Early Preseason Cuts Not Uncommon

The vast majority of the more than 120 players who’ll hit waivers this month will do so in the final few days before the start of the regular season. Some of them are competing for spots on the regular season roster. Others are around so that their teams can evaluate them during training camp and preseason practices in an effort to gain greatest amount of knowledge possible about intriguing prospects should a need arise later on. Still more fall into that latter category as players bound for the D-League, since signing a player to the NBA roster for the preseason is one way to secure his D-League rights.

Those reasons generally dictate that teams will hold on to those players as long as possible, but sometimes, cuts come with weeks to go before opening night. That was the case for Nikoloz Tskitishvili this weekend, when the Clippers released the former fifth overall pick, and Dan Nwaelele, whom the Grizzlies waived Monday night. It’s not quite clear exactly why the teams parted ways with either so quickly, though Nwaelele suffered a minor injury that had kept him out of practice. I’d speculate that Nwaelele’s contract, a one-year, non-guaranteed deal for the minimum salary, was an Exhibit 9 that limited the team’s liability in case of an injury. If so, the Grizzlies needed only to pay him $6K when they waived him. Of course, Memphis might have saved that $6K if he’d healed by the end of the preseason, so it’s still tough to tell exactly what went on. In any case, he’ll return to the Warriors D-League affiliate, as international journalist David Pick reported, since the Santa Cruz Warriors held his D-League rights from his time with them in 2013/14. Where Tskitishvili will end up remains a mystery.

Sometimes, players request their early release. That was the case last year with Michael Beasley, who asked off the Grizzlies so he could take a deal to play in China. Beasley had reportedly been suffering from an illness that would have made it difficult for him to stick for opening night on his non-guaranteed deal for the minimum salary, while China’s Shanghai Sharks were offering a lucrative contract, so the former No. 2 overall pick had financial motivation to make his move.

On other occasions, the financial motivation is the team’s. Exhibit 9’s aren’t allowed unless a team already has 14 players under contract, and so occasionally, teams will sign a player to a standard contract just so they can sign others to Exhibit 9’s and then release the player on the conventional deal. Players who aren’t on Exhibit 9’s and who sustain injuries while playing for the team receive their salary until they’re ready to play again, regardless of whether the team waives them. Thus, any player signed to a standard contract whom the team doesn’t believe is worthy of a regular season roster spot is a quick waiver candidate, lest he sustain injury in practice or a preseason game. Michael Dunigan of the Cavaliers appeared to be in that position, but he’s still on the Cavs roster. He’s one of 20 players with Cleveland, so he or another would have to go if the team finally signs Tristan Thompson, and that demonstrates another reason why camp invitees might hit waivers early. Sometimes, teams simply need the roster room.

Here’s a list of each of the players who hit waivers more than two weeks before opening night last year, one that suggests Tskitishvili and Nwaelele will have plenty of company shortly.

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