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Eric Walden: Is the NBA buyout market actually the devil incarnate? Well then, allow me to play devil’s advocate.

As fans and small-market teams alike complain about the league enabling superteams, it appears they’re not really upset with the actual process itself, but the outcomes.

Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap, left, fights for position for a rebound with Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski). Drummond ended up with the Lakers followting a buyout after the trade deadline. Small-market general managers are increasingly vexed about the trend of high-profile veterans landing on big market teams at bargain rates via buyouts.

I’ve been reading a lot these past few days about the so-called “Satan Shoes” — custom sneakers designed by rapper Lil Nas X and Brooklyn art collective MSCHF — that prompted Nike to file a lawsuit and a judge to issue a restraining order.

The modified Nike Air Max 97s apparently came in a limited-edition run of 666 pairs, and feature pentagrams, inverted crosses, even (allegedly) a drop of human blood.

All of which makes them almost as Satanic as the NBA buyout market.

As much as basketball fans get all geeked up for the trade deadline, they apparently get all worked up in equal measure for the buyouts and new signings that typically occur in the aftermath.

It’s not hard to understand why.

People were already annoyed with James Harden pouting his way out of Houston and forcing his way onto a Brooklyn team that came equipped with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. So when the Nets were able to land ex-All-Star castoffs such as Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge to create what’s being perceived as an unfairly stacked team, you can see why people are irate.

Meanwhile, the defending champ Lakers — a year after adding Markieff Morris to their rotation on a buyout — have further shored up their frontcourt this season by adding Andre Drummond for less than a million dollars.

A year ago, the Clippers were thought to have put themselves over the top when they added both a skilled big man (Marcus Morris) and some backcourt depth (Reggie Jackson) to an already-über-talented squad, though it didn’t turn out that way in the end.

You can see the trend here: Top teams theoretically getting better still by adding relatively high-end talent on the cheap. More simply, the rich getting richer.

For some reason, you never see the Detroit Pistons or Sacramento Kings or Orlando Magic landing such guys. And plenty of people are sick of it.

“If the NBA would like to correct this farce of the ‘buyout market,’ declare that any player purchased after the trading deadline would be ineligible for the playoffs. That would stop it cold,” Atlanta Hawks play-by-play broadcaster Bob Rathbun wrote on Twitter. “If you want a guy, trade for him before the deadline.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that many small-market general managers are now petitioning the league for an overhaul of the system, writing, “If the clear-eyed reality is that these players are simply faded All-Stars released from the back end of expensive contracts, the visual of them flocking to superteam rosters in two marquee markets does cast a chilling impact on the league’s collective psyche.”

The devil’s advocate in me, though (pardon the pun), wonders if they are asking for a solution to something that isn’t really that much of a problem.

OK, so the optics are bad. And there’s certainly a lot of howling going on about unfairness right now. You know what else is unfair? Blake Griffin being pitched on becoming a “Clipper for life,” and re-signing with the team, only for the Clippers to turn around and TRADE. HIM. TO. DETROIT. Drummond, likewise, got shipped to Cleveland a year ago despite his wishes.

At the risk of getting all labor-vs.-management about it, I suppose I don’t understand why fans are so in favor of the legal loophole that allows teams to violate their contractual agreement with players (via trades) but are so vehemently opposed to the occasional player getting to choose where he winds up after a buyout.

Furthermore, no one is forcing teams to cut such players loose. Aldridge asked the Spurs for a trade, and when they couldn’t find one, San Antonio’s brass agreed to negotiate a buyout. The Pistons had stopped playing Griffin and the Cavs had stopped playing Drummond, opting to give valuable minutes to younger, more developmental guys. But when the vets are ultimately cut loose, we’re gonna complain about where they go next?

I suppose you could argue teams in such a position can’t afford to play hardball, that they’d risk alienating powerful agents and earning a reputation as a player-unfriendly organization, thus curtailing the possibility of landing future players. Not buying it. It’s generally not in an agent’s best interest to self-impose limits on his clients’ options.

The rationale for the disdain here is pretty simple, if we’re being honest: It’s not the process that people are mad at, but the outcome. If Griffin had finished his sandbagging job with the Pistons and simply signed with the Wizards, no one would be up in arms. If Aldridge had joined the Rockets, if Drummond had signed on with the Raptors, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

In the meantime, fans will assume that such additions all but guarantee banners being hung and rings being given. Some GMs and owners will bemoan the lack of competitive balance and petition for change. And perhaps Adam Silver will not only listen but be inclined to act, maybe even adopting Rathbun’s suggestion.

Then we’ll have to find some new non-problem to vent about.

There are probably still some seats available on the “shoes with pentagrams are destroying the moral fabric of our entire society” bandwagon.

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