The rapid growth of the NBA Gatorade League has led to an array of modifications to the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, and one in particular promises to change the way NBA roster are assembled.
Under the new CBA, starting next season teams will have an additional two hybrid spots, reserved for players with less than three years of NBA experience. These “two-way” contracts can be signed for one or two years.
South Bay Lakers General Manager Nick Mazzella explained some of its complexities, and how it affords both NBA and G League teams additional tools to assemble competitive rosters.
“It’s providing teams with two more roster spots to play with”, he said. “It really just gives teams more flexibility. There are different ways to build a G League roster. In the past you had affiliate players. To be an affiliate player, you could guarantee a certain amount of money to a play to come to your training camp. If they don’t make the team and get cut before training camp ends, and they signed with the (G) League, then you have their rights. If they don’t sign with the League and they go overseas, then you lose their rights completely. You have returning players, guys whose contracts rights you had and they’ve played for you for the last two years. And then there’s the G League Draft, and then the G League tryout.
Now there’s this new two-way contract, which is really not a G League contract, it’s an NBA contract with an NBA team. The thing that’s unique, with G League returning players, their rights were always the main thing. If someone brought Vander Blue to camp last year and they cut him, he would still come back to us, not them, because we have his return rights. But this is an NBA contract, so really any player that’s ever played in the G League, that has (less than three) years of service, they can now be two-way players for other teams. If there’s a G League player that a team really likes…now this is an opportunity to poach them”.
Players who sign these deals automatically belong to their NBA team, and can’t be signed away by other franchises. One of its advantages is a higher salary (up to $75,000 if they spend the maximum allowed 45 days on the NBA roster), significantly higher than the G League max ($26,000). Additionally, these deals don’t count against that team’s salary cap.
Mazzella pointed out that in the last couple of seasons some NBA teams drafted players with no intention of signing them or bringing them to training camp, mainly due to roster or cap crunches.
The rule, which will go into effect on July 1st, still has both teams and agents speculating on what’s the optimum way to gain an edge.
“We’re not sure how we’re going to use it yet”, Mazzella admitted. “You ask people around the league about what their plans are, and I think a lot of people are still trying to figure it out. Now on draft night, do you call your favorite two players that went undrafted and offer them two-way contracts? Do you do it on guys that you’ve liked in the past but don’t want to commit fully to?”
Thursday night’s NBA Draft will be the first true test of how NBA teams will react to and adjust to this new wrinkle in roster construction.
NBA teams will also now be allowed to bring up to four “affiliate players” to training camp, guaranteeing them a maximum of $50,000 each to remain with their G League team if they don’t make the cut in training camp and decide to stay stateside.
“What do players and agents want?” Mazzella pondered. “There are advantages to being an affiliate player versus a two-way player. You’re only guaranteeing 45 days tops in the NBA, where some affiliate players this past season, like Yogi Ferrell, he got called up, and spent three months with the NBA team, signed a multi-year deal and made a lot more money than he would in a two-way (contract). For a team, you’re trying to evaluate it if it’s a player that you like, that’s going to help your G League team win and maybe will be able to fill in on the Lakers side and help them as well. Maybe that’s a player you’d sign to a two-way deal. But if it’s a player you really like, maybe a guy you’re trying to develop, that maybe isn’t good enough right now but you think has a bright future, then maybe that’s the guy you give a two-way too because no other team can poach him”.
At this point in time, the questions still outweigh the answers, and Mazzella argued that it’s going to take a couple of offseasons to get a good read on the situation.
“I’m curious to see how agents are going to approach it and what they’re going to want, because some of them may only want the one year…specially when you can see how much you can make if you’re not in a two-way deal”, Mazzella said. “Do you wait till after Summer League to see who plays well? Do you wait till training camp, and when guys get cut, is that when you call and offer them a two-way contract? It’s really going to be an interesting game that teams will play with each other. I’m sure some teams will make some enemies with each other too because there are going to be guys team expect to have and they’ll get swiped”.
Mazzella added that these contracts could even be used to reward players already in the system. Josh Magette and G League MVP Blue, and forward Justin Harper, are players that come to mind.
The implications of this rule change will affect many other aspects, as these two-way contract can be traded to other teams, and their strategic use could lead to a new approach to call ups. The Lakers went this route with guard David Nwaba last season, signing him to back to back 10-day contracts before inking him to a multi-year deal.
“It shows the growth of the G League, and because of it, they’re changing the size of NBA rosters”, Mazzella said. “I’m also curious to see other teams with these two-way guys…what happens to call ups? Are they going to call up guys that they have in their G League team, or are they’ll be like, ‘hey, we’ll bring in our two-way guy when we need a player’?”
With the 2017-18 season around the corner, we’re about to find out.