Monday 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 one of the league’s most reliable backup point guards. He’s putting up career highs in points (11.0) and assists (4.2) per game this season, the last on a two-year, $4.093MM contract he signed with the Pacers.
Ten-day deals also help veterans make comebacks. Chris Andersen languished in free agency for sixth 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 on Miami’s championship team. Andersen reprised that role on a guaranteed minimum-salary contract last season, and that led the Heat to re-sign him this past summer to a two-year, $10.375MM deal.
Similarly, 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. Indiana traded him to Phoenix a year later, and he’s making a strong case to see even more on his next deal as he serves as a vital part of the Suns’ attack.
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 earlier this season. Hunter Atkins of The New York Times followed 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 four years ago. Dowdell has been out of 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 pro-rated portion of the minimum salary, though they can be for more. A minimum-salary 10-day contract for a rookie this season is worth $29,843. A one-year veteran would make $48,028. A minimum-salary 10-day deal with any veteran of two or more seasons would represent a cost of $53,838 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 during 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 could come into play with this year’s new weeklong All-Star break. So, if a team plays only three games in a 12 day stretch, the player must receive at least 12/170ths of the minimum salary, rather than 10/170ths. Regardless of the length of a 10-day contract, the salary is guaranteed, even though the 10-day signee’s place on the roster isn’t assured. Teams may terminate 10-day contracts before they come to term, and that happened on several occasions last season, such as when the Cavs ended their 10-day contract with Shane Edwards a day early so they could sign Seth Curry to a 10-day deal instead. Players who see their 10-day contracts end early don’t go on waivers, so they become free agents immediately.
A team like the Raptors, who are perilously close to the tax threshold, may be wary of bringing anybody aboard via 10-day contract. Other teams may make liberal use of 10-day deals. The Bulls, who played a game of limbo to duck the tax line last season, signed three players to 10-day contracts, as many as any team other than the Sixers, who employed an NBA-high five 10-day signees in 2013/14.
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 Gal Mekel, Jorge Gutierrez and Shannon Brown, figure to draw consideration for 10-day contracts, as should notable players who’ve gone unsigned this season, like Kenyon Martin, Rashard Lewis and Ronnie Brewer. D-League standouts like Curry, Brady Heslip and Quincy Miller 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 from January 15th-19th.
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 and January 4th, 2014.