Several players will sign summer contracts in the weeks ahead, and by definition, those contracts are non-guaranteed. Some of those deals, called Exhibit 9 contracts, will contain even fewer assurances for the player, but teams can only sign players to Exhibit 9’s under specific circumstances.
Standard NBA contracts ensure that if a player is hurt while performing for the team, his salary is guaranteed until he recovers or the end of the season, whichever comes first. Teams can waive Exhibit 9 contracts at any time should the player get hurt and owe a mere $6K.
Since most training camp invitees wind up getting waived before the start of the season, Exhibit 9’s are a vehicle for teams to avoid the sort of situation that befell the Clippers last year, when Maalik Wayns suffered a preseason knee injury. It was a non-guaranteed contract, but not an Exhibit 9, so the Clippers had to carry him on their roster into the regular season. The deal for Wayns was to have become fully guaranteed for the season if the Clippers failed to waive him by the end of December 1st, and he was still unable to play at that point. He gave the Clippers a break when he agreed to push the guarantee date back to January, and the team eventually waived him in advance of that deadline once he had recovered. Still, the injury cost the Clippers an extra month’s worth or so of salary that they may never have intended to pay out. The Clippers were luxury taxpayers last season, compounding the cost of Wayns’ injury.
Exhibit 9’s must be for one season, and they must be for the minimum salary. Just about every summer contract is a minimum-salary arrangement, but many of them stretch three or four seasons, as teams look to take advantage of rules that make lengthy deals more team-friendly. Still, such benefits have a price, as the Wayns example proved.
Teams must have 14 players on the roster before signing anyone to an Exhibit 9. Sometimes, there are players who are curiously released just at the start of training camp, before they have any chance to play their way on to the team. Such was the case with Patrick Christopher and Kalin Lucas last season. The Bulls signed the pair on September 12th and waived them on October 2nd, the second day of camp. As Mark Deeks of ShamSports explained, the Bulls signed them to non-Exhibit 9 deals to bring their roster to 14 and facilitate the use of Exhibit 9’s on the players they wished to have compete for a spot on the opening-night roster. They released Christopher and Lucas before they had a chance to get hurt.
Christopher agreed to a deal Friday with the Grizzlies, who already had 14 players under contract, so there’s a strong chance he’s receiving an Exhibit 9 this time. That’ll give him a chance to at least show what he can do against NBA competition in the preseason in an effort to make it to opening night, even if all the team owes him would be $6K if he gets hurt.
Just as with summer contracts, teams need not have the cap room or exception space to sign a player to an Exhibit 9, as long as they create the necessary room if they keep the player into the regular season. That allowance wouldn’t come into play in most circumstances, since the minimum-salary exception is all that’s necessary to have room for an Exhibit 9. Still, Exhibit 9’s are handy tools for clubs dealing with hard caps. The unintended imposition of guaranteed salary that an injury to a non-Exhibit 9 player might incur could put a hard-capped team in a difficult spot, one in which it might have to waive or trade another player to accommodate someone it merely intended to bring to camp.
The limited liability of Exhibit 9’s help create opportunities for the sort of player who teams would otherwise deem too much of a long shot to make the roster and not worth the risk of having to pay him throughout the season. Still, these deals open up fringe NBA prospects to medical expenses that $6K wouldn’t be enough to cover, just for a chance to compete for a spot at the end of the bench come November.
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.