Should Blazers Pick Up Rookie Options On Elliot Williams, Luke Babbitt & Nolan Smith?

The Blazers have until October 31 to decide whether or not to exercise their 2013-14 option years on Elliot Williams (4th year), Luke Babbitt (4th year), and Nolan Smith (3rd year).

Click through to read the background and join the discussion as to whether any or all of the three are expendable.

ed: bumped to front page

The Blazers will probably wait until after the exhibition games to make those decisions, and I had intended to wait until then to pose this question, but BE is really slow right now and Elliot Williams suffered a season ending injury yesterday, so let's speculate now. I'll pose the question again after the exhibition season so we can change our minds after Babbitt drops 40 on the Lakers in the first pre-season game.

The question is - would you exercise the option year on Williams, Babbitt, and Smith, or would you free up cap room for next summer instead? Here's a look at the details before you answer.

If the Blazers don't exercise those options by October 31, those players become unrestricted free agents next summer. Even if the players become unrestricted free agents they could still be re-signed by the Blazers using "special" Bird Rights (Babbitt up to $2.9M first year and Williams up to $2.37M) or "special" Early-Bird Rights (Smith - up to $1.42M first year with a minimum 2 year contract). [Thanks to Storyteller for pointing out the "special" contract limits in the comments section below.]

What's the Benefit of NOT exercising the options?

Together, the three rookies would consume $6.7M of cap room next summer. Everyone else on the roster currently has a guaranteed contract for 2013-14 except for Pavlovic and Jeffries. (I thought Ronnie Price was also on a one year deal but Storyteller has him on a 2-year guaranteed deal for $1.3M, so I'll go with that. Good Rule: Never bet against Storyteller.)

If we assume the Blazers would instantly let Pavlovic and Jeffries walk away next summer if they could use the cap room to sign a high quality free-agent, they would have $6.8M in cap room even after picking up the options on Williams, Babbitt, and Smith. (That number varies a little from early estimates because Storyteller has refined his salary numbers, so I'll use his latest estimates.) That isn't a lot more than the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($5.15M) next year, but could be enough more to sway a free-agent. (You can't use the MLE and have cap room, it's one or the other.)

The Blazers Could Make A Maximum Offer Next Summer

But if they do NOT exercise their options on Williams, Babbitt, and Smith the Blazers could have $13.5M in cap room next year (assumes the salary cap doesn't change next year). That is almost exactly the same amount as a maximum salary for a 6 year veteran ($13.7M) this year (that could change a little next year, but then so too would the salary cap number giving them more cap room). i.e. they could make a max offer to a young (6 years or less veteran) free-agent (Harden?). However, most young maximum free agents are going to be restricted free-agents. Obviously, the cap room didn't do them any good this summer, but if Lillard and others come along this year the Blazers may look attractive to an unrestricted free-agent next summer.

Is there a Down-Side to NOT exercising the options?

Obviously we could lose the players next summer, but I wouldn't expect the players to play any worse this year. In fact, Babbitt and Smith would be playing for their next contract so they may play better, or show they aren't up to that increased pressure anyway. Williams probably has more upside than the other two, but his injury history (24 games played in 3 years) now makes him highly suspect as a key player going forward.

Realistically, I don't see Babbitt or Smith becoming anything more than the type of player you can fairly easily pick up in free-agency once you have established a winning team. The hope of the Blazers to rebuild a winning team rests with Lillard, Batum, Leonard, Hickson, and Freeland. Even Barton and Claver have as good a shot at becoming useful role players as Smith and Babbitt. So I don't see a lot of downside if Williams, Babbitt, and Smith walk away next summer.

Is there another alternative to still get the $13.5M cap room next summer?

Sure. The Blazers could exercise their option on one or more of the 3 players by October 31 and still trade those players by the trade deadline for 2nd round picks or players on one year contracts (similar to what we did last year with Camby) to get the cap room back for next summer. That would give the Blazers a chance to see if the players developed. But there is no guarantee the Blazers could even give away the players (with their guaranteed salary) for 2nd round picks or one-year players at the trade deadline. Another option would be to include those players in a bigger trade for salary matching purposes. But again, any deal involving them sticks the other team with their guaranteed salary, so it isn't a sure thing we could "give them away" to position ourselves to make a maximum offer next summer.

Data (Salaries per Storyteller's web site)

2013-14 Guaranteed Team Salary (assumes Pavlovic and Jeffries are let go) - $44.5M, cap room $13.5M

2013-14 Williams $2.4M, deduct from cap room if exercised by Oct 31

2013-14 Babbitt $2.9M, deduct from cap room if exercised by Oct 31

2013-14 Smith $1.4M, deduct from cap room if exercised by Oct 31

Total 2013-14 cap room if all 3 player options exercised = $6.8M

So what would you do by October 31?

(I wanted to add a Poll but the Poll option appears to be missing?)