As you probably know, rookie-scale contracts include team options for the third and fourth seasons. Teams get to evaluate the players they draft for two years that are guaranteed fully and then get to decide whether to keep those players on the back end of the contract. Most of the time rookies have to really disappoint to not see their cheap options picked up but the Spurs are no strangers to cutting young guys loose, as they declined team options on James Anderson and Ian Mahinmi in the recent past.
The Spurs have two players on rookie-scale contracts at the moment: Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph. In an instance of strange scheduling, the deadline to pick up their contract options is October 31, way before the Spurs get to see how they perform this upcoming season. That's not a problem at all for Kawhi Leonard, who would have received an extension already if the rules allowed it. But it wouldn't be crazy to see Cory Joseph's option declined, at least according to SBNAtion's Mark Deeks, of ShamSports fame:
As the penultimate pick in 2011, Joseph is certainly cheap enough at only $2,023,261 in his fourth season. However, his own team has twice placed players ahead of him with Nando de Colo and Patrick Mills, and thus Joseph fits no obvious role with the Spurs.
Working in his favor are strong performances in the D-League last season and in the FIBA America tournament this summer. Joseph has talent and has demonstrated that at levels close to the NBA one. However, given that the Spurs have plenty of competition for the only role Joseph can fit, it seems unnecessary to guarantee him NBA salary if they can't guarantee him NBA minutes.
Deeks really does make good points. As excited as some of us are about Joseph and his potential, he has so far failed to become a regular rotation player and will likely battle Mills and De Colo for minutes. That $2 million price tag is great for a consistent contributor but if there are doubts in PATFO's minds that the backup PG the Spurs need is on the roster right now, they could consider cutting ties with all three and getting a cheap veteran next offseason. Eric Maynor, for example, is being paid $2 million and has a better track record than Joseph while still being young. Guys like Toney Douglas and Darren Collison got the minimum or close to it. Mediocre backup PGs are not expensive and that's exactly what Joseph has been so far.
In terms of cap management, the Spurs' long-term view wouldn't be affected by picking up the option, as they would have the possibility to either extend Joseph a qualifying offer or let him walk after next season. But they could carve up around $11 million of cap space by letting Bonner, Diaw, Mills, De Colo, Baynes and Joseph - all non core players, unlike Ginobili and Splitter - leave in free agency. The financial motivations might not be particularly strong but they definitely are there to decline Joseph's option and he hasn't done enough on the court to tip the scales in his favor.
And yet I'm convinced his option will get picked up, for two reasons:
1) The Spurs value continuity more than most teams and with a lot of roster turnover potentially on the horizon, having a guy with a few years with the team under his belt could prove beneficial. It seems very possible that De Colo, Mills or likely both will be gone after next season, unless they have breakout years. But more importantly, one or more of Bonner, Diaw and Baynes will also likely be gone, as their contracts are expiring. The Spurs frontcourt could be in for a renovation and It would be so much easier to facilitate the transition if the rest of the rotation was already set.
2) Joseph is only 22 years old and still improving. Cory was drafted so young after his freshman year in UT that he is the same age as C.J. McCollum and Michael Carter-Williams, both lottery picks in this year's draft. Even if his ceiling doesn't seem to be higher than solid starter, giving him time to figure things out could net the Spurs a good young piece for the post-Duncan future. The work ethic is there and his summers with the incredibly young and talented Canadian team could help him unlock his full potential.
Joseph has done nothing to suggest he is even an average NBA player yet, and the Spurs will need to make a decision about his future before they get to see him perform in which will likely be his first full season with the team. That clearly increases the chances of his option not being picked up. But the commitment the Spurs have demonstrated regarding his development and the way Joseph has humbly worked on his craft leads me to believe he will get the benefit of the doubt and will be with the team next season.
So what do you think, Pounders? Will the Spurs pick up Cory Joseph's option? Should they pick it up or go for a more established veteran next off-season?