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Identifying Potential Late Season Pickups

If you're looking for an evidence to support your claim that the NBA is a league where the rich get richer, look no further than the trend of veteran players signing with elite contenders after having their contracts bought out.  Just last year we saw as Joe Smith, Drew Gooden, Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore among others sign with contenders after their cellar-dwelling teams bought out the end of their contracts.

With the cap going down and plenty of free agents hitting the open market, it's safe to assume that several teams will be looking to negotiate buyouts with players.  Obviously, there won't be as many players available in the late-season market as there are right now, but there's a good chance that there will be some better talent available to sign for the veteran's minimum in February than there is right now to sign to the low level exemption.  Of course, signing someone is contingent on being a contender before they sign.  Otherwise, they'll just sign with a team that has a better chance of getting a ring.

After the jump, we'll narrow down the options and see what players could hit the open market later this season.

Beofre we begin, here's a list of all the free agents for the 2010.  This is where the pool for our buyout candidates will come from, since there probably won't be any owners looking to buyout more than the last half of a season off of any player's contract.  Just to be safe, we'll exclude restricted free agents and players who have options on their contracts.  We'll also exclude guards and wings who might be nice additions, but don't address any critical needs in what's already a very deep backcourt.

Now that we've taken care of all the disclaimers, let's start paring down who's left to see what's available.

Step 1: Eliminate anyone on a contending team

Players already on contenders are already doing enough to make their teams good which gives the team no reason to want to get rid of him and the player no reason to hop ship for a team with a shot of winning it all.  I'm only including Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, the Lakers, San Antonio, and Denver as true contenders at this point, though other teams could always insert their name into the discussion as the season goes along.

This eliminates: Brian Scalabrine, Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Steven Hunter, Brian Cook, Chuck Hayes, DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell, and Matt Bonner.

Step 2: Eliminate anyone who wouldn't be desirable even if they become available

Needless to say, there would probably be some venom spewed if these players were brough in as the final piece of the puzzle.

This eliminates: Randolph Morris, Jerome James, Mark Blount, Francisco Elson, Malik AllenBrian Cardinal, Mark Madsen, Etan Thomas, Mouhamed Sene, Kenny Thomas, Patrick O'Bryant

Step 3: Eliminate anyone who won't be bought out because they're just too good

Even if the player has a 100% chance of walking away in free agency, the negative PR backlash of buying out these players would just be too much to bear.

This eliminates: Carlos Boozer

Step 4: Eliminate all young players

You won't see any of these players bought out because their age still makes them valuable.  Besides, do you think the veterans already on the team want to deal with another young player after last year's debacle?

This eliminates: Craig Smith, Amir JohnsonLouis Amundson 

So who's left?

A mish-mash of veterans who can give the team something if they think the Wizards have a shot of giving them what they want: a championship.  First, let's take a look at the guys with an outside chance of being buyout material if their respective team's find themselves in an unexpectedly down year.

  • Brad Miller
  • Kwame Brown (not that he'd come to D.C., but I had to throw it out there...)
  • Udonis Haslem
  • Jermaine O'Neal
  • Al Harrington
  • Darko Milicic

The chances of seeing any of these fine men bought out are extremely, extremely low.  They'd have to be out of the playoff hunt very early and more than likely burn a few bridges with their current team.  But in uncertain times, anything is possible so it would be premature to eliminate any of these possibilites.

Then there are the respectable players stuck on floundering teams who have the best shot of being buyout material.  Since they have the most realistic shot of winding up on a contender, they deserve the most focus.  So after a few hundred words of talking about who won't be bought out, let's take a look at the players with the best shots of being contributors to a contender one by one.

Marcus Camby: Camby is on tap to make nearly $10 million this season from one of the more tight-fisted owners in the league in Donald Sterling.  On top of that, his presence (together with Chris Kaman's) creates a logjam in the low post where Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan need minutes to develop.  He'll be beneficial at the start of the year as he helps the young guys to understand the league better, but the reality is that the team likely isn't going to go anywhere this season and Griffin & Jordan have to be given the chance to sprout their wings at some point.  

The Spurs nearly made a deal for Camby at the deadline last season and it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see teams inquire about making a trade for him this season as well.  The Clippers will probably do all they can to boost his trade value in order to get something useful in return, but it's hard to see anyone giving up a prospect and swallowing the rest of Camby's contract for what amounts to a rental.  If Camby doesn't get traded, it probably won't take long for both sides to start talking about a buyout.

Kurt Thomas: San Antonio saved Kurt from lottery land in 2008 when they traded Brent Barry's expiring contract to Seattle for his services.  Of course, Barry ended up having the rest of his contract bought out and he returned to San Antonio just in time for their final push last year.  Now Thomas finds himself on the other side of the deal, sent to Milwaukee as part of the Richard Jefferson deal.  His contract isn't terrible, (he's due to make $3.8 million) which makes it much easier for Milwaukee for the Bucks to work out a buyout without breaking the bank, but it also makes him much easier to trade for than Camby.

Tony Battie: Like Thomas, Tony Battie went from a great situation with a contender to finding himself on a lottery team after being included as part of the Vince Carter deal.  He'll be a nice addition to a shallow frontcourt, but I don't think anyone is kidding themselves into thinking that they'll be contenders next season or that the 33 year old Battie has any kind of long-term future with the team.  As is the case with Camby and Thomas, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Nets do everything they can to boost his value and get prospect for a late season rental, but in this market, I don't see many teams looking to buy at Battie's price (just over $6 million).   Of the thee players listed, Battie probably has the most buyout potential

It will be interesting to see if these players do get bought out where they will land.  Camby seems like a natural fit for San Antonio and the Spurs have a knack of getting the players they want.  If he hits the open market, I don't think it will take long at all for him to end up in the Alamo, but you never know who might make a push to sign him.  Thomas and Battie are much more interesting.  If the Spurs do end up getting Camby, his presence along with the addition of Antonio McDyess would eat up most, if not all of his minutes.  Likewise, it would be hard to see Battie returning to Orlando now that they have Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass at their disposal, and they still have Marcin Gortat.

If the Wizards can stay healthy and show that they're an elite Eastern Conference squad next season like they think they can be, it might make sense to wait and see who has their contract bought out after the trade deadline.  Not only will the players available at that point likely be better than the ones available for the LLE right now, but they'll come at a cheaper price.