DeShaun Thomas is going to accept the Spurs' required tender if it's offered, according to international basketball insider David Pick. The deadline to do so is September 6.
This bit of early-September news about a marginal NBA prospect actually has some interesting repercussions for every NBA franchise. It could, in fact, alter the way teams use their second round selections. To understand why that is, we need a little background.
Leading up to the 2013 draft, the Spurs were reportedly looking for a second round pick that would be willing to spend time in Europe. They had their sights set on Syracuse's James Southerland, according to Buckeye Extra, but had to alter their plan when Southerland refused to accept that fate.
"They wanted him to play for their summer-league team. But they wanted him to go to Europe and they wouldn't guarantee James after that season," said Southerland's agent Andy Shiffman. "He would've come back from Europe (next year) in no better situation than if he had gone undrafted, except that they would still have his rights. They weren't going to guarantee him anything for the following year. Not a roster spot. Not even guaranteed money."
Thomas, who infamously refused to give the Spurs his phone number during the combine, apparently accepted the deal. Comments he made when he agreed to a contract in France suggest he wasn't thrilled with going overseas but he needed the money and had no place in San Antonio. He played well for Nanterre and signed with Euroleague powerhouse Barcelona, where he showed he could handle himself against high level competition. He built himself a nice career in Europe and emerged as a viable NBA prospect.
The Spurs, just like they did with Southerland, in all likelihood never guaranteed that they would bring him over. This year there were roster spots open but Thomas was never rumored to be in the run for one. Now it seems Thomas is done waiting for them. He's essentially forcing their hand to either sign him or give up his rights. How? By threatening to sign the required tender.
A required tender is an offer teams have to make second round picks to retain their rights. It's equal to a rookie minimum contract. The Spurs have offered Thomas a required tender twice already: the year he was drafted and prior to last season. Thomas never accepted it. The first time it was probably understood that he wouldn't, which is why he was drafted. The second time, Thomas likely had the chance to make more money in Europe. It was a win-win situation for the Spurs, as they could keep exclusive rights to him without actually paying him or using a roster spot on him.
Now things have changed. The Spurs have to extend the required tender to keep Thomas' rights but they clearly don't want Thomas on the roster right now. Otherwise, they would have added him sooner. Thomas will accept the offer, which forces the Spurs into one of two decisions that will be a win-win, this time for Thomas: They either make the offer, keep him and he makes it to the NBA or they don't make the offer and lose rights to him, allowing him to negotiate with any team he chooses.
Thomas is doing this just a year after K.J. McDaniels did something similar with the 76ers. Philadelphia wanted to lock McDaniels up on a multi-year contract with little guaranteed money, potentially securing a bargain. McDaniels instead took the tender and played on a one-year non-guaranteed minimum contract. The Sixers decided to trade him mid-way though the season to the Rockets to avoid having to deal with him as a restricted free agent. This offseason he signed a contract that will pay him the same amount the fifth pick in the draft is getting.
The situation with McDaniels could affect how early second round picks behave in the future. If a player is not happy with the offer he's getting or with the team that drafted him, he could decide to simply take the required tender, play one year there and earn more money as a free agent. There's risk involved. A lesser player or someone who had to fight for minutes on a good team could have regretted the decision. For McDaniels, it worked like a charm. He took control of his career with the move, something second round picks have struggled to do in the past.
Now Thomas is showing a path for late second rounders. He went overseas, upped his value, made some money and is now at a point in which he can challenge the restrictions imposed by the team that has exclusive rights to him. Thomas is a fringe prospect but he's played at a high level in Europe and it wouldn't be surprising if an NBA team is interested in him this season. If there are no takers, he can wait another year, knowing that he will have the freedom to negotiate with all 30 teams instead of just a Spurs' front office that doesn't seem interested in adding him anytime soon.
First round picks accept the fact that they have no control over where they land because there is guaranteed money in it for them. On the other hand, second round picks have to negotiate with franchises that have exclusive rights to them but no obligation to offer them guaranteed money. That imbalance in power has resulted in great value contracts for teams. Imagine if DeJuan Blair had taken the tender. After cracking the rotation of a 50-win team and averaging six points and eight rebounds his rookie year, he would have gotten paid. Instead, he made roughly a combined $4 million over four years in San Antonio.
Agents are now figuring out ways to get some leverage back by using the required tender as a weapon. If a team doesn't want to offer an early second rounder substantial guaranteed money, he will only sign for one year. If they show no interest in signing a stashed player but other teams might, they can try to force them to renounce exclusive rights.
This is not a common occurrence, at least not yet. No one followed in McDaniels' footsteps after this draft. What Thomas is doing makes a lot more sense for an American player plying his trade away from home than an international prospect, who is probably happy in Europe. It only works with players that have established some value or know there's someone else that wants them. Not everyone can use the required tender to their advantage.
We could, however, be witnessing the beginning of a trend in which a select group of second rounders use it to take control of their careers. If it happens, it won't cause a seismic change to the league but it will require teams to adjust the way they deal with the draft.
Early second rounders, in the past coveted because they didn't involve mandatory commitments, could see their value lower to the level of late first rounders because of the guaranteed money players selected there will be able to command. The draft-and-stash route late in the second round, meanwhile, could go back to being only an option with foreign prospects that are in no rush to make the jump and will follow the timeline of the team that drafts them instead of their own.