If not for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 2018 NBA trade deadline would have been a dud. DeAndre Jordan, Kemba Walker and Marc Gasol all stayed put on their respective teams, as did Tyreke Evans and Lou Williams. Outside of Cleveland, most of the deals consummated Thursday featured no splashy, big-name acquisitions.
Thankfully, teams still aren’t done adding to their rosters ahead of the playoffs.
The buyout market should afford teams the chance to continue improving in the days and weeks to come. So long as a player gets waived by March 1, he’ll be eligible to play in the postseason for whichever team he joins.
Greg Monroe, who signed with the Boston Celtics after the Phoenix Suns waived him last week, may wind up being the first of many such dominos to fall. Following the trade deadline, 11-year veteran Brandan Wright quickly reached a buyout agreement with the Memphis Grizzlies and will join the Houston Rockets once he clears waivers, according to Chris Haynes and Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com. He won’t be the last to switch teams in the coming days, either.
Some of the soon-to-be bought-out players found themselves on the move at the trade deadline, landing on teams with no interest in handing them playing time. Others remained on squads that plan on embracing youth movements over the final two months of the season—Monroe and Wright included—which gave them no place on those rosters moving forward.
Which players should contenders have an eye on in the buyout market? The following five stand out as potential contributors down the stretch.
Joe Johnson, Sacramento Kings
One week before Thursday’s trade deadline, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported Joe Johnson was “angling behind the scenes for a trade out of Utah.” Had the Jazz not obliged him, Stein suggested it would be “interesting to see if he becomes a buyout candidate for contenders should no deal materialize.”
As it turns out, the Jazz did wind up trading him to the Sacramento Kings in the three-team deal that netted them Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose. (We’ll discuss the latter shortly.) With Sacramento nowhere near playoff contention and likely to pivot toward a youth movement in the final two months of the season, Johnson understandably wanted out of there, too.
According to ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Johnson reached a buyout agreement with the Kings on Saturday, and he plans to sign with the Houston Rockets once he clears waivers Monday afternoon. On Thursday, David Aldridge of Turner Sports had mentioned the Rockets as being “very interested” in Johnson, but Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports dubbed the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics as the “early favorites” to sign him at the time.
Johnson was an enormous net minus in Utah this season, as the Jazz were 12.4 points per 100 possessions better with him off the court. While he’s no longer the routine 20-point-per-game scorer that he was back in his prime—he averaged a career-low 7.3 points on 42.0 percent shooting in 21.9 minutes per game with Utah—he could be a welcome addition to Houston’s reserve unit, particularly given his ability to factor into small-ball lineups.
Between Johnson, Wright and Gerald Green, who the Rockets signed earlier this season, general manager Daryl Morey is doing everything in his power to create a roster capable of toppling the defending champion Warriors.
Derrick Rose, Utah Jazz
Derrick Rose’s time in Utah is over before it started.
After acquiring him in the three-team deal with Cleveland and Sacramento on Thursday, the Jazz released Rose on Saturday, according to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Assuming he clears waivers, the Minnesota Timberwolves will try to sign him to bolster their bench, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported.
The Minnesota connection makes all too much sense for Rose, who would rejoin his former Chicago Bulls head coach, Tom Thibodeau. Though the MVP version of Rose that played for Thibs in the early 2010s is a thing of the past, the Wolves wouldn’t need him to absorb that type of responsibility. With Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns all soaking up touches and shots in the starting lineup, Minnesota would only need Rose to help fortify its otherwise underutilized bench unit.
No team has gotten fewer minutes out of its reserves than the Timberwolves, and only three bench units—those of the Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks—average fewer points per game than Minnesota’s. That’s in part due to Thibodeau’s head-scratching insistence on running his starters into the ground during the regular season, but a reunion with Rose could help Thibs see the light and begin preserving Butler, Wiggins, Towns and Teague for the playoffs.
Marco Belinelli, Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks held Marco Belinelli out of Tuesday’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies due to ongoing trade discussions, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but nothing ever came to fruition. One day after the trade deadline passed and Belinelli remained in Atlanta, the Hawks decided to waive him.
Once Belinelli clears waivers Monday, he plans to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers, according to ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The career 37.7 percent three-point shooter will give their reserve unit a much-needed boost of offense.
This season, Belinelli has knocked down 37.2 percent of his long-range attempts, and he’s done so in a variety of ways. Not only is he a fine catch-and-shoot threat, having drilled 36.8 percent of such looks on 3.0 attempts per game this season, but he’s also capable of creating off the dribble, as evidenced by his 38.5 percent shooting on pull-up jumpers.
While the Sixers shouldn’t bank on Belinelli to generate a steady diet of offense for himself, he’ll be able to feast on open shot attempts off Ben Simmons drive-and-kicks.
Tony Allen, Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls acquired Tony Allen when they sent Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans, but he wasn’t long for the Windy City. Wojnarowski reported on Feb. 1 that the Bulls were likely to waive him, which they did Friday after not finding a taker for him prior to the trade deadline.
Both the Rockets and Thunder are “among the early teams inquiring” about Allen, who will become free to sign anywhere other than New Orleans or Chicago if he clears waivers Sunday, according to Aldridge. The Grindfather hasn’t played since mid-December due to a non-displaced fibula fracture he suffered in his left leg, but he returned to the Pelicans’ active roster immediately prior to his trade to Chicago.
The Thunder make for perhaps the most fascinating Allen landing spot in the wake of Andre Roberson’s season-ending patellar tendon tear. Like Roberson, Allen is both a lockdown defender and a non-factor on offense, to the point where opponents regularly ignore him on that end of the court. Since Oklahoma City doesn’t need a strong scoring 2-guard in its starting lineup alongside Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams, Allen would make for a logical fit there.
Besides, who doesn’t want to see Allen make life hell for Jimmy Butler, James Harden or Stephen Curry in a playoff series this spring?
Willie Reed, Chicago Bulls
In one of the least consequential moves of deadline day, the Chicago Bulls flipped Jameer Nelson (who they acquired from New Orleans in the package for Mirotic) to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Willie Reed, who they promptly waived. They also gained the right to swap 2022 second-round picks with the Pistons, which they’ll likely then shop to the highest bidder for cash considerations.
The NBA handed Reed a six-game suspension Tuesday stemming from a domestic violence incident last August, which could deter teams from claiming him on waivers. He may have to wait for his suspension to run its course before finding a new team, but the big man could provide valuable frontcourt depth to a contender in need of some fortification in the paint.
Across 42 games this season with the Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers, Reed averaged 4.6 points on a career-high 66.9 percent shooting, 2.9 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in just 10.2 minutes per night. A grand majority of his shot attempts come within 10 feet of the basket, putting him far away from unicorn territory, but a team in need of some big-man bench help might give him a look in the coming days.
Honorable mentions: Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves; Jarrett Jack, New York Knicks; Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic