I’ll make this clear: I don’t like buy-out season. The idea that the best teams, and often the “best” markets can add solid veteran contributors for nothing has never sat well with me (not that anyone’s asked).
Maybe, it’s because the Toronto Raptors, for all the franchise’s reputational progress, have rarely if ever benefitted from this time of the year. I think it’s really more that a few places, (cough, cough, Los Angeles), get a disproportionate bump this time of the year.
I’m not the only one, for years there have been rumbles from various owners, General Managers, and even players about the fact that the buy-out market tends to disproportionately benefit a few teams, at the most important time of year.
Now sure, the big markets ALWAYS have the advantage, but the difference here is that since the money being paid to these players is, by NBA terms, peanuts, even a super-team, well into the luxury tax, can grab a player with no financial consequences.
Put it another way, maybe every player in free-agency wants to play for the same three teams, but there is only so much money those teams can spend, so other markets can make competitive offers. In the buy-out world doubling the minimum is only adding another $500k or so, which isn’t likely to sway a player from the top contenders or brightest lights.
It would be more interesting, and fair, for basketball, if every team had a shot at adding these “free players”.
So, I introduce to you the Raptors HQ: Buy-out Balance System. B.O.B.S for short. Think of it as a sort of waiver system.
Now, yes, NBA nerd, there already IS a waiver system, and you are correct, every player that is bought out passes through it already. It is however, almost never used, because the team making the claim has to have room to fit the waived player into existing cap space, or an exemption.
So, not really useful.
But with B.O.B.S. we can make it useful. The team at the top of the B.O.B. list (B.O.B. prime) gets first choice at any player currently available for, say, two hours. After those two hours are up, the next B.O.B.’er has the right to make a claim. B.O.B. prime then stays top B.O.B. for the next player, or group of players.
When a claim is made the team gets the player, at a set price, and then they fall to the bottom of the B.O.B.S. ladder.
With this system, players end up on a wider range of teams, and teams, can perhaps better fit their additions to their needs, rather than on how well a player knows LeBron.
Now, you can argue B.O.B.S. is not particularly player-friendly — after all, right now players that get bought out are unrestricted free-agents. It is, however, better for competitive balance, and we’re only talking a few months here. And, of course, a player could refuse to report — although under B.O.B.S. they would be prevented from then signing with another team as their rights would be tied to the claiming franchise until past March 1st – the date after which players can’t play in the playoffs for new teams.
It would also create another strategic wrinkle. If you’re B.O.B. Prime, do you grab the best player now, or stay in Prime position hoping someone even better gets bought out later?
Would a team claim someone, ala baseball, to block them from getting to a rival who needs them more?
As a fan, watching, say, the Raptors grab Gary Harris just before the Celtics could would be a) awesome for Toronto because it gets them Gary Harris and b) a definite Basketball-Twitter moment.
There is also player-friendly angle to this — if players don’t get to choose where they want to go, they probably want more money in the buyout to compensate for that fact. Heck, maybe they don’t take the buyout at all. Why not just bank the cash? Different guys will have different priorities.
This system would also help push back anti buy-out sentiment — which would be good for players — for all it’s faults the system does give guys stuck on tanking teams a way to find themselves in a more competitive situation.
It could also lead to more trades. Right now, teams, especially the big market ones, are understandably wary of trading assets for a player they could sign for basically nothing. If, however, they were lower in waiver priority, the idea of making a deal, rather than hoping nobody else grabs the player they want, improves.
Now, how do we decide who B.O.B. Prime is? You could go in reverse order of standings, like real waivers. However, you run the risk that sme bottom-feeder grabs a buy-out player, taking them out of the playoffs. And if you don’t think NBA owners aren’t petty enough to pull stuff like this, you haven’t been paying attention. You’d also be penalizing the best teams for their success, but, then again, the goal here is helping competitive balance.
Maybe it’s like the play-in game was last season, the day after the trade deadline only teams within, say three games of 10th are able to make a claim. This year, that would mean Orlando, Detroit, Indiana, Houston and OKC would be ineligible to make claims, but practically speaking, teams like Portland and San Antonio, who have signaled they’re pivoting to a rebuild, would likely sit the claims out.
Maybe it’s a random, or weighted drawing amongst eligible teams. This way lower seeds are more likely to get a good waiver ranking, but top seeds still have a shot. In this version, the Warriors and Suns aren’t cut off from the chance of going after a Gary Harris or Robin Lopez or, my stars, John Wall, but they aren’t likely to get first dibs.
I’d favour something like that. I don’t want to overly penalize good teams, but at the same time the playoffs would be a lot more interesting if Gary Harris was on the Jazz and, say, Terrence Ross was a Sixer and Robin Lopez was a Maverick then if they all ended up in L.A., Miami, and Brooklyn.
As a test, I decided to try my own lottery. I weighted it so that the best teams and the ones within three games, but OUT of play-in position had the same, but weaker odds. Meanwhile the teams ranked 4-10 in each conference had the same higher odds. This way we didn’t reward the weakest teams, but we also lightly penalized the strongest teams.
My top five after the draw?: Denver, Philadelphia, Memphis, Dallas and Minnesota. We see one big-time market, in Philly, and another, at least in terms of size, in Dallas, while three smaller markets get a chance they might not otherwise.
The narratives are interesting here too. Surely Denver would hold-off on picking until they could bring Gary Harris back, right? (And, a Jokic, Gordon, Harris, Murray, Porter Jr. team is an absolute contender if the latter two are back and healthy).
The Sixers have wanted a decent back-up centre for Embiid for years, they’d likely be able to choose between Robin Lopez and Derrick Favors (you can decide how decent that is).
I could see Memphis just passing; they’re already super deep, but Dallas would definitely be interested. Do they take Goran Dragic here, bringing the long rumoured union of Slovenian players, or, maybe some rim protection in the form of which centre the Sixers didn’t take?
As for Minnesota, if Dragic slipped here, he’d be a very interesting fit for the Wolves, so too would Terrence Ross’ shooting if he was bought out, or could Minnesota try rolling the dice on someone like Tyreke Evans? (Who for the purposes of this thought experiment, I’m calling a buy-out).
Any which way this creates a way more interesting scenario for fans and GM’s, and I suspect some of a players angst of losing control would be assuaged by the ego boost of a team picking them.
It’s time to make B.O.B.S. a reality.