Just a few short years ago, it was nearly unheard of for a rookie not to play for his drafting team through the first four years of his career. Names like Joe Alexander, drafted 8th overall by Milwaukee but released just two years later, were a punchline rather than a warning shot.
Suns fans might remember Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley, two other victims of the declined fourth year team option. Each was a Top 5 pick in their draft (I'll pause while you control your chuckling) so their fourth year option was more than $6 million.
But generally, releasing a player from his rookie contract terms is a rarity. Players on rookie contracts are so valuable because most of them are playing for the equivalent (or close to it) of the league minimum. Team have say over years three and four as "team options". The salary is slotted but not guaranteed until the team says so.
In the wake of the Suns news today that they are exercising the 2015-16 options on Miles Plumlee, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, let's look at their not-so-fortunate brethren.
- 5th overall pick Thomas Robinson (Kings/Rockets/Blazers) had his fourth year option (2015-16) declined
- 10th overall pick Austin Rivers (Pelicans) had his fourth year option (2015-16) declined
- 13th overall pick Kendall Marshall (Suns/Wizards/Lakers) had his third year option (2014-15) declined and was immediately released in October 2013
- 16th overall pick Royce White (Rockets/Sixers) had his third year option declined (2014-15) and was released in October 2013
- 22nd overall pick Fab Melo (Celtics/Grizzlies) had his third year option declined (2014-15) and was released in August 2013
- 27th overall pick Arnette Moultrie (Sixers/Knick) had his fourth year option declined (2015-16) and was released today
That's 6 of 30 first round picks from 2012 not making it to their fourth season in the NBA with the team that drafted them. And with the exception of Thomas Robinson ($5 million) the contracts were relatively dirt cheap. The Blazers nearly made it seven but for some reason decided to keep the very disappointing Myers Leonard. It's good to be 7 feet tall (sorry, Fab).
Miles Plumlee was the 21st pick in the 2012 Draft by Indiana, who traded him to the Suns last year. He sat for all but 55 minutes as a rookie, but then in Phoenix started all 79 games he was available and comes into his second Suns season as the starter again. The Suns picked up his option today for his fourth season, so he's now under contract through 2016.
It's really early to be losing anyone from a draft so recent, but remember that by this time a year ago three players from the 2012 Draft were already declined (Marshall, White, Melo) for their third year.
So far, only 18th overall pick Shane Larkin (Mavs/Knicks) is rumored to be on the cusp of losing his third year guarantee.
Everyone else looks to be getting their third year guaranteed, including the Suns' two draft picks Archie Goodwin and Alex Len.
We'll see a year from now how many of the class of 2013 lasts into their fourth year. It would be a surprise if the list doesn't expand by half a dozen over the next twelve months. But then again, with the salary cap rising the flat rookie contracts will be golden nuggets.