As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported this morning, Nets guard Allen Crabbe became the latest veteran to exercise a player option for the 2019/20 season. Crabbe is one of six players who has opted into the final year of his contract since the regular season ended, joining Jeff Teague, Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore, C.J. Miles, and Bismack Biyombo.
[RELATED: Player Option Decisions For 2019/20]
That group of players picking up their options figures to grow in the coming weeks. Marvin Williams has already indicated he’ll opt in, and guys like Hassan Whiteside ($27.1MM), Tyler Johnson ($19.2MM), and Patrick Patterson ($5.7MM), among others, figure to do so too.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a handful of star players who are locks to opt out. All year, we’ve talked about Kevin Durant ($31.5MM), Kawhi Leonard ($21.3MM), Kyrie Irving ($21.3MM), Jimmy Butler ($19.8MM), and Khris Middleton ($13MM) as if they’re free-agents-to-be, since it wouldn’t make sense for them to pick up their player options instead of securing more lucrative, longer-term deals in free agency.
Not all of the players with 2019/20 options are facing easy decisions though. In some cases, it’s not entirely clear yet whether or not those options will be exercised.
Let’s take a closer look at several of the player option decisions that will be worth monitoring before free agency officially gets underway:
- Al Horford, Celtics ($30,123,015): Only a handful of NBA players earn salaries in excess of $30MM, and on the surface, it doesn’t seem like Horford necessarily belongs in that group — he’ll turn 33 in June, battled nagging injuries this season, and put up relatively modest numbers for a starting center (13.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.2 APG). However, his performance in the postseason has shown once again why Horford is so valuable to the Celtics. His versatility and high basketball IQ makes him one of the few players capable of slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo. And besides being a linchpin on defense, he’s a tremendous weapon in the pick-and-pop game on offense. If he were to opt out, he wouldn’t get $30MM per year on a long-term deal, but it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see him get, say, $20MM annually on a three-year contract. That could be a win for both him and the cap-strapped Celtics.
- Jonas Valanciunas, Grizzlies ($17,617,976): Valanciunas doesn’t have the same sort of hidden value as Horford – or as pricey an option – but he’ll face a similar dilemma. Does it make more sense to pick up a player option that locks in a favorable one-year salary or to opt out to secure a longer-term deal with a higher total value? Valanciunas was probably the most important asset the Grizzlies acquired in their trade of longtime franchise center Marc Gasol, so I think they’d be willing to invest long term in the former lottery pick.
- Marc Gasol, Raptors ($25,595,700): Like Horford, Gasol’s value on the court extends beyond his numbers — particularly the ones he has put up since his trade to Toronto. Plus, if he believes Kawhi Leonard will leave the Raptors in free agency, it might make sense for Gasol to look for the exit ramp as well by declining this option and trying to secure one last multiyear deal. On the other hand, at age 34, Gasol might have trouble exceeding his option salary even over the span of a new two-year contract. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t opt in and force the Raptors to make the decision on what to do with his expiring deal.
- James Ennis, Sixers ($1,845,301): Ennis signed a minimum salary contract with the Rockets last summer, then was traded to Philadelphia in a salary-dump deal at the deadline. Despite that unflattering series of events, he’s now playing a key rotation role for the Sixers in the postseason and has made 57.1% of his shots in seven playoff games, including a staggering 82.6% of his two-pointers. Ostensibly a three-and-D wing, Ennis should have no problem securing offers on the open market this summer, so it would probably be in his best interest to opt out to see if he can do better than the minimum. The same thinking applies to Thunder center Nerlens Noel, another veteran who has a minimum salary player option for 2019/20.
- Dwight Powell, Mavericks ($10,259,375): Powell enjoyed his best season in 2018/19, recording 10.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and a .597 FG% in a part-time role for the Mavericks. His $10MM+ option looks fairly player-friendly for someone who has never averaged more than 21.6 MPG, but team owner Mark Cuban suggested in a radio appearance last month that Dallas plans to extend Powell for multiple seasons. If he knows that sort of Mavs offer will await him in free agency, Powell could have reason to opt out (opting in and signing an extension would also be a possibility).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.