As we recently detailed when we previewed this summer’s player option decisions, those options have been overwhelmingly declined over the last two offseasons.
Over the last two years, only eight of 53 veterans who held player options on their contracts have actually exercised those options. Half of those eight players (Tim Duncan, Caron Butler, Mo Williams, and Spencer Hawes) haven’t played a single NBA minute since picking up their options, having either retired or been waived. Another one of the eight (Chris Paul) only opted in because it cleared the way for him to be traded to his preferred destination.
However, those opt-outs came at a time when NBA free agent spending was at an all-time high, primarily due to the substantial salary-cap jump in the 2016 offseason. For most players with an opportunity to reach the open market, it made sense to test free agency rather than playing out a contract that had been negotiated when the cap was far lower.
That may not be the case this summer though. The increases in the salary cap have become more modest, with the cap for 2018/19 projected to only be about $2MM higher than this year’s figure. With fewer teams armed with cap room and less money available in free agency, many of the player options for 2018/19 don’t look too bad.
I expect more than five player options to be exercised this offseason, but here are five that look like virtual locks to be picked up:
- Carmelo Anthony, Thunder ($27,928,140): Our list starts with a player option that’s technically not a player option. Anthony actually has an early termination option, which essentially gives him the same rights as a player option would — he’ll simply have to waive his ETO in order to opt in and finish out his current contract. Given Anthony’s underwhelming season in Oklahoma City, which saw him set new career lows in PPG (16.2) and FG% (.404), opting in looks like an easy call. If the Thunder lose in the first round and Paul George departs in free agency, it will be interesting to see how enthusiastic Anthony is about remaining in OKC. This situation reminds me a little of Dwyane Wade‘s in Chicago a year ago, when Wade exercised his $23MM player option, then surrendered a big chunk of it as part of a buyout agreement.
- Wesley Matthews, Mavericks ($18,622,514): Matthews has already indicated he plans to opt in, so it’s probably cheating a little to include him here. Still, his case is an interesting one. Matthews is still capable of being a useful wing who can make three-point shots — that could make him more valuable to a contender than to the rebuilding team, and an $18MM+ expiring salary would also look appealing to a club looking to clear cap room for 2019. If and when Matthews officially picks up the option, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Mavs explore the trade market for him, likely expressing a willingness to take on longer-term money.
- Iman Shumpert, Kings ($11,011,234): Shumpert’s player option decision figures to hinge on money rather than destination. After an injury-plagued season in which he played in just 14 games, the veteran swingman won’t come close to matching his $11MM option salary, so it’s the right move to opt in and then see what happens. The rebuilding Kings, who held onto vets like Zach Randolph and Vince Carter for the entire 2017/18 season, could try the same approach with Shumpert next year, but I’d expect him to become a buyout candidate sooner or later — assuming he’s not traded first.
- Darrell Arthur, Nuggets ($7,464,912): In Denver, Wilson Chandler‘s player option decision will be a tougher one than Arthur’s, which looks like a mere formality. Ongoing knee issues – as well as a deep Nuggets roster – resulted in Arthur appearing in just 19 games and playing 141 total minutes in 2017/18. If he were to opt out, he’d almost certainly be looking at a minimum-salary offer, so picking up his option makes sense.
- Ron Baker, Knicks ($4,544,400): It’s hard to call a contract worth less than $10MM in total a disastrous signing, but the Knicks’ decision to commit their entire room exception to Baker last offseason on a two-year deal was immediately panned, and it doesn’t look any better now. Like other players on this list, Baker didn’t play a whole lot in 2017/18 due to injuries – and to not having a permanent spot in the rotation – which would limit his value significantly if he were to hit free agency. He’s recovering from shoulder surgery now, making his option decision an easy one.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.