Player options are one of the trickier aspects in the modern era of NBA contract negotiation. Giving a player the option to have more flexibility near the end of their contract may give you a better chance of getting them to agree to a deal, but it also puts you in a position where they might get back on the free agent market sooner than you hoped or planned. Or, it could mean you’re stuck with them for an extra year if you sign them to a deal that’s above market value. Either way, the team usually winds up losing once a player makes a decision on their player option.
Next summer, Jason Smith and Jodie Meeks will both have decisions to make with the player options on the last year of their deals. Smith has a $5.4 million option and Meeks has a $3.4 million option.
Both deals seemed like overpays at the time, and money has dried up a lot since the salary cap spike in 2016. Patrick Patterson, a player who would have commanded over $10 million per year last summer, wound up signing a three year, $16 million deal similar to the one Smith got with the Wizards. Arron Afflalo, who offers more defensively and shot only 1 percent less than Meeks from deep over the past two years, wound up getting much less on the market this summer because he couldn’t find a deal early in free agency.
Given that, it seems more likely than not that Smith and Meeks will opt-in to the final year of their deals rather than test the free agent market. Still, there are several reasons why Smith and/or Meeks could opt out, depending on how things shake out between now and July 2018:
- Injuries could put someone in a position where they get lots of opportunities to showcase themselves alongside John Wall. Imagine if Bradley Beal went down for a bit and Jodie Meeks got a chance to play 20+ minutes per game with Wall. Meeks could put up some big numbers and quickly rebuild the value that he lost over the past two seasons. Likewise, if Mahinmi has injury issues again next season, Smith could have another opportunity to impress, especially if he continues to develop his three-pointer.
- Even if they don’t play well enough to get a lot of teams interested, they could play just well enough so that they could opt out and try to coerce the Wizards into giving them a raise using their Early Bird Rights.
- Both players are on the wrong side of 30. If either one has an opportunity to get a multi-year deal next summer, that might be more lucrative than waiting it out another year, even if they have to give up some money in year one.
- If Washington takes a step backwards next season, Smith or Meeks might decide to bail so they can go ring-chasing, or just so they can get away.
The issue the Wizards face with Smith and Meeks is similar to the one they faced with Paul Pierce in 2015, though certainly on a much smaller scale. After Pierce opted out of the second year of his two-year deal and signed a deal with the Clippers, Washington had to scramble to find a way to replace his contributions. They cobbled together Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, and Gary Neal in an attempt to patch things over, but it didn’t work and Washington took a step back the following season.
At least if the same thing were to happen with Smith and/or Meeks, Washington wouldn’t have to deal with the self-imposed restriction of signing players to one-year deals to maintain salary cap flexibility. However, there is the very real issue of the luxury tax that could make it difficult to replace a player if they exceed their pay rate next summer.
Again, the safe money is on Meeks and Smith opting-in so they can collect on the final year of their deals and get money they most likely couldn’t get anywhere else. But if the best ending here is overpaying marginal talent, that just goes to show how bad player options can be for teams, especially when you give them to players who may not be good enough to command them in the first place.
Who is more likely to opt out next summer?
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