Based on the limited spending ability that many teams around the NBA will have in free agency this offseason, the general belief is that most veterans who have player options for the 2020/21 season will pick up those options, taking the guaranteed money rather than rolling the dice on the open market.
In many cases, that decision is a no-brainer — Hornets forward Nicolas Batum isn’t about to turn down his $27MM+ option to try his luck in free agency. However, there are several players who will have trickier decisions. In those cases, the player’s option salary might be in the neighborhood of his projected value in free agency, incentivizing him to see if he can do better in free agency.
Alternately, a player might decide that declining an option and taking a small pay cut for the 2020/21 season is worth it in order to secure a longer-term deal. Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas took this path a year ago, passing on a $17.6MM option in favor of a three-year contract worth $15MM per year.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at five players whose option decisions won’t necessarily be simple ones. Let’s dive in…
- Evan Fournier, Magic ($17,150,000): If not for the coronavirus pandemic, Fournier’s free agency would have been well-timed, as he’s coming off perhaps his best season as a pro (18.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, .467/.399/.818 shooting). Even if he can’t secure a raise, Fournier could be a good candidate for a Valanciunas-esque multiyear deal that greatly increases his future guarantee while locking him into an annual salary below $17.15MM. But there aren’t many teams that have the cap room to accommodate such a deal, and I’m not convinced Orlando wants to keep making long-term commitments to veterans from its middle-of-the-pack squad after signing Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross to four-year deals.
- Jerami Grant, Nuggets ($9,346,153): After a slow start in Denver, Grant emerged as a key contributor for the Nuggets, averaging 12.0 PPG with a .389 3PT% and strong, versatile defense. If he opts out, there should be teams willing to pay him the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which will work out to about $40MM over four years. The question will be whether Grant, who is still just 26 years old, wants to wait until 2021 to pursue a long-term contract, in the hopes that more teams will have money to throw around at that point. If the Nuggets or a team with cap room shows a willingness to give him a multiyear deal exceeding the MLE this year, that might be his best bet.
- Avery Bradley, Lakers ($5,005,350): With the Lakers seemingly ticketed for a spot in the Western Conference Finals, this would normally be an opportunity for Bradley to show off his value in advance of a bigger offseason payday. Instead, having opted out of the restart, he hasn’t appeared in a game since March. Bradley, who is a strong perimeter defender and isn’t a liability on offense, could probably secure a modest raise in free agency, but opting in would be the safe play — especially given his long layoff.
- JaMychal Green, Clippers ($5,005,350): Given that he plays alongside a pair of All-Stars and two Sixth Man of the Year winners, it’s easy to overlook Green, but the veteran forward is a regular role player for one of this year’s top title favorites, averaging 16.4 MPG in 10 playoff games. While he doesn’t get many looks on offense, he’s a reliable three-point shooter and a good team defender. Still, due to the leaguewide cap situation, he’s not a lock to get a raise on the open market. He also seems to enjoy playing for the Clippers, so he may be leaning toward picking up his option.
- Austin Rivers, Rockets ($2,436,046): Rivers is no star, but any regular rotation player who is earning the minimum is a bargain. Even if he ultimately ends up sticking with Houston or signing a minimum-salary deal with another team, it probably makes sense for Rivers to turn down his option and explore the open market — declining his option and signing a new minimum deal would likely only cost him about $100K. He could also very well do better than the minimum, unless his playoff struggles (.315/.267/.857 shooting) tank his value.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.