If you have followed the NBA closely over the last week, you have likely at some point come across someone complaining about how unfair it is that the Lakers and Nets were able to add players like Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin in the buyout market.
But it’s not just fans online who are crying online about it. Apparently teams around the league have whined about it so much that the league is considering changes to how the buyout market operates, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (emphasis mine):
The NBA is hearing the renewed calls from small-market executives to overhaul the buyout free-agency system, an insistence that the odds are unfairly weighted against them and that the salary-cap system has been contorted to satisfy the glamour markets’ supply of star talent for championship runs.
With Andre Drummond going to the Los Angeles Lakers and Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge to the Brooklyn Nets, there are front-office executives determined to push the commissioner’s office to reexamine the process of post-trade-deadline buyouts. If the clear-eyed reality is that these players are simply faded All-Stars released from the back end of expensive contracts, the visual of them flocking to superteam rosters in two marquee markets does cast a chilling impact on the league’s collective psyche.
Unfairly weighted odds! The salary cap system being contorted to satisfy glamour markets! Flocking to marquee markets creating a chilling impact! Oh the humanity, won’t someone stop this madness?
Now look, we have to at least give Woj credit for this: He wrote the quiet part loudly when he said that “the clear-eyed reality is that these players are simply faded All-Stars released from the back end of expensive contracts.” But still, that reality hasn’t stopped these executives from nearly non-stop grousing about how very unfair the buyout market is under the veil of anonymity to various reporters over the last week.
For example take this anonymous crybaby speaking to Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated:
“It’s a definite concern,” says another team executive working in a small market. “Without a doubt, players that are entering the buyout market will only be looking at contending teams. And most of the time, historically, their preference has been to go to the teams in the bigger markets. ... And it gives teams an opportunity to sit back and add players on minimum deals that they normally wouldn’t be able to acquire.”
You mean players being paid to go away by bad teams want to... go to good teams? And they might not mind living in a cool city as a side benefit of their newfound, midseason freedom? No wonder someone pays this genius to run their team, they’ve got this thing all figured out! The game is rigged, players like success and cool cities! Nevermind that Aldridge rejected Miami to head to Brooklyn and Drummond passed on more money from the Knicks to go to the Lakers, won’t someone explain to those guys that while a chance at their first ring and a glamour city is cool, what’s really awesome is joining a small market to help an incompetent GM save their job by fighting for a play-in spot?
In all seriousness, though, for as much kvetching as there has been about how all buyout guys just go to big markets, the facts also don’t really back up that assertion:
What if I told you that the team who has signed the most players bought out since 2015 is....Milwaukee— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 29, 2021
And it’s not just the Bucks among smaller markets getting players, per Wojnarowski’s own story (again, emphasis mine):
Whatever the front-office objections, the NBA will counter with this data: Over the past 15 years, there are 39 buyout players who averaged two games and 10 minutes per NBA playoff round. Twenty were signed into top-15 markets — and 19 into the rest. Out of the 13 of 39 players joining teams that advanced to the conference championship, three were signed in top-15 markets. It has always been rare for buyout players to sway playoff destinies and championship chases, but the pursuit of them is forever intensive.
List of players bought out and the team they signed with: 2015-2021 (Feb-March timeline):— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) April 1, 2021
4-MIL: S. Novak, S. Muhammad, P. Gasol and M. Williams
3-CLE: K. Perkins, L. Sanders, A. Bogut
3-DAL: A. Stoudemire, D. Lee, M. Kidd-Gilchrist
3- HOU: B. Wright, J. Johnson, D. Carroll
1-MEM: A. Tolliver— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) April 1, 2021
1-WAS: J. Hickson
* Enes Kanter was waived (not bought out) by NYK and signed with POR.
These are not league-shakers, and hardly evidence of some sweeping problem that needs reform or justifies the amount of ink spilled on this “issue” that people only care about because this year the Lakers and Nets had roster spots to add players that were close friends with other players already on their team. These are unique situations, just like the other buyout guys that went to small markets in prior years. But you didn’t see Rob Pelinka or Sean Marks calling up their chosen insiders to whine about how no one will consider big markets and how unfair it all is in then.
Still, those facts haven’t stopped the either goldfish-memoried and/or bad-faith complainers. And it’s not just players who teams paid to go away and become free agents having the freedom to choose where they want to play (gasp!) that’s upsetting these grumblers.
Again, per Woj:
Beyond the destinations that players choose in buyouts and free agency, there comes this too: Is this model equitable to teams unable to trade those players for assets prior to the deadline? What frustrates teams is the power of the agents to depress the marketplace on trades for potential buyout candidates. Essentially, powerful agents can discourage prospective trade partners for the primary purpose of getting a post-deadline buyout and the ability to sign in a preferred destination.
From threats of a player shutting down for the season — or performing infrequently — to an agent’s implied future retribution involving access to his free-agent clients or draft prospects, it’s often easier for teams to walk away from trade talks than to take on a player hell-bent on a buyout.
Are these teams... upset that player agents are doing what’s best for their client, or don’t have the same goals as they do? What about the teams that are being saved from trading for a player that doesn’t want to be there, or will leave by this current process? Is a fairer alternative to really have guys like Aldridge, Griffin and Drummond be forced to be shut down for months because their teams want to suck and then get shipped somewhere they don’t want to be? How much more control should these teams really have over these guys?
The other thing is that all these columns and executives make it sound like the teams buying these players — players they weren’t playing anyway — out have no agency in the matter, and aren’t just happily taking the salary savings these players are giving back off of guaranteed contracts, and then complaining out the other side of their mouth about how unfair it all is while watching their bank account balance rise and revenue sharing checks roll in.
In the end, all these executives are ultimately being granted anonymity just so they can lobby in bad faith and in contrary to the facts in a desperate attempt to get more control than they already have over players, but it doesn’t mean we have to listen or care. They can say what they want, but history simply doesn’t back up their arguments that this is a real problem, and any changes to it might just create bigger issues than it solves.