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Commentary: Donovan Mitchell’s player option no cause for concern

If player option was required to reach a deal, agreeing to it was a no-brainer for Jazz brass

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) laughs while getting fouled by Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell laughs while getting fouled by Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

On Sunday, the Utah Jazz and Donovan Mitchell’s representation came to an agreement on a five-year max extension worth up to $195 million, otherwise known as a designated rookie extension. The deal includes a player option for the final year of the contract. It is the player option that has a lot of fans up in arms.

There are a couple of arguments presented by those who are wary of the player option, which would allow Mitchell to forgo the final year of his contract and hit free agency; the player option proves the Jazz front office is weak; and/or the player option means that Mitchell is definitely leaving after four years.

On a certain level, I get why fans would be worried that Mitchell could potentially leave. But, Mitchell didn’t have to agree to this extension. If he wanted to leave he could have made that clear this week.

It’s normal for fanbases to prepare for the worst, but I think it would be beneficial for Jazz faithful to look at this deal for all of its good points. Mitchell is one of the best young players in the NBA. He’s on the rise, always improving and the team that you love just guaranteed that he’ll be here for the next five seasons, possibly more.

In March there were fans who believed a minor spat between Mitchell and Rudy Gobert was the breaking point and that Mitchell was all but gone. It wasn’t and he didn’t.

In June, when Mitchell’s Juneteenth Instagram post was a breeding ground for racist and hateful comments, there were many who thought that Mitchell would leave Utah. He didn’t.

Now, in November, ahead of the 2020-21 season, the last on Mitchell’s rookie scale contract, fans are already preparing for Mitchell to opt out of the final year of his new contract in 2025.

Let’s look at this from the Jazz’s perspective. If Mitchell’s camp was prepared to sign on for the next five years but the sticking point was a player option in the final year, the Jazz would have looked foolish if they didn’t take that deal.

Maybe the Jazz pushed back and maybe they went back and forth on the matter. We don’t know exactly what negotiations looked like on this deal. If they had continued to deliberate the matter maybe they wouldn’t have been able to agree by the Dec. 21 deadline and then would have had to go into negotiations with Gobert without knowing if they were going to be able to build around Mitchell.

In the end, the Jazz agreed to keep their franchise player, the cornerstone of their roster, through the 2024-25 season. That’s not bad business or a sign of weakness.

If you want Mitchell to stay with the Jazz and for him and his agent to be happy and all it took was a player option to make that happen, then it’s a no-brainer to do it. That’s smart business.

Now let’s look at this from Mitchell’s perspective. A player option does not mean he is going to leave after four years on his extended contract. He could absolutely stay through the entirety of the contract and then sign up for even more time with the Jazz. Actually, to this point there’s not really any evidence to suggest he would want to leave.

What the player option does is literally what its name implies. Mitchell will have the option to evaluate the situation after the 2024-25 season and decide if things are good here in Utah. A hypothetical: What if Gobert breaks his leg and the Jazz aren’t in the playoffs and other players are demanding trades?

Mitchell could look at that situation and very understandably want to leave. It would be pretty awful if Mitchell didn’t want to be here in the final year of his contract and then demanded a trade himself, causing even more drama than necessary.

Do you really want players here that don’t want to be here?

But Mitchell could also be on a contending team that continues to build around him and things could improve over the next few years. And when Mitchell evaluates the landscape it’s not hard imagining him sticking around.

Derrick Favors was gone already and wanted to come back. Jordan Clarkson could have left, could have signed a shorter deal, but he wants to be here. For a small-market team to create an environment where players want to be is no small feat. They are also signing star players to deals that give the players some flexibility and power over their own future. Agents and players pay attention to those sorts of things.

It’s normal to be worried and to doomsday prep. Fandom brings out those qualities, and I get it. I’m just trying to offer a point of view on the matter that isn’t as cynical. This contract is a good thing, and the player option could be, too.