Tuesday marks the renewal of the annual tradition of the ultimate on-the-job tryout in professional sports. The 10-day contract has been the foot in the door for several players who’ve gone on to lengthy, successful NBA careers, like Anthony Mason, Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell, Kurt Rambis, Howard Eisley and several others. More recently, C.J. Watson saw his first NBA action on a pair of 10-day contracts with the Warriors in 2008, and he’s since blossomed into a sought-after backup point guard. He signed a three-year, $15MM deal with the Magic this past offseason.
Ten-day deals also help veterans make comebacks. Chris Andersen languished in free agency for six months after the Nuggets used the amnesty clause to get rid of him, but a pair of 10-day contracts with the Heat in 2013 kick-started a revival for the Birdman. He wound up signing for the rest of the season that year and played a key role in Miami’s championship run. Andersen reprised that role on a guaranteed minimum-salary contract the next season, and that led the Heat to re-sign him in 2014 to a two-year, $10.375MM deal.
Andersen’s Heat teammate, former first-round pick Gerald Green, had been out of the league for three years when he made a splash during his pair of 10-day deals with the Nets in 2011/12. That earned him a contract for the rest of the season, and he parlayed 12.9 points and 48.1% shooting in 25.2 minutes per game for the Nets into a three-year, $10.5MM contract with the Pacers the following summer. He took a discount to sign with the Heat for one year at the minimum salary this past offseason, but his revamped defensive game and sizable role in the Heat’s rotation suggest that he’ll command much more in free agency this coming summer.
Still, the 10-day is usually a fleeting glimpse at NBA life for players on pro basketball’s fringe. Only a small fraction of last year’s 10-day signees remain in the league, as I noted last month. Hunter Atkins of The New York Times profiled the player whom Green replaced on the Nets roster, chronicling what turned out to be only a brief passage through the league for 10-day signee Andre Emmett. Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated took a similarly revealing look at the life of Zabian Dowdell as he tried to make the most of a 10-day with the Suns in 2010/11. Dowdell hasn’t played in the NBA since that season.
Teams can sign a player to as many as two 10-day contracts before committing to him for the rest of the season, or, as in many cases, turning him away. Ten-day deals are almost always for a prorated portion of the minimum salary, though they can be for more. A minimum-salary 10-day contract for a rookie this season is worth $30,888, or 10/170ths of the full-season rookie minimum salary. A one-year veteran would make $49,709. A minimum-salary 10-day deal with any veteran of two or more seasons would represent a cost of $55,722 to the team. Veterans of greater than two seasons would see more than that, but the league would pay the extra freight. However, teams gain no financial advantage if they eschew 10-day contracts with more experienced players to sign rookies or one-year veterans to 10-day deals in an effort to avoid the tax, as those deals count the same as the ones for two-year veterans when the league calculates a team’s salary for tax purposes.
Teams have to pay slightly more if they sign a player to a 10-day contract and they have fewer than three games on their schedule over that 10-day period. In those cases, the length of the 10-day contract is extended so that it covers three games for the team. It’s rare that any team would have such a light schedule, since most play at least three games a week, but the rule came into play in February 2015 with the Pistons and John Lucas III. Detroit signed him to a 10-day contract after its final game prior to the All-Star break, which the NBA lengthened last season. The Pistons played only three games in the 13 days that followed the signing, so Lucas was essentially on a 13-day deal. He received 13 days’ worth of prorated minimum salary, meaning the pact was worth more than a standard 10-day contract. The All-Star break will be just as long in 2016 it was in 2015, so the situation could repeat itself.
Teams may terminate 10-day contracts before they run to term, and that happened on multiple occasions last season, such as when the Sixers ended their 10-day contract with Tim Frazier a day early so they could claim Thomas Robinson off waivers. Players who see their 10-day contracts end early don’t go on waivers, so they become free agents immediately. Still, those players receive their full 10-day salaries, as the contracts are fully guaranteed for the 10 days.
Teams like the Rockets and Nets, who are perilously close to the hard cap and luxury tax threshold, respectively, may be wary of bringing anybody aboard via 10-day contract. Other teams may make liberal use of 10-day deals, in part because they’re relatively inexpensive. The Clippers, who paid the luxury tax and narrowly ducked their hard cap, handed out seven 10-day contracts last season, more than all but two other teams.
Usually, teams only have one player on a 10-day contract at a time, though they’re allowed to carry as many 10-day contracts as they have players on the inactive list. If a team has 13 players on the active list, it can carry one more 10-day contract than the number of inactive players it has, meaning that if a team has a full 15-man roster, as many as three of those players may be on 10-day deals.
Veterans whom NBA teams have recently released, like Tony Wroten, Russ Smith and Phil Pressey, figure to draw consideration for 10-day contracts, as should notable players who’ve gone unsigned this season, like Carlos Boozer and Glen Davis. D-League standouts like Elliot Williams, Sean Kilpatrick and Jimmer Fredette could all find paths to the NBA via 10-day contracts, and hopefuls from the D-League will make their cases to scouts at the five-day D-League showcase, which runs this week from Wednesday through Sunday.
Note: This is a Hoops Rumors Glossary entry. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to trades, free agency, or other aspects of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ was used in the creation of this post.
Versions of this post were initially published on January 5th, 2013, January 4th, 2014 and January 5th, 2015.