The Phoenix Suns picked up the team option on the final year of Robin Lopez‘s rookie contract Thursday, but the real story is that they have yet to pick up the third-year option for their 2009 first-round pick, No. 14 overall selection Earl Clark. The Suns have until Oct. 31 to make a final decision on Clark, but Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reports that it is unlikely they will guarantee his 2011-12 salary, which means Clark will instead become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
Since the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement extended team options to the third year, they have mostly been automatically picked up. By my research, Clark will become the ninth player to be cut loose after two years, an average of just under two per draft. Including Clark, four have been lottery picks (the others were Joe Alexander, Yaroslav Korolev and Patrick O’Bryant).
While having your third-year option declined is not an automatic death sentence (Shannon Brown bounced back to become a contributor to two championship teams), it’s a bad sign. Morris Almond, Julius Hodge and Wayne Simien have yet to get back into the league since the end of their rookie contracts.
Clark was a non-entity as a rookie, but that wasn’t surprising given Phoenix’s depth and his unpolished game. That the Suns added several forwards this offseason was a bad sign, and Clark has failed to solidify his spot during the preseason. Clearly, whatever Phoenix saw–or did not see–gave the team little hope that Clark would turn things around by next year. A regime change in the front office surely made it easier to give up on Clark so quickly.
Looking around the league, two other sophomores will apparently have to sweat out a decision on their third-year options: Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson and Chicago’s James Johnson.