You’ve all heard the musical question by The Clash “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Perhaps you’ve even posed it to yourself in a given situation (like when your team is getting blown out early in the fourth quarter and you’re wondering if you can beat the traffic and get home quicker).
But this query is somewhat rare in the world of an NBA player. That’s because the coach, general manager, and/or owner generally determine whether a player stays with the team or is traded, released, or not re-signed. Certainly, the player has some input, but the choice as to where he wants to play is ultimately out of his hands in most cases.
The notable exception to this rule comes in the form of a contractual clause known as a player termination option. It’s just what it sounds like: after a player’s contract has expired, he can decide whether to stay with the team another year at a predetermined salary, or go out onto the free market in the hopes of being signed elsewhere. These options are usually not given out like candy by franchises.
Now that the 2013-14 NBA season in coming to a close, the guys who have player options in their NBA contracts must choose whether to remain with their teams for 2014-15, or let their contracts expire and entertain offers from other clubs. Usually, players who do refuse to exercise their player options do so because they hope that another team will either pay them more money or give them a chance to compete for a title. Of course, nothing’s guaranteed – they could be offered less money or be told that other teams aren’t interested in their services. It’s the classic “bird in the hand, two in the bush” conundrum, and the optimum choice is different for every player.
For a few players, failing to exercise their player options would see them leaving a considerable amount of money on the table. Here are the ten NBA players with the most expensive player contract options this off-season.
All contract information was taken from Spotrac.com
10. Mo Williams, Portland Trail Blazers – $2,771,340
This particular case already appears to be decided. Shortly after the Blazers were eliminated from the second round of the NBA Playoffs by San Antonio, Williams announced that he will opt out of the final season of his contract. But he has expressed an interest in staying in Portland, saying, “[H]opefully it works out. Hopefully the brasses up top come together and I’m here for a long time.” Certainly, Williams played his part in helping the Trail Blazers win their first playoff series since 2000, contributing 9.7 points and 4.3 assists per game off the bench (with more assists than any other non-starter in the league). And while Portland may be able to offer him $3.2 million next year, the 31-year old Williams has stated that he would prefer a three-year deal from his next team.
9. Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets – $3,326,235
AK-47’s future with the Nets is complicated by the fact that two teammates also have player options: Alan Anderson ($1.1 million) and Andray Blatche ($1.4 million). And since almost half of the players on the Brooklyn roster aren’t 100% locks for 2014 training camp, it’s really difficult to predict whether Kirilenko will stay in the Big Apple. Many fans were confused about how head coach Jason Kidd used the 33-year old Russian, who posted the lowest numbers of his career this past season. He also recorded just 18 points in the five-game playoff series against Miami, one of which saw him get a DNP-Coach’s Decision. If he can get an offer from a team where he might be a better fit, expect Kirilenko to take it.
8. Darrell Arthur, Denver Nuggets – $3,457,149
According to the Denver Post, Darrell Arthur has indicated that he will exercise his option and return with the Nuggets next season. The forward had to split time with teammates J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried this past year, but he was considered to be Denver’s best big man on defense. But Arthur improved his offense, too, making 85.5% of his free throws and netting 24 three-pointers – which equaled the amount that he had even attempted during the two previous seasons combined. The 26-year old battled some injuries this season and was undoubtedly frustrated with the Nuggets’ performance given that he had played his first four seasons in Memphis during the Grizzlies’ rise to prominence. But it’s possible that Arthur might be trade bait in 2014-15 if Denver GM Tim Connelly wants to take the franchise in a different direction.
7. Joel Anthony, Boston Celtics – $3.8 million
It had to be a little aggravating for Anthony this past season playing for a rebuilding Boston squad after he earned two championship rings with Miami during his seven-plus seasons there. But he was dealt to the Celtics in January in a three-team trade with the Golden State Warriors for Toney Douglas, and averaged just 7.1 minutes per game in 21 contests this past year. However, CSNNW’s Chris Haynes reported that Anthony will exercise his option to stay in Beantown for the upcoming season, with Haynes’ source saying, “Although Anthony isn’t too thrilled with the current rebuilding phase of the organization, passing up a sizable guaranteed salary is not something he’s willing to do.” That said, Boston’s roster in October might look significantly different from the one that missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, and Anthony’s tenure in a Celtics uniform could end this time next year.
6. Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons – $4.5 million
Jerebko’s numbers have generally declined from one season to the next over his four-year career in Detroit, so you’d think he would be crazy to opt out of his contract a year early. That’s because it’s highly doubtful that any other NBA team would want to pay at least $4.5 million for a 6’10” power forward who averaged just 4.2 points in 11.6 minutes last season on a team that failed to win 30 games. After playing in Europe for three years, the Swedish-born Jerebko was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, but has yet to duplicate the success he achieved overseas. It will be interesting to see how new Detroit head coach/basketball operations president Stan Van Gundy uses Jerebko this upcoming season.
5. Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat – $4.62 million
Haslem doesn’t have to make a decision on his option until after the Heat
win another title finish their playoff run. But given that he has earned three rings with Miami, it’s going to be tough to leave that track record of success behind. The most probable scenario where Haslem would depart would involve one or more of Miami’s Big Three – LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade – choosing to exercise their early termination options (which are different from player options) and test the free agent market after the season. That could potentially trigger a roster makeover by the franchise, given that eight other players have expiring contracts after this season and another has a team option. But when if the Heat win a third straight NBA title, it’s quite possible that the team’s nucleus may stay intact – and the 33-year old Haslem likely would stay as well.
4. Jason Richardson, Philadelphia 76ers – $6,601,125
The former 2001 first-round pick has played for five different teams over the past seven seasons, but sat out the 2013-14 campaign after having knee surgery. Given that, it’s hard to fathom how any other NBA club will take a chance on a 33-year old guard who hasn’t played in over a year? Much less shell out $6.6 million-plus? So, he’ll likely exercise his option. Health permitting, Richardson will suit up for Philly’s team in 2014-15, even though the squad won’t be marginally better than the 19-game winner atrocity that took the floor this year.
If When the Sixers flop next year, they’ll have enough cap space to be a player in the lucrative 2015 free agent market – and Richardson will more than likely move on.
3. Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns – $6.8 million
Frye’s career reminds you of the legend behind the name of the city in which he plays. His life was upended when he was diagnosed with heart disease and had to sit out the 2012-13 season. But he surprised a lot of people by reporting to training camp last September, and then positively baffled fans by starting all 82 games for the Suns – the first time any player has done that in Phoenix in four seasons. In addition to his comeback story, Frye has always been a fan favorite, having played at the University of Arizona just down the road. And although he hasn’t expressed a desire to opt out of his contract, the Arizona Republic reported that Frye would like to have a deal that allows the 31-year old to retire in Phoenix. Look for him to stay in the Valley of the Sun this season, and hopefully accept less money in his new contract to get what he wants.
2. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs – $10 million
Like Haslem, Tim Duncan doesn’t have to make a decision on his contract for a little while. But it’s hard to predict exactly how this scenario will play out. On the one hand, Duncan is (inexplicably) at the top of his game at age 38, playing for a team that probably has the best chance at dethroning the Heat for the NBA title. However, the Virgin Islands native does have four championship rings himself, and he hasn’t played for anyone other than coach Gregg Popovich; leading some to speculate that if Pop were to retire, Duncan would follow him into the sunset. Former coach George Karl told ESPN that he heard this would be Duncan’s last year in the league; while AirAlamo.com’s Bill Simpson opines that Duncan will not only stay, but sign another contract. Duncan himself is a private person, so he hasn’t shown any hints either way. The verdict? You wouldn’t think Duncan would retire or play elsewhere… but who really knows?
1. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies – $16,938,333
First and foremost, Zach Randolph has gone on record saying that we would like to remain in Memphis and perhaps retire there. Plus, his play for the Grizz was stellar this past season and was a big reason why Memphis made a late run and got into the postseason (even though he had to sit out Game 7 of the series against Oklahoma City for shoving Steven Adams). However, he is due almost $17 million, and the team will have trouble paying him that kind of coin. It’s possible that if Randolph chooses to return but doesn’t allow his contract to be restructured, then he might become trade bait sooner or later. In short, pretty much everybody wants Randolph to exercise his option to stay – it’ll just come down to whether he and the franchise can come to a mutually-beneficial arrangement.