NBA rookie-scale contracts give first-round picks two guaranteed seasons followed by two years with team options. Unlike most team options, these must be exercised a full year in advance.
So, a team decides on a third-year option before a player’s second season and on a fourth-year option before a player’s third season. The annual deadline is Oct. 31 (or next business day if it doesn’t fall on one).
Given that the rookie scale is team friendly, many of these options are no-brainers. Of course, the Trail Blazers want Damian Lillard for $4,236,287 in 2015-16.
But there are several close calls around the NBA, including in Houston.
Though Rockets coach Kevin McHale called the Rockets’ power forward position open, saying he needs to see more physical defense and rebounding from the position, a vote of confidence for his returning power forwards, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, is expected before the season begins.
The Rockets intend to pick up their fourth-year option on the contracts for both players, a person with knowledge of the plan said on Tuesday.
Exercising Jones’ $2,489,530 option is an easy call. He’s Houston’s starting power forward, and that’s great value for any starter, let alone an underrated young player like Jones.
Keeping Motiejunas for $2,288,205 in 2015-16 is a tougher call – and one that will produce ripple effects throughout the roster.
The Rockets have 14 guaranteed contracts plus Patrick Beverley, Kostas Papanikolaou, Josh Powell, Robert Covington, Tarik Black and Akil Mitchell. They must trim their roster to reach the regular-season maximum of 15 players.
I thought Motiejunas was a candidate to go, but the Rockets aren’t going to exercise his option just to waive him. This means, barring an unexpected development between now and month’s end, he’s staying.
Covington and Mitchell each have $150,000 guarantees, but in a roster crunch, the Rockets can eat that money. In fact, they were probably planning on doing so with Mitchell, giving him a guarantee so they can waive him and assign him to their D-League affiliate. Powell and Black are unguaranteed and easy drops.
That leaves 16 players for 15 spots.
Beverley has an unguaranteed salary, but he’s Houston’s starting point guard. He won’t be waived.
Papanikolaou, drafted in 2012, just came over. His salary is unguaranteed until tomorrow, but why would the Rockets sign him now – and why would he sign – if he were going to be waived before the preseason gets underway? His salary ($4,591,066) is indicative of a player who will stick in Houston for at least a season.
That would mean 14 players – all with fully guaranteed contracts – are vying 13 spots.
Dwight Howard and James Harden obviously aren’t going anywhere. As covered, Jones and Motiejunas are in.
So, we’re down to 10 players for nine spots.
Houston signed Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Joey Dorsey, Francisco Garcia, Jeff Adrien, Ish Smith, Troy Daniels and Nick Johnson this offseason. Plans can change on the fly, but obviously the Rockets wouldn’t sign someone to a fully guaranteed contract without an idea of they’d use him in the upcoming season.
And then there were two and one roster spot remaining – Isaiah Canaan and Jason Terry.
Canaan, the No. 34 pick in 2013, played just 22 games as a rookie. However, he impressed in the D-League, averaging 21.8 points and 8.2 assists per game.
Terry, 37, missed most of last season due to injury. The Kings gave Houston draft picks just to take him. The Rockets have probably already gotten their main return in the deal, though Terry could provide leadership and a spark off the bench. But he’s still battling health issues.
The competition between Canaan and Terry is on, but other Rockets could fall into the race with a poor preseason.