Thursday 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. C.J. Watson saw his first NBA action on a pair of 10-day contracts with the Warriors in 2008, and blossomed into a sought-after backup point guard. He signed a three-year, $15MM deal with the Magic in 2015.
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.
More recently, Tim Frazier parlayed multiple 10-day contracts last year into a two-year, $4MM+ deal with the Hornets over the summer, while Jordan McRae landed with the Cavaliers after signing 10-day deals last year with multiple teams. McRae remains under contract for the defending champions this season. Still, the 10-day is usually a fleeting glimpse at NBA life for players on pro basketball’s fringe — most of last year’s signees aren’t currently in the league.
Beginning on Thursday, January 5, a team 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 $31,969, or 10/170ths of the full-season rookie minimum salary. A one-year veteran would make $51,449. A minimum-salary 10-day deal for any veteran of two or more seasons would represent a cost of $57,672 to the team.
Veterans with more than two years of NBA experience would earn more than $57,672 on a 10-day contract, 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 would 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 extended again in 2017, so the situation could repeat itself.
A team may terminate a 10-day contract before it runs to term if it wants to use the roster spot to accommodate a waiver claim, signing, or trade acquisition. Players whose 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.
A team like Portland, which is perilously close to the luxury tax, may be wary of bringing anybody aboard via 10-day contract. Other teams will make liberal use of 10-day deals, in part because they’re relatively inexpensive. A year ago, no team handed out more 10-day contracts than the injury-ravaged Grizzlies, who signed eight different players to at least one 10-day deal.
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.
Players whom NBA teams have recently released, like R.J. Hunter and Nicolas Laprovittola, figure to draw consideration for 10-day contracts, as should notable veterans who have gone unsigned this season, such as Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. D-League standouts like Briante Weber, Ray McCallum, and Jalen Jones 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 NBADL showcase, which will take place later this month in Mississauga, Ontario.
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 by Chuck Myron on January 5, 2013; January 4, 2014; January 5, 2015; and January 4, 2016.