The Trail Blazers have one less roster spot to play with during free agency this offseason.
Derrick Jones Jr. will accept his $9.7 million player option for the 2021-22 season, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Monday evening.
Jones Jr. began the season as the team's starting small forward as president of basketball operations Neil Olshey's top free agency acquisition, signing him with the full mid-level exception. The franchise envisioned a starting lineup of him and Robert Covington giving Portland a higher defensive ceiling for a deep playoff push.
Instead, the Blazers finished the season ranked 29th in defensive efficiency and Jones Jr. fell out of the rotation entirely after Portland acquired Norman Powell, who himself will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Perhaps with a new coaching staff in Rip City, Chauncey Billups will find new ways to use Jones Jr. and take advantage of his athleticism rather than have him solely applaud on the bench.
The Blazers front office clearly believes in Jones Jr., using the franchise's first full mid-level exception since 2015 on him, even if the on-court results never materialized. Remember, Neil Olshey did say the team's atrocious defense "was not a product of the roster."
Jones Jr. opting into the player option was widely expected as he likely would not receive $9.7 million on the open market.
During Jones Jr.'s limited postseason minutes, the Nuggets ignored his 31.6% three-point shooting to pre-rotate on the pick-and-roll instead, stagnating the Blazers offense and forcing Damian Lillard to go supernova to stay in the game.
Last season, Jones Jr. averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 58 appearances, including 43 starts. He shot 31.6% from three-point range and 48.4% from the floor.
Portland will still have the tax-payer mid-level exception to use this offseason.