Having multiple options is a great thing. If you don’t like what’s behind door number one, you take door number two. You’re happy with door number one? No problem, just stay the course with door number one. With regards to player options on contracts, door number one is the player’s current deal with their team, and door number two is free agency.
Some players are happy with door number one, knowing they won’t make as much on the open market. Meanwhile others will take door number two either because they could be making more money in free agency, or because they want a change of scenery. Some of those decisions are simple and straightforward, while others have a more complex pros and cons list. Here are a few guys whose options are interesting in one way or another.
LeBron James: James is opting out of his option this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s leaving the Cavs. With all the talk about coming back home and wanting to do something special in Cleveland, LeBron can’t leave the Cavs unless he wants 29 fan bases to completely hate his guts. He’ll opt out and sign another one year deal with a player option for a second year. He’ll likely opt out next offseason before finally signing a long-term deal with Cleveland. What’s important to note is how much more money he makes by signing that big contract next year as opposed to this year.
The new TV deal is going to cause revenue and player salaries to skyrocket and it begins to do so with the 2016-2017 season. Players signing max deals this offseason will be making significantly less than they would by signing max deals next offseason. Expect to see a lot of players setting up their contracts to hit free agency at this lucrative moment, and expect LeBron to be one of them.
Paul Pierce: Pierce has a player option next year with the Wizards, but likely only has one or two more years in the league. Pierce doesn’t have the carrot of a big payday when the new TV deal kicks in to encourage him to keep his option year with the Wizards. According to The Washington Post, Pierce will be foregoing his option, giving him the flexibility to sign wherever he wants. Many have him reuniting with Doc Rivers on the Clippers, and that would make sense for Pierce if he wants to make another run at a championship. If Pierce feels he has a better shot at a deep playoff run in LA, he could leave money on the table.
Arron Afflalo: Is it time to get off the Portland ship that may or may not be sinking? Well Afflalo is reportedly giving himself flexibility to leave if he finds a better offer elsewhere. By opting out, Afflalo can still resign with the team, but he can also sign elsewhere in case LaMarcus Aldridge leaves and Portland becomes less competitive in the ruthless Western Conference. The team still needs him with Wesley Matthews’ Achilles injury, but by giving himself flexibility, Afflalo can sign elsewhere if another team values him as much as, or more than, Portland.
J.R. Smith and Monta Ellis: These two are slated to make $6.4 million and $8.7 million respectively, and there’s evidence and rumors that each of them are going to opt out. Both players are talented scorers with off-court concerns, and both of them need to take the money that’s owed to them next season and hit free agency next offseason when teams have a lot more money to throw around. Each of them may convince a bad team to give them more in annual value than their current options, but they’d also be locking themselves into a contract under the current revenue structure. If either of them can get a multi-year contract averaging 10 million dollars a year or more, they should take it, but I don’t think any team would be smart to offer either of these two a long-term contract. Both have serious red flags on their resumes for a reason, and it wouldn’t hurt either of them to take another year to work towards disproving their reputations.
For most players, it makes sense to opt out of their player options. Usually a player only opts in when they’re making more money than the market would otherwise dictate. Any time it’s close, the player will usually opt out and test free agency. The worst-case scenario is they sign a one-year deal that looks a lot like their option year.
This offseason has an interesting wrinkle of preceding a massive jump in the salary cap, so many players won’t want to sign long-term contracts that will limit their earning potential after the cap increases. It will be an interesting offseason to see which players sign long-term deals now, and who stays on a one year contract to roll the dice and hope for a mega-deal next summer.