In a regular NBA offseason, player options are often a 50/50 proposition. With a salary cap that generally rises, players are more often than not tempted to opt-out of their deals to gauge their market value or re-up with their current employers over a more extended and secure contract.
This, though, is no regular NBA off season.
This was supposed to be the season of the toxic 2016 Summer of Lunacy contracts coming off the books. Unfortunately, a combination of the deliberate (many teams took their free agency shot in 2019) and the unforeseen (there’s this pandemic thing that you may have heard of) will likely result in a more serene off season, at least as far as player options are concerned.
With the sharp decrease in revenue this season, next season’s salary cap has a good chance of declining for the first time since the 2010 season. At best, players and teams could hope for a cap freeze – the last time that happened was post the 2011 lockout.
How will that affect the free agency market? Last season, 12 of the 26 player options around the league were declined; this season, there are 28 player options – let’s examine who might opt-out and choose the relative safety of the devil they know. The obvious place to start is:
Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
Option: $28.7 million
Davis is all but a certainty to decline his option.
Even in these potentially tricky cap circumstances, a superstar is going to get paid like a superstar. Davis will presumably get a max offer from the Lakers. As an eight-year veteran, that equates to $32.7 million per season. The only question is what type of deal Davis will sign.
The most vanilla option is a five-year deal that would check in at around $221 million. But given Davis’ salary, as a percentage of the cap, is tied to the health of the league, there is a distinct possibility that he could look to sign a shorter deal and ink a long term contract once the health of the league improves and his salary, therefore, improves with it.
The tip here is that Davis opts out and subsequently signs a two-year contract. He’ll then re-enter the market as a 30-year-old. This will give Davis a clear picture of what the Lakers will look like as LeCyborg James enters his decommissioning process, and the team becomes his. If the Lakers are still contenders at that stage, he’ll re-sign. If they’re a fading force, might his eyes wander?
Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic)
Option: $17 million
Fournier is an interesting case study. At 27-years-old, this is his big chance to claim a genuinely life-altering deal. But given the expected cap stagnation, the lack of teams with genuine space, and the flat-lining in the marketplace for one way complimentary scorers, should he take the money on the table and try again next year?
My prediction is that Fournier picks up his option. Cap space is abundant next offseason, and while there are superstars up and down the market, someone will miss out and convince themselves that the Frenchman can be a fringe All-Star with them. (Translation: he’s signing with the Knicks in 2021; $100 million over four years)
Jerami Grant (Denver Nuggets)
Option: $9.3 million
Grant’s option is just a touch above the mid-level exception. The versatile forward finally broke out this season and proved that he’s worth a lot more than that. An excellent defensive player, especially on bigger wings, Grant’s weakness has always been his outside shot, yet he’s made 39% over the past two seasons.
In normal circumstances, Grant might be looking at a $20 million per year deal. While the league’s economic climate might dampen those numbers, with practically every team that has room wanting him, Grant will still get paid. The question is, whose money does the 26-year-old take.
I think Grant will opt out and re-sign in Denver for somewhere in the vicinity of $65 million over four years.
Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics)
Option: $34.2 million
This contract aged so poorly, and it’s not Hayward’s fault. That gnarly leg injury mere minutes into his Celtics career robbed him of the agility and bounce that made him so dangerous in Utah.
He has shown flashes of his old self from time to time, but Hayward is not the same player he used to be. Opt-out now, and Hayward won’t get half of what he’s earned this season. But a strong comeback season in 2021 might see him edge towards something in the realm of a three-year $60 million deal from a team looking for a focal point on the wing.
You better believe that Hayward is opting in, though this will be his last season in Celtic Green.
(Order your 2022 Kings #20 uniforms early, Hayward fans!)
Tim Hardaway Jr (Dallas Mavericks)
Option: $19 million
Hardaway’s deal – a massive overpay at the time, a regular ol’ overpay now – finally finishes at the end of the 2021 season. This season, Timbug II canned over 40% of his treys, against a career average of 34.7% before the 2020 campaign. 2020 was, without doubt, a career year for Hardaway. Even so, he won’t come close to sniffing a $19 million per year deal on the open market.
His dilemma is this: opt-in, take the money and back yourself that you can hold your form next season, or; opt-out and look to sign a long-term deal while your value is at a career-high.
I feel that Hardaway will opt out and look to sign a long term deal. That could well be in Dallas, assuming they don’t sign Danny Green, as has been rumored.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Los Angeles Lakers)
Option: $8.5 million
Caldwell-Pope is like Hardaway, except underpaid. Mocked as an overpay to sweeten the deal with Klutch Sports, KCP emerged as the third-best Laker in the finals series.
Let’s keep this short: KCP will opt out and re-sign in Los Angeles with a steep pay rise. Rich Paul likely had a deal worked out with Rob Pelinka sometime during the third quarter of Game 5.
DeMar DeRozan (San Antonio Spurs)
Option: $27.8 million
Rumors are spreading about DeRozan’s discontent in San Antonio, and with the club finally looking to pivot towards youth, this would seem to be the perfect time to part ways. But $27.8 million is $27.8 million – DeRozan isn’t getting anywhere near that from another club.
He’s staying put.
Andre Drummond (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Option: $25.4 million
When you consider the Pistons traded Drummond for practically nothing specifically to avoid paying that player option, it seems a lock that Drummond opts in.
Still, there is a method to the apparent madness of that monster front line in Cleveland: with guards like theirs, there are plenty of rebounds to go around.
Rajon Rondo (Los Angeles Lakers)
Option: $2.6 million
Rondo remains an enigma for NBA General Managers. During postseason play, Rondo is a $15 million player, but he’s barely above replacement level during the regular season. There’s a reason LA got him on a minimum deal, after all.
Now, with another championship under his belt and the backing of de facto GM LeBron James, Rondo is just about a certainty to stay with the Lakers. Look for something around a two-year, $15 million deal.
Otto Porter (Chicago Bulls)
Option: $26 million
Porter appeared in 14 games last season. He’s not developed into the complimentary star that some imagined. His shot hasn’t materialized, he can’t dribble to save himself, and his defense is drastically overrated. Oh, he also appeared in only 14 games last season.
Bet literally everything you own on Porter opting in.
Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets)
Option: $24 million
Last season, the Hornets desperately needed help on the wings. Playmaking, shooting, defense….anything would have helped them. Yet Batum remained pop-riveted to the bench. That has to tell you something.
Batum opts in.
Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat)
Option: $12.5 million
An interesting figure. Olynyk’s play in the finals series, deputizing for an injured Bam Adebayo, should see him earn more than the $12.5 his option dictates. This market, more than the general disdain for centers that can’t protect the rim, could see him opt-in and look to cash in this time next season.
Miami is a good fit for Neon Jesus – he’ll stay put for one more year.
Avery Bradley (Los Angeles Lakers)
Option: $5 million
By opting out of the Orlando bubble, the Lakers championship luster doesn’t rub off on the 29-year-old Bradley. Yet he was arguably the Lakers third-best player through the regular season. His usual stubborn defense, combined with reliable shooting, meant he did much of the unheralded work that makes life easier for LeBron and AD.
I’d expect Bradley to opt-in and try to repeat the season he had, minus the skipping the playoffs bit. If he can do that, he’ll cash in. If he falls back to earth, $5 million might be his ceiling.
Austin Rivers (Houston Rockets)
Option: $2.6 million
Rivers, on a minimum contract last season, figures to cash in on an excellent bounce-back season in Houston. The Rockets system under Mike D’Antoni suited Rivers down to the ground. It seemed a lock that he’d come back, but with a new coach to be brought in, and with it potentially a new style of play, will Rivers look to take the best deal available?
If D’Antoni were still there, I’d have predicted Rivers giving up some money to stay in Houston. Now, it’s a crapshoot. I think he signs as a featured back up for a contender such as Golden State or Boston. Even the Clippers are an outside chance.
Wes Matthews (Milwaukee Bucks)
Option: $2.6 million
Matthews played on a minimum deal last season, and at age 34, will be looking to sign one final long-term deal. Given the way he performed, the Bucks would be wise to get him at a reasonable number: something like $10 million for two years, although Matthews would likely want more.
I think he understands that it doesn’t get a lot easier than draining open triples at his age while the defense focuses on a superstar. He’ll either sign in Milwaukee for two years (perhaps a team option on a third year) for around $6 million per season or head to the Lakers if they lose KCP or Danny Green.
Tony Snell (Detroit Pistons)
Option: $11.5 million
Given the number of Detroit options, Snell might get enough time and touches to create a market for himself. Expect Snell to stay in Detroit, pad his stats on an awful team, then sign an inflated long term deal in New York or Houston next offseason.
Rodney Hood (Portland Trailblazers)
Option: $6 million
Kevin Durant ruptured his achillies and passed up his player option.
Rodney Hood is not Kevin Durant.
James Johnson (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Option: $14.8 million
Despite having perhaps the best nickname in the NBA, Johnson is a 33-year-old end of the bench guy. He’ll opt-in and then make the minimum for the rest of his NBA days.
Then he’ll roundhouse kick some fools.
JaMychal Green (Los Angeles Clippers)
Option: $5 million
Green was a victim of the Clippers depth chart last season, though he performed well in the minutes he did receive. With Doc Rivers gone from the sideline, and perhaps Montrezl Harrell on his way out, Green could get the lions share of minutes behind young center Ivica Zubac going forward. An active defender with solid shooting chops, Green is a potential skeleton key to unlocking the best of the Clippers offense. He’ll opt-in.
Jabari Parker (Sacramento Kings)
Option: $6.5 million
Oh, man. It’s all gone so wrong for Parker. Even after his first knee injury, he came back and looked like a perennial All-Star in the making despite his ‘inattentive’ defense. That second ruptured ACL has devastated the former No. 2 pick. He’ll take whatever money he can get and opt into his deal.
Robin Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)
Option: $4.9 million
Lopez will opt-in, and the Bucks will like it. Mostly out of fear for what he and his brother would do to the poor mascot if they complained.
James Ennis (Orlando Magic)
Option: $2.6 million
With no state tax in Florida, raw dollars aren’t as much of a concern as other teams. Jonathan Isaac’s injury also opens a door for Ennis. Aaron Gordon should move up and play the four, now. That means there are minutes available for Ennis.
He’ll opt-in, hope to have a solid season as a 3-D wing, and try his luck next offseason.
Enes Kanter (Boston Celtics)
Option: $4.9 million
Kanter can’t defend unless he’s within touching distance of the basket. Sure, he can eat second unit centers alive in the post, but Kanter has no place on a so perimeter-oriented team.
He’ll opt in, and the Celts will look to move him.
Willie Cauley-Stein (Dallas Mavericks)
Option: $2.6 million
Cauley-Stein was brought in to replace the injured Dwight Powell as Luka’s rim running target. The Mavs like to run, which plays into the strengths of the former King and Warrior. He’s only on a minimum deal, but he’ll enjoy his chances of improving on that next season, after 82 games catching lobs from Luka Doncic.
Stanley Johnson (Toronto Raptors)
Option: $3.7 million
Stanley Johnson scored 60 points last season. He’s opting in.
If his contract was $3.7 dollars, he’s opting in.
Mike Muscala (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Option: $2.6 million
Muscala is a journeyman on a minimum deal. He likely won’t get any more than that on the open market, so given he’s likely to get minutes – especially if Steven Adams is moved – there’s no reason for him to opt-out.
JaVale McGee (Los Angeles Lakers)
Option: $4.2 million
McGee was serviceable as the Lakers starting center through the regular season. In the postseason, though, he was buried. It was fully expected that he would return to the bench as the Lakers pivoted to Davis at the five. Nobody expected Dwight Howard to turn back the clock.
McGee is now very, very expendable. As such, he’s definitely opting in.
Last, and very much least…..
Mario Hezonja (Portland Trailblazers)
Option: $1.8 million
Hezonja is legitimately in the conversation as the worst player in the NBA. Even though he might earn more if he returned to Europe, his ego will see him opt-in for one final NBA tour before we never hear from him again.