Some teams and executives around the NBA, especially those in small markets, are frustrated by the NBA’s so-called “buyout market” and have pushed unsuccessfully for reform, according to Howard Beck of SI.com.
Those complaints have been amplified within the last few days, as two of the top players on the 2021 buyout market – Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge – signed with the big-market Lakers and Nets, respectively. Brooklyn also signed Blake Griffin earlier in the season after he was bought out by Detroit.
“You’re just helping the rich get richer,” one general manager from a small-market team told Beck.
Players like Drummond, Aldridge, and Griffin were all bought out – rather than traded – because no teams were willing to give up assets to take on their oversized salaries. Once they reach free agency and are no longer attached to those huge cap hits, those veterans suddenly look a whole lot more attractive — they could be bargains on minimum-salary contracts for teams that didn’t give up anything for them, and those teams often play in bigger markets.
“The system is flawed,” another small-market GM told Beck. “You shouldn’t be adding to your team this deep in a season without giving things up.”
While it’s easy to say that those small-market teams shouldn’t agree to buyouts in the first place if they don’t want their players to end up on big-market contenders, Beck says those clubs often feel pressure to get a buyout done so as not to alienate agents or to gain a reputation of not being player-friendly, a point echoed by at least one GM.
Small-market executives are hoping the NBA will address the buyout issue in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, according to Beck, who says a number of ideas have been proposed. Those ideas include giving teams a specific form of cap exception for buyout signings (which can only be used once per year or once every other year) or holding a blind auction for bought-out players, with teams using their existing exceptions or cap room to make bids.
However, as Beck writes, those execs aren’t optimistic that the NBA will seriously consider reforming the buyout market, since the league has yet to even acknowledge it’s an issue. The NBA’s silence on the issue is somewhat understandable — having big-name players head to big markets is good for ratings, Beck observes. Plus, if the players’ union is going to agree to any system that reduces or eliminates their ability to choose their new teams in the event of a buyout, it will likely require the league to give ground on another collectively-bargained issue.
Opponents of reform would point to the Spurs’ signing of Gorgui Dieng as an example combating the narrative that only big-market contenders have a chance to land the top bought-out players. They might also argue that buyout signings rarely have a major impact on the postseason and point out that if they were major difference-makers, they wouldn’t be able available in the first place.
Addressing the Aldridge and Drummond signings specifically, John Hollinger of The Athletic questions whether the Nets will benefit at all from Aldridge taking minutes away from young center Nicolas Claxton, who is clearly the better defender. Additionally, Hollinger notes that the Lakers may once again move away from traditional centers like Drummond when the postseason rolls around.
“It’s kind of funny to me, because for the last couple years all I’ve heard is how bad I am. You sign with this team and everybody’s like, ‘That’s not fair!”” Griffin told Brian Lewis of The New York Post, when asked about the reaction to the Nets landing him and Aldridge. “People say whatever they want. I don’t put a whole lot of value in other people’s opinions.”