Because the fourth-year team options on rookie scale contracts are significantly more lucrative than third-year options and players selected at the top of the draft receive the highest-paying contracts, no rookie scale option for 2020/21 is worth more than Markelle Fultz‘s. Now that the Magic have officially picked up that option, Fultz will have a $12,288,697 cap charge locked in for the ’20/21 season.
That option was by no means a lock to be exercised. Fultz has only appeared in 33 career NBA games and hasn’t played at all since he arrived in Orlando at last season’s trade deadline. The former No. 1 overall pick has been sidelined since last November with a condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome, and the Magic have provided few clues about when he might be ready to return to the court, simply saying that he’s making good progress.
Given how highly touted he was as a prospect, the 21-year-old is still a very intriguing project, and it makes sense that the Magic would want to lock him in for an extra year beyond this season to see if he can deliver on his upside. But that $12.3MM cap hit is a hefty one for a player on a rookie scale contract. It couldn’t have been a quick decision.
While Fultz’s option has been exercised, there are several other players on rookie scale contracts whose 2020/21 options aren’t necessarily slam dunks. Here are five players worth keeping an eye on as the October 31 decision deadline approaches:
- Josh Jackson, Grizzlies ($8,930,242): The fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Jackson is joining a new team this summer after two up-and-down years in Phoenix. The terms of the trade that sent him to Memphis suggest that Jackson’s value isn’t particularly high — the Suns had to attach a pair of second-round picks to move his contract. At this point, it seems more likely than not that the Grizzlies will turn down Jackson’s fourth-year option.
- Frank Ntilikina, Knicks ($6,176,578): A solid World Cup showing has boosted Ntilikina’s stock a little heading into training camp, but the Knicks still don’t appear all that eager to have him play a significant role for this year’s squad. The team brought in Elfrid Payton in free agency and seems more invested in Dennis Smith Jr. than Ntilikina. With the 2020/21 cap expected to come in at $116MM, a $6.2MM cap hit is barely a drop in the bucket, so I think it’s worth betting on the young point guard, but we’ll see what New York’s front office has in mind.
- Justin Jackson, Mavericks ($5,029,650): Acquired in the Harrison Barnes trade at February’s deadline, Jackson played well for Dallas down the stretch, averaging 8.2 PPG on .484/.372/.724 shooting in 29 games (11 starts). That strong second-half audition likely helped secure his $5MM+ salary for the 2020/21 season.
- Caleb Swanigan, Kings ($3,665,787): As a former No. 26 overall pick, Swanigan’s 2020/21 option salary won’t break the bank, but with new contracts on tap for Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings will likely be looking to maximize their flexibility for next summer. That could mean declining their fourth-year option on Swanigan, who was acquired in a midseason trade with Portland last season.
- Tony Bradley, Jazz ($3,542,060): Bradley has only appeared in 12 total NBA games during his first two NBA seasons, having been buried on the depth chart behind Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Ekpe Udoh. With Favors and Udoh no longer on the roster, Ed Davis was brought in to back up Gobert, but there could be an opportunity for Bradley as Utah’s third center. Given his lack of NBA playing time so far, it’s hard to get a sense of how seriously the Jazz are invested in Bradley, so the club’s decision on his fourth-year option should provide a hint.
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