Of the 16 veterans who had player options on their contracts for the 2021/22 season, seven picked up those options, forgoing free agency for another year of security. However, that leaves nine players who opted out and reached the free agent market.
For some players, that decision was an easy one. For instance, Norman Powell was long believed to be in line for a multiyear deal in the range of $15-20MM per year, so exercising his $11.6MM player option never would’ve made any sense.
The decision wasn’t so easy for every player who opted out though. Now that we’re five weeks into free agency, we want to look back on those decisions to see if they paid off for the nine players who opted out.
Let’s dive in…
The biggest wins:
- Kawhi Leonard
- Option: $36,016,200 (Clippers)
- New contract: Four years, $176,265,152 (Clippers)
- Norman Powell
- Option: $11,615,328 (Trail Blazers)
- New contract: Five years, $90,000,000 (Trail Blazers)
- Spencer Dinwiddie
- Option: $12,302,496 (Nets)
- New contract: Three years, $54,000,000 (Wizards)
- Note: Deal includes $8MM in incentives; third year partially guaranteed.
Leonard, Powell, and Dinwiddie all secured raises for the 2021/22 season and increased their overall guarantees exponentially. Leonard tacked on an extra $140MM in guaranteed money, while Powell’s new overall guarantee is nearly eight times more than his option salary.
Dinwiddie’s new contract isn’t quite as favorable as the other two, but it’s still a major win for a player who missed nearly the entire 2020/21 season due to an ACL tear. Even in a worst-case scenario, Dinwiddie will earn $45MM in guaranteed money. He can ensure his third-year salary becomes fully guaranteed by appearing in at least 50 games in each of the next two seasons, and he has the ability to earn even more in incentives.
A solid win:
- Chris Paul
- Option: $44,211,146 (Suns)
- New contract: Four years, $120,000,000 (Suns)
- Note: Deal includes $75MM in guaranteed money. Third year is partially guaranteed; fourth year is non-guaranteed.
If you want to move Paul to the “biggest wins” group, I wouldn’t argue with that. After all, he increased his overall guarantee by more than $30MM, which is no small feat for a player hitting free agency at age 36.
I’m separating him into his own group because his 2021/22 salary was reduced by more than $13MM as part of his new deal, and I think it’s possible he could’ve gotten more than $30MM in guaranteed money on his next deal if he had simply picked up his option and hit free agency next year.
I certainly don’t blame him for going this route though, given his injury history. And if he continues to play at a high level, the Suns will probably want to keep him for the third year of the deal, which would increase his overall guarantee on this contract to $90MM.
- Will Barton
- Option: $14,669,642 (Nuggets)
- New contract: Two years, $30,000,000 (Nuggets)
- Note: Deal includes $2MM in incentives.
- JaMychal Green
- Option: $7,559,748 (Nuggets)
- New contract: Two years, $16,400,000 (Nuggets)
- Note: Deal includes $400K in incentives.
- Bobby Portis
- Option: $3,804,150 (Bucks)
- New contract: Two years, $8,912,580 (Bucks)
- Bryn Forbes
- Option: $2,454,002 (Bucks)
- New contract: One year, $4,500,000 (Spurs)
The Nuggets took a similar approach to their negotiations with Barton and Green — Denver gave each player a small raise this year, plus a second guaranteed season (Green’s second year is a player option).
The Bucks went that route with Portis too, giving him the biggest raise they could offer using his Non-Bird rights and including a second-year player option on his new deal.
You could make a case that Forbes is a big winner for nearly doubling his 2021/22 salary, but without any future years tacked onto that deal (and given the relatively small salaries involved), I’m classifying it as a modest victory.
The jury’s still out:
- Isaiah Hartenstein
- Option: $1,762,796 (Cavaliers)
- New contract: TBD
Hartenstein is the only one of these nine players who remains unsigned. Based on his solid play with the Cavs down the stretch, turning down his minimum-salary player option seemed like a reasonable bet at the time, but it now looks like he might’ve been better off taking the guaranteed money.
While he’ll probably be signed at some point in the coming weeks, Hartenstein isn’t a lock for a fully guaranteed deal. And even if he gets a guaranteed one-year, minimum-salary contract, it’ll be worth slightly less ($1,729,217) than the option he declined, due to the league’s minimum-salary rules.