Before Gustavo Ayon's 2013/14 contract could become fully guaranteed yesterday, the Bucks made a somewhat surprising decision, electing to release him and avoid paying his modest $1.5MM salary. Ayon isn't a star, or even a starter, but he has size (6'10") and has exhibited an ability to be productive and efficient (15.1 PER) in limited playing time in his first two NBA seasons. As ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton tweeted last night, the 25-year-old would make a good, cheap fourth or fifth big man for many teams around the league.
Ayon is currently on waivers, set to become a free agent this weekend if he goes unclaimed. Considering we recently saw promising big man Bernard James clear waivers without any teams placing a claim, it's certainly not a lock that any club claims Ayon — particularly since his $1.5MM salary would be fully guaranteed for a team that grabbed him off waivers.
Still, let's assume that a number of teams are at least mulling the possibility of placing a claim, if not entirely committed to the move quite yet. Ayon isn't on a minimum-salary contract, which means not every NBA team is able to submit a claim. As we note in our glossary entry on the waiver process, only teams with at least $1.5MM in cap space or a traded player exception worth $1.5MM+ are eligible to claim Ayon.
Keeping those criteria in mind, and recalling that if two or more teams place a claim, the club with the worst record last season gets first priority, here are the teams who could claim Ayon, in order of priority:
- Charlotte Bobcats: Renouncing Gerald Henderson would be necessary to place a claim on Ayon, so the Bobcats probably won't be in the mix.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Like the Bobcats, the Cavs would have to make a corresponding move (waiving C.J. Miles' non-guaranteed contract) to create the necessary room for Ayon, so they're not a likely suitor.
- Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers still appear to have more than $11MM in cap room, per Mark Deeks of ShamSports.
- Utah Jazz: Within the same piece, Deeks notes that the Jazz should still be about $2.4MM below the cap, even without making additional cap-clearing moves.
- Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks have about $1.8MM in space, according to Deeks, and could create more by waiving their non-guaranteed players. That figure doesn't take into account Pero Antic's new deal with the team though.
- Golden State Warriors: Having created a pair trade exceptions in their three-way deal with the Nuggets and Jazz, the Warriors could use the smaller of the two ($4MM) to claim Ayon.
- Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers created a TPE worth Eric Bledsoe's salary (about $2.6MM) in the trade that sent him to the Suns.
- Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies have stockpiled a number of TPEs, but the $2.08MM exception created in last January's deal with the Cavs would make the most sense for claiming Ayon.
- Denver Nuggets: In the aforementioned three-way deal with Golden State and Utah, the Nuggets created a trade exception worth nearly $10MM.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC has a pair of TPEs large enough to absorb Ayon — one was created when they moved Eric Maynor, while the more recent one came as a result of signing-and-trading Kevin Martin.
Even though 10 teams can technically place a waiver claim on Ayon, there's no guarantee that any of them actually will. Pelton thinks the Sixers, Jazz, Warriors, and Clippers represent the likeliest candidates for a claim, and I agree with him.
Philadelphia and Utah have room to add salary (in the Sixers' case, they need to add salary to reach the cap floor) and are heading into rebuilding years, which would allow them to take a long look at Ayon. Meanwhile, the Warriors and Clippers could each use one more big man, and Ayon's inexpensive salary wouldn't take Golden State into tax territory.
If Ayon goes unclaimed, I imagine he'd strongly consider returning overseas, since he'd at least have a chance to earn more playing time there. Don't be surprised to see one of the 10 NBA teams above take a shot on him though.
This post originally listed the Magic as a team eligible to claim Ayon, but because Orlando traded him in February, the club can't claim or re-sign him until the one-year anniversary of the deal.