DA's Morning Tip
DA's Morning Tip
DA's Morning Tip
DA's Morning Tip

As always this time of year, players on non-guaranteed deals sweat it out

Roughly 10 percent of typical yearly NBA workforce each season operates on a fully non-guaranteed contract

David Aldridge

David Aldridge TNT Analyst

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Jan 9, 2017 11:54 AM ET

Hollis Thompson, who played in 256 career games for the Sixers, was waived last week.

How nerve wracking is the last week before your contract is guaranteed?

The free agent bonanza that enriched so many beyond their wildest dreams last summer does not lift all boats. There are still a couple dozen players every year that aren’t sure until a week after New Year’s that they’ve actually made their clubs for good, and will play there (or, at least get paid) for the whole season. It is the transactional part of the NBA, the moves that few give a second look to on their laptops:

Denver, Jan. 6, 2017 -- The Denver Nuggets have waived forward Alonzo Gee, General Manager and Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly announced today…

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns waived guard John Jenkins on Friday.

Jenkins averaged 1.8 points and 33 minutes in four appearances this season, and averaged 5.0 points and 13.0 minutes in 22 games with the Suns last season…

The 76ers opened up a roster spot Wednesday by waiving fourth-year small forward Hollis Thompson, the longest tenured player on the team …

About 10 percent, more or less, of the typical yearly workforce in the NBA operates on a fully non-guaranteed contract. This isn’t the same thing as a partially-guaranteed final year of a long-term deal; even those contracts are almost always fully guaranteed as along as the player makes the opening-day roster the following season. These are the contracts of the longshots and dreamers, of the veterans who bounce from team to team and have another shot, or the undrafted rookie who impressed in training camp but still can’t exhale.

The base salaries of all players on their respective teams’ rosters become fully guaranteed for the remainder of the season on Jan. 10. This doesn’t apply, obviously, to a player whose contract is already fully guaranteed. But for the player who is hanging on, who doesn’t get to make his case by playing every night, there are no guarantees.

The slew of cuts and waivers requested on players last week reflects that cold reality. (Players were cut last week so they can clear waivers by the 10th and be removed from the teams’ rosters on Tuesday.)

Players on non-guaranteed deals aren’t cut because they can’t play. They were the same guy after Jan. 7/10 that they were before. They can be cut because their roster spot is valuable for a team with a player in the NBA Development League that’s ready for a call-up, or because their team is about to make an uneven trade, or because the team wants to sign someone out of Europe, China or somewhere else.

“Every player could have a similar-structured contract that’s non-guaranteed going into the deadline, but the circumstances could be different,” said veteran agent Todd Ramasar. “The approach, at least from my perspective, and it doesn’t change whether it’s a guy on a non-guaranteed deal or a guaranteed one, is always have contingencies and manage expectations. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down, so to speak.”

The 76ers cut Thompson, one of the last players that was part of the original “process” of former GM Sam Hinkie, to maintain their roster flexibility. They were starting a road trip over the weekend and they didn’t want to put Thompson in the awkward position of having to leave in the middle of the trip. They wanted to look more at one of their first-round picks, Timothe Luwawu. And they want to bring in another point guard until their top pick, Ben Simmons, is ready to go.

The Sixers waived a non-guaranteed player to free up minutes for rookie Timothe Luwawu.

Most of the time, it’s not a shock. Agents talk with their clients all summer and fall, letting them know exactly where they stand on their respective rosters before, during and after training camps. “That conversation is constant,” Ramasar said. “I know it’s going to be in the back of their mind as the date gets closer and the season progresses.”

Sometimes, teams find themselves in positions where their circumstances change very quickly. The Miami Heat didn’t have any idea that Hassan Whiteside was going to explode as quickly as he did two years ago, when they gave him a two-year contract in November of 2014. When he did, they certainly weren’t going to cut him. But they couldn’t do anything more, either, because contracts for fewer than four years can’t be extended.

So Whiteside became an unrestricted free agent last summer, and Miami maxed him out, to the tune of $98 million. Another former non-guaranteed second-round pick, Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe, got a $75 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets, which the Blazers matched. They’re the poster children of the non-guaranteed.

Most teams are honest about what they’ll do. Not all. “There are other examples where you just can’t trust the other side; their history is that you can’t take what they say at face value,” Ramasar said.

Non-guaranteed players often are re-signed by their former teams to 10-day deals -- and, often, a second 10-day -- knowing that there won’t be that much interest league-wide. It’s worth the risk. It allows them to keep players around who’ve been in their system for months, with no guarantees.

There are other options. The D-League continues to evolve and get closer to the 30-for-30 affiliation sought by the NBA. The new CBA will have raises for some players -- those on the “two-way” contracts between the NBA team and its D-League affiliate. At the least, a non-guaranteed player who’s waived in January by his NBA team can go to the D-League, stay in shape and potentially get picked up if another team has to fill a roster spot because of an injury or trade.

Or, you could look at Europe. If there’s a European team offering you $80,000 a month, you can play out the season, and maybe the playoffs, and then take a look at the NBA again in the summer. What a player decides often depends on where they are in their careers: are they young players whose dream of the NBA is still paramount, or are they closer to the end of the string, and looking to make as much money as they can before the clock runs out?

Sometimes, it takes a guy time to decide where, and who, he is, and find their reality.

“You try to present them things that are factual,” Ramasar said. “You tell them, ‘there are guys out there of greater notoriety, and they’re not in the league. I’ve presented your name around the league, and there’s no interest. Everything is pointed to the D-League. And if not the D-League, there’s China and Europe.’ And over time, they come back and say, ‘okay, Todd, let’s do this China thing you were talking about.’”

Denver, Jan 8, 2017 -- The Denver Nuggets have signed forward Alonzo Gee to a 10-day contract, General Manager and Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly announced today.

Gee, 6-6, 225, previously signed with Denver on Nov. 16, 2016 and averaged 1.1 rebounds in 6.9 minutes in 13 games before being waived on Jan. 6. The seven-year NBA veteran has appeared in 417 career games (213 starts) for Washington, San Antonio, Cleveland, Portland, New Orleans and Denver, posting averages of 6.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 21.8 minutes.

Gee will be with the team for Thursday’s game vs. Indiana in London.

… YOU WRITE IN, DA ANSWERS ...

When You Can’t Be With the One You Love…From Tiffany Davis:

The Hawks are known as "Spurs East", yet for all of their attempted implementation of San Antonio's culture & ethos (and play sets), they still haven't gotten near the Spurs' level.  Who, in the team's current iteration, can be the leader who helps Budenholzer implement "The Spurs Way" from top to bottom? 'Cause Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap, Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver clearly aren't getting it done properly. If no one can do that for this roster, who can they get to do for the franchise – psychologically -- what Tim Duncan did for the Spurs?

No one, Tiffany. And that’s really all that matters; the Spurs had Tim Duncan, and the Hawks don’t. Not too many of those types of players and leaders around. It’s not a condemnation of what Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox (and, previously, Danny Ferry) were and are doing in Atlanta to say they don’t have that bell cow player, that transformational and generational talent. They’ve tried, as all teams without one try, to compensate through numbers, bringing in a bunch of good and smart players who work well with one another. It can take you far -- but only so far, as we’ve seen. Now, they’re in the process of dismantling that core group in hopes of assembling another around Dennis Schroeder (and, no, he isn’t close to Duncan, either). They’re in a good patch right now; the Hawks can play well, for a good long while, when everything is going well. But they don’t have another gear as currently constituted.

We Five Kings of Sacramento Are. From Dave Saechao:

As a long time kings fan (born and raised in Sacramento) now living abroad, I find myself having to defend the Kings to my work colleagues (Warriors and Celtics fans); saying the Kings aren't that dysfunctional and that it's not Boogie that is holding back this team …

Am I delusional?

Well … there’s something between delusional and rational, isn’t there? Naïve, maybe? Glass half-full? I don’t think the Kings are full-blown crazy anymore. think Vlade Divac has stabilized the front office and some of his moves have been good, like getting an extra first-round pick for Marco Belinelli from Charlotte, for example. And I would figure a Rudy Gay trade before the deadline, certainly. The new Golden1 Arena looks to be a big hit with fans and will bring a lot of new revenue to the team. I think you can win with DeMarcus Cousins but you have to have a coach he respects and players that can hold him accountable. Like all talented people, he tends to listen more to equally talented peers, so roster construction is crucial. It’s a challenge, but doable, potentially. If owner Vivek Ranadive will get out of his own way and stop doing and saying things that get him in trouble, his team might have a chance going forward.

A Total Rebuild on the West Side? From John McEchron:

Should the Knicks trade Melo given they are in middle of the pack in the East and going nowhere roster with the roster Phil has put together.

No, sir. Every team wants to win, but in some cities, especially New York, the team is a business entity as well. ‘Melo puts butts in (very expensive) seats, and that is important. “The Unicorn” (aka Kristaps Porzingis) may well develop into a superstar in time, but he’s not yet a draw. Think what you want about Carmelo, but he is a star, and he is beloved in New York. Still believe the Knicks will factor in the playoff race before the end of the season, but even if they don’t, it’s hard to imagine Jim Dolan signing off on any deal sending Anthony out of town.

Send your questions, comments and other instances of failing to read the scouting report todaldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)

1) Russell Westbrook (36.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 7.5 apg, .398 FG, .854 FT): Who is this guy, in a Westbrook skin suit, who’s knocking down all of these threes all of a sudden?

2) James Harden (25.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 10.8 apg, 370 FG, 875 FT): 10th triple double of the season in Houston’s eighth straight win, Sunday over the Raptors.

3) LeBron James (30.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 6.8 apg, .582 FG, .743 FT): Continues to push for another point guard. Continues to be right.

4) Kevin Durant (26.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 4 apg, .522 FG, .833 FT): Shooting a career-best 53.4 percent from the floor entering play Sunday -- way better than the 51 percent he shot in OKC in 2012-13 and 2014-15.

5) Kawhi Leonard (22.7 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.3 apg, .490 FG, .818 FT):Don’t blaspheme, Flea.

BY THE NUMBERS

595,288 -- Votes for LeBron James, the most of any player, after the first round of voting for the Feb. 17 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. James led teammate Kyrie Irving, who had the most votes among guards in the Eastern Conference (543,030), in total votes, ahead of Golden State’s Kevin Durant (541,209), who was first in the Western Conference among frontcourt players.

3:55

Taking a closer look at the first All-Star voting returns.

8,014 -- Career assists for Chris Paul, after dishing out 18 in the Clippers’ win Sunday over Miami. He is currently 10th on the NBA’s all-time assist list; next up would be 73-year-old Andre Miller (8,524 career dimes in 16 career seasons).

47 -- Surgeries on Hall of Fame guard Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, since his playing days ended in 1980.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) I’d think that if any team was willing to take a chance on Paul Millsap as a rental for the rest of this season -- he’ll opt out of his current deal and test unrestricted free agency in July -- it would be Orlando. The Magic went in hard after Millsap two summers ago, offering him a max deal in the first minutes of free agency and getting close to getting him before he re-signed with the Hawks. Now Atlanta’s soliciting offers for him, but teams are reluctant to part with much, knowing he’ll be an unrestricted free agent and they could lose him in a matter of months. But the Magic aren’t in a position to be choosy; they want to make the playoffs, and shedding some of their young, controllable talent for the 31-year-old All-Star would be in keeping with their win-now focus. Orlando also has a potential 2019 first-round pick coming from the Lakers (if L.A. has to give its 2017 first-rounder to Philly; way too many machinations to list here) or 2017 and 2018 second-rounders from L.A. that it could include in any offer to the Hawks.

3:37

Where would Paul Millsap fit best if he's traded?

2) Godspeed, Sandwich Man. Godspeed.

3) This is one of the smartest things I’ve ever seen a team do. Congrats to Louisville’s Jeff Walz.

4) Clemson. Big.

NOT FEELIN’ …

1) Blessings to J.R. Smith and his wife Jewel Harris, and their daughter, Dakota, born five months prematurely.

2) Hate to see Justise Winslow go down for the season. He worked really hard last summer to try and become a better shooter and more all-around player. He’ll be back.

3) I know and like Barry Zvrluga, the Washington Post columnist; I bought his great book about baseball, “The Grind.” But I disagree with him on this, vehemently. This is a solution in search of a problem. There is simply zero evidence that voters for either the Hall of Fame or other awards in the major sports are the target of influence peddling by the people that they cover, and who would be the potential beneficiaries of their votes.

One example: I, along with most NBA writers and broadcasters who vote for the yearly awards, am fully aware that the LA Clippers’ Jamal Crawford thinks he should be Kia Sixth Man of the Year, every year. Some years, when I thought he deserved it, I voted for him. And other years, when I thought someone else was more worthy, I voted for them. So I was not surprised when Jamal was salty with me (in his good-natured way) and ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe when we saw him in the Clips’ locker room just before the playoffs last year -- he knew that Zach and I had both voted for other people -- Andre Iguodala (Zach) and Enes Kanter (me). I’m happy for Jamal that he wound up winning the award, and if he made some extra loot because of it, fine by me.

But that doesn’t change my opinion; I thought Kanter was the best guy off anyone’s bench last season. I’ve had coaches lobby for their players. You take it into consideration, along with all the other information you think about. There was a “perception” among some that there was a child pornography ring being run by Hillary Clinton out of a D.C. pizza parlor that I’ve gone to. It wasn’t true. And we shouldn’t change things based on stuff that isn’t true. I understand potential conflicts of interest; that’s why, every time I write about something that Turner Sports is doing, I note that they are my employer and they operate NBA.com. I think that’s much different from voting for the Hall of Fame.

Plus, Barry leaves vacant the question: if the media doesn’t vote for these awards and honors, who should? Fans? The same fans who currently have Zaza Pachulia ahead of Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Marc Gasol and Draymond Green in frontcourt voting in the Western Conference for the All-Star Game? Those fans? I think we can all agree they’re probably not the most objective group of people about player accomplishment. Players? See fans. Coaches? GMs? NASA? In the meantime, I’ll keep voting, in the best and fairest way an imperfect person can do so.

4) I’m from D.C. So I like go-go music. I get people outside of D.C. may not like go-go. I am not from New Orleans. So I don’t get the whole King Cake Baby thing. Gives me the creeps.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

-- Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb), Saturday, 5:17 p.m., invoking Kobe Bryant’s catchphrase after the Raiders were eliminated from the playoffs against Houston in the NFL’s wild card round. Carr missed the game after suffering a broken leg in Week 15 of the regular season.

THEY SAID IT

“I heard the cheering before the game. I didn’t like that at all. I think that was a sign of disrespect to me from the fans. That sparked a little fire in me.”

-- Celtics forward Jae Crowder, responding after Boston fans cheered Utah small forward Gordon Hayward -- a likely unrestricted free agent next summer who has long been rumored to be a potential target of the Celtics -- when Hayward was introduced at TD Garden before Boston’s home game last week with the Jazz. Crowder scored 21 points against Hayward and Utah, including five three-pointers. Crowder later apologized for amplifying his thoughts on Twitter, and he got a warm ovation from the home crowd Friday night against the 76ers.

"I'm actually happy we lost today because there's some things that we need to correct in order to win a championship, and that's our goal. So trying to win every regular-season game really don't matter. I want to see us get better each and every time we step on the floor, and I don't feel like that's been happening for the things we need to get better at. So I'm kind of thrilled that we lost because you usually make corrections when you lose."

-- Draymond Green, who said the Warriors’ fourth-quarter offense in their come-from-ahead overtime loss Friday to Memphis was “atrocious,” and who got into it on the floor with Kevin Durant after the Warriors didn’t run a pick-and-roll, going instead for an iso for Durant.

“He said we’ve got to play better defense.”

-- Wolves guard Ricky Rubio, to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, on President Obama’s remarks to the team when they visited the White House last week.

More Morning Tip:Rockets realizing Morey's vision | DA's Top 15 Rankings

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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