If your team didn’t agree to an extension with its starlet young player this past offseason – such as is the case with the Atlanta duo of Josh Childress and Josh Smith, the Chicago duo of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, amongst others – then you’ve probably experienced a modicum of conversation as to whether that player will take the one-year qualifying offer this offseason rather than the security of a long-term deal, leaving the distinct possibility that your team will lose a key player and important asset, for nothing in return. Talk of this possibility happening is particularly widespread in the case of Gordon, who hasn’t done much to deny it.
Let me try and set your mind at rest – it’s really not that likely.
Or rather, it should be really unlikely. It might happen, but history suggests that it shouldn’t. This is a list of all the rookie scale players to have accepted the fifth-year qualifying offer in recent times, and how that went for them.
Season before free agency: 9.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 51% shooting
Season spent on Qualifying Offer: 3.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 36% shooting
Season after that: 3.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 47% shooting
Melvin Ely has had one year of average NBA production in seven attempts. That one season was, conveniently, the final one of his rookie contract. Never justifying his draft position, that one year gave Ely the chance to make a bit of money, especially given that it was probably his only other chance at a multi-year contract. (Ely was 28 at the time, after joining the league at age 24. Ely took Charlotte’s one year QO of $3,308,615 (which may or may not have been the only contract that they offered) in preference to taking Phoenix’s multi-year offer, or one from the Warriors.
Unfortunately, Ely’s play then regressed, and he is now on a minimum salary contract with the Hornets.
Season before free agency: 11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 41% shooting
Season spent on Qualifying Offer: 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 41% shooting
Season after that: 6.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 42% shooting
Seattle dodged a bullet when Radmanovic turned down their exceedingly generous offer of a six year, $42 million extension. Why he did this, I don’t know. Maybe he thought he was worth more, or maybe he just hated Seattle. Either way, Seattle reacted, dealing him to the L.A. Clippers for Chris Wilcox, a better player whom they managed to re-sign for half of what Radmanovic turned down.
Radmanovic did still manage to receive a full MLE contract from the L.A. Lakers, a contract which totalled five years and $30.427 million. But, when combined with his qualifying offer of roughly $3.1 millionish, Radmanovic managed to lose almost $10 million on the deal, as well as save Rick Sund from himself.
Season before free agency: 11.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 49% shooting
Season spent on Qualifying Offer: 7.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 44% shooting
Season after that: N/A
Despite his physical profile, Pietrus has always been a flawed player, but with the onset of the new Warriors system under Don Nelson, many of these were able to be reasonably well covered up. In the fourth season of his rookie deal, Pietrus turned in comfortably the best season of his four-year career, and was courted heavily by Miami. His agent claimed to have had four teams offer their full MLE to Pietrus, which makes it doubly odd that he didn’t take any of them.
In the end, Pietrus was stuck with the one year, $3,470,771 qualifying offer from Golden State. From there, the inevitable has happened – he has regressed. His stats are backwards, his weaknesses are no better than they were, and his team just missed the playoffs. Suddenly, Pietrus’s package seems less attractive.
Season before free agency: 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 47% shooting, 1.5 blocks
Season spent on Qualifying Offer: 10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 45% shooting, 1.5 blocks
Season after that: 8.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 49% shooting, 0.8 blocks
Two key things to remember with Stromile’s choice to sign the QO:
1) It was for $6.2 million, more than he would have gotten on the open market for the first season of any contract.
2) Memphis made it clear that they would match anything, and wouldn’t entertain many sign-and-trade offers.
3) He really, really didn’t want to be there.
(That’s three things, but you get the idea.)
Financially, Stromile either breaks about even by turning down the QO and signing a four-year MLE deal (which was the deal he signed with Houston after the QO year expired), or he’s maybe even slightly ahead on the deal. Unlike most players, his play didn’t decline under the QO, and while his numbers have suffered slightly in the last three years, his play remains pretty good.
He did not get his wish for getting out of Memphis, though, as he was traded back there after only one season in Houston. Tough break.
Aaaaaand……..that’s everyone this decade. I would go back further and include players such as Michael Olowokandi (a pretty resounding example of why not to turn down extensions), but it becomes too difficult to find the right numbers, so I won’t. Those four are the only rookie scale players to have taken the qualifying offer since the year 2000.
They’re 1-4, with only Swift making the right move.
HALF-BAKED CONCLUSIONS FROM HALF-BAKED ANALYSIS:
First off, it’s pretty obvious that four people in four drafts is not a huge amount of people to accept the qualifying offer. That goes without saying, given that 124 people were drafted in the first round of those four drafts. But I said it anyway.
Secondly, note that the only one to have made a decent decision to take the qualifying offer was a second overall pick, which had a huge impact on the size of the offer in question. For reference’s sake, here is a list of all the qualifying offers for those fourth-year rookie scale players from the 2004 draft who did not get extensions:
Emeka Okafor: $7,082,635
Ben Gordon: $6,404,749
Shaun Livingston: $5,809,705
Josh Childress: $4,844,355
Luol Deng: $4,452,574
Andre Iguodala: $3,800,625
Andres Biedrins: $3,609,636
Robert Swift: $3,579,131
Sebastian Telfair: $3,543,834
Kirk Snyder: $3,313,598
Josh Smith: $3,167,882
J.R. Smith: $3,028,241
Dorell Wright: $2,910,104
Delonte West: $2,762,828
Tony Allen: $2,744,299
Sasha Vujacic: $2,605,559
David Harrison: $2,601,474
(Everyone else either got an extension, or have already been waived.)
Not all of these players will get a qualifying offer, because the team will not want them for that price, or indeed any price. In two cases (Swift and Livingston), the qualifying offer might actually be an advisable route, given the serious injuries from which both are struggling to recover. But only in a few cases is the qualifying offer of a significant threat to be a viable option: Emeka Okafor (who turned down a five year, $60 million extension), Ben Gordon (who turned down a five year, $50 million extension), and maybe some of the lower-down players (Allen, Telfair).
Bizarrely, Okafor and Gordon have both had worse years since turning those extensions, which could mean anything. It could make them more likely to take the security while they can still get it, or it could make them more liable to have a third attempt at a successful contract year push.
The other factor here is the deep free agent class, that affects everybody in this list. Pessimists theorise that this may mean more players take the one year QO and make themselves available for the 2009 free agent market instead. Optimists might say that instead, because of the lack of money out there, those offers from their current teams suddenly look a lot more lucrative and sensible. You can probably guess which of those two schools of thought I subscribe to.
Either way, it’s extremely difficult to imagine those two (plus others, such as Deng and Iguodala) turning down $50+ million, twice. Especially since they haven’t done much to justify turning it down once.
There is not a lot of recent history on which to deduce whether taking the qualifying offer is a wise/probable decision or not. This, in itself, is indicative of the fact that it’s a highly unlikely scenario. And when what little precedent there is shows the move to be a generally unwise one, that only reaffirms the idea that the likelihood of a player choosing to accept the qualifying really is nothing to fear.
Well, except for the two UConn boys.