While the NBA trade deadline is understandably a bigger deal, March 1 has become an important date in its own right. That's the point by which players must be waived by their teams in order to be eligible to participate in the playoffs with a new team chosen as a free agent. As a result, veterans on non-contending teams have been working to secure buyouts in order to sign elsewhere and chase a ring. Add in a handful of players waived to create roster spots and a good deal of talent has suddenly been dumped on the market. Basketball Prospectus ranks the 10 best players available--including those who have already found new homes.
1. Mike Bibby, PG, Washington Wizards
A week removed from starting for a playoff team, Bibby hit the market after agreeing to forfeit an amount of salary that is largely unprecedented. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Bibby give up his entire 2011-12 salary to secure his release. Bibby is apparently headed to Miami, where he represents an upgrade on Carlos Arroyo or Eddie House as the other half of a platoon with Mario Chalmers. Bibby's skills are exactly what you'd want from a point guard in the Heat's offense. He's a sure-handed ballhandler and a dangerous three-point shooter who figures to thrive with all the open shots Miami's Big Three creates. The tradeoff comes at the other end of the floor, where Bibby is one of the league's worst defenders. Per Basketball Prospectus' numbers, opposing point guards had been 20.5 percent more productive than usual against Atlanta this season. Bibby's defensive issues are mitigated somewhat by the Heat's strong defensive concept and the ability for Erik Spoelstra to put LeBron James on the ball in certain matchups while matching Bibby up with non-scorers. At this stage of his career, Bibby is not a game-changer for Miami. Still, he has the best chance of any of the buyout crew of making an impact on the postseason.
2. Troy Murphy, PF, Golden State Warriors
On paper, Murphy illustrates the silliness of buyout season. How can a player who could not get off the bench for the lowly New Jersey Nets make a difference with one of the league's best teams? Murphy's situation is a bit more complicated because he never really got a chance in New Jersey through no fault of either his own or Avery Johnson's. Kris Humphries unexpectedly emerged as a starting-caliber power forward, while the Nets needed to develop Derrick Favors. So Murphy was sent home to await a trade that ultimately freed him when the Warriors acquired his contract and bought him out. Now, Murphy has reportedly chosen the Boston Celtics over the Heat as a destination. From his time in Indiana, Murphy's strengths and weaknesses are well established. His three-point range spaces the floor, while Murphy is also phenomenal on the defensive glass. He gives much of this production back, however, with his inability to defend either one-on-one or in help situations. Again, the Celtics' schemes can help mask Murphy's weaknesses, but he needs to play next to a strong help defender, and at this point only Kevin Garnett qualifies in the Boston frontcourt. That figures to limit Murphy's playing time, though he still has the opportunity to carve a role out of the minutes Glen Davis and Nenad Krstic are currently playing.
3. Corey Brewer, SF, New York Knicks
Brewer was the most unexpected buyout this week, since the Knicks just acquired him in the Carmelo Anthony trade and are obviously contenders themselves. New York preferred a more familiar defensive specialist (more on that in a moment) and turned Brewer loose after failing to include him in a pre-deadline trade. Brewer ranks this high largely because of his long-range potential. Perimeter defenders tend to peak late; Bruce Bowen had yet to play in the NBA at the same age, while Raja Bell was just establishing himself. To get to their level, Brewer will have to become a more consistent three-point threat. He's regressed to 26.3 percent beyond the arc after hitting a respectable 34.6 percent a year ago. Brewer is also a much more frequent shooter than most specialists, a habit of which his next team will hope to cure him. There is an interesting opportunity here for a team with cap space to offer Brewer more than the minimum this year to get him under a reasonable contract for the next season or two. Nonetheless, it looks like he'll land with a contender for the remainder of the season.
4. Carlos Arroyo, PG, Miami Heat
Instead of waiving one of their approximately 1,800 backup centers, the Heat let Arroyo go to make room for Bibby. With the latter off the market and T.J. Ford failing to reach a buyout agreement with the Pacers, Arroyo is the only veteran option for teams looking for a backup point guard. In that role, Arroyo is perfectly competent. He can knock down an open jumper, handle the basketball and play solid defense. Don't be surprised to see Arroyo end up with the Portland Trail Blazers, who are in the market for just such a player
5. Rasual Butler, SF, L.A. Clippers
Hey, remember Butler? A starter throughout last season, Butler has been buried on the depth chart by Ryan Gomes and rookie Al-Farouq Aminu. Butler's value tends to fluctuate wildly with his three-point percentage, and he's shot just 32.6 percent from downtown thus far. Of course, 129 attempts is hardly an indicator of long-term skill and Butler remains a solid wing defender. A rumored marriage with the Chicago Bulls would make sense for both player and team.
6. Jared Jeffries, SF, Houston Rockets
Overall, I would say that Jeffries is less valuable than Brewer and Butler among the available perimeter defenders. However, he's Mike D'Antoni's security blanket, and the Knicks' coach is much more likely to use Jeffries than either of the other two. Despite his complete inability to space the floor, Jeffries provided New York quality minutes a year ago. Since he can defend as many as four positions, Jeffries gives D'Antoni plenty of options. At nearly $7 million, Jeffries had to go. At the minimum, he should and will be welcomed back to the Big Apple.
7. Derrick Brown, SF, Charlotte Bobcats
Brown was a casualty of the numbers game in Charlotte. The Bobcats had to waive three players to make room for the newcomers they acquired at the deadline and did not want to create dead salary by cutting players with a year remaining on their contract.* They hoped to be able to sneak Brown through waivers and get him back, but New York foiled that plan by claiming him. Midway through his second season, Brown is an interesting piece. He's making 56.1 percent of his two-point attempts, is an above-average rebounder for a small forward and is a long, active defender. Because he is not a floor spacer, Brown makes more sense as a power forward for the Knicks. He'll also have to fight two players with somewhat similar skills--Jeffries and Renaldo Balkman--for playing time. This was still a nice little pickup for New York that cost the Knicks little more than a roster spot. The remaining portion of Brown's contract is pocket change for MSG.
* This might sound like misguided sunk-cost theory, but because players obviously can't be traded after they are waived, this really does limit a team's flexibility to a harmful extent.
8. Kelenna Azubuike, SG, New York Knicks
If healthy, Azubuike might just top this list. During his last full season in Golden State, Azubuike contributed 2.6 WARP off the bench at age 25. That the Knicks were willing to waive Azubuike, an ideal fit for their system, suggests little confidence that he'll be able to return to anywhere near 100 percent from a ruptured patella tendon by season's end. So any team picking up Azubuike would probably be doing so with an eye toward 2011-12.
9. Leon Powe, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Powe is in a similar situation, though more likely to be able to contribute this year. He's working back from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. The larger issue remains Powe's left knee, which has seen his ACL reconstructed multiple times, most recently during the 2009 postseason. Powe has yet to demonstrate that he is the same player since the injury, which is a shame because he was an excellent reserve for the Boston Celtics during his first three NBA seasons.
10. Al Thornton, SF, Washington Wizards
A year after Thornton was one of the key pieces the Wizards got in their deadline teardown, they sent him packing with a buyout. Because of his solid scoring average, Thornton has been able to hang on to his lottery pedigree despite a remarkable lack of efficiency and productivity throughout his NBA career. Thornton is 27 now, so the statute of limitations on his potential has expired. Thornton will get another chance with the Golden State Warriors. Any minutes he takes from Reggie Williams are wasted.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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