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Market Grim For First-Round Busts

Among free agents this offseason will be several former first-round picks whose teams elected not to exercise the options on their rookie-scale contracts. Those rookie deals are usually some of the best bargains in the league, but when a draft choice doesn't pan out, even the cheapest of contracts can become unappealing.

Rooke-scale contracts include team options for the third and fourth seasons, but clubs must decide on those options before the player's second and third seasons, respectively. That lead time allows some of those players, like Earl Clark, whom I profiled earlier tonight, to redeem themselves and wind up with another contract. Still, the market for these discarded former prospects isn't hospitable. As this year's option declinees prepare for an offseason of uncertainty, here's what happened to the former first-rounders whose options were declined before last season: 

  • Hasheem Thabeet quickly established a reputation as one of the worst draft busts of all time soon after the Grizzlies took him second overall in 2009. He saw the floor for just 13.1 minutes per game as a rookie, and got even fewer minutes in his second season, during which Memphis traded him to Houston. Thabeet only appeared in two games the rest of that year, and the following summer the Rockets declined his fourth-year option. Thabeet endured another trade at last year's deadline, heading to the Trail Blazers, but still wound up with more than the minimum salary this summer when the Thunder signed him to a three-year, $3.65MM contract. 
  • After David Kahn's tenure with the Timberwolves ended this week, he addressed the thinking that went into his ill-fated decision to draft Jonny Flynn sixth overall in 2009. The pick appeared OK in Flynn's first season, when the point guard started 81 games and averaged 13.5 PPG and 4.4 APG, but he made just eight starts the next season, after which Minnesota traded him to the Rockets, who declined his fourth-year option. He wound up joining Thabeet in the trade to Portland last year, but unlike the No. 2 pick, Flynn didn't stick after joining the Pistons as a training camp invitee. He spent this season playing in Australia
  • The Knicks passed up DeMar DeRozan and Brandon Jennings, among others, to take Jordan Hill eighth overall in 2009. New York promptly traded him to Houston just 24 games into his rookie season. The Rockets picked up his third-year option, but despite a career-high 11 starts in 2010/11, the team decided against bringing him back for a fourth year and shipped him to the Lakers at the deadline last year. Hill blossomed in L.A. and earned a two-year, $7.127MM contract to return to the Lakers. 
  • Terrence Williams was a lottery pick in 2009, going 11th overall to the Nets, who traded him to Houston midway through his second season. The Rockets declined his fourth-year option, and he wound up in China before hooking on with the Celtics, first on a 10-day deal, and then for the rest of the season and beyond.
  • Even the vaunted Spurs can have a draft miss now and again. They drafted James Anderson 20th overall in 2010, but declined their third-year option on him after he totaled just 94 points in 26 games as a rookie. He saw action in about twice as many contests the next year, though his per-minute production didn't increase. San Antonio re-signed him as an injury fill-in early this season, but let him go again once Kawhi Leonard got healthy. Still, the Rockets saw something they liked, and signed him for the minimum in January, cutting Daequan Cook to make room.
  • Craig Brackins went 21st overall to the Thunder in 2010, who traded him to the Pelicans (nee Hornets) as part of a draft-night deal. New Orleans swapped him again, to the Sixers, later that summer, and it became apparent Philadelphia wasn't high on him, either. The Sixers declined his third-year option after he appeared in only three games as a rookie. He didn't see much more time in his second season, and he didn't return to the NBA this year, playing in Italy and the D-League
  • Damion James, the 24th overall pick by the Nets in 2010, showed enough promise in 2010/11 to garner nine starts, but a foot injury limited him to just 25 games. The same foot caused him to miss most of the next season after the team declined his third-year option. The Nets brought him back on a 10-day contract this January, but elected not to re-sign him when it expired.
  • Injury prevented Daniel Orton, the Magic's 29th overall pick in 2010, from seeing the floor at all for the team in his rookie season, and Orlando decided against picking up his third-year option. He wound up with the Thunder as a training camp invitee this fall, and the roster spots left open in the wake of the James Harden trade allowed Oklahoma City to re-sign him to a minimum-salary deal just days after cutting him.

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