The NBA’s trade season—one of the zaniest in recent memory—is officially over. With that comes a good deal of housekeeping. The Cavs may have pulled off trade after trade before the deadline, but many teams failed to find suitable returns for players they would like to have dealt. There are no more picks or prospects to be had, though a buyout gives all involved a way out: a means for a player in an incompatible situation to seek employment elsewhere, and for an organization to recoup some of its financial losses.
This creates sort of a miniature market for late-season additions. Greg Monroe, who was bought out by the Suns last week, has already found a new home in Boston. Below are the other names central to the buyout conversation—along with updates on which players might actually be available.
Joe Johnson, Kings
Before the Jazz rattled off an NBA-high seven straight wins, there were whispers around the league that Johnson might seek a buyout to join a team bound for the playoffs. Now that is a virtual certainty; Sacramento has very little to offer Johnson from a basketball perspective, given that the Kings have already committed to cycling their veteran players out of the rotation and playing them fewer minutes overall. It’s best he move on. Johnson, after all, is only a King because his contract satisfied the salary-matching logistics of Thursday’s three-team trade between Sacramento, Utah, and Cleveland.
Johnson, 36, can still play. But his overall contribution level is emblematic of what one can expect from this buyout market: supporting contributors who, in ideal circumstances, fill a well-defined role. Houston, Golden State, and Boston reportedly already have one in mind for Johnson.
Brook Lopez, Lakers
Lopez perfectly fits the buyout profile: a veteran player on an expiring contract playing the fewest minutes of his career for a lottery-bound team. If that context weren’t reason enough to suspect that Lopez might soon become available, his distraught reaction after being benched for the second half of a blowout loss to the Magic last week would reinforce the notion.
Yet, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, Lopez might rather stay in Los Angeles for the remainder of his contract—unfavorable circumstances and all. Should that decision hold, it would take the biggest name and the best overall player out of the midseason market.
Derrick Rose, Jazz
Utah’s intention to release* Rose has already been reported, and the Timberwolves’—err, Tom Thibodeau’s—interest in potentially signing him already confirmed. Rose is honestly quite fortunate. If not for Thibodeau, it’s unlikely that any playoff team would vie for his services. Even Minnesota lacks any explicit need for Rose. That he might join a team with two superior point guards speaks more to Thibodeau’s regard for him than anything else.
*Since Rose plays for the veteran minimum, his release won’t technically be a buyout.
Tyreke Evans, Grizzlies
The Grizzlies stood firm at the deadline as suitors swirled around Evans, swatting down offers for second-round picks and underwhelming prospects. So let’s make one thing clear: Just because Memphis didn’t trade Evans as it intended does not mean he will soon be released. Part of the Grizzlies’ reported calculus at the deadline weighed the possible return on dealing Evans against the potential value in re-signing him. To cut him loose now would not service either end of the team’s consideration.
Marco Belinelli, Hawks
Consistent, reported interest in Belinelli prior to the trade deadline clearly wasn’t enough to get a deal done. A buyout would seem inevitable; unlike with the Grizzlies and Evans, the Hawks have no motivation to hold on to Belinelli and every reason to want to save on what remains of his $6.6 million contract. Everyone can win. Belinelli, an effective shooter and bench scorer, could make a nice run for a playoff team to set up his free agency this summer. And Atlanta, now tied for the worst record in the league, could aim for the best draft pick possible by playing its younger wings.
Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves
This has been a rough season for Muhammad—easily the worst of his young career. His game is so narrow as to make it a bit precarious. When he’s not scoring (as is the case when shooting 38.5% from the field), Muhammad has little to offer to an NBA team and almost nothing to offer the Wolves, in particular.
That could lead them to part ways. Reporting from Marc Spears of The Undefeated suggests there might be interest in Muhammad, should he be released, which may give the 25-year-old wing the incentive he needs to pursue a buyout. Muhammad has a $1.8 million player option for next season. If he were willing to decline it (or even decline most of it), the Wolves would have reason to cut him loose apart from good will.
Tony Allen, Bulls
The Grindfather’s tenure as a Bull lasted a week, during which the team didn’t even bother to assign him a number. Both Allen and Jameer Nelson—whom the Bulls rerouted to Detroit while swapping future second-round picks on Thursday—served as filler in Chicago’s deal to ship out Nikola Mirotic. Taking back their contracts helped the Bulls acquire a second-round pick for their troubles, even if they had no interest in employing either guard for the rest of the season.
Expect the market for Allen’s services to be somewhat tepid. Allen was already playing on the veteran minimum, a reflection of the fact that teams are having a hard time finding room in their plans for aging defensive specialist. Factor in Allen’s ongoing recovery from a major leg injury and his appeal would seem unfortunately slim. It’s a shame; the NBA is a better league with Allen in it.