Buyout market shines a light on how unfair the NBA is

Blake Griffin Nets bench
Blake Griffin's signing shows the problem with the NBA buyout market. Photo from USA Today.

So… the NBA might, just might, have a market issue. Who could have predicted that?

NBA buyout market 2021: The league has a problem

In the days that followed the NBA trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Andre Drummond, and the Brooklyn Nets picked up Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, all of which were buyouts.

All three players have seen their best days come and go, particularly in the case with Griffin and Aldridge. Perennial all-star players they once were, now accepting veteran minimum deals that barely count against the NBA salary cap.

Big market divination

The NBA is as pro-player as any sports league. It is also as pro-big market as any sports league. Andre Drummond was on a max contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers while being told not to suit up to play. Instead, the team were looking to trade him.

The same was said to Blake Griffin in Detroit and Aldridge with the Spurs. Not only were they not traded, no team made an offer to trade for them.

The Lakers and Nets knew trading for these players would be futile, and instead banking on the prospect of them being on the buyout market. Call it opportunism, call it parasitic behaviour – their market is a luxury afforded to them.

Buyout players are free agents. They have autonomy to choose the destination of their next move. What big markets tend to have (and certainly in the case of the Nets and Lakers) is increased chance at winning a ring, better weather climate (you can debate the merits of New York weather another time), and a bigger platform to showcase talents.

This is a point of contention NBA owners of small market teams are likely to contest. They will always be behind the 8-ball while the rich get richer. Whatever you might think of the talents of Drummond, Griffin, and Aldridge, acquiring them for pennies on the dollar will stick in the craw of owners who, despite offering a potentially winning team (I’m looking at you Milwaukee), does not scream ‘destination market’ the same way Brooklyn or Los Angeles does.


Finagling the salary cap

Four of the five highest spending teams in the NBA are either from California or New York (Philadelphia being the other). That should be of no surprise. They are the two biggest markets in the U.S. and the revenue generated from TV deals as well as number of games nationally televised means they can stomach an enormous luxury tax bill. It also means they will routinely spend whatever it takes to assemble a championship team.

The Utah Jazz rank just outside the overmentioned teams in money spent. They are $26 million over the cap. Don’t panic, that’s all well and good. It’s being $4 million in the luxury tax that will be a concern. The calculations are a blur, but essentially Utah will be paying $6 million tax for being in such a position. Given the contractual situation of Mike Conley, the Jazz will no doubt try to negotiate a figure that gets them below the luxury tax.

The Brooklyn Nets are reads note intently $32 million deep into the luxury tax. Their luxury tax bill is a staggering $98 million. An obscene amount that emphasises their superiority. For context, the Bucks, who have been the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the last two regular seasons are not in the luxury tax. For the Bucks to compete against the financially banked Brooklyn Nets will be a huge challenge, one that may prove to steep to overcome.

These players can play, I think?

Let’s go back to the buyout guys. Andre Drummond is a good NBA player – if anything a little underrated. If Drummond came along 20-25 years earlier, his skillset would be appreciated more. Playing in a three-point shooting league at times makes Drummond redundant due to a lack of floor spacing. His rebounding numbers continue to astound (13.5RPG) and his scoring (17.5PPG) shows he has plenty to offer the Lakers, especially given the health of Anthony Davis and LeBron James.

Drummond, who has led the league in rebounding four times in his career, has been in NBA Siberia.

With the Detroit Pistons, he made the playoffs on two occasions, both times swept out. Traded to Cleveland last year for a 2023 second round pick and two players who are now out of the league, Drummond’s value was at an all-time low. He will hope playing on the Staples stage will reinvigorate his career.

The backlash of Griffin and Aldridge signing with Brooklyn has been at times profound. It has also been another example of revisionist history.

Aldridge, in particular, is not the same player he was in 2015 when he was the premier free agent signing in San Antonio. His scoring average has depreciated in each of his last four seasons as has his minutes per game. Griffin also is not the same player he was from his years as a LA Clipper. His 2018-19 renaissance with the Detroit Pistons was unfortunately derailed just the season after where his chronic knee issues got the better of him.

The Los Angeles Lakers vs the Brooklyn Nets is the NBA finals many want to see. A goliath matchup that showcases five of the top fifteen players in the league. An undercurrent of events is perhaps the gravitational pull big market teams have and their innate ability to attract star players.

Whether the buyout players make an impact on their teams may be inconsequential to the vigour small market NBA owners have at once again being under a glass ceiling.

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About Kelechi Ulu 20 Articles
It was during the 2018 Conference Finals my interest in the NBA began. Watching the Rockets and Warriors duel it out was something akin to a movie scene. It was then when I knew I was hooked onto the NBA... Since then I love reading all things NBA and listening to a plethora of basketball podcasts. It’s all for the love of the game

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