Upcoming Rookie Scale Option Decisions

August 19 at 4:59pm CDT By Chuck Myron

We’ll be taking in-depth looks at several players eligible for extensions to their rookie scale contracts this fall, but whether to extend isn’t the only decision that teams face with recent first-round picks. The final two seasons of four-year rookie scale deals are team option years, but unlike other options, the deadline for either exercising or declining them is a full year before the option season begins. In many cases, rookie scale deals are bargains and there’s no thinking required when it comes to picking up the options. The Pelicans, for instance, aren’t going to give up a year of Anthony Davis at less than eight figures.

Of course, few find instant success like Davis. Often, a former first-round pick may be struggling to find playing time or live up to his promise, but the team still has confidence that he can develop, and the front office is willing to assume his relatively small cap hit for another season. Then, there are those who aren’t panning out at all, making even a cheap rookie deal seem like an outsized expense.

Perhaps the facet of rookie scale options that’s least appealing for teams is that they have to decide a year ahead of time. The options that clubs are debating this fall are for 2015/16. Further complicating matters is that if a team declines a player’s rookie scale option, he becomes an unrestricted free agent when the deal is up, instead of a restricted free agent, as would be the case if the team allowed the contract to run to term.

Teams are in an especially difficult position with underperforming players taken near the top of the first round, since the final seasons of their rookie contracts can get pricey. Former No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson will be set to make $4,660,482 in 2015/16 if the Trail Blazers pick up his fourth-year option, and that might be too much for Portland to bear.

I’ve listed each player eligible to have his rookie scale option picked up before the October 31st deadline and grouped them into three categories based on the likelihood that their respective teams will exercise the options. I added a blurb for some of the more compelling cases. Feel free to disagree and share your own analysis in the comments.

No-brainers

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (third year, $1,953,960)
  • Bradley Beal, Wizards (fourth year, $5,694,674)
  • Trey Burke, Jazz (third year, $2,658,240)
  • Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers (third year, $2,399,040)
  • Anthony Davis, Pelicans (fourth year, $7,070,730)
  • Andre Drummond, Pistons (fourth year, $3,272,091)
  • Tim Hardaway Jr., Knicks (third year, $1,304,520)
  • Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers (fourth year, $4,236,287)
  • Nerlens Noel, Sixers (third year, $3,457,800) — True, he’s never played a minute in the NBA, but barring a setback, Philadelphia will almost certainly want to see what it has in the one-time favorite to become the top pick in 2013.
  • Victor Oladipo, Magic (third year, $5,192,520)
  • Miles Plumlee, Suns (fourth year, $2,109,294)
  • Mason Plumlee, Nets (third year, $1,415,520) — He figures to be a backup as long as Brook Lopez is around, but if he’s good enough for Team USA, he’s good enough for the Nets.
  • Terrence Ross, Raptors (fourth year, $3,553,917) — Last season was something of a breakout year, and while still he has plenty of room for improvement, it seems he’s on a development track similar to the one DeMar DeRozan rode to the All-Star Game last year.
  • Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors (fourth year, $4,660,482) — Like teammate Terrence Ross, he’s not a star, at least not yet, but there’s no reason for up-and-coming Toronto to cast aside such a promising big man.
  • Dion Waiters, Cavaliers (fourth year, $5,138,430)

Probables

  • Steven Adams, Thunder (third year, $2,279,040)
  • Harrison Barnes, Warriors (fourth year, $3,873,398) — This isn’t an open-and-shut case after he failed to show progress last season, but his down year shouldn’t be enough to prompt the Warriors to give up so soon on the former No. 7 overall pick.
  • Anthony Bennett, Sixers (third year, $5,803,560) — We could list Bennett with any one of three teams. He’s on the Cavs roster for now, but the team is set to ship him out in the Kevin Love trade. It’s not clear whether that transaction will take him to the Wolves or the Sixers, but I’ve listed Philadelphia here, since that’s the most logical outcome of the Love trade, as I’ve explained. In any case, Bennett probably won’t live up to having been a No. 1 overall pick, but it’s probably worth keeping him around another year to see if he can at least play like a lottery pick.
  • Reggie Bullock, Clippers (third year, $1,252,440)
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Pistons (third year, $2,891,760)
  • Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves (third year, $1,474,440)
  • Festus Ezeli, Warriors (fourth year, $2,008,748) — He could easily be listed as “on the bubble,” particularly given the financial constraints on the Warriors, but Golden State has only seen him on the floor for one season, and cheap young big men are tough to come by.
  • Evan Fournier, Magic (fourth year, $2,288,205)
  • Rudy Gobert, Jazz (third year, $1,175,880)
  • Archie Goodwin, Suns (third year, $1,160,160) — The Suns didn’t give Goodwin much playing time as a rookie, and with a well-stocked backcourt, they might give him even less this time around. Still, it shouldn’t be hard for the team to keep him around at less than the cost of the minimum salary for some veterans.
  • Maurice Harkless, Magic (fourth year, $2,894,059)
  • John Henson, Bucks (fourth year, $2,943,221)
  • Solomon Hill, Pacers (third year, $1,358,880) — He rarely saw the floor as a rookie, but with Lance Stephenson gone and Paul George injured, Hill, who plays small forward, will have a chance to shine.
  • Perry Jones III, Thunder (fourth year, $2,038,206)
  • Terrence Jones, Rockets (fourth year, $2,489,530)
  • Sergey Karasev, Nets (third year, $1,599,840) — He rarely played as a rookie, but the investment is cheap. Even amid Mikhail Prokhorov’s apparent austerity pledge, it’s tough to envision the Russian owner turning his back on one of his countrymen.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Hornets (fourth year, $6,331,404)
  • Jeremy Lamb, Thunder (fourth year, $3,034,356)
  • Shane Larkin, Knicks (third year, $1,675,320)
  • Alex Len, Suns (third year, $3,807,120)
  • C.J. McCollumTrail Blazers (third year, $2,525,160)
  • Ben McLemore, Kings (third year, $3,156,600)
  • Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets (fourth year, $2,288,205)
  • Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves (third year, $2,056,920) — The No. 1 high school recruit from 2012 finally drew significant playing time in the second half of the season, but his first NBA season couldn’t have gone much worse. It’s probably too soon for Minnesota to cut ties, however.
  • Nemanja Nedovic, Warriors (third year, $1,151,760)
  • Andrew Nicholson, Magic (fourth year, $2,380,594) — His development stalled last season, but Orlando is still in rebuilding mode and can afford to be patient.
  • Kelly Olynyk, Celtics (third year, $2,165,160)
  • Otto Porter, Wizards (third year, $4,662,960) — An early season injury helped prevent him from making an impact last season, but there’s no reason for Washington to abandon plans for a long-term future with the No. 3 overall pick from 2013.
  • Andre Roberson, Thunder (third year, $1,210,800)
  • Dennis Schröder, Hawks (third year, $1,763,400) — The point guard didn’t receive much playing time as a rookie, but the Hawks probably want to see him on the floor in a more significant role this season before junking a mid-first-round pick.
  • Tony Snell, Bulls (third year, $1,535,880)
  • Jared Sullinger, Celtics (fourth year, $2,269,260)
  • Tony Wroten, Sixers (fourth year, $2,179,354)
  • Cody Zeller, Hornets (third year, $4,204,200)
  • Tyler Zeller, Celtics (fourth year, $2,616,975)

On the bubble

  • John Jenkins, Hawks (fourth year, $2,228,025)
  • Meyers Leonard, Trail Blazers (fourth year, $3,075,880) — The Blazers probably envisioned Leonard turning into a starting center at some point when they spent a lottery pick on him two years ago, but he was just a third-stringer last year.
  • Arnett Moultrie, Sixers (fourth year, $2,049,633) — We could easily create a fourth category for Moultrie, since Injury trouble and a drug suspension make it unlikely that the Sixers will pick up his option.
  • Thomas Robinson, Trail Blazers (fourth year, $4,660,482) — The Blazers didn’t trade him within months of acquiring him like the Kings and Rockets did, but he’s yet to show much of the promise that made him the fifth overall pick in 2012. He doesn’t seem worth a salary nearly equivalent to the non-taxpayer’s mid-level.
  • Austin Rivers, Pelicans (fourth year, $3,110,796) — Last season was an improvement on his disastrous rookie campaign, but it doesn’t erase doubt about whether Rivers is worth the continued investment.
  • Marquis Teague, Nets (fourth year, $2,023,261) — Brooklyn is almost certain to decline its option on Teague, according to a report from earlier this summer.

ShamSports was used in the creation of this post.

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