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NBA AM: It’s All About Contract Options

As many as 33 NBA Players have the option to be a free agent in July, they end up on the trade market?

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They Have Options:  As the NBA trade season kicks into full gear, not only are NBA teams concerned about would-be free agents, they are also concerned about those players with contract options.

There are 33 players with either player options or early termination options, but they both achieve the same thing: allowing a player to become a free agent. What they do is slightly different.

A player option is a notification to continue the agreement, meaning the player must submit a document stating they wish to stay longer. Where as an early termination option requires the player to submit a document announcing they are choosing to leave.

There are fewer and fewer termination options, but functionally it’s still the same idea. A player can leave a predetermined salary on the table and test the free agent market. Because a player opts for free agency does not mean his current team cannot resign him, in fact a lot of players use their option to force a longer-term deal even if it’s at or even below the contracted salary.

Players with options become a big unknown for teams, because they can opt for free agency and leave their existing team with no compensation. Teams can ask a player to exercise their option, if the player declines or indicates an unwillingness to stay, that could be the answer that gets them traded.

Here is the option/termination pool for July of 2015 :

Kirk Hinrich – Chicago Bulls – $2,732,000 – $2,854,940

Hinrich is set to earn $2.85 million next season, which is likely his range. He could opt to explore free agency, but it’s more likely he stays in Chicago on his existing deal. The Bulls are unlikely to trade Hinrich regardless, however with Jimmy Butler’s looming free agent price tag the Bulls may have to make some choices next year to offset possible luxury tax payments. None of that means much for Hinrich this year and at $2.85 million it’s doubtful Chicago could find a better option at a lesser price.

Steve Blake – Portland Trail Blazers – $2,077,000 – $2,170,465

Like Hinrich, Blake’s deal for next season is likely his true market value. The Blazers have almost nothing on their cap next season so they could be huge free agent players depending on how things play out, but it’s more likely than not that Blake stays in his final $2.17 million contract year, especially if the Blazers continue to have success.

Raymond Felton – Dallas Mavericks – $3,793,693 – $3,950,313

Felton has played in just five games for the Mavericks and was something of a throw–in, in the Tyson Chandler trade with New York. Given how Felton has played over the past two seasons, he may be best suited staying in his existing deal, as it’s unlikely he commands much more than that in free agency. Opting out would be something of a gift for the Mavericks. The Mavericks have explored trading Felton and have found little-to-no interest, so it’s likely both are staying where they are.

Jameer Nelson – Boston Celtics – $2,732,000 – $2,854,940

Nelson opted for the Dallas Mavericks in free agency for the chance to compete for a championship. Unfortunately, the Mavericks needed his salary to complete the Rajon Rondo trade and now Nelson finds himself on another rebuilding team. The sense is he is going to be re-traded at some point by Boston or bought out after the trade deadline if the C’s can’t find a deal for him. Nelson is likely opting out of his deal, as the second year of his deal was more injury insurance. Nelson was paid $2 million on his deal with the Orlando Magic, allowing him to work within what the Mavericks had to offer in free agency. He likely looks for a better situation in July. That may hamper what Boston gets in return for Nelson, however it seems likely that he’ll be moved or bought out.

Goran Dragic – Phoenix Suns – $7,500,000 – $7,500,000

All signs point to Dragic opting out and becoming a free agent in July. An injury could stop that, but if Dragic finishes the season healthy he is expected to be one of the more sought after free agents in the 2015 class. The Suns do have a decision to make on whether to stay the course with Dragic and compete for a playoff berth or move him. Like most pending free agents, it’s extremely hard to extract real value in trade for what amounts to a potential rental. Given that the Suns are right there in the playoff hunt, they may take this one down to the wire and see where they really stand before making a decision on Dragic.

Jordan Farmar – Los Angeles Clippers – $2,077,000 – $2,170,465

Like Hinrich and Blake, its doubtful Farmar could do better in free agency than the final $2.17 million on his deal, especially to stay in LA. It’s far more likely that Farmar opts in and remains a Clipper than opts out. The question is will the Clippers try and trade him to bolster their roster? If Farmar gets traded all bets are off on him staying in his deal.

Gerald Henderson – Charlotte Hornets – $6,000,000 – $6,000,000

It is doubtful Henderson could do much better financially hitting free agency than the final $6 million option on his deal. The only variable is does Henderson want the chance to choose a better team or situation for himself personally? The odds are more likely that Henderson stays in his current deal, especially with the salary cap looking to balloon in 2016, and he could post a better season. The Hornets have been active in trade talks and Henderson’s name gets mentioned a lot. If the Hornets can consummate a deal, then Henderson may rethink his situation depending on where he lands. The smart money says he stays in his deal.

Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat – $15,000,000 – $16,125,000

Last summer it seemed unimaginable that the HEAT would give Wade a big dollar deal given his injuries. However, Wade has played rather well, all things considering, and he does have a $16.12 million option to stay. It is very possible that Wade opts-out of his deal to give Miami the flexibility to potentially re-tool and then re-sign for a lesser amount than his $16.1 million. It seems unlikely that Wade is anywhere but Miami next season. The real question becomes for how much and how long?

Monta Ellis – Dallas Mavericks – $8,360,000 – $8,720,000

This one is interesting because almost all of Dallas’ core player can hit free agency. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wants to keep them together, so there is a scenario in which everyone hits the market and signs new long-term deals in Dallas. That is likely what happens with Ellis. He turned away a more lucrative offer from the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency before signing in Dallas on his current deal and looks poised to opt-out and renew under better terms this summer. It seems unimaginable that Dallas would consider trading Ellis, who is currently their leading scorer.

Eric Gordon – New Orleans Pelicans – $14,898,938 – $15,514,031

It only takes a glance at the numbers to reach the conclusion that Gordon stays on for the final year of his contract worth $15.5 million. With his injury history there is almost no scenario in which anther team gives Gordon anywhere close to what he can opt-in for, even in the aggregate of a multi-year deal. The good news for the Pelicans is that Gordon as an ending contract might have trade value next season, or worst case that the nightmare that has been his contract comes to a close in July of 2016. Gordon is a nice guy and it’s unfortunate that his body failed him as massively as it has, but it seems unimaginable that he wouldn’t opt-in given the circumstances.

J.R. Smith – Cleveland Cavaliers – $6,515,510 – $6,399,750

Like many on this list, Smith’s option is likely greater than his unrestricted free agent value. There is a small window here to consider. The Cavaliers are going to be up against the luxury tax pretty hard if they can re-sign Kevin Love and LeBron James stays in his current deal. There is room to float the idea to Smith that if he were to opt-out that the Cavs could re-sign him to a multi-year deal and sort of nudge his number lower in exchange for another year or two. That may not be good for the long-term, but if Smith ends up fitting in nicely in Cleveland it is an option available to them. The smart money says Smith opts-in and that’s what it is, but there is wiggle room if the fit is good.

Arron Afflalo – Denver Nuggets – $7,500,000 – $7,500,000

When the season started it seemed like a forgone conclusion that after two solid seasons in Orlando that Afflalo would opt-out and hit free agency, however Afflalo’s numbers have dipped the wrong way now that he’s back in Denver and the question becomes were his All-Star caliber numbers in Orlando simply a fluke? It’s hard to image that Afflalo commands much more than what he’s owed on his option. But, does he prefer a multi-year deal? The Nuggets do a have a decision to make with Afflalo. They can ask him to pick up his option, if he indicates an unwillingness to do that, then they have their answer and can explore what his trade value is. The Nuggets say they are not looking to blow up the team, however as the trade deadline approaches they may rethink that. Afflalo is not having a terrible season and could help a playoff team, so there may some level of trade value there.

Jared Dudley – Milwaukee Bucks – $4,250,000 – $4,250,000 – E –

Percentage-wise Dudley is playing some of the best basketball of his career shooting 48 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from the three point line. The problem for him is that he likely doesn’t command much more than his early termination year. This may be a case of opting out for a longer-term deal, but there is no guaranteeing that Dudley, who is more of a career backup, can lock in another long-term deal. The smart money say Dudley stays in his deal and remains with the Bucks; both parties like the fit and given their success so far, it’s hard to argue with the results.

Garrett Temple – Washington Wizards – $981,084 – $1,100,602

When Brad Beal went down to injury early in the season Temple played a bigger role and posted some solid numbers, but on the season his big games have waned and his playing time has dropped considerably. Just over one million isn’t a crazy number to walk away from, but given that Temple has a role in Washington and is part of the group, he may opt to stay where he is getting an opportunity. This one may not matter much in the grand scheme and his current contract of $981,000 won’t matter much in trade.

Danny Granger – Miami Heat – $2,077,000 – $2,170,465

As they say Father Time is undefeated. In Granger’s case this couldn’t be truer. He has posted a few solid games for the HEAT, but has almost as many games with just a single field goal. The smart money says Granger stays in his deal if he wants to continue to play. There is a growing sense that he may opt to hang them up at some point, but that’s likely not next year. The HEAT have sniffed at the trade market and if their season continues to slide out of reach its not out of the question that Miami looks at trades and that’s where Granger’s $2.07 million may come into play. He is a reserve now, which stinks for a guy that was once an All-Star; he holds little trade value by himself, especially if it looks like he’ll opt-in.

Paul Pierce – Washington Wizards – $5,305,000 – $5,543,725

Pierce has fit in nicely in Washington and it looks likely that the marriage will continue. The Wizards wouldn’t consider trading Pierce, so his option will have no bearing on this season. The Wizards hope Pierce wants to stay; all indications are that he will.

Jeff Green – Boston Celtics – $9,200,000 – $9,200,000

The Celtics are expected to consummate their multi-team trade with the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans today, which will put Green in Memphis. How long he stays there is really up in the air. The Grizzlies are right up against it luxury tax wise and with Marc Gasol getting a new payday this summer the Grizzlies might not be willing to do much more than the $9.2 million Green is owed. If things go well in Memphis, Green may opt out and try and re-up on a longer term deal; that’s the more likely scenario. If things go ho-hum or are below expectations Green has some layer of security in picking up the option. His option won’t have any bearing on this season, but it is one to watch coming into the offseason. The Grizz are not giving up a ton to land Green, so if he walks it’s not a devastating blow.

Luol Deng – Miami Heat – $9,714,461 – $10,151,612

Teams have been at Miami about Deng for several weeks and its possible the HEAT looks to trade him. Both sides say there is nothing to that, but there is a sense that Deng isn’t a good fit in Miami and would look to hit free agency again in July, hence why Miami is listening to offers. The Grizzlies tried to extract Deng and were told it was going to take multiple first round picks, so that sort of killed that. As the HEAT’s season progresses it’s likely that Miami looks at Deng deals more seriously as it seems likely that he’s opting out. Miami does have the option of asking Deng to opt-in, but it seems they may not want him to.

LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers – $20,644,400 – $21,573,398

This one is pretty easy. LeBron isn’t going anywhere. His deal was constructed to give him the most leverage and flexibility possible to ensure he has power within the organization and that he can re-set his contract as early and as often as he wants. That was the deal that landed him back home and everyone in the Cavs organization was comfortable with that. There will of course be rumors of LeBron leaving, but unless the franchise goes rouge on him or starts refusing to consider his voice, its highly doubtful he’s anywhere but Cleveland next year.

Mike Miller – Cleveland Cavaliers – $2,732,000 – $2,854,940

Miller hasn’t exactly blown the door off in his stint in Cleveland, posting career lows in field goal percentage and near career lows in three point percentage. Miller was brought in as a veteran to bolster the Cavs’ bench and while his numbers have not been great he has played his role. Given where Miller is career wise it’s likely that he stays in his deal. It’s hard to imagine he’d command a better financial package, plus he likes playing with LeBron.

Corey Brewer – Houston Rockets – $4,702,500 – $4,905,000

Brewer is interesting, because he likely would command a multi-year deal in free agency; he just might be able to command $4.9 million per year. The answer here is for Brewer to opt-out and Houston to re-up at a better per year price. That might happen. This one could go either way, though. The Rockets just acquired Brewer, so his option won’t play a role in how Houston handles him, but it will be interesting to watch this summer as Brewer does have a lot of fans around NBA front offices.

Brandon Rush – Golden State Warriors – $1,145,685 – $1,270,964

Rush isn’t exactly blowing the door off his second stint in the Bay Area. He is shooting 20.8 percent from the field and a whopping 8.3 percent from the three point line. He has logged zero points in 11 of his 16 games this season. If there is a recipe for opting in, that’s what it looks like. Given how poorly Rush has played this season it’s safe to say he has zero trade value. The question becomes should the Warriors cut him lose this summer if he opts in? The Warriors rolled the dice that Rush could return to form after his left knee ACL tear in 2012, but so far the answer seems to be no.

Chase Budinger – Minnesota Timberwolves – $5,000,000 – $5,000,000

Hard to imagine Budinger landing a free agent deal paying more than $5 million per year, however he could land a multi-year deal and pick his situation, so there is some level of appeal to that from a player perspective. The Wolves have been trying to move Budinger for almost two years, so there is little trade value there. As the deadline gets closer there is always a chance Minnesota finds a taker. Budinger is posting a career low 36.2 percent from the field and just 33 percent from the three point line. Unless he gets packed in with another asset, hard to see Budinger not being back in his deal; the question is can Minnesota trade it?

Al-Farouq Aminu – Dallas Mavericks – $981,084 – $1,100,602

The fact that Aminu was available to Dallas for the minimum was something of a surprise last summer. He has posted solid production for the Mavericks this season in limited minutes, including a few double digit scoring games and a couple of double digit rebound games. It would be surprising if Aminu stays in his deal and does not opt for free agency. The Mavericks are unlikely to move him regardless he is great production for the value.

Alan Anderson – Brooklyn Nets – $1,276,061 – $1,333,484

Like Aminu, Anderson provides solid production for his contract value. However, its unlikely that Anderson is going to command a lot more than the $1.33 million he’s owed by Brooklyn. It’s possible he opts out simply to pick his next team. Anderson is a proven role player, but it’s doubtful he can do a lot better financially. The Nets are active in the trade market and Anderson’s contract could get tossed in to make trade math work, so there is a chance he is moved, but not as someone the team can extract a lot of value individually for.

Cartier Martin – Detroit Pistons – $1,145,685 – $1,270,964

Much like Anderson, Martin’s deal isn’t overly valuable in trade and while Martin is a solid role player he is posting dreadful numbers for the Pistons and playing virtually no role. It is likely that Martin opts in to his deal, as his play would hardly garner a $1.27 million offer. This is the kind of contract that could get packed in around a deadline deal, but that seems unlikely for the Pistons.

David West – Indiana Pacers – $12,000,000 – $12,600,000

There early indications are that West wants to stay in his deal and in Indiana. However, the Pacers will likely need him to opt-in before the deadline to ensure it. West may be the Pacers’ best trade chip, especially for a playoff team looking for a proven, rugged post player. The problem is the Pacers value West both on the floor and in the locker room. If West is unwilling to opt-in the Pacers have to explore his value. If West opts-in, you can take him off the trade board completely.

Kevin Love – Cleveland Cavaliers – $15,719,062 – $16,744,218

This hasn’t gone as scripted has it? Love is posting on the low end of his career averages, but not by a ton. His worst season from the field was 2012-13 when he played 18 games and kicked in 35.2 percent from the field, so this season’s 44 percent is about on par with the low end of his average. His 34.5 percent from three is also on the low end of his average. He posted 37.6 percent from three last year. There has always been a sense that Love was opting out of the final year of his contract, that’s why the Wolves opted to trade him. The question is what does he command in free agency? Love becomes eligible for a first year maximum worth 30 percent of the salary cap, that’s expected to be $19.5 million. There have been reports that Love and the Cavaliers already have an understanding on what Love’s next contract needs to look like, however they are prohibited from making any kind of agreement until July. It seems more likely than not that Love is opting out and re-signing in Cleveland, that’s been the plan. However, with how the season has gone there seems to be a small window in which that might not happen as scripted. The smart money is still on the Cavs and Love reaching a new deal in July. If the season continue to be up and down, though, the certainty factor on that might drop a little.

Ed Davis – Los Angeles Lakers – $981,084 – $1,100,602

Hard to image Davis stays in a minimum level contract next season, if only to opt-out and force a new deal in LA with the Lakers. The problem with a minimum level player on what’s basically an ending contract is its nearly impossible to return anything of real value in trade. Davis is clearly a trade chip for the Lakers, so as the deadline approaches his name likely plays a starring role in trade talk, but given what he makes, unless he’s combined with another player, his salary alone won’t return much and the dream of a first round draft pick for Davis, a likely free agent without Bird rights, seems a little misplaced.

Thaddeus Young – Minnesota Timberwolves – $9,410,869 – $9,971,739 – E

Young has an early termination option, but given that he’s owed $9.97 million it’s hard to imagine he uses it. Young is well thought of as a player, but it’s doubtful he could command that kind of money as a free agent. Equally, Minnesota likes him a lot and views him as the right kind of veteran to help rebuild the team. Does Young want that is a question, and will the Timberwolves have to explore his value if they don’t get assurances he’d stay in his deal? Both sides could agree to an opt-out and re-sign scenario where he gets long-term security in exchange for a slightly lower price.

Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets – $15,719,062 – $16,744,218

The Nets are actively trying to trade Lopez, so where he lands may have the biggest impact on his option. The belief is that Lopez is staying in his deal and cashing the final $16.7 million owed him. That could help the Nets extract more value, but it also means the acquiring team has to take on that $16.7 million next year. It still remains possible that Lopez opts out and trades his $16.7 million for a longer term $55-$60 million deal, although that’s not considered his first option. The unknown of Lopez’s future will impact his trade value. An acquiring team may require a decision one way or the other before consummating a deal.

Roy Hibbert – Indiana Pacers – $14,898,938 – $15,514,031

Much like West, the Pacers first option would be for Hibbert to opt-in and the dance in Indiana continues. The problem is there is a sense Hibbert is going to opt-out and look for a new long-term deal and possibly a fresh start somewhere else. The Pacers can ask Hibbert to opt-in and make their trade decisions from there. It is likely the Pacers at least explore Hibbert’s trade value, but like Lopez, staying in his deal will impact what the Pacers could get in return for Hibbert and an acquiring team likely will want an answer on his future before parting with real assets for him. If Hibbert won’t give the Pacers assurances, they have to move him because it’s far more likely he walks than stays in that scenario.

Al Jefferson – Charlotte Hornets – $13,500,000 – $13,500,000

The good news for the Hornets is that Jefferson recently chose them in free agency. The bad news is Jefferson is really the only player in Charlotte having a consistent season. The other problem for Charlotte is Jefferson has clearly out-played his $13.5 million salary and in signing a two-year deal does not have full Bird rights, but is eligible for 175 percent of his previous salary under the “Early Bird” rules, which can get him to the NBA max. It is likely that Jefferson opts-out. The question is can Charlotte get assurances that he’ll re-sign? If they cannot, then they have to explore his trade value, simply because they cannot afford to lose an All-Star caliber player and have nothing to show for it.

The 2015 NBA Trade Deadline is February 19 at 3:00pm EST, so teams have about 38 days to figure out where they stand in the trade market. With so many deals having dropped already, some things might have to happen sooner than later, as teams don’t want the dance to end and them be without a partner.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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