Chris Haynes is reporting that, according to a source, Darren Collison of the Los Angeles Clippers will definitely opt out of the second year of his contract. This is of course completely expected -- Collison signed with the Clippers well below the market rate for a borderline starting point guard. Even for a solid backup, Collison's $1.9M salary for next season would be an incredible bargain -- consider that J.J. Barea signed a 4/$18M deal in 2011.
Collison made a conscious decision to take a high visibility back up job, for a solid coach, in his hometown of LA, in hopes of rehabbing a reputation that had been hurt by a disappointing season in Dallas. The second season was a player option, and the plan was always to have a good season and then capitalize on it. He did ... and now he will.
According to Haynes, Collison's first choice would be to remain with the Clippers -- but it goes without saying that it will take more than the $1.9M he was making to keep him in LA. Because the Clippers do not have Collison's Bird rights, their options for re-signing him are limited. They can give him a 20% increase over last season's salary -- this is sometimes called the non-Bird exception. They could use their bi-annual exception (BAE) -- but that would actually be less money than using the non-Bird exception. Or they can use a portion of their mid-level exception (MLE) to keep him.
Those are the only three options, and this will probably be the key decision for the Clippers this summer. The MLE and the BAE are the only tools the team has for upgrading the roster aside from trades and minimum salaries. Where they spend those exceptions -- on a backup point guard, on a wing, on a big man? -- is the key to next season's roster.
For Collison, opting out is a no-brainer. Even if he really wants to remain in L.A. and is willing to again sacrifice money to do so, the Clippers can re-sign him for close to $2.3M using the non-Bird exception which is more than he is scheduled to make in his current contract. They could even give him another player option after next season -- and then use his Early Bird rights to give him a bigger raise next summer. They can't say that's what they intend to do of course -- but these rules are not secrets, and the Clippers and Collison's agent can certainly both arrive at the same plan. And speaking of reading tea leaves and guessing about the future, if the Clippers are going to be owned by a top 20 wealthiest American like Steve Ballmer or Larry Ellison, Collison might feel pretty comfortable that the team would be willing to pay the luxury tax to keep him around once they have his Early Bird rights.
If Collison wants more than $2.3M next season it means dipping into the MLE to keep him in L.A. And that would be a tough call. As valuable as Collison is, he's still a point guard, and the Clippers have one of those. Yes, Chris Paul is injury prone and yes Collison and Paul played together at times with success this season. But that small lineup also presented problems when it came to defending the likes of Klay Thompson and others, and in a world of limited resources, spending those resources on a six foot point guard when you already have the best six foot point guard in the world might be ill-advised.
Collison was a major contributor and key factor for the Clippers this season. They'd love to keep him, and he'd love to stay. But will it make financial sense for both parties?