s still unclear which players will actually agree to buyout arrangements (I recommend Frank Urbina’s piece for HoopsHype if you want a list of possible candidates), but we do know how much teams will be able to offer so I explored every team’s buyout budget.
Please note that most of the salary numbers presented here are accurate as of Feb. 15 but will decrease slightly every day as the season progresses because of proration.1
Not Interested in Buyout Players (aka No Tank You)
With the exception of the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks, these teams can offer a lot of money to free agents. Unfortunately for the free agents, it’s unlikely that any of these teams explore the buyout market because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. These squads are all firmly outside the playoff picture and should be more worried about developing their young players and/or boosting their draft pick than adding talent (and salary) to steal minutes and win more games this season.
One thing worth noting: the Atlanta Hawks will have to sign someone by Feb. 24 since they only have 13 players on their roster and the minimum requirement is 14 players2. The Hawks don’t benefit from signing a veteran, so they will likely sign a young prospect or convert one of their two-way players to a full-time NBA contract.
Playoff Hopefuls Seeking Upgrades
These teams are all fighting for a playoff appearance, so they could all seek upgrades and might be able to offer meaningful roles to free agents.
Indiana Pacers: The Pacers have been a pleasant surprise, and their rotation is deep. Their biggest need is a more reliable backup 4, so maybe they’d be interested in Ersan Ilyasova if he gets bought out. Indiana isn’t traditionally a free-agent destination, but the Pacers could potentially throw around some of the most lucrative offers with $5.80M in cap space at their disposal.
Miami Heat: Pat Riley has a sizable Disabled Player Exception ($5.50M) in his pocket, but the team doesn’t have any open roster spots and it’s hard to even find any minutes that are up for grabs in South Beach. After trading for Dwyane Wade, the Heat boast depth at every position (Goran Dragic is their only “true PG”, but they have plenty of ballhandlers/initiators) and will even add Rodney McGruder back into the mix soon. If the Heat do want to add a free agent, Jordan Mickey is the most logical candidate to be waived.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers have two available roster spots and need to fill one by Feb. 22 to meet the minimum roster requirement of 14 players. They could spend $4.14M (their pro-rated taxpayer MLE) on one or two players to fill the void. Of course, they just dumped the salary of Noah Vonleh at the trade deadline to get below the luxury tax line, so it seems unlikely that they’d want to climb back over that threshold. Portland is currently $573K below the tax line, so that feels like their spending limit. Portland doesn’t have any dire needs, but an upgrade to their guard depth could help.
Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets are on the borderline of falling completely out of playoff contention but, given how desperately ownership wants to win now, it’s very possible they sniff around the free-agent pool. Charlotte has $3.90M of its Non-Taxpayer MLE left, but—like Portland—the luxury tax probably limits the team’s spending power. The Hornets are just $1.84M below the tax line, and it’s hard to envision Michael Jordan wanting to pay the tax for a roster that will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs. An upgrade at backup point guard (over Michael Carter-Williams) could stem the bleeding that occurs when Kemba Walker is on the bench (CHA’s net rating, Kemba On: +3.9, Kemba Off: -12.3 per NBA.com/Stats).
Philadelphia 76ers: Marco Belinelli reached a buyout agreement with the Atlanta Hawks and has already signed with the Sixers. The table above includes Belinelli when counting the roster spots (i.e. 0 roster spots after signing him), but there’s still no word on the terms of his contract so the $3.45M listed doesn’t include Belinelli’s salary. Philly could use one more player capable of creating offense off-the-dribble, but the team doesn’t have any obvious candidates to waive and it’s very possible they spent all their available money ($3.45M) on Belinelli.
Denver Nuggets: Denver filled one of its biggest needs (backup point guard) at the deadline by acquiring Devin Harris and they don’t have any roster spots to spare. The team could certainly use help on the wing with Torrey Craig leaving the rotation soon after maxing out the 45 days a two-way player can spend with his NBA team. Richard Jefferson (who has barely played) is a logical player to waive if the Nuggets want to make a move, but that roster addition may just be converting Craig to a full-time NBA player. Denver has $3.45M of its Room MLE left to spend on the buyout market.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers have a $2.76M Disabled Player Exception (Patrick Beverley), but they’re only $629K below the tax line and will be avoiding the tax like Al Capone since they’d be whacked for the repeater rate. Without many glaring needs, standing pat or converting Tyrone Wallace to a full-time NBA contract may be the most likely move for them.
Utah Jazz: Somehow, despite multiple injuries to Rudy Gobert, the Jazz are still very much in the thick of the playoff race. Utah doesn’t technically have a roster spot now, but I’ve listed them as having one spot because Naz Mitrou-Long’s 10-day contract expires on Feb. 21, so the Jazz will have a roster spot then. One reason Utah has played so well this season is their depth, so it’s hard to find any glaring needs on their roster. With Royce O’Neale emerging as a bona fide rotation player and Dante Exum’s return on the horizon, there don’t seem to be many minutes available for a new addition.
New Orleans Pelicans: New Orleans is hard-capped at the tax apron, so they can’t spend more than $1.94M on a free agent. In all likelihood, that restriction is functionally lower since the Pelicans are only $1.34M under the luxury tax line and presumably don’t want to pay the tax. Wing depth is the team’s most pressing need, and they’ll most likely add another center (whether that’s signing Emeka Okafor to a rest-of-season deal or someone else).
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons don’t have any roster spots, nor do they have anything beyond a minimum contract to offer free agents. Even if they did have more money to spend, they’re only $368K below the luxury tax and would have to wait until Feb. 27 for the minimum salary to prorate low enough to sign a deal without triggering the tax. After the blockbuster trade for Blake Griffin disrupted the balance of their depth chart, a couple of deadline-day deals for Jameer Nelson and James Ennis rounded out the roster quite nicely. If they feel the need to add another wing or a true backup 5, Dwight Buycks or Eric Moreland are the probable candidates to get cut.
This category of team is typically the landing spot for most buyout veterans since they offer the chance to contend or at least make a deep playoff run.
Milwaukee Bucks: Aside from the tanking teams listed in the first category, no team in the league can offer more money to a bought-out free agent than the Bucks. Milwaukee has most of its non-taxpayer MLE ($6.05M) and its Bi-Annual Exception (BAE, $2.62M) available to spend on free agents, but they don’t have any roster spots to spare. Another constraint facing GM Jon Horst is the $4.49M of space they have beneath the tax. Milwaukee surely wants to avoid paying the tax this season since they’ll be well into tax territory next season if they re-sign Jabari Parker.
After trading a 2nd-round pick for Tyler Zeller, they’re probably set at the 5 so their only need would be a short-term guard to fill the void left by injuries to Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova. The Bucks were reportedly in the running to sign Belinelli, so it seems like the team is willing to waive a player (most likely Sean Kilpatrick or Jason Terry) to make an upgrade.
Toronto Raptors: The Raptors could spend some or all of their $2.62M BAE, but they’re only $1.97M below the tax. They do have a spare roster spot, but the team is rolling and doesn’t have any glaring needs. Masai Ujiri may want to bring in a veteran as insurance in case his glut of young bench players struggles to adjust to the pressure-cooker that is the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are in a very similar position to the aforementioned Raps. They have their $2.62M BAE in hand, but their willingness to spend probably tops out at $2.30M—their room below the tax. Unlike Toronto, San Antonio does not have any free roster spots, so a buyout signing would require waiving a player. That player would probably be Brandon Paul, but there are cases to be made for Joffrey Lauvergne (only makes sense if they’re signing a big) and Derrick White (contributes the least this season, but he’s a rookie and it’s unlikely SA moves on from him this early).
Cleveland Cavaliers: With two open roster spots, Cleveland joins the list of teams who will legally need to sign a player by Feb. 22 to meet the roster minimum requirement. GM Koby Altman has $2.03M of the taxpayer MLE left to spend; whether he’ll need to spend that money (or be allowed to) is a different matter. The Cavs added salary for this season with their deadline moves, and owner Dan Gilbert is already paying a luxury tax bill north of $50M (on top of the Cavs payroll itself: $136M). Every dollar Cleveland spends on a buyout signing from this point forward costs $4.25 in tax money.
It initially seemed like Kendrick Perkins was going to fill one of their roster spots, but there have been no further updates on the matter and no official announcement of any signing. The Cavs might be waiting until after the All-Star Break (or later in the season) to save some money, or maybe they’re waiting to see who else becomes available. Cleveland suddenly has a solid and versatile 10-man rotation—and that’s not counting the injured Kevin Love—but they still have holes to plug. Someone who could provide a dose of rim protection or perimeter defense on the wing, for example, would be a welcome addition.
Washington Wizards: Like Cleveland, Portland and Atlanta, Washington has 13 players on its roster and will have to add at least one player to its payroll by Feb. 22. Washington has $1.52M of its taxpayer MLE to spend, but the franchise is already paying luxury tax for this season so the mandate from ownership might be to spend judiciously.
The Wizards have a clear need at backup point guard with John Wall out and have already been linked to Derrick Rose and Ty Lawson. Neither of those options are particularly appealing, but the team could really use one more ballhandler/initiator. If Tyreke Evans were bought out, he’d be a major upgrade and would be able to play a bigger role than Rose or Lawson once Wall returns.
Houston Rockets: GM Daryl Morey has already been active on the buyout market signing Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright. The terms of their contracts haven’t been publicized so it’s unclear how much money the Rockets have left to spend. Nevertheless, the Rockets have no more roster spots available, so Morey is seemingly done adding to his depth chart.
Oklahoma City Thunder: GM Sam Presti has one roster spot to work with but can only offer a minimum contract. The Thunder could use another live body on the wing and/or more shooting (the ideal would be a two-way wing, but such valuable players are rarely found in free agency). OKC reportedly had interest in Marco Belinelli, but they lost out on him. They’ll likely explore any wings that hit the market, and Tony Allen may be their backup plan to fill in for Andre Roberson (complete with the lack of shooting) if all else fails.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves are the other team (in addition to the Wizards) rumored to be courting Derrick Rose. I don’t quite understand why they want him (Tyus Jones is a better player than Rose), but both sides are reportedly interested. What Minnesota really needs is more depth on the wings, but there’s only one roster spot currently available. If Rose signs with the Wolves, they’ll have to waive someone (probably Marcus Georges-Hunt) to add that wing depth and will only be able to offer a minimum deal.
Boston Celtics: Danny Ainge did his buyout shopping early by adding Greg Monroe, so the Celtics roster is now full. Boston could use another offensive creator to help their lineups without Kyrie Irving and Al Horford (those lineups post a woeful 96.5 offensive rating per Cleaning the Glass). If Ainge wants to sign another free agent, he’ll only have the minimum at his disposal. Shane Larkin is the most likely player to be waived if the Celtics do want to sign a buyout player.
Golden State Warriors: Golden State is also restricted to just minimum contracts, and every dollar spent tacks on more to the team’s hefty luxury tax bill. Despite the cost, the Warriors aren’t resting on their laurels and have been linked to Joe Johnson (before he chose Houston) and Channing Frye. They would probably waive Omri Casspi or JaVale McGee if they found an upgrade on the open market.
1. The minimum contract and various salary exceptions (except for the Disabled Player Exception) are pro-rated over the course of the season. For example, the table below shows how the 2-year veteran’s minimum contract varies depending on how late in the season the deal is signed:The same process is applied to the various Mid-Level Exceptions (MLE) and the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE). The numbers listed in the article are the amounts the team can spend as of publication (Feb. 15), but be aware that the value of the exceptions listed decreases by about 0.5% with every passing day.^
2. Teams can only dip below this 14-player roster minimum for two weeks at a time (hence the deadline of Feb. 24—two weeks after they waived Marco Belinelli and dropped to 13 players).^