Five players likely to be bought out during the 2021-22 NBA season

Profile Picture: Rory Breasail

Rory Breasail

August 23rd, 2021

It’s never too early to make plans in the NBA. Even as this offseason is winding down, smart general managers are already drawing up battle plans for the coming trade deadline and buyout market in anticipation of upgrading their teams.

Let’s take a look at five high-impact players likely to be bought out in the 2021-22 season.

1. KEVIN LOVE (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Kevin Love has been in trade rumors for what seems like the majority of his tenure in Cleveland, and it feels like LeBron James has lived multiple NBA careers since he and Love last played together. Love was inked to a four-year $120 million extension in the immediate aftermath of LeBron’s decision (lower case "d", mind you) to leave Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers. He is still owed around $60 million over the next two years.

The Cavaliers deluded themselves into thinking they could compete without James, and that Love would be a positive value trade piece on his contract if not. At long last, it seems that Cleveland might mercifully buy Love out, particularly now that they have major resources invested in their big rotation with the longterm signing of Jarrett Allen and the drafting of Evan Mobley.

The two popularly discussed destinations for Love following a buyout are the Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets appeal is obvious, he could rehab his image and compete for a title à la Blake Griffin last year. But the Warriors can offer a much more significant role, are closer to home, and have long coveted Love’s skill set. 

Love has a lot to prove before he lands a sizeable role anywhere though, after years of low-effort play and his recent withdrawal from Team USA before the Tokyo Olympics.

2. GORAN DRAGIC (Toronto Raptors)

Dragic, who along with Precious Achiuwa was sent from Miami to Toronto in exchange for Kyle Lowry, is another name to consider. The marriage of convenience between Toronto and Dragic got off to a rocky start. When speaking to a Slovenian media member, Dragic noted that Toronto was not his preferred destination for a trade, and that he had "higher ambitions." He’s since walked those statements back, but what’s true is that Toronto and Dragic might be at a crossroads. 

Dragic is still a supercharged backup capable of creating offense at a sub-star level every once in a while, and he clearly wants one more shot at an NBA title.

It all depends on what this version of the Raptors’ "ambitions" really are. Masai Ujiri has been clear that merely making the playoffs is meaningless to him, so if the Raptors don’t come out of the gates strong, they might not so subtly lean into tanking. After all, such a move paid massive dividends for them when they moved up in the previous draft. And in that scenario moving on from Dragic, even for nothing in return, makes sense.

The other issue is that though Dragic is a nice player, he is clearly overpaid at nearly $20 million, making a trade difficult. Since nothing materialized over the offseason, I think it is more likely than not that Dragic gets waived just prior to the deadline, and becomes a hot commodity on the buyout market. 

Dallas is the obvious choice here. Not only would he help carry some of the Maverick’s on-ball playmaking load, he would be reuniting with Luka Doncic and Igor Kokoskov, who won Slovenia’s first EuroBasket title together in 2017.

3. THAD YOUNG (San Antonio Spurs)

Young was the main player that went back to the San Antonio Spurs in the DeMar DeRozan trade. If he gets bought out, Young will be a highly coveted player. Despite his lack of an outside shot, Young has proven to be a steady and versatile defender, with just enough supplementary playmaking to grease the wheels of an effective offense.

Traditionally, the Spurs don’t tank. But the selection of Josh Primo and the trading of DeRozan suggests they are fully committed to a developmental season. It may be as simple as doing Young (or his agent) a favor and letting him walk in time to join a contender. A return to the Nets would be a natural fit, as he could slide into Bruce Brown’s small-ball offensive center role seamlessly while adding some much-needed defensive punch.

4. RAJON RONDO (Memphis Grizzlies)

Rondo is a strong candidate to be bought out before pre-season begins. He struggled in the playoffs on the Los Angeles Clippers and now finds himself on a team in the Memphis Grizzlies who have little need for his services.

While "Playoff Rondo" has been a concept with some on-court validity, what is inarguable is that "Regular Season Rondo" is a negative player. Rondo could be unlocked in the right circumstances, playing for a chance at a title, but on a team like the Grizzlies, he’s as likely to be detrimental as anything else. While it’s possible a team trades for him, the way he played after the Clippers acquired him likely tanked his value. 

This could mean a return to the Lakers if one of their minimum guards doesn’t work out. Another team to watch? A reunion with the Boston Celtics.

5. ROBIN LOPEZ (Orlando Magic)

Lopez is unique among this group as a player that signed a deal this offseason, but I believe will be a serious buyout candidate. That’s actually not unusual, as teams frequently reach buyout agreements with recent acquisitions once they fully pivot to development partway into a season.

In Lopez’s case, he was a good value deal at $5 million, but the Magic are already going to be short on minutes to share among their development-focused roster. They have Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and  Mo Wagner who exclusively play five on the roster, without even giving Jonathan Isaac some minutes there in certain configurations.

Lopez has helped every team he has ever played for and would be a nice backup on a plethora of contenders looking for competitive play.