The buyout market tends to be fairly predictable. Accomplished veterans on bloated contracts count down the days until the deadline passes and their teams can officially say they’ve exhausted every avenue towards a possible trade. When that day arrives, that anticipated slew of veterans is granted its freedom.
There are plenty of those more traditional buyout candidates this season, but a few genuine surprises as well. Unexpected trades, roster-space maneuvering and potentially disgruntled impending free agents have helped create a fairly interesting class of buyout candidates. Not all of these players are going to hit the open market. Not all of them are even buyout candidates, but rather, players who have been or could still be waived outright. But the following 20 players represent the meaningful portion of the mid-season free-agent market.
- Dennis Schroder: Fans mock Schroder for turning down an $84 million contract last season, but how many buyout players are ever only a year removed from being offered an $84 million contract? That is the strange position Schroder finds himself in after being traded to Houston at the deadline. He was the Sixth Man of the Year runner-up two years ago. He’s an inconsistent shooter and tends to bite off more than he can chew offensively, but he’s a speed demon and a genuine pest at the point of attack defensively. He has the upside to become one of the best buyout additions ever. Watch out for Milwaukee after the Bucks traded Donte DiVincenzo and lost Pat Connaughton to an injury. A Lakers reunion has also been rumored, but guard is the one position in which they have actual depth. Houston could simply keep Schroder, but that’s another veteran they’d have to devote minutes to. A buyout makes the most sense here.
- DJ Augustin: Augustin was waived to make room on Houston’s roster to bring in Schroder in the Daniel Theis trade. His shooting has improved since a disastrous stint in Milwaukee, but at his age, he’s little more than an extra veteran for a bench.
- Gary Harris: Harris flat out forgot how to shoot in his last few years with the Nuggets, but once he got to Orlando, he rediscovered the form that once helped make him one of the NBA‘s highest-paid shooting guards. Harris brings a little bit of everything offensively and remains a useful defender against most guards. He should be in a playoff rotation if he wants out of Orlando.
- Goran Dragic: Dragic has wanted a buyout for quite some time, and after getting traded to San Antonio, his wish has been granted. Dallas is the immediate favorite given his friendship with Luka Doncic, but watch out for Miami, who can now legally re-sign him thanks to the San Antonio trade.
- Eric Bledsoe: A buyout for Bledsoe feels unlikely for now. He has $3.9 million guaranteed for next season, and the Blazers would probably like to explore trading him in the offseason before committing to paying him any of that money. If the Blazers want to focus on their younger players, though, a return to Milwaukee could be a fit for Bledsoe.
- John Wall: The Rockets haven’t negotiated a possible buyout with Wall for months. Will that change now that the deadline has passed and no Russell Westbrook trade is coming? Probably not, but Wall would be extremely coveted if granted his free agency. The Heat and Clippers have both been linked to him in the past, and even if he’s declined physically, he was a perfectly serviceable starting point guard in Houston last season before an injury ended his season.
- Russell Westbrook: Okay, I cheated. There are 19 buyout candidates listed here because there is no universe in which the Lakers buy Westbrook out. That just needed to be said. They’d never turn his salary slot into dead money. They’re going to want to use it as a trade chip in the offseason when it becomes an expiring deal.
- Juancho Hernangomez: Utah could probably use Hernangomez as an extra shooter, but he likely isn’t going to be in the rotation immediately upon joining the Jazz. If Utah wanted to create a roster spot for a different buyout player, Hernangomez would be a candidate to be waived. Given his shooting, though, he can absolutely play some spot minutes on a good team.
- Tomas Satoransky: San Antonio took on Satoransky’s contract in the Hernangomez trade just to pick up a second-round pick, but neither would have figured into their long-term plans. Bigger ball-handlers are hard to find in-season, and even if Satoransky isn’t going to join a playoff rotation, he’d be a nice extra body to have around for injuries and back-to-backs.
- DeAndre’ Bembry: This was one of the more surprising moves of the day. The Nets needed to waive a player in order to clear the necessary roster space to trade for Ben Simmons, but Bembry has been a fairly effective two-way wing this season. Players like that, even ones as unproven as Bembry over a meaningful sample, are almost never available in the middle of the season. Someone is going to bring Bembry in and see if he can build off of his success in Brooklyn.
- Kent Bazemore: The Lakers are looking to make an addition or two on the buyout market, and that is going to mean waiving at least one player to clear room on the roster. Bazemore has been relegated to emergency duty only, but remember, he opened the season as a starter. He’s still a solid defender and shot 40 percent from behind the arc in Golden State a season ago. Struggling in the dysfunction of this Lakers disaster doesn’t mean Bazemore can’t help a normal team.
- Kevin Knox: The Hawks landed Knox in the Cam Reddish deal, but just as Reddish is struggling to find minutes on a crowded Knicks team, Knox has been plastered to Atlanta’s bench ever since he arrived. The Hawks already have an empty roster spot to potentially use on the buyout market, but Knox would likely prefer to go somewhere that could give him steadier minutes. If Atlanta doesn’t plan to re-sign him, it might not mind letting him go.
- Rodney Hood: The Clippers took back Hood and Semi Ojeleye in the Serge Ibaka deal, and even though they probably aren’t going to be in the buyout market, the Clippers have a creative enough front office to see the benefits of clearing an extra roster spot. It’s an opportunity to audition players with 10 days and potentially take advantage of waivers (as they did with Rodney McGruder a few years ago). Hood has struggled mightily over the past two seasons, so he’s the likelier candidate here.
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- Robin Lopez: Hook shot enthusiasts, get ready. Lopez is stuck behind Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter in Orlando, but even in his 30s, Lopez is a good enough defensive player to contribute to a winner. Golden State has been interested in the past. They make the most sense as a team in need of center insurance considering the health issues basically all of their big men have endured.
- Tristan Thompson: Thompson was dealt from Sacramento to Indiana, and even though the Pacers could use steady center minutes with Domantas Sabonis gone and Myles Turner hurt, Thompson would likely prefer to play for a contender. The Lakers may not qualify any longer, but his relationship with LeBron James and the chance to potentially play real minutes over Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan could make them an interesting destination.
- Paul Millsap: Brooklyn spent months looking for a new home for Millsap. They eventually managed to offload him in the James Harden trade, but the 76ers will likely waive him or buy him out in order to upgrade on the buyout market themselves. The Lakers have been viewed as a potential destination.
- DeAndre Jordan: Jordan was signed in the hopes of recapturing the physicality and size that helped the Lakers win the 2020 championship. He’s largely been unplayable, and the Lakers will surely seek a replacement through the buyout market.
- Derrick Favors: The Thunder held onto Favors through the deadline in case they needed his expiring contract as salary ballast, but a respected veteran like him would probably prefer to try to join a winner. Sam Presti tends to grant such requests, especially when he’s trying to tank, but Favors has struggled over the past few seasons and probably shouldn’t be in a playoff rotation anymore.
- Enes Freedom: Yet another casualty of the Boston-Houston trade, Freedom has already been waived. Teams have infamously found that you “can’t play Kanter” in the playoffs, but his offense can be very helpful to second units in the regular season. Of course, given his recent political commentary, teams likely won’t be particularly excited by the idea of bringing him into a locker room.
- Gorgui Dieng: Another Hawk that is struggling to see the court. There are teams that would love a shooting big man that can still protect the rim a bit, but considering Atlanta’s win-now priorities, they’ll likely hold onto Dieng as insurance rather than risking a buyout.