What is a contract buyout in the NBA? Potential LeBron James to Mavericks path, explained


The NBA newswire took a brief hiatus from the Finals on Monday when reports from The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes suggested that Kyrie Irving is trying to recruit LeBron James to the Mavericks.

As The Sporting News’ Gilbert McGregor broke down, James’ path to Dallas would be a very complicated one. The Lakers star has one more guaranteed year on his Lakers contract before facing a $50.7 million player option for the 2024-25 season.

The Mavericks could try and put together a trade package for James, but they don’t exactly have a plethora of valuable assets beyond Irving (if he re-signs in Dallas) and franchise player Luka Doncic. Even if they could find a deal that entices Los Angeles, the Mavericks would have trouble signing three max-caliber players like James, Irving and Doncic under the NBA’s upcoming collective bargaining agreement.

That left Haynes to report an unlikely pathway to make a potential fit happen in Dallas — if James requests a contract buyout from the Lakers.

What is a contract buyout and how does it work in the NBA? The Sporting News takes a closer look below.

MORE: Inside LeBron James’ relationship with Kyrie Irving & Luka Doncic

What is a contract buyout in the NBA?

A contract buyout is when a player and franchise mutually agree for the player to surrender a portion of their salary to be released. Since franchises (or players) cannot just terminate contracts at will, both sides are allowed to negotiate a buyout to grant the player freedom to sign elsewhere.

The one catch is that once a player is bought out, they are released to waivers, not free agency.

Once a player hits waivers, all 29 other teams in the league have 48 hours to “claim” the released player. If multiple teams make claims, the team that is lower in the most recent standings gets priority.

If no team tries to claim the player after 48 hours, then they become an unrestricted free agent. From there, the bought out player is eligible to sign a new contract with their new team.

In the case of the LeBron rumors, that means the Mavericks would have to hope the nine other teams in front of them on the waiver order would not place a claim for arguably the greatest player of all time.

Since Dallas finished with the 10th-worst record in the league, he would have to go unclaimed by the Pistons, Rockets, Spurs, Hornets, Trail Blazers, Magic, Pacers, Wizards and Jazz before the Mavericks would get their shot at The King.

Even in today’s player empowerment era of the NBA, it feels highly unlikely he could force his way to Dallas via buyout.

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