The Utah Jazz signed guard Marcus Paige this week, a move that makes it less likely they’ll still hold the former Tar Heel’s draft rights once the season begins.
Yeah, you read that right. Less likely.
Because of arcane rules regarding player rights, the Jazz’s decision to bring Paige to camp will force them to decide by late October whether they want to keep him on the 15-man roster or surrender their exclusive signing rights forever. Since there are four point guards ahead of Paige, that likely means that by Halloween, the Jazz will have decided to sacrifice his draft rights. By contrast, they could have done what they did with 2016 draftee Olivier Hanlan: not invite him to camp, send him 6,000 miles away and retain his draft rights1.
Why should a team have fewer rights to a guy as a result of bringing him into their program for four weeks than they hold for a fella they shipped to the Ukraine2?
Over the next nine months, the NBA and the Players’ Association will be negotiating the collective bargaining pact that governs these types of player rights issues. Their primary goal will be to avoid a work stoppage and determine how they can keep the insane money train rolling through. But it’s also a chance to address certain counterintuitive stipulations. This is one of them, and it doesn’t make sense for teams or for players.
All a team has to do to retain rights to its draftees is issue them what’s called a required tender offer by September 6. But for second-round picks, that required tender is a non-guaranteed minimum contract. In essence, all a team has to do is hand you a piece of paper that says, “We might pay you the rookie minimum,” and they retain exclusive signing rights.
Once a team does that, they retain those rights even if a player signs a contract to play in another league, whether it’s the D League or an overseas team. That’s how Utah held onto Hanlan’s rights for a year, and it’s why they still hold draft rights to players they drafted in the 2000s who have never set foot in Utah.
But once a player signs a contract of any kind — such as the tender or any other type of contract that is subsequently negotiated — then everything changes. Once that threshold is crossed, a team has two options: keep them on the roster, or waive them and forfeit all rights.
Since a player must be under contract in order to attend training camp, it creates a counterproductive situation where bringing draft picks into camp and exposing them to the program costs teams their rights. In this case, the Jazz will seemingly have Ante Tomic’s rights until the end of time despite barely having a relationship with the Croatian center, but they’ll likely lose Paige’s precisely by introducing him to Jazz basketball and giving him a shot. How does that make sense?
Bad for teams, bad for players
It’s obvious why this is detrimental to teams. They could use a draft pick on a player they like, invest in his development, bring him to camp, teach him the system, and then even if he’s the last guy cut to bring the roster to 15, they have no rights to the player. Teams are demotivated from giving a shot to players they have drafted.
The rule allegedly protects players from being strung along. Draft rights preclude the other 29 teams from giving a player a shot, so the current system purportedly forces teams into a crap-or-get-off-the-pot decision so that an unwanted player can move on and chart his pro future elsewhere.
But in practice, players are still being strung along, as teams simply park their rights while giving those same contracts and camp opportunities to (ostensibly) lesser dudes. Look at all the teams who are bringing undrafted rookies to camp even though they have unsigned second-rounders from the last three drafts.
Imagine how you would feel if you were one of those 18 players3: an NBA team liked you enough to spend a draft pick on you (or acquire your rights later), yet they’d rather invite someone to camp whom they can later cut without forfeiting an asset. Some guy they didn’t even draft is going to get the developmental benefit of a training camp and the extra exposure of preseason play while you get ready to play in Zagreb or Canton, and the reason why that’s the case is precisely because the team liked you enough to draft you in the first place.
In all, 28 undrafted rookies will attend camps this year with teams who have at least one recent draftee’s rights. So the opportunity is there, and there has to be a way to stop de-incentivizing teams from considering their own draftees for those chances.
And here’s the real rub: this should be so easy to fix. All the league and players would have to do is agree to create a special waiver process for draft picks who come to camp but don’t make the final roster. This could easily be married with some related proposals about a better farm system and hybrid roster spots to create a much better situation for teams and players, but at bare minimum, they should be able to amend the camp contract in such a way that a team can invite the players they want to invite to fall camp.
In other words, if San Antonio would rather have Patricio Garino on the roster this October than Hanlan, that’s fine, but let’s change the system so that it can be a basketball decision and not solely an asset preservation decision.
The union will rightly worry about a change that could make it easier for a team to stand as an obstacle to their guys finding work in 29 other organizations, but that’s easy to work around, too. All they have to do is press for some compensation to be levied upon triggering the special waiver process, so that teams only hang on to the rights of the guys they’re really interested in. For example: if a player doesn’t make the final roster, a team can retain his rights by making a $100K payment to the player. If they don’t want to pay that $100K, then the player is subject to the normal waiver process and is now a free agent that any team can sign.
Or hell, require that the team guarantee $50K up front to preserve that option. They do that for most non-guaranteed rookies anyway. Basketball Insiders has detailed salary information for 25 of the 28 undrafted rooks listed above, and they got an average of $60K guaranteed. If teams are willing to guarantee $60K per guy just to get those guys in camp, they should be willing to commit that to engage with the players they actually drafted, right?
In Paige’s case, the Jazz’s decision to sign him probably stemmed from an equally obtuse D-League rights rule.
The “affiliated player” clause gives D-League teams the ability to claim first dibs on a certain number of players their NBA affiliate cuts from training camp.
It’s not a bad way to use the 55th pick in the draft. There’s a certain amount of value in ensuring your D-League team has the right development ecosystem (read: good players) to support the goals of the overall program. But it’s important to note that even if Paige is headed to the SLC Stars, the Jazz still lose his NBA rights, and there’s nothing the parent club can do to preclude the UNC product from being called up by any of the league’s 30 teams.
Utah’s other second rounders
For a while, we could have had the same conversation about Joel Bolomboy, but recent details about the contract Utah signed with the Weber State power forward make it look like he’s likely to make the roster.
BI’s Eric Pincus reports that all of Bolomboy’s $600K salary for the upcoming season is guaranteed, along with more than $450K of his ’17-18 salary. It seems unlikely that the Jazz would commit more than a million dollars to someone they were planning to waive in late October. That probably means he’s expected to wrest a spot away from one of Utah’s deep bench bigs. Jeff Withey’s contract is fully non-guaranteed, but most of the chatter is focused on Tibor Pleiss. The German center is owed $3 million, fully guaranteed, but he has underwhelmed so far.
Tyrone Wallace, the 60th pick in the draft, has yet to sign with the Jazz. That means all options are still open for the Cal product: he could play elsewhere while Utah holds his rights or he could ultimately sign a training camp deal.