What does player option mean in the NBA and how can it be used by teams and players during the free agency?

<a href='' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer'>Bobby Portis</a> has a decision to make about his player option
Bobby Portis has a decision to make about his player option

NBA free agency is just around the corner, which means that player options are being picked up and declined across the league. Milwaukee Bucks champion Bryn Forbes is the latest player to decline his option and therefore will be seeking a new home when the window opens for negotiations to begin on Monday.

In this article, we will examine why player options can be beneficial to both teams and players and what exactly they are in the context of free agency.

What is a player option and how are they used in the NBA free agency window?

<a href='' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer'>Chris Paul</a> is the most highly rated star with a player option this summer
Chris Paul is the most highly rated star with a player option this summer

With player power growing ever stronger in the NBA, 'player options' are one of the most obvious examples of star's empowerment to decide their own future.

With this option, a player can decide whether to stay another year with their team or become an unrestricted free agent. For example, if a player has a contract that runs for three years but has an option in the fourth, exercising it would extend the contract through the fourth year while declining it would automatically put them into free agency, open join another team.

The player option is non-negotiable and therefore cannot be revoked if it is already exercised. They also do not depend on how the player performs during a season or how many appearances they make and cannot have a lower salary.

There are a lot of benefits to players opting out of their deal. Most importantly, it gives them financial flexibility, allowing them to weigh up all impending offers. It also forces the hand of their former team to re-sign them if they have proved they are worth of a bigger pay-day.

However, it can come at a risk. Sticking or twisting is a challenging scenario for any player. Take Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis for example. Forbes has, on Tuesday, opted out of his contract and will test free agency, while Portis could test free agency too if he wants a pay rise. In doing so, both could be risking the fact that the Bucks may choose not to re-sign them. Being in a winning franchise can be more important to players than a slightly larger pay cheque with no hopes of competing for a ring.

This is where teams' power comes into the equation. Bigger markets know that players will want to exercise their option if there is a chance of a title. It allows them to avoid paying larger salaries to players they know should be earning more. Alternatively, organizations can use their powers of persuasion if they believe a player is ready to decline his option by stating how big a contract they could offer.

In the 2021 NBA free agency market, the biggest names that could decline their player option are Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Montrezl Harrell, Serge Ibaka and Josh Richardson. It remains to be seen how many of them will enter free agency, and how many re-sign.

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Edited by Arnav Kholkar
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