NBA buyout season: The most successful pickups of the century

Following every trade deadline, many veterans are bought out and subsequently join teams with championship aspirations. The buyout market can be important for teams in need of another piece to make a run in the playoffs.

Although the new Collective Bargaining Agreement poses challenges for luxury tax teams, expect several veterans to secure buyouts and sign with contenders soon.

Let’s review the most impactful buyout signings of this century.

Russell Westbrook (LA Clippers, 2023)

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Although most seemingly gave up on him after a rough stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell Westbrook proved doubters wrong as he is now performing as a top Sixth Man of the Year candidate, making him arguably the best buyout pickup this century.

Westbrook can even further strengthen his case if the Los Angeles Clippers do what they have the potential to do, and that’s to win a title this season.

Boris Diaw (San Antonio, 2012)

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

An overweight, sulking and underperforming forward as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, French swingman Boris Diaw turned into a central piece of a championship squad with the San Antonio Spurs real quick. The smooth and versatile Diaw made a seamless transition into Gregg Popovich‘s system after reaching an agreement on a contract buyout with the awful, awful Bobcats of the lockout season.

Diaw was a vital role player for a Spurs team that reached the 2013 NBA Finals, as well as for the 2013-14 San Antonio team that did win the championship. In the 2014 playoffs, Diaw was excellent in his role, averaging 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 40 percent from three as San Antonio steamrolled its way to the title.

Not bad for a buyout pickup.

Reggie Jackson (LA Clippers, 2020)

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough ending to his time with the Detroit PistonsReggie Jackson resurrected his career in Los Angeles after getting bought out by Detroit. Things got so bad for Jackson with the Pistons, mostly due to injuries, that he even said he considered retirement before joining the Clippers.

Jackson was able to regain his confidence in Los Angeles, averaging nearly 17 points and five assists in 2021-22 before being traded and bought out once again a year later, where he became a buyout pickup for the Denver Nuggets team that won the championship in 2022-23.

Jackson might rank higher on this list if he had a bigger role in the 2023 playoffs for Denver but even so, the former Boston College Eagle was a great buyout pickup for two teams.

Tim Thomas (Phoenix, 2006)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you played with legendary point guard Steve Nash in his prime, you were bound to flourish and get paid. That was exactly the case with Tim Thomas in 2006. The lanky forward, who had bombed as a member of the Knicks, was impressive with the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 postseason after getting bought out by New York, netting 15.1 points per game and making crucial shots in the series vs. the Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

Thomas joined the Clippers a few weeks later on a four-year, $24 million contract, although that didn’t go as well, as Thomas would be traded a year later during a campaign in which Los Angeles would go 23-59.

Still, Thomas was a great buyout signing for the Suns, who got all the way to the Western Conference Finals that year with Thomas playing a big role that postseason.

Derrick Rose (Minnesota, 2018)

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Constant injury troubles had former league MVP Derrick Rose on the verge of retirement in 2017-18 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After Rose took some time away from the team to contemplate his playing career future, Cleveland eventually traded him to the Utah Jazz, who promptly waived him, opening the door for the Minnesota Timberwolves, led by his former head coach Tom Thibodeau at the time, to sign him for the rest of that season.

Rose, then still plagued by injuries, would only see action in nine games for the Timberwolves to close out 2017-18 before he re-signed with the team for one more year the following offseason. That’s when Rose really began to shine again, even earning Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player votes as he averaged 18 points and over four assists per game in 2018-19.

That season saw Rose drop a career-high 50 points on Halloween night, a feel-good moment for fans of the Chicago legend.

Marco Belinelli (Philadelphia, 2018)

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers had arguably the most successful buyout season ever when they picked up Italian guard Marco Belinelli and the following player on this list merely 16 days apart back in 2018.

After being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks in 2017-18, Belinelli would join Philadelphia and get Sixth Man of the Year votes averaging 13.6 points and shooting over 38 percent from three as a member of the Sixers. Belinelli helped the team reach the second round of the playoffs.

Ersan Ilyasova (Philadelphia, 2018)

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Likewise bought out by the Hawks, floor-spacing big man Ersan Ilyasova, like Belinelli, would join Philadelphia from the 2017-18 buyout market.

Ilyasova would average 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 36.1 percent from three for the 76ers as the team got to Round 2 of the playoffs.

Jeff Green (Houston, 2020)

Jeff Green
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bought out by the Jazz in 2019-20, versatile forward/big man Jeff Green would join the Houston Rockets and become a great addition to the team.

Green would average 12.2 points and shoot 56.4 percent from the floor as a member of the Rockets for the rest of that season, as he helped play a role in Houston reaching the second round of the playoffs that year.

Kevin Love (Miami, 2023)

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

As a member of a frontcourt-heavy Cavaliers squad and lacking in playing time, Kevin Love would eventually be bought out by Cleveland in 2022-23 before he landed on the Miami Heat as his next team.

Love would become another successful reclamation project by Miami, turning into an important role player for a Heat team that reached the Finals that same year, making him one of the more impactful buyout market pickups ever.

Joe Johnson (Miami, 2016)

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Another great pickup for the Heat in the buyout market, seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson would join Miami in 2015-16 after being bought out by the Brooklyn Nets. Johnson was exactly what that Heat team was lacking that year, a wing scorer who allowed Luol Deng to move to a more effective position as a small-ball power forward full-time.

Johnson produced for Miami as a full-time starter for the rest of the 2015-16 regular season, averaging 13.4 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 41.7 percent from three as the Heat locked up the three-seed for the 2016 playoffs. Johnson would rank higher on this list if his numbers had carried over to the postseason that year.

They didn’t, however, as Johnson would shoot just 28.3 percent from three in the 2016 playoffs as Miami fell in the second round, a seven-game defeat to the Toronto Raptors.

Alonzo Mourning (Miami, 2005)

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Doug Benc/Getty Images

After a serious health issue led to his departure from the Heat, Alonzo Mourning would make his return to South Florida two years later. Mourning would get traded from his new team, the New Jersey Nets, to the Toronto Raptors but refused to play for Toronto, paving the way for an eventual buyout from the Raptors and a return to Miami for the Georgetown legend.

Mourning was no longer a star by that point but even so, he was an excellent backup to Shaquille O’Neal, playing a role on a Heat team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004-05 – his buyout year – and on the eventual champion 2005-06 Heat team.

After his return to the Heat, Mourning played well enough to earn Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year votes, making him another excellent buyout pickup for Miami.

Andre Drummond (LA Lakers, 2021)

Andre Drummond
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

A buyout from the Cavaliers in 2020-21 allowed Andre Drummond to join the reigning champion Lakers, where he performed well, averaging 11.9 points and 10.2 rebounds on 53.1 percent shooting over 21 games, all of them starts.

That Lakers team had real aspirations of repeating as champions that season but burnout from the COVID-related shortened offseason and an injury to Anthony Davis in the playoffs saw Los Angeles lose in the first round, ending their quest towards a repeat.

Blake Griffin (Brooklyn, 2021)

Blake Griffin, Brooklyn Nets
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Another excellent big-man pickup in 2020-21 was Blake Griffin, who was bought out by the Detroit Pistons after three-plus seasons with the team and joined the Nets, a legitimate title contender at the time with Kevin DurantKyrie Irving and James Harden leading the way.

Griffin was a solid role player for Brooklyn the rest of the way, averaging 10.0 points and 4.7 rebounds for a Nets team that came within inches of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, just barely falling to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in seven games despite injuries to Irving and Harden in the postseason.

In the hotly contested Game 7 of that second-round series, Griffin had his last truly great performance, especially considering the circumstances, putting up 17 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in over 40 minutes of action.

Amare Stoudemire (Dallas, 2015)

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Amare Stoudemire went from full-blown superstar to role player real quick following various major injuries. Even on his last legs, however, Stoudemire was a bucket, an effective role player who could finish around the basket, shoot from the midrange and do damage out of the pick-and-roll.

After being bought out by the New York Knicks in 2014-15, Stoudemire finished out the season with the Mavericks, averaging 10.8 points and 3.7 rebounds on 58-plus percent shooting for a Dallas team that lost in the first round of the playoffs.

JJ Hickson (Portland, 2012)

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Sometimes, buyout pickups are more successful for the player than for the team who signed him. That was the case for JJ Hickson, who was bought out by the Sacramento Kings in 2011-12 and picked up by the Portland Trail Blazers to close out the campaign. The Blazers were not great that season, missing the playoffs with a 28-38 record the year before they drafted Damian Lillard.

Even so, Hickson, an athletic power forward, took advantage of available playing time with lottery-bound Portland to put up big numbers – 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game – to resurrect his career in the final weeks of a contract year that was looking pretty bleak for him in Sacramento. Hickson went on to sign a one-year, $4.1 million deal with Portland after the season and would stick around in the NBA for another four seasons before heading overseas to continue his pro career.

Markieff Morris (LA Lakers, 2020)

Markieff Morris, Los Angeles Lakers
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Another power forward bought out by the Pistons who’d have a big impact elsewhere, Markieff Morris joined the Lakers in the 2020 buyout market and helped play a role in the team’s eventual championship run that season.

Morris had a couple of big games in the bubble that postseason, dropping 16 points twice against the Rockets in the second round, the first of which came in a vital Game 2 with the Lakers down 1-0 in the series.

Gary Payton (Boston, 2005)

Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

For a while, we had something known as the Gary Payton Rule, which is explained here by veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein:

[The Gary Payton Rule was instituted] after Payton was traded by Boston to Atlanta at the trade deadline in 2005, only to rejoin the Celtics three days later after the Hawks agreed to release him in a pre-arranged deal. Since the summer of 2005, players who are traded and then waived by their new team are forced to wait 30 days before re-signing (only 20 in the offseason) with the team that just traded them.”

That rule was eventually changed as today the waiting time to re-sign with the team that traded you away is one year or until July 1 following the end of that player’s contract.

Anyway, the rule came into effect because of the following: Payton started the season 2004-05 season with the Celtics, was traded to Atlanta in late February but refused to show up to his new team – in fairness, the Hawks were 10-45 at that point in the season – so he was bought out by Atlanta and re-signed with Boston one week later.

Technically, that made Payton a late-season pickup despite the weirdness surrounding the situation, so his case applies to our purposes in this article.

Payton was no longer in All-Star form by 2005, but rarely do players able to average double digits in scoring become available in March. The Glove averaged 10.3 points per game in a seven-game series loss vs. Indiana that postseason.

Dale Davis (Indiana, 2005)


After four seasons with the Jail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors, defensive stalwart Dale Davis returned to his old stomping grounds following a buyout by Golden State, looking to help a Pacer team on the verge of falling apart following the infamous Detroit brawl.

Coincidentally enough, Indiana was defeated by the Pistons of all teams in the second round of the playoffs that year, where Davis started all 13 games and averaged 5.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Maybe not a star pickup or a super successful one but Davis did help stabilize Indiana in a rough time.

Derek Fisher (Oklahoma City, 2012)

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Fisher jumped on the Thunder bandwagon in late March 2012 and played important minutes for a team making its first trip to the NBA Finals. Never one to put up big numbers – he averaged 6.3 points and 1.3 assists in the 2012 playoffs – Fisher did give Oklahoma City clutch shooting and locker-room leadership.

Durant was a fan of Fisher’s, even lobbying in the media for the five-time champ to sign with Oklahoma City following his getting waived by the Lakers:

“Derek is a consummate professional; an unbelievable leader,” Durant told The Oklahoman following the team’s morning shoot-around in preparation of the Thunder facing the Jazz. “And he played with arguably one of the greatest players to ever play in Kobe (Bryant), and Kobe really respected him as a player and wanted him on his team so that speaks volumes. …. adding another guy that can come in and give us some good minutes here and there and bring his leadership and winning plays here would be cool.”

It didn’t lead to a championship but Fisher’s signing by Oklahoma City in the 2012 buyout market was an important one as it helped the Thunder reach the Finals that year.

Beno Udrih (Memphis, 2014)

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014, expectations were not very high for a guard who had feuded with coaches Scott Skiles and Mike Woodson and whose play had seen a noticeable dropoff.

But Beno Udrih surprisingly became a steady contributor in the team’s first-round series vs. Oklahoma City in the playoffs that year, averaging 7.9 points per game with strong shooting in the seven-game defeat for the Grizzlies. Udrih was solid enough that he ended up re-signing with Memphis for two years and $4.3 million, although he was traded to Miami before completing that contract.

Lindsey Hunter (Detroit, 2004)

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

A part of the three-team trade that saw Rasheed Wallace end up in Detroit, Lindsey Hunter was actually traded away from the Pistons in the deal, getting sent to the Boston Celtics as part of the trade. However, Hunter was waived by Boston without appearing in a game for the team. So eventually, eight days after being traded by the Pistons, Hunter re-signed with Detroit and played a role off the bench in the team’s 2003-04 championship run.

As discussed in the Payton section, that would not be allowed today but back then, it was totally legal so the Hunter pickup by the Pistons counts for our purposes.

Hunter never put up big numbers but he won a ring and stuck around with the team that signed him after a buyout for a long time – and that rarely happens for players picked up in buyout season – so he made his way into this ranking despite the lack of super impressive production.

Story originally appeared on HoopsHype