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What Is The Deal With Last Season’s Waived Players?

The 2019 season finished with Toronto’s (and Canada’s) first championship. That’s a great story to tell and one that will live forever. But what happened with those waived by NBA teams during the course of the year that never heard a franchise call them to give them another chance?

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We all get lost in the fun and heavy stories that happen around the NBA almost on a daily basis. Rumors fuel our days. We live off trades, signings, draft picks and future prospects and build fantastic scenarios in our brains.

That is cool, and good, and normal given that the best players to see the court on the Association are who ultimately drive the league.

But those are not the only individuals who build and maintain this product that we enjoy.

Each year, a ton of transactions take place in the NBA. For the 2018-19 season, as tracked by Basketball-Reference.com starting on July 1, 2018 and finishing on June 12, 2019, there have been as many as 1550 transaction entries between those two dates. Not all of those are related to players (executives, GMs, coaches, etc. moves are also listed) but you get an idea of how active all teams are from day one to the season’s end.

Also each season, a lot of players play at least a game in the NBA. Of course, not everyone sticks, as there are just not enough spots for all of them to occupy. Just this past season alone, up to 530 players logged at least a game played (13 of them just got the infamous cup of coffee). Considering 30 teams are part of the league and each has only 15 roster spots to keep active during the season, 80 players of those 530 would have no place in the league at any given moment. But the NBA is a fluid league, and players come and go. That is why some are signed, then waived, then assigned to G League teams, then recalled, and so on.

What I wanted to look at here, though, are those players that appear in the transaction list presented above whose last entry is listed as “waived”. That means a player was part of an NBA team at some point, then it decided to cut ties with him, and he never got back to play (or at least sign) with any other franchise.

There were 22 such cases in the 2018-19 season. Here they are, ranked by career WS/48 and including the team that ultimately waved them:

Now that is some wide range of players. From Melo to Zhou Qi, the chart looks like a fired shotgun translated into bars.

If asked to define what a “to-be-waived candidate” means, most people would think about a below average player. Someone in the mold of Lorenzo Brown, Malachi Richardson, Wade Baldwin or Zhou Qi, of those included in the list. Hardly would one an average fan could come up with names such as those of Gortat, Anthony, Young or Mbah a Moute.

But sometimes bad situations and circumstances call for action. Let’s try and classify the 22 cases in different groups.


Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto

Group 1: Players who ran out of fuel and (probably) won’t be back

There six players with at least 15 WS over their careers. All of them were aged 30 or older this season, which certainly fits the idea of good-to-great players out of a place in the league due to running out of fuel.

It is going to be hard for them to ever come back to play for an NBA team, let alone take on a crucial role for the franchise that bets on them.

  • Carmelo Anthony and Marcin Gortat accrued 101 WS and 61.3 WS respectively during their careers. They entered the league in 2004 and 2008, and while Gortat played 47 games for the Clippers this season before being waived, Anthony saw his year cut short by Houston after only seeing the court 10 times, two of them as a starter. Although sad, this could have been the goodbye Carmelo has given the league after an HoF career. For Gortat (34 years old), there may still be a chance as a veteran on a minimum deal as his production wasn’t that bad this past season.
  • Luc Mbah a Moute and Omri Casspi have the same WS/48 numbers, having entered the league one year apart from each other. The same as happened with Melo and Gortat, they had very different seasons in 2019. Luc only logged four games with the Clippers before seeing him cut, while Casspi was able to enjoy 36 games of playing time with Memphis after the day he was deemed unnecessary by the Grizzlies. As they are 32 and 30 years old, the door may not be closed for them, although their middling production is going to make things hard for them to come back.
  • Nick Young and Michael Beasley are definitely two particular cases, although they both kind of fall in the bucket of those that “never seemed to find their place” in the NBA. Bringing more attention for their off-court actions and their unique on-court approach to the game, both are out of the league (Young as a free agent, Beasley playing in China) and I don’t think we’ll see any of them around again.

Rob Ferguson/USA TODAY Sports

Group 2: Under-200 games latecomers

Of the 22 players, 10 have played less than 200 games during their NBA tenures, and only two of them exceeded the 20-game mark this past season (Alex Abrines played 31 for Oklahoma and Malachi Richardson 22 for Toronto).

All of them debuted during the 2017 season, so none has more than a year-and-change of experience. There should still be time for them to make a comeback and find a place somewhere around the Association if they keep working hard for it.

  • Alex Abrines is the oldest (25 years old) and perhaps the best player of this group. Although he’s featured somewhat prominently (for what is worth) for the Thunder, he saw himself out of the NBA after being waived and looks poised to sign with Barcelona and coming back to Spain. Once he makes that move, I’m pretty sure we could call it a career for him in American soil.
  • Andrew Harrison, Daniel Hamilton, Malachi Richardson, and Wade Baldwin played at least 16 games during the 2018-19 season before being cut and never came back. Harrison has played 145 games in three seasons, which calls for at least another chance next season. The rest of this pack would probably have it harder, but their age plays in their favor.
  • The rest of the group is made out of Tyler Ulis, Zhou Qi, Justin Patton, Ike Anigbogu, and Demetrius Jackson. Ulis and Qi just played one game each. Patton and Anigbogu logged three appearances and Jackson saw the court six times. The sample size is so little that it is impossible to say whether they have it in them or not at this point, and they’re still young players so anything could be ahead of them. The problem is that they were deemed completely unnecessary by their teams so early that questions must arise about their chances of making the NBA back again.

USAToday

Group 3: The Mixed Bag Of Waived Players

After going through 16 of the 22 players, we’re left with another six to assess. And they can’t present more varied stories.

  • Ben McLemore might be the most surprising appearance on the waived-players list. We’re talking about a 25-year-old guy who was drafted No. 7 in 2013 by the team that cut him this season. His production wasn’t mind-blowing and had fallen short of expectations, sure, but his upside is such that getting him on the roster next season will be a decision someone will surely make. The fact that he comes from such a down season after only playing 19 games for the Kings will make him a low-risk gamble in terms of salary and expectations. Bank on him coming back.
  • Part of a trade deadline move, Jason Smith only played two games for the Pelicans before they cut him. He’s 32 already and he may be already done in the Association. Although not a great addition at this point, he can turn into a serviceable role player for a contender in the look of depth to add to its roster come next season.
  • Lorenzo Brown is going to have a rougher time signing with an NBA team again. He has played a little over a hundred games in five seasons, his shooting is mediocre at best and falls on the negative side of WS production. No wonder he was out of the league cut by Toronto, although he found a place in the Chinese league.
  • The remaining three players should all be well positioned to come back to the Association once the free agency opens this summer or late in the off-season, early in the season. Wesley Johnson and Isaiah Canaan both were moved between teams before being cut, but they both played 30+ games this past season averaging at least 14 minutes per game. They boast good career-averages for 3P% and FT%, and they’re not overly old (Canaan is 27, Johnson 31) as to keep their game up. Lastly, MarShon Brooks also moved to China after being waived by the Bulls (only days after they acquired him from Memphis) to play along with Michael Beasley, and while he could be enough to fill a reserve role in the NBA he may find it more suitable to remain in China for the time being.

And that is how the world of waived-contracts looked this past season for those that were never offered the chance to get back to the league once they were cut.

As we have seen, some greats of the game may have waived (no pun intended) their last goodbye to the NBA. Some others may be back soon enough. There are young players waiting for another chance to prove their value, and older folks trying to keep being part of the league for as long as possible, extending already built careers. There also was a dose of potential long-time emigrants.

With the 2018-19 season done and the 2019-20 cycle about to get started, it is only time for us to start keeping track of moves alike all over again. You never know who you’ll find on that place.