Imagine you are a player in the NBA's D-League. You travel from small city to small city, playing in front of small crowds, and you do all of this for minimal compensation. People constantly ask, "how come you aren't playing overseas and earning more money to play professionally?" Then, you get the best phone call ever -- your agent tells you an NBA team has called you up and signed you to a 10-day contract.
Many people point to the low salaries of the D-League -- the three salary levels are $13,000, $19,000 or $25,500 -- and immediately dismiss it as a viable option for players who want to make a living playing basketball as a profession. Certainly those salaries are not adequate for most people to live off of, especially if there is a family to take care of as well. However, that carrot hanging at the end of the stick -- the 10-day contract with an NBA team -- is well worth the wait.
Last season, there were 49 total call-ups from the D-League to the NBA. Some of these were duplicates as there were only 37 players involved in these call-ups. What is this 10-day contract worth? The answer is, it varies based on length of time spent in the league, however the salary is based off a pro-rated formula that is relatively easy to follow. Players are paid 1/170th of the minimum NBA salary, again based off of their tenure. Multiply the 1/170th figure by 10 for the number of days and you get the salary a player receives for their time.
So for the 2013-14 season, the 10-day call-up amounts were approximately $28,834 for a rookie, $46,404 for a player with one year experience, $52,017 for a player with at least two years experience, and in the event that there was a player with 10 or more years of experience, they would receive a 10-day contract valued at $82,324.
Quite the payday for 10 days of work. Consider that even a rookie -- say a second round pick -- who gets called up doubles his salary for that time period. It makes taking the low salary worth it for some. A lot of players will earn consecutive 10-day contracts before either being signed for the remainder of that season or being sent back to the D-League. If you are signed for consecutive 10-day deals, then you get paid the same amount again. So, a rookie could theoretically sign two 10-day contracts and triple his salary...in a matter of 20 days!
Even more telling is how many players were signed to deals for the rest of the NBA season after being called up. Of the 37 players who received call-ups to The Association last year, 11 signed season-long deals with an NBA club. Jackpot! One example of this was Chris Douglas-Roberts who was called up and signed with the Charlotte Bobcats on December 11, 2013, for a pro-rated salary of $660,619. He went from making at best $25,500 to over half a million dollars in the drop of a hat -- the opportunities are real and the money is there to be had for these players.
In total, players who were called up and either signed for the remainder of the NBA season or sent back to the D-League earned a cumulative total of approximately $6.8 million. You might be able to guess who the top spender for D-League talent was last season: the Philadelphia 76ers. They paid out $835,419 for their share of the talent. In all, 21 teams had at least one call-up to their club -- the nine teams that did not were the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards.
Even more telling, 24 of those 37 players are signed with NBA teams as the head into training camp. Some might end up back in the D-League to start the season, but as we've outlined here it only takes one call-up to make it all worth it.
In 2014-15 the minimum salaries have gone up just a bit, so 10-day contracts have increased as well. A rookie this year will earn $29,843, a player with one year experience will earn $48,028, a player with at least two years of time will get $53,838, and, again, if by some weird circumstance there is a player with 10 or more years of service who earns a 10-day deal it will be worth $85,205.
While the salary levels in the D-League still need eventual reform to attract top talent, it is clear that the earning potential exists for players who catch the NBA's watchful eyes.