Poll: Will Isaiah Thomas meet the “starter criteria”?

Isaiah Thomas finishes with a layup against the New Orleans Hornets. (Photo: Steven Chea)

Yesterday we talked about the impending decisions facing Sacramento Kings new general manager Pete D’Alessandro.  The Kings have seven potential free agents next summer, including plenty of core rotational players.  While plenty of fans would love to see a few of these players retained, the financials might not work out.

The Kings have an option on Jimmer Fredette and the ability to extend DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez before the October 31 deadline, but third-year guard Isaiah Thomas falls under a different set of rules.

Because Thomas was a second round pick, the Kings cannot extend him until after the 2013-14 season.  Sacramento will have an opportunity to give the former Washington star a qualifying offer next summer, making him a restricted free agent.  But due to complicated rules surrounding second rounders, we can only estimate how much that offer will be.

Here is what salary cap guru Larry Coon has to say about qualifying offers:

The amount of the qualifying offer for players on rookie “scale” contracts is based on the player’s draft position.  The qualifying offer for all other players must be for 125% of the player’s previous salary, or the player’s minimum salary plus $200,000, whichever is greater.  However, a player may qualify for a higher or lower qualifying offer based on whether or not he met the “starter criteria” in the previous season, or in the average of the previous two seasons.  The starter criteria are based on starting 41 games or playing at least 2,000 minutes in the regular season.

But because Thomas was drafted in the second round, the rules are even more complex:

If a second round pick or undrafted player met the starter criteria following his second or third season in the league, his qualifying offer equals the amount of the qualifying offer applicable to the 21st pick in the first round of the same draft class, if this amount is higher than the qualifying offer he otherwise would have received.

Thomas started 62 games last season for the Kings and played a total of 2,122 minutes.  If he had signed a two year deal out of college, instead of a three year deal, he would have met the “starter criteria” this summer.  He would have received a qualifying offer of approximately $1.7 million (125% of the 2012-13 salary for the 2011 21st pick in the draft), instead of $962,195 (Thomas’ $762,195 league minimum salary plus $200,000), the usual offer available to a second round pick making the league minimum.

Those numbers will change slightly next summer when Thomas has another year under his belt.  He will be in line for a $1.75 million qualifying offer if he continues to fall under the starter criteria.  But if he falls short of the two year averages of 41 games started or 2000 minutes played bench marks, his qualifying offer will drop to a little less than $1.1 million.

In order to tack on that extra $650k on his offer, Larry Coon confirmed to Cowbell Kingdom that Thomas needs to either start 20 games this season or he needs to play a total of 1,878 minutes.

$650,000 doesn’t seem like that much money in the NBA world, but it is to Thomas.  He has made a a little over $1.2 million in combined salary during his first two season in the league, which is very little by NBA standards.  He would welcome the bump.

For the Kings, $650k is more than they will pay either Ray McCallum or Trent Lockett this season.  It is the value of a future second round pick and more than a minimum contract for an undrafted prospect.

A few months ago, it would be crazy to think that Thomas might not start 20 games or play more than 23 minutes per game, but that was before Vasquez and rookie McCallum joined the roster.

Vasquez started 78 games last season for New Orleans and averaged 34.4 minutes per contest in those starts.  And McCallum is a favorite of D’Alessandro and assistant GM Mike Bratz.  With new management and new coaches in place, Thomas will once again have to prove his worth.

In the end, it might not matter where Thomas’ qualifying offer lands.  He may get offered a lot more than $1.75 million a season in free agency.  It is even possible that Sacramento’s new front office will pass on extending Thomas an offer and allow him to walk as an unrestricted free agent.

To make a long story short, today’s poll is about whether you think Thomas will either win the starting job or earn enough time to split the point guard minutes in half.  Because that is what it will take for him to meet the starter criteria.

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James Ham

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