The option deadline is typically a series of no-brainer announcements, in which NBA teams declare what everyone already knows: that many of their recent draft picks are useful, and worthy of keeping on an economical rookie-scale salary, either on the basis of production or potential. It also gets just a little bit awkward for those young players who find their perfectly reasonable option salaries declined. It’s a very public condemnation of the given player’s talent and ability, and an acknowledgment that said player doesn’t figure into the team’s future, despite having to suit up for them in the coming season.
This is where we find Earl Clark, the confounding but talented forward essentially renounced by the Phoenix Suns. According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, the Suns announced that they have picked up center Robin Lopez’s 2011-2012 option for a paltry $2.87 million. They did not, however, announce their intent to pick up Earl Clark’s option for next season, which would have put them back just $2.03 million for the No. 14 pick in last year’s draft.
Clark struggled in his rookie season, but he also wasn’t given much of an opportunity. He averaged just 2.7 points per game (13.2 points per 36 minutes) on 37.1% shooting from the field without contributing much in any other statistical category. That said, it was his rookie season. Clark’s summer league showing didn’t exactly help his case, but it’s nonetheless rare for a team to give up on a lottery pick so quickly. It wasn’t so long ago that Clark’s versatility was being lauded by draft pundits, and yet the Suns have already definitively decided that he won’t be worth a rookie-scale salary a year from now.
They may not be wrong. Considering the depth of their familiarity with Clark, they’re probably not. But this is still a bit odd. According to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, only three lottery picks have had their third-year options declined since the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement introduced such options: Joe Alexander, Yaroslav Korolev and Patrick O’Bryant. If one were looking to align themselves with basketball’s most promising, this would not be the company they keep. In fact, Korolev and O’Bryant are no longer in the NBA at all, and Joe Alexander looks to have just barely latched onto the New Orleans Hornets’ underbelly. Clark, once considered a promising prospect, may soon be joining them on the NBA’s fringe.