Upcoming Rookie-Scale Option Decisions

We've taken 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 former 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 most cases, rookie-scale deals are bargains and there's no thinking required when it comes to picking up the options. The Cavs, for instance, aren't going to let Kyrie Irving's deal end a year early. 

Of course, most first-round picks don't find instant success the way Irving has done. Sometimes, 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.

Part of what makes some of these calls difficult is that teams have to decide a year ahead of time. The options that clubs are debating this fall are for 2014/15. 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. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams will be set to make $6,331,404 in 2014/15 if the T-Wolves pick up his fourth-year option, as Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out recently when he looked at a few high profile rookie-scale option decisions.

Lowe broke down a half dozen players in that piece, and I've taken a broader look at each player eligible to have his rookie-scale option picked up before the October 31st deadline. I grouped them into three categories based on the likelihood that their respective teams will exercise the options, and I added a blurb for some of the more compelling cases.

Clubs that must decide on third-year options only have the player's rookie season to go on, so they pick those up more often than they do with fourth-year options, and I took that into consideration as I filled out the categories. Feel free to disagree and share your own analysis in the comments.


If anyone among this bunch has his option declined, it will be a shock.


It'd be surprising if the options for these players weren't picked up, too, even if the decision isn't quite as easy as with the guys in the above category.

  • Enes Kanter, Jazz (4th year, $5,694,674)
  • Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers (4th year, $5,138,430)
  • Bismack Biyombo, Bobcats (4th year, $3,873,398)
  • Brandon Knight, Bucks (4th year, $3,553,917)
  • Kemba Walker, Bobcats (4th year, $3,272,091)
  • Alec Burks, Jazz (4th year, $3,034,356) — I might have listed him as on the bubble, but the Jazz seem focused on turning the team over to their young players, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Burks emerged as the starting shooting guard this season. Lowe referred to his option as a "cinch" to be picked up.
  • Markieff Morris, Suns (4th year, $2,989,239)
  • Marcus Morris, Suns (4th year, $2,943,221) — Much as with Burks and the Jazz, the Suns probably want to see what the Morris twins do with a full season of ample playing time before casting either of them off.
  • Iman Shumpert, Knicks (4th year, $2,616,975)
  • Tobias Harris, Magic (4th year, $2,380,594)
  • Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets (3rd year, $1,483,920) — The focus in Houston has switched from youth to veterans, but with only his rookie season under his belt, the Rockets will probably give the former 20th overall pick some more time to develop.
  • Reggie Jackson, Thunder (4th year, $2,204,369)
  • MarShon Brooks, Celtics (4th year, $2,179,354)
  • Norris Cole, Heat (4th year, $2,038,206)
  • Thomas Robinson, Trail Blazers (3rd year, $3,678,360)
  • Terrence Ross, Raptors (3rd year, $2,793,960) — He has the makings of a no-brainer, since he's a top 10 pick coming off his rookie season, but without rousing success last year and with new management in Toronto, it's at least conceivable that his option goes unexercised.
  • Austin Rivers, Pelicans (3rd year, $2,439,840) — His rookie season was rough, but his status as the 10th overall pick is enough to keep him off the bubble here.
  • Meyers Leonard, Trail Blazers (3rd year, $2,317,920)
  • Jeremy Lamb, Thunder (3rd year, $2,202,000)
  • John Henson, Bucks (3rd year, $1,987,320)
  • Maurice Harkless, Magic (3rd year, $1,887,840)
  • Tyler Zeller, Cavaliers (3rd year, $1,703,760)
  • Terrence Jones, Rockets (3rd year, $1,618,680) — He's in almost precisely the same situation as Motiejunas, with little NBA playing time on his resume as Houston turns away from its youth movement. The Rockets may see Jones and Motiejunas as an either-or debate. 
  • Andrew Nicholson, Magic (3rd year, $1,545,840)
  • Evan Fournier, Nuggets (3rd year, $1,483,920)
  • Jared Sullinger, Celtics (3rd year, $1,424,520)
  • John Jenkins, Hawks (3rd year, $1,312,920)
  • Miles Plumlee, Suns (3rd year, $1,169,880)
  • Arnett Moultrie, Sixers (3rd year, $1,136,160)
  • Perry Jones, Thunder (3rd year, $1,129,200)
  • Marquis Teague, Bulls (3rd year, $1,120,920)
  • Festus Ezeli, Warriors (3rd year, $1,112,880)

On the bubble

This bunch will test the mettle of their respective front offices, and it will be compelling to see what choices the teams make as the deadline approaches.

  • Derrick Williams, Timberwolves (4th year, $6,331,404)
  • Jan Vesely, Wizards (4th year, $4,236,287)
  • Jimmer Fredette, Kings (4th year, $3,110,796) — Fredette's defensive ineptitude and limited offensive skill set beyond his shooting make $3MM+ a tough price to pay for him. That's especially so given the Kings' cap constraints in 2014/15, as Lowe points out in his piece. The team invested a 10th overall pick in him, but that was long before new GM Pete D'Alessandro arrived. He and the rest of the front office may not have reservations about cutting ties with the former BYU star.
  • Chris Singleton, Wizards (4th year, $2,489,530)
  • Jordan Hamilton, Nuggets (4th year, $2,109,294) — The only time he's found his way into the rotation so far is when someone else has been hurt. He might get some playing time early in the season with Danilo Gallinari hurt, but as with the Kings and Fredette, Denver's new GM and new coach don't have as much a stake in him as the old regime did.
  • Cory Joseph, Spurs (4th year, $2,023,261) — He was Tony Parker's backup as the playoffs began last season, but his postseason minutes were erratic.
  • Kendall Marshall, Suns (3rd year, $2,091,840) — Phoenix has plenty of point guards, even though the team plans to play Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt together. The Suns reportedly put Marshall on the trade block this summer.
  • Royce White, Sixers (3rd year, $1,793,520) — White, whose struggles with mental health have been well-documented, is probably less likely to have his option picked up than any other eligible player this year. Furkan Aldemir was apparently the team's primary target in the trade that brought White to Philly.
  • Jared Cunningham, Hawks (3rd year, $1,260,360) — He was outplayed by a couple of second-round picks on the Mavericks last year, and he's on his second team in as many seasons.
  • Tony Wroten, Sixers (3rd year, $1,210,080) — The Grizzlies traded Wroten to Philadelphia last month for little more than breathing room under the tax line, indicating a major slip in his NBA stock.

ShamSports was used in the creation of this post.

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