First-round picks have become highly coveted commodities around the NBA, and while they moved with more frequency during this season’s trades than in years past, the same could be said for just about every sort of asset in a wild few months of player movement. One of the primary reasons why those picks are so highly valued is the cost-efficiency of the rookie scale contract. First-round picks who pan out, and lottery picks in particular, come at a steep discount for their first four seasons in the league. There isn’t a team in the league that wound blink an eye at forking over the roughly $5.607MM that Anthony Davis makes this season, and the same is true of his nearly $7.071MM salary next season.
Most rookie scale contracts are even less expensive than that, and even when first-rounders don’t fulfill their promise, rookie scale contracts aren’t too burdensome. Only the first two seasons involve guaranteed salary. Still, just as with future first-round picks, teams are occasionally enticed into giving up rookie scale contracts.
The prospect of the sort of raise a player would command on his next contract no doubt spurs some of this movement, and indeed, five of the 13 rookie scale contracts to have been traded since the start of the season are in their fourth and final seasons. Still, that isn’t a particularly large share, especially considering that Austin Rivers, a third-year player, was traded twice. Of course, Rivers is on an expiring deal, since the Pelicans declined his fourth-year team option before the deadline to do so this past October. The same is true of Thomas Robinson, whom the Blazers shipped to the Nuggets and whom Denver subsequently waived only to see the Sixers pick the rest of his rookie scale contract off waivers.
Still, an ending contract wasn’t the factor for nearly half of the players on the list below, including rookies Adreian Payne and Tyler Ennis, whom the Hawks and Suns, respectively, dealt without having kept their 2014 first-round picks around for even one full season. Still, the Suns were more active than any other team in this market, relinquishing the rookie scale contracts of Ennis and Miles Plumlee and taking back Reggie Bullock and Brandon Knight on their rookie deals.
Here’s the complete list of players on rookie scale contracts who were involved in trades between opening night and the trade deadline:
- Reggie Bullock (second year): Clippers to Suns
- Michael Carter-Williams (second year): Sixers to Bucks
- Norris Cole (fourth year): Heat to Pelicans
- Tyler Ennis (first year): Suns to Bucks
- Reggie Jackson (fourth year): Thunder to Pistons
- Enes Kanter (fourth year): Jazz to Thunder
- Brandon Knight (fourth year): Bucks to Suns
- Adreian Payne (first year): Hawks to Timberwolves
- Miles Plumlee (third year): Suns to Bucks
- Austin Rivers (third year): Pelicans to Celtics; Celtics to Clippers
- Thomas Robinson (third year): Trail Blazers to Nuggets
- Iman Shumpert (fourth year): Knicks to Cavaliers
- Dion Waiters (third year): Cavaliers to Thunder