Upcoming Rookie Scale Option Decisions

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 almost a full year before the option season begins. Traditionally, the deadline is the October 31st before the option season, but because that date falls on a Saturday this year, it’s November 2nd this time around.

The options that clubs are debating this fall are for the 2016/17 season. Complicating matters is that if a team declines a player’s rookie scale option, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next summer, instead of a restricted free agent, as would be the case if the team allowed the contract to run to term. Any team that declines a rookie scale team option can’t re-sign that player for more than the option amount, a rule in place to prevent teams from circumventing the salary cap to funnel higher paydays to star young players after two or three seasons. That restriction even applies to any team that would acquire such a player via trade this season. That team still wouldn’t be able to exceed the value of the option in a new deal, just as the Clippers weren’t able to do so with Austin Rivers after the Pelicans declined his rookie scale team option last fall.

In many cases, rookie scale deals are bargains and there’s no thinking required when it comes to picking up the options. The Bucks, for instance, aren’t going to give up a year of Giannis Antetokounmpo at less than $3MM.

Of course, few find instant success like Antetokounmpo has. 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.

I’ve listed each player eligible to have his rookie scale option picked up before the November 2nd deadline and grouped them into categories based on the likelihood that their respective teams will exercise the options. I’ve noted whether each is third- or fourth-year option along with the monetary value in parentheses.

Slam dunks — These players are already stars, and it’s inconceivable that their options wouldn’t be exercised.

Highly likely — These players are non-stars, but it’s just about as unfathomable that their respective teams would opt out.

Generally likely — It wouldn’t count as a shock if a few names in this largest class have their options declined, but it’s still more likely than not that their teams will pick up the options.

In doubt — Bennett is in a class by himself, in large measure because having been the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 means he has one of the most lucrative rookie scale contracts in the league. He certainly hasn’t lived up to his draft position, and it’s questionable whether it’s worth the investment of more than $7.3MM for another year.

Aside from Bennett, which player on this list do you think is least likely to have his rookie scale team option picked up? Leave a comment to tell us.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post.

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