At this time of year, players from the 2011 and 2012 draft classes league-wide are having their futures decided by their past, as the deadlines for extending their rookie scale contracts by one year fall at the end of the month.
The rookie scale was implemented to stem the tide of ridiculously big contracts to recently drafted rookies that were resulting in ugly holdouts and annoyed veterans. As a direct by-product of its existence, young players are often underpaid for their services in their early years. Some, however, remain sufficiently overpaid that they don't even make it to the end of their first contracts. And since the 2005 CBA changed rookie scale deals to include third- as well as fourth-year team options, teams have become less patient with those underwhelming them.
Of the 30 players in the 2011 draft, 27 are applicable here. Nikola Mirotic hasn't yet signed his rookie deal, Nolan Smith didn't make it past Year 2, and JaJuan Johnson didn't even make it past Year 1. And while all of the 2012 class made it through Year 1, this is no doubt the point that some of those draftees' futures get curtailed.
Here, in no particular order, are some possible to probable candidates for having their options declined.
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Marquis Teague, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls generally draft extremely well, particularly late on in the draft, where their recent yield includes Mirotic, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, three players who would feature in the rotation of any contender, all picked after the 20th pick. However, they occasionally have a Mr. Hyde side and exhibit a marked tendency to pick high-upside picks who are nevertheless extremely raw (Tyrus Thomas, James Johnson).
Teague is one of the latter, and he's off to a bad start. After a poor rookie season in which he struggled with every facet of the offensive game and looked woefully overmatched, the Bulls are already shopping him and looking at other ball handling guard options. This, plus the team's luxury tax concerns, must make declining Teague's third year option a real possibility.
Jared Cunningham, Atlanta Hawks
Cunningham was pawned off to Atlanta by Dallas at the start of the offseason for cap space reasons after a rookie season at which he rather underwhelmed even at the D-League level. Atlanta has young guard prospects of its own in John Jenkins and Dennis Schroeder; they, along with the incumbent Jeff Teague and the returning Lou Williams, figure to take the vast majority of the guard minutes. Cunningham, then, will likely have little opportunity to improve on what went before, and what went before was not much.
Royce White, Philadelphia 76ers
White got a reprieve when the Sixers were paid to take him out of Houston, facilitated by one of the few executives still sympathetic to his cause. But the fact that Sam Hinkie was willing to accept him in trade whilst receiving adequate compensation in the process does not mean that he will automatically guarantee future seasons of White's contract. He is still yet to play an NBA game, is not (it appears) ever going to be free of the protocols he insists will dictate his ability to play, nor has he the indisputably high talent level that would make all the side issues more tolerable.
There is no benefit to exercising his team option -- this is not a hot commodity who needs locking up.
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Kendall Marshall, Phoenix Suns
Marshall played little as a rookie, and when he did, he was forgettable. He struggled mightily offensively, looked far too slow for the NBA game and had no impact defensively, thereby negating all the good he can (and occasionally did) bring as a passer and floor general.
In addition to having the oft-overlooked Goran Dragic in front of him, Marshall now has to contend with the more proven quality and higher-upsided Eric Bledsoe for backup minutes, a battle he won't win. The notoriously-cheap Suns, then, are then faced with a decision on whether to guarantee the contract of the third-string point guard they saw fit to block from the rotation only three months ago. The sole thing working in Marshall's favor is that, at $2,091,840, he might be just about cheap enough to get a one-year reprieve.
Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, Washington Wizards
Drafted together in 2011, the two long, athletic defensive forwards were supposed to secure the front line indefinitely. In practice, both have disappointed. Singleton has been poor -- the intriguing improvements in his jump shot as a rookie disappeared as a sophomore -- and he has looked entirely overmatched offensively while only occasionally playing the caliber of defense he figures to base his career upon.
Meanwhile, Vesely has really disappointed, becoming so incapable of doing anything other than foul last season that he racked up multiple DNP-CD's only two years after being a top-10 pick. This top-10-pick status also further counts against Vesely, whose team option season calls for a $4,236,287 salary in a career in which he hasn't even so much as justified the minimum salary yet. Of the two, he figures to be the most threatened for this reason.
Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
Williams has struggled to perform in the NBA, and the Timberwolves have struggled how best to get him to do so. Somewhat positionless, Williams's raw numbers of 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game would suggest he was a certainty to return, however, his inconsistency, sometime ineffectiveness, lack of logical fit with the rest of the roster and his significant price tag ($6,331,404), nevertheless could jeopardize this.
Williams is likely to have his option exercised purely because it would be poor asset management and a poor reflection of the franchise's decision making in general for a No. 2 pick to not make it to the end of his rookie scale contract. You have to be Hasheem Thabeet ineffective for that to come into play. It is perhaps more likely then that the option will be exercised and Williams shopped, if his play continues to underwhelm.
However, with the Timberwolves soon to be threatened by the luxury tax for the first time in a long time, there is something to be said for declining Williams's option and maximizing their breathing space. Thus, it is a legitimate option.
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Cory Joseph, San Antonio Spurs
As the penultimate pick in 2011, Joseph is certainly cheap enough at only $2,023,261 in his fourth season. However, his own team has twice placed players ahead of him with Nando de Colo and Patrick Mills, and thus Joseph fits no obvious role with the Spurs.
Working in his favor are strong performances in the D-League last season and in the FIBA America tournament this summer. Joseph has talent and has demonstrated that at levels close to the NBA one. However, given that the Spurs have plenty of competition for the only role Joseph can fit, it seems unnecessary to guarantee him NBA salary if they can't guarantee him NBA minutes.
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Bobcats
Biyombo showed scant few signs of improvement as a sophomore, and remains an offensive liability with only flashes of significant defensive impact to show for it. His best chance to impress will come this season, particularly at the start, as Brendan Haywood will miss the first three months of the season due to injury. This gives Biyombo a likely lengthy run at the center spot, playing as many minutes as he proves capable of. However, this comes only after the deadline for his option season decision has passed.
Biyombo's body of work to date is not convincing. However, his relatively cheap price for a big man prospect ($3,873,398) and the Bobcats' general lack of talent make his option season a worthwhile, if far from certain, investment for the future.
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