Player Options Worth Noting in 2017

With a massive spike in cap space in recent summers, NBA free agency has evolved into a turbulent bidding war.  We have bloated contracts (Evan Turner), teams overspending just to hit the cap floor (Orlando Magic), and multi-year deals that could cripple future agency (Timofey Mozgov).   Superstars like Jimmy Butler and John Wall sit uncomfortably halfway through long contracts.  Wall will be unable to earn $20 million in salary until the 2019-2020 season, and Butler won’t hit that mark until the 2020-2021 campaign.

Therefore, the player option has become quite valuable for players looking to capitalize on the cap projections.  If a player option is available in the coming summer, it is important to note how players finish the year with their current team.  For the most part, if a player finds himself in unrestricted free agency, it either means their contract wasn’t worth extending with the previous team, or too much friction between the parties prohibited a new deal from getting done.

Below, I have outlined five important player options that will materialize in 2017, along with two early termination options that will essentially work like player options this summer.  And to be completely honest, I omitted Kevin Durant from this examination.  Preaching his commitment to Golden State for the coming years, Durant has no incentive to leave and will not repeat the summer of 2016 for a very long time.

1. Dwyane Wade – Chicago Bulls

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  • Player Option: $23.8 million
  • Team Salary W/ Wade Next Season: $79.244 million
  • Team Options: Nikola Mirotic ($7.2 million) and Michael Carter-Williams ($4.35 million)
  • NBA Projected Cap/Luxury Line: $102 million/$122 million

Wade is at a crossroads.  He made it clear last summer that he settled for second choice.  Miami and Wade wanted each other, but not as badly as Chicago wanted Wade.  Returning to one’s hometown is a definite trend in the NBA and Wade made no secret of considering Chicago as a new destination.  The year was rocky, to say the least.  He will have played just 57 regular season games, further reaffirming that Wade’s health is at constant peril.   The recent elbow injury will go away, but this combined with an annual slew of ailments makes Wade a risk for any team tight on cap space.

Unless he settles for a lesser team, Wade will never make upwards of $20 million dollars outside of Chicago.  Opting in will automatically lead to a second consecutive season of miserable perimeter shooting for the Bulls.  This is not the trend Chicago wants to pursue, but it’s Wade’s choice.  He can part ways with the Bulls and finally concede to lower pay, or cash in on one more paycheck and earn less the following seasons.  Regardless of the turmoil and mismanagement in the Windy City, I believe Wade will take the money for one more year and find new contenders to unite with in 2018.

2. Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks

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  • Player Option: $21.47 million
  • Team Salary W/ Millsap Next Season: $83.872 million
  • Team Options: Mike Dunleavy ($5.175 million) and Tim Hardaway Jr. ($3.34 million)
  • NBA Projected Cap/Luxury Line: $102 million/$122 million

For the sake of pride, Millsap needs to terminate his relationship with the Hawks immediately.  Although they let Horford walk in free agency last summer, Millsap has served as the foundation of trade talks for Atlanta every deadline.  It’s like they desperately want to rebuild, but they can never land a productive trade for their good players.  Millsap is an incredible talent who wins games, and until they trade him, that will continue.  He’s bad for tanking.

With just one trip to the Eastern Conference finals, 2017 will be the tenth straight playoff appearance for Atlanta.  Schroeder’s $15 million/year salary kicks in next year and the Hawks should build around that.  At 32-years-old, Millsap can still convince a team to offer a max deal.  After recording career highs in points and assists this season, Millsap could transition a middling Western Conference squad into a legitimate contender.  He would be a fantastic addition to the Thunder, Rockets, Denver, and (if they can afford him) the Blazers.

If he does opt out, it’s a shame the Hawks were never able to match his value in a decent trade.  Tanking can be a huge positive for NBA franchises, but not if they allow productive players to walk in their prime.

3. Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz

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  • Player Option: $16.74 million
  • Team Salary W/ Hayward Next Season: $82.8 million
  • Team Options: Boris Diaw ($7.5 million)
  • NBA Projected Cap/Luxury Line: $102 million/$122 million

Three short years ago, we were shocked when the Hornets forced the Jazz’s hand in restricted free agency.  Utah matched Charlotte’s four-year, $63 million offer sheet and young Gordon Hayward won the lottery.  Now, Hayward is in his absolute prime and may consider opting out for an even better deal.

This is precisely what I see happening, but I don’t think he will truly contemplate leaving Utah.  The Jazz boast a bright cornerstone in Rudy Gobert and have the cap room to give their All-Star what he wants.  First and foremost, Utah needs to let Diaw and his $7.5 million deal walk this summer.  His lack of defense conflicts with Quin Snyder’s philosophy, and his slow, overweight, finesse approach to the game really only works alongside basketball geniuses in San Antonio.

The only intriguing element of Hayward’s summer will be the lure of Brad Stevens in Boston.  Playing for an ex-college head coach is extremely rare in the NBA.  Hayward may realize that if any coach can maximize his talent on the basketball court, it’s Brad Stevens.  Hayward would claim an All-Star spot for years to come in the shallow Eastern Conference, and with LeBron’s age potentially catching up with him, the Celtics are well prepared to claim a spot atop the conference.

Boston would certainly be a great opportunity for Gordon.  However, considering how much the Jazz have provided for him over the years, old fashioned loyalty and commitment will likely come into play here.  Unless a major error occurs in upper management, I suspect Hayward will opt out of his contract, re-sign with the Jazz, and finish his career in Utah.

4. Kyle Lowry

Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors - Game Five

  • Player Option: $12 million
  • Team Salary W/ Lowry Next Season: $88.34 million
  • Team Options: Norman Powell ($1 million) and Fred VanVleet ($0.9 million)
  • NBA Projected Cap/Luxury Line: $102 million/$122 million

Although his tenure in Houston was underrated, Kyle Lowry has undoubtedly played his best basketball in Toronto.  He led the franchise to its first Eastern Conference finals appearance last year and has averaged 22 points a game over the past two seasons.  He’s definitely worth more than $12 million, but will he be in four or five years?  Probably not.  But in the modern NBA, front offices don’t care to look that far in the future.

Like Hayward, Lowry may feel compelled to stay in Toronto out of loyalty and commitment to the organization.  He played a major role in transitioning the Raptors into the new era, meaning he may not want to depart an environment he helped cultivate.  Aside from the occasional offensive outburst from DeRozan, this has been and will always be Lowry’s team.  Unless Lowry wants to play for a lower level squad, he won’t attain this type of power in an organization anywhere else in the NBA.  He’s opting out, but he’s staying in Canada.

5. Rudy Gay

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  • Player Option: $14.26 million
  • Team Salary W/ Gay Next Season: $75.42
  • Team Options: Ben McLemore ($5.38 million)
  • NBA Projected Cap/Luxury Line: $102 million/$122 million

I picked this picture because Rudy Gay hasn’t felt like a part of the Kings, or any team, for a very long time.  Also, because we’re poor, we are limited to the few public pictures available online, and there was not a single photo of Gay in Sacramento.  In 30 games this season, Gay averaged 18.7 points, 6.3 boards, shot .455% from the field, and cared .000% about the future of the Kings.  He desperately wants out.

Only because the this is the era of inflated contracts do I think Rudy can still make serious money in the league.  I mean, he’s obviously not a max-contract worthy player, but he can make an equivalent to what he’s opting out of in Sacramento.  Leaving $14.26 million isn’t the end of the world for Gay.  I think if he settles for a two-year deal with an option for season three, he can earn $30 million dollars over the next two seasons.

I believe Gay could have a second life in this league.  His three-point shooting improves every year and he still plays excellent defense.  As long as his teammates put him in catch-and-shoot situations, rather than in isolation, Gay is a plus for any team.  Where does he go?  It depends on if he wants to win or lose.  He would be a great fit with a young Philadelphia team or the Miami Heat, but assuming he wants to win, he would be a nice addition for either Houston or Portland.

6. Chris Paul/Blake Griffin

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Blake Griffin

  • Paul’s Early Termination Option: $24.269 million
  • Griffin’s Early Termination Option: $21.324 million
  • Team Salary W/ Paul and Griffin Next Season: $109.87 million
  • Team Options: n/a
  • NBA Projected Cap/Luxury Line: $102 million/$122 million

An early termination option can only occur after the fourth year of a contract.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the final year, but in Paul and Griffin’s case it is, meaning it essentially works like a player option for this discussion.

Paul and Griffin hold all the power here.  They can opt out, renegotiate a longer deal and stay with the Clippers, or sign elsewhere.  If Rivers has to choose which star to retain, I think he opts with Chris Paul – not that that’s necessarily the right decision.  As the face of the organization, Rivers will want someone he can trust.  Doc was a point guard in his day, and the number one asset for a former player head coach is having a great point guard to run the system.

Griffin is younger, more injury prone, but has more productive years left in the tank than Paul.  This analysis is especially difficult because it depends heavily on the Clippers’ success in the playoffs.  If the postseason commenced today, the Clippers would be on the road against Utah in the first round, and would play the mighty Golden State Warriors in round two.  If they can survive Utah’s defense and give Golden State a tough series, I think Blake and Paul will return for one more rodeo.  However, a first round exit may blow the entire lid off this organization.  Paul will consider moving east for better odds in the playoffs, and Griffin will survey the field for a monster contract.  If they both decide to depart Los Angeles, I think Paul will look long and hard at both the Knicks and (if he’s smart) the Bucks.  Griffin will have many options in free agency.  Houston has room for one more max deal, as does Boston and the Thunder.  Either way, the team facing the most pressure in the 2017 playoffs is the Clippers.

(Griffin Photo Credit via Shea Huening)
(Wade Photo Credit via Wall Gobetz)
(MillsapPaul, and Griffin Photo Credits via Keith Allison)
(Hayward Photo Credit via TonyTheTiger)
(Lowry Photo Credit via Michalkajzerek)
(Gay Photo Credit via Colleen)

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