Lakers, Celtics, Others Wait As Buyout Market Hits a ‘Stalemate’

Maurice Harkless, at left, a Knick for now

Getty Maurice Harkless, at left, a Knick for now

It’s a Leap Year so what has already been a drawn-out process for NBA players who might—or might not—be seeking a contract buyout will have an extra day for things to be sorted out. Or, at least to start to be sorted out.

In the wake of the league’s trading deadline two weeks ago, several players who have been bought out have already found new homes. DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green were signed by the Rockets, though Green is on a 10-day contract. Two players who were bought out in Charlotte already found new stretch-run homes—Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Dallas and Marvin Williams in Milwaukee.

Reggie Jackson inked a deal with the Clippers after being bought out from the Pistons. Derrick Walton Jr., cut to make room for Jackson, went to the Pistons on a 10-day deal.

A handful of new free-agent point guards are still dangling on the market: Tyler Johnson, Trey Burke, Isaiah Thomas, Tim Frazier and combo guard Dion Waiters.

By NBA rule, those players can join any team’s roster (except the team that waived them) and will be eligible for the postseason. March 1 is the deadline for players to be waived and still be eligible for the playoffs with a new team.

That leaves nearly a dozen players in limbo as they weigh the possibility of taking a buyout with their current teams against the possibility that they won’t wind up in a better situation—or, worse, that they’ll remain an unsigned free agent for the remainder of the season.

Player Concerned About Upcoming Free Agency

Take the plight of another Hornet, Bismack Biyombo. He could seek a buyout from Charlotte on the remainder of his $17 million contract in hopes of landing elsewhere—perhaps Toronto, where he had his breakthrough season in 2015-16, or Miami, which has been looking for more rim-protection.

But if the Heat or Raptors are not interested, a new spot for Biyombo might be difficult to find. He’ll be a free agent this summer and though his playing time has been inconsistent in Charlotte, he at least has a role with the team. That’s a better selling point heading into the summer than having taken a buyout and being unable to sign with anyone.

Players are approaching these situations with caution. “It’s a stalemate right now,” one NBA agent told “A lot of teams going into the playoffs, they have a full roster and aren’t looking to get rid of anyone. As a player, when you’re going to be a free agent, you’d rather close out a season playing some games down the stretch even for a bad team than sitting at home.”

Several players are in that unsettled situation. Minnesota has two players it might be willing to buy out—Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner, who actually worked out for the Clippers—but they can only buy out those players if the player agrees to it.  Similarly, the Pistons have a quartet (Brandon Knight, John Henson, Langston Galloway, Markieff Morris) of buyout candidates who don’t know if there are jobs on the other side of taking the buyout.

If the players won’t engage in those talks, the Pistons and/or Wolves could waive those players but still would be responsible for the entirety of their salaries.

Teams Wary of Roster Changes

On the flip side, teams that might still have interest in bought out players are approaching the market with similar caution. The Lakers, for example, were eager to sign free-agent Darren Collison, who ultimately decided to remain in retirement. They also wanted Reggie Jackson, who landed with the Clippers.

The Lakers have interest in forward Maurice Harkless, too, but Harkless has not yet approached the Knicks for a buyout. That could change but his caution is understandable—Harkless will be a free agent this summer and though he might be active deep into the playoffs if he signed with the Lakers, he is a Queens native who likes being in New York.

Moreover, he might play more if he sticks with the Knicks. At age 26, he has to think about his next contract and playing time could be more important to his free agency than an indeterminate role on a contender, even one that is primed for a lengthy playoff run.

Whomever the Lakers pursue in the next 10 days, they’ve got to be sure that he’s an upgrade over the bottom-of-the-roster players like Troy Daniels, Quinn Cook and development project Talen Horton-Tucker. The Lakers are still hopeful, too, that DeMarcus Cousins will be able to play for the team in the postseason.

The Celtics, the Heat, the Nuggets, the Sixers, the Magic—pretty much every team lined up for the coming postseason have decisions to weigh when it comes to the bottom fo the roster and buyouts.

So do players. It’s a stalemate now, but slowly, the clock is running down.

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