How player options shape the NBA rosters

  • NBA basketball is unique among team sports in that the subtraction or addition of a single star player can dramatically change the fortunes
Jason Mills
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 06 Jan 2019, 16:38 IST

Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors

There used to be a time when the star of your favourite team would spend their entire career with that one team. If not, they certainly played the majority of their career and prime with one team. High profile examples of this are players like Tim Duncan and David Robinson of the Spurs.  Magic Johnson was and always will be a Los Angeles Laker. The same principle applies with greats like Larry Bird in Boston and Isiah Thomas in Detroit. 

Many fans will remember the maximum 7-year-deals players could sign in the mid to late 1990’s and early 2000’s like Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Los Angeles Lakers for 7 years $121 million dollars in 1996. In recent years, NBA general managers have had to be at their creative best to keep their rosters competitive because of all the player movement with star players now signing short three-year-deals. General managers in the NBA have short windows to keep their star players happy. 

One contractual clause that must really have general managers nauseous is the player option. Granted general managers benefit when they can get a player to sign a contract containing a team option giving the manager the control. However, in recent years the player option has destroyed any chance certain franchises have of making a turn around in fortunes. In some cases, those franchises just made bad decisions leading to the loss of a star talent and in others it just feels like some players are holding the franchise hostage. 

One example of how the player option can be mutually beneficially to the team and player was the Dirk Nowitzki player opt out in 2010 and re-signing with the Mavericks on a 4 years $80 million dollar contract. Nowitzki left money on the table which would help Mavericks fill out the roster. Nowitzki could have demanded a 4 year $96 million dollar contract back then.

Right now, general managers like Dell Demps of the Pelicans, Bobby Webster of the Toronto Raptors, Elton Brand of the 76ers and even Kolby Altman with the Cavaliers are now facing the future or will be very soon minus a superstar potentially. The following four contracts will illustrate how the player option has NBA general managers nervous.

#4 Anthony Davis: 5 years $145 million dollar contract Opt out June 2019

New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets
New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets

Anthony Davis is an all-star.  He is even an MVP candidate. However, the New Orleans Pelicans have a poor record at 17-22 and are the second worst team in the NBA’s Western Conference. Davis for his part is a five-time all-star, an all-star game MVP and a 3 time blocked shots leader. In his 7th season he has led the Pelicans to the playoffs twice and as recently as 2018. However, with players like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo expressing interest in playing alongside Davis in Los Angeles or Milwaukee how can Pelicans general manager Dell Demps sit idly by let the trade deadline pass and hope AD honours the remaining two years on his contract? The odds say Demps has to make a trade and move on or the alternative is a huge hole in the roster if AD opts out becoming a free agent and leaves with nothing returning to New Orleans.

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Published 06 Jan 2019, 16:38 IST
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