Big Decision: Should the Timberwolves Pick Up Derrick Williams' 4th Year Option?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

An occasional topic of conversation here at Canis Hoopus gets highlighted because of an excellent article by Zach Lowe.

We've discussed it before: what to do with Derrick Williams?  How much, if any, improvement is there left to be made by the third year forward, and what does it mean for the Wolves going forward?

The team is committed to Williams for this season at a salary of just over $5 million.  They have to make a decision before the season starts whether to pick up his 2014-15 option for $6.3 million or let him become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014.

I bring this up to commend you to yet another fantastic article by Grantland's Zach Lowe, who discusses Williams at some length as well as other players in the same circumstances, and what teams may do about these options.

Lowe points out that the rookie salary structure mandates large raises in the 4th year, and suggests that with the new CBA, teams may be more willing to forego their 4th year options on players then they have in the past.

The current financial implications of Williams' option are this:  Without it, they are committed to $62M for 11 players for 2014-15 (including Ricky Rubio's option; Dante Cunningham and Chris Johnson will be free agents).  With the option, they are committed to over $68M for 12 players.

This pushes them into an area where they likely won't have the MLE available to them, and moves them quite close to the luxury tax.

Is that worth it for a backup forward?

On the one hand, declining the option kills any potential trade value Williams might have, because teams aren't going to give anything of value to acquire him for part of one year prior to him becoming an unrestricted free agent.

On the other hand, I'm fairly convinced that they tried to move him this summer, with a $5M commitment attached, and couldn't find a palatable deal, so why would we expect to find a deal with another $6.3M commitment attached?

At best, Williams shows some improvement this year, maybe shoots the ball better from distance and becomes a decent stretch four.  The problem, as we've noted many times, is that the Wolves already have the best version of that player, and Williams, who was gifted playing time last year due to Kevin Love's injuries, is unlikely to get the same amount of opportunity this year.  Thus it's difficult to imagine him increasing his value either to the Wolves or another team to make that $6.3M salary worth it.

It's difficult to give up on a high draft pick (though easier when the previous front office made the pick).  But it's hard to envision that picking up Williams' option is the wisest investment of $6.3 million.  The fear, of course, is that he blows up and all of a sudden that contract looks good, but realistically, the chances of that are pretty small.

Which brings us to the question of why these options have to be picked up so early.  I assume it's the demand of the players in exchange for artificially holding down rookie salaries, but it creates not only more difficult decisions for teams, but also awkward situations.  If the Wolves decline the option, they still have Williams on the roster for this year after essentially telling him: we don't think you are worth your contract and you aren't a part of our future plans.

Early this summer, I assumed that the Wolves would pick up his option.  Having looked at the ramifications, I am no longer sure.  Teams tend to be risk averse, and giving up on a high lottery pick after two years is not generally something they like to do, but given the rest of the roster, and the salary cap situation, it's easier to see them making the decision to forego that 4th year.

It's certainly what I would do; how would you handle it?

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