There’s a little thing in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement known as starter criteria which could have an effect on Kelly Oubre and the Wizards in restricted free agency next summer, if he and the team don’t agree to an early extension this summer.
The way it works is that if a player taken between the 10th and 30th overall pick in the draft starts at least 41 games or plays at least 2000 minutes the season before they enter restricted free agency, or if they average those numbers over the previous two seasons, their qualifying offer is automatically raised to the same price as the qualifying offer for the ninth overall pick.
Last season, Oubre only started 11 games, but he played 2,231 minutes. If he stays healthy, he shouldn’t have any issues reaching starter criteria. All he needs to do is play at least 1,769 minutes this season to average 2,000 minutes over the last two seasons.
Assuming he hits that threshold, his qualifying offer—the minimum offer the Wizards need to offer before free agency to make him a restricted free agent and maintain the ability to match an offer sheet—would jump up from $4.48 million to $4.91 million. In turn, Oubre’s cap hold would jump from $9.62 million to $10.88 million.
You may recall the Wizards have dealt with this unique quirk before. Back in 2014, Trevor Booker met the starter criteria after starting 45 games for the team that season, due in large part to Nene missing a big chunk of time with injuries. The Wizards still extended Booker the higher qualifying offer, but in the end, they decided against matching Utah’s two-year, $10 million offer sheet and watched a solid, homegrown player leave.
The good news for the Wizards is the dynamics of restricted free agency should work more in the Wizards’ favor this time around. Even if Oubre’s qualifying offer gets bumped up because of the starter criteria, they’re already over the cap next summer so they won’t lose any spending options.
The real fear factor with the starter criteria for the Wizards isn’t what it will do their cap sheet, but what it tells the rest of the league about his value. Booker was Washington’s best-kept secret until he was thrust into the starting lineup and demanded the opposition’s attention. If someone misses time this season and Oubre gets an extended audition as a starter, odds are it’s only going to drive up his price this summer.
Then again, keeping him in the shadows might be a case of the Wizards cutting off their nose to spite their face. Last season, the Wizards’ five-most effective lineups that played at least 50 minutes all included Oubre. In a season where they need to get back on track, they can’t afford to be cute with how they dole out minutes.