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Understanding The Impact A Two-Way Contract Has On A Player’s Psyche

Players like the Knicks’ Isaiah Hicks must balance the ups and downs of an uncertain basketball life while playing out a two-way contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

The NBA G League continues to make slow and steady strides toward worthwhile salary increases. Two-way contracts also provide the opportunity for higher earning potential. In the upcoming season, two-way athletes will earn a base of $77,250 and such a salary will be prorated for days spent on an NBA roster, up to $385,000.

Two-way players can spend up to 45 days spent on an NBA roster, but surprisingly enough, not every team chooses to max out such a player’s availability over the course of a season. Perhaps everyone else on the big league roster is healthy and the need has not come up. Some teams believe that playing heavy minutes as a G League’s central figure is more beneficial than sitting at the end of NBA team’s bench. As unfortunate as this is, some teams aren’t as motivated to spend the “extra” NBA equivalent of a salary on a player, along with the costs that big league per diem and travel expenses would require.

The elevated salary is a nice touch for two-way players, but it’s worth noting that the back and forth campaign (combined with a ticking clock of when, or whether or not a player will be called up at all) can take a toll on one’s mentality.

Despite signing a two-way contract last summer with the New York Knicks, Isaiah Hicks (along with Luke Kornet) had to wait until February for his first taste of NBA life, let alone an actual debut. Instead, he suited up for G League affiliated Westchester for nearly four months. The one obvious benefit to waiting so long to call a two-way prospect up is that with so much of the season already in the rearview mirror, the 45 days can be spread out well across the season’s remaining weeks. After making his NBA debut on February 8th, Hicks played just three more G League games the rest of the way.

Over the season’s final two months, Hicks had an opportunity to acclimate himself to NBA life. It was a consistent, constant run, complete with a favorable prorated salary, increased per diems, and stays in more luxurious hotels. He appeared in 18 games for New York, averaging 4.4 points and 2.3 rebounds.

This summer, Kornet was rewarded and signed a standard NBA contract. Hicks was signed to his qualifying offer, which is another two-way contract for next season. Such a pact will jettison him back to the G League for most of the campaign.

Along with the G League stint will come decreased per diems, smaller hotels, and a salary that is prorated to the minor league as opposed to the NBA minimum. The new season also means that there is no guarantee that Hicks spends close to his maximum 45 days to receive a better salary, increased quality of life, and a chance to improve at the big league level.

Essentially, a player like Hicks must hit the reset button and attempt not to miss the NBA life too much, because the reality is, under the two-way contract, there’s no guarantee as to when and/or how often it may come again.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t a story about Hicks, but instead the impact playing out a two-way contract has on an athlete’s psyche as they go back and forth between league and lifestyles and attempt to stay focused at the same time. The waiting game an uncertainty can create a burden for players, which is something taken for granted when merely considering the rising salaries. It’s about a quality of life and a steady future.