A quarter of the 2015/16 season has already passed, and clearly defined roles have developed for players around the league. Playing time and opportunities to start usually have positive financial consequences for soon-to-be free agents, if only indirectly so. However, for those poised to become restricted free agents in the summer ahead, precisely how many minutes they play and how often they appear in the starting lineup can have a quantifiable effect on their salaries for next season.
The NBA uses a set of “starter criteria” to help determine the value of the qualifying offer a restricted free agent is eligible to receive. The idea is that if a player is a regular starter, or plays starter’s minutes, he should see a larger qualifying offer. That offer doesn’t necessarily translate into the player’s salary for the next season, and in most cases, it’s just a placeholder for negotiations, since it’s the amount a team is required to pledge to retain the right to match competing bids for a restricted free agent. Still, two players signed contracts for the values of their respective qualifying offers last summer, and the same was the case in the offseason of 2014. A higher qualifying offer can persuade a team to give up its right to match offers, while a lower one can goad a team into keeping that right.
The starter criteria are fulfilled if a player eligible for restricted free agency makes 41 or more starts or plays 2,000 minutes in the season preceding the end of his contract, or in the average of the two seasons preceding the end of his contract. The following are the consequences for meeting or not meeting the starter criteria as they appear in our Hoops Rumors Glossary entry on qualifying offers and as informed by Larry Coon’s invaluable Salary Cap FAQ:
- A top-14 pick who does not meet the starter criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the 15th overall pick would receive if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale.
- A player picked between 10th and 30th who meets the criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the ninth overall pick would receive if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale.
- A second-round pick or undrafted player who meets the criteria will receive a qualifying offer equal to the amount the 21st overall pick would receive if he signed for 100% of the rookie scale.
- For all others, the standard criteria determine the amounts of their qualifying offers.
Several players are on pace for qualifying offer adjustments so far this season. These two are in line to see the values of their respective qualifying offers rise to $4,433,683.
- Evan Fournier, Magic (32 starts last year, on pace for 82 starts this year) — Fournier is also on pace to exceed 2,000 minutes this year. Current qualifying offer: $3,278,998.
- Jared Sullinger, Celtics (49 starts last year, on pace for 71 starts this year) — Sullinger is also on pace to exceed 2,000 minutes this year. Current qualifying offer: $3,270,004.
These players would see their qualifying offers go up to $2,725,003 if their playing time remains steady:
- Jordan Clarkson, Lakers (38 starts last year, on pace for 82 starts this year) — Clarkson is also on pace to exceed 2,000 minutes this year. Current qualifying offer: $1,180,431.
- Matthew Dellavedova, Cavaliers (on pace for 2,222 minutes) — Dellavedova has made just six starts this year and only saw 13 last season, but his minutes have him in the mix. We’ll see what happens when Kyrie Irving returns. Current qualifying offer: $1,434,095.
- Langston Galloway, Knicks (on pace for 2,030 minutes) — Galloway would just barely cross the minutes threshold if he plays at his current rate, and he’s yet to make a start after starting 41 games last season. Current qualifying offer: $1,180,431.
Only one player is in danger of seeing his qualifying offer decrease to $4,045,894:
- Meyers Leonard (on pace to make 32 starts and play 1,415 minutes) — A dislocated shoulder did Leonard no favors, as it knocked him out for seven games, and he hasn’t started in the seven games he’s played since his return. Averaging last season’s numbers wouldn’t help, since he only made seven starts and played 847 minutes in 2014/15. Current qualifying offer: $4,210,880.
The players in the next group aren’t on pace for qualifying offer adjustments, but they’re close:
- Festus Ezeli, Warriors (on pace to make 39 starts) — Current qualifying offer: $3,013,123. Would be eligible for $4,433,683 qualifying offer if he sees more frequent starts.
- Isaiah Canaan, Sixers (on pace to make 39 starts) — Current qualifying offer: $1,215,696. Would be eligible for $2,725,003 qualifying offer if he sees more frequent starts.
- Allen Crabbe, Trail Blazers (on pace to play 1,957 minutes) — Current qualifying offer: $1,215,696. Would be eligible for $2,725,003 qualifying offer if he sees more frequent playing time.
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.