During the 2011 NBA lockout both the owners and players floated many ideas. At one point the owners proposed a rule that would apply to players assigned to the NBA Development League (more affectionately known as the D-League). The idea was that players who are sent to the D-League should be paid D-League wages while on assignment rather than their NBA contract rate.
The salary of a typical player that would be assigned to the D-League is a few hundred thousand dollars, if not a few million dollars, per season. The D-League rate: $13,000 to $25,500. Not per game. Not per week. Per season. Players understandably rejected this idea.
While the rule never made it into the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Oklahoma City may have found a way to apply this concept to 2013 second round pick Grant Jerrett.
Jerrett, a one-time prized high school recruit, entered the 2013 NBA draft after one statistically unimpressive season for The University of Arizona. The Thunder purchased a second round draft pick in order to draft Jerrett and added him to their (league champion!) Summer League squad in Orlando. Yet as July rolled into August and August rolled into September, there was no sign that the Thunder would sign Jerrett to a contract. Per league rules, the Thunder had to submit a required tender (at least a one-year contract for the league minimum, $490,180 in Jerrett’s case) by September 6 in order to retain his draft rights. Jerrett could have accepted such an offer and booked plans for training camp.
Only Jerrett did not accept the required tender. Instead, in an act of apparent mutuality between the Thunder and Jerrett (as noted here by The Oklahoman’s Anthony Slater) Jerrett agreed to enter the D-League draft. The aim was to get Jerrett to Oklahoma City’s D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, in order to control his development. But there was a small hang-up: The NBA and NBDL have exchanged vows, but haven’t consummated the marriage, so to speak. Jerrett had to enter the D-League via the draft because the 66ers didn’t automatically gain Jerrett’s rights. The 66ers had to pull off a 4-team trade in order to secure Jerrett’s D-League rights.
(Noteworthy: The New Orleans Pelicans did something similar with their 2013 second round pick, Pierre Jackson. They did not, however, have their D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy, perform a series of transactional gymnastics to acquire Jackson’s rights. Jackson’s time in the D-League this season was spent with the Idaho Stampede, the D-League affiliate of the Portland Trailblazers).
So rather than potentially collect a little under $500,000 from the Thunder this season, Jerrett earned only D-League money. While the exact number is unknown, it’s likely that Jerrett earned in 5 months what an average Administrative Assistant or Cable Television Installer earns in a year.
The benefit for the Thunder, of course, was largely financial. Had the team signed Jerrett, he would have like spent the entire season assigned to Tulsa anyway, occupied a spot on the 15-man roster and cost them at least a half million dollars. While the sum seems fairly insignificant in relation to a ~$70 million payroll, it would have reduced some flexibility for the team. At various points during the season, the Thunder used that extra roster spot to sign players to 10-day deals when additional depth was desired. The Thunder was also clearly interested in sitting a couple million dollars under the luxury tax line in case an opportunity presented itself (which it did when Caron Butler became available. But that’s a whole different discussion for another time).
And so the Thunder’s plan with Jerrett seemed fairly straightforward: He’d spend the season earning D-League pay and the two sides would talk again this summer. Then on April 8, the day after the 66ers season ended and with six games remaining on Oklahoma City’s schedule, the Thunder surprisingly announced they had signed Jerrett. His contract would pay just under $29,000 for the rest of the season (the pro-rated minimum salary amount); likely more than he earned during his entire 66ers tenure. The Thunder also holds a team option on Jerrett for the 2014-15 season, though that salary is unguaranteed.
By signing late in the season, Jerrett gets credit for a year of service in the NBA. As explained here by Larry Coon: A player is credited with a year of service for each season in which he is on a team’s active list or inactive list for at least one day during the regular season. He didn’t log a single minute of game action for the Thunder this season, so he will still be considered a rookie whenever (or if ever) he plays in a game. An extra year of service could benefit Jerrett down the road in terms of salary and tenure if he manages to stick in the league.
It was a crafty maneuver by the Thunder front office. While it would be wonderful for the organization if Jerrett was the second coming of Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, it is equally if not more likely that he’s not. The Thunder effectively minimized their financial risk if Jerrett goes the way of former Thunder prospects Kyle Weaver or DJ White. And while Jerrett didn’t immediately net large paychecks, it was this way, the overseas way, or the sophomore season at Arizona way. Whatever his reasoning, he agreed to this path to launch his professional career.
This method is also worth watching as the NBA kicks around the idea of raising the minimum age limit. It is thought that the NBA would also like to build up the quality of the D-League. As the synergy between the parent and child leagues tighten, the “Jerrett maneuver” may become much more commonplace.
(During my research on Jerrett, I stumbled across ESPN’s Top 100 recruits for 2012. Number 1 was Nerlens Noel. Number 6 was Steven Adams. Jerrett was ranked #9, just ahead of Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. Such a list doesn’t hold much significance, but it does illustrate Jerrett’s potential.)
Jon Hamm is a salary cap master, and has recently contributed to NewsOK.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.