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Does Playing In the NBA D-League Make Financial Sense?

Many players spend their careers working toward the NBA. If it's clear that dream isn't going to become a reality, playing in the D-League may not make sense.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For many players in the D-League, the NBA is a longshot. With only the elite of the elite making it to the big stage, the development league is chock full of players who won't get a chance. It's a harsh reality, and when faced with it, players are forced to answer a difficult multiple choice question:

You're not going to make the NBA, what do you do?

A. Keep pushing in the D-League, can't give up yet.
B. Book a a flight, I'm and head to Europe.
C. It's time to hang up the sneakers.

This isn't an easy question to answer. Each choice offers different benefits and downfalls. While each player's situation is unique, no decision comes without a cost. In a literal sense, that cost can be quite high. For some players, sticking out the D-League just doesn't make financial sense.

Ridiculous Upside has broken down player compensation before, but here are the nuts and bolts of it. Players are paid between $13,000 and $25,000 on average. Between performance bonuses and other incentives, the average player can expect to make around $20,000 for seven months of work. That leaves five months for the player to train and improve for next season, while likely working a non-basketball job on the side.The average annual income in the United States is about $27,000, so for those five months, a player can probably add another $10,000-$12,000 to their salary. So in total, a D-Leaguer likely pulls in about $30,000 per year depending on the player.

But should a player choose to play abroad in Europe for a season or two, does it make financial sense? The compensation spectrum is wide, but a player in Europe can make somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000, well above the D-League average.

If a player decides to leave professional hoops all together and earn a living away from basketball, the amount he can earn varies a lot on his education and career field. But on average, if he graduated from college he can expect to make around $45,000 per year right off the bat, but for the many players who left school early, average salary in the U.S. without a college diploma is $30,000. Obviously careers and salaries differ greatly, but a college education goes a long way.

Taking all this into account, a player who truly has no shot at making the NBA is probably best served financially by taking their talents overseas. Sticking in the D-League means years of low pay with very little hope for the potential reward of the NBA. Playing in Europe provides stability and a steady income that developing players can't find in the United States.

Some can't put a price on the dream of playing in the NBA. But when it comes down to providing for themselves and their family, the numbers don't lie.