Everyone in the NBA makes a good wage, but some of those wages are much higher than others. The top end of the spectrum pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars, and that’s what the media often focuses on. However, there’s a lower end to that spectrum as well.
This guide does a deep dive into that spread by looking at the lowest paid players across the league. While they still make a decent check compared to most people, there’s no doubt that the earnings are far below what most fans expect from professional athletes.
High (and Low) Cash Flow
Everyone is aware that top athletes make a ton of money on a yearly basis. Anyone on a max contract is pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars, and that’s without considering external deals, endorsements, or any big investments they might have.
Even role players can earn a few million per season, especially during the recent shifts that worked to increase the salary cap. Extra cash for teams turned into extra cash for the players, which then raised general earnings across the entire league.
Still, there are quite a few players across the NBA who never see the court. Every team has bench players in their system, there are also practice squad-style athletes who only exist to help the stars get better, and there are various players who exist on 10-day or two-way contracts.
All of those athletes make a decent amount of money, but they are nowhere close to the same realm or tax bracket as megastars or those with a decade of experience. It’s largely a sliding scale, with the top of the top pulling in most of the money.
Before getting into the least paid NBA players, it’s first critical to analyze how low-end salaries work at the top. As with all professional sports leagues, the NBA has what is known as a minimum salary. That refers to the lowest amount of money someone can earn in a year.
No matter how much someone plays, or how little they contribute to a team, if they’re on an official one year contract they need to earn at least $1,017,781 for that season. That’s a lot of cash, and it scales based on how long someone has been around.
The above figure is how much a rookie would make on a minimum salary. It then steadily rises based on experience. One through four year players make between $1.6 million and $1.9 million, while 5 to 9 years players earn between $2.1 and $2.6 million.
If an athlete spends 10 or more years in the league, they earn at least $2,905,851. That’s the veteran minimum, and something that occurs when a former all star wants to join up with either a super squad or their old franchise in order to go out in the way that they want.
Either way, it’s almost always true that if someone steps onto a court for any reason during a season (or simply rides the bench) they are going to get a large paycheck.
The only exception to that rule is if someone is on a 10-day contract. That refers to when someone signs with a team for a 10 day “trial period” to see how good they might be. During that time, they can earn anywhere between $50,000 and $130,000.
However, they don’t technically count as true NBA players because, after the 10-day period runs out, they need to either be kept onto the squad (and their salary goes up) or they get released or sent back down to the G-League.
The Lowest of Lows
Going off the above criteria, it’s clear that those on 10-day contracts are the lowest paid in the league. Still, as their salaries fluctuate so much outside of that week and a half, they aren’t considered to be on the same level as everyone else.
Not only that, but there’s another exception to consider as well. While the minimum contract rule is enforced on one-year contracts, it doesn’t apply to any other deals. That means, if someone is on a longer or uniquely structured deal, they can earn less.
A perfect example of that is the current lowest paid player in the league, Ishmail Wainright of the Phoenix Suns. The shifty guard will pull in a total of $633,891 this season. That’s less than anyone else because he’s on what’s known as a two-way contract.
Like a 10-day deal, a two-way contract allows a player to go out for both a team and their G-league affiliate. However, unlike a 10-day deal, there’s a set amount that’s worth much more money. The reason for that is a two-way athlete often sees a lot more games.
Wainwright is expected to stay in the NBA for up to 50 games of the season (depending on how well he performs) and he will then spend with the Suns’ G-league affiliate.
Such deals allow a team to fully test someone out before deciding to send them up or down, and it doesn’t cost them that much to do it. That’s why Wainwright earns so much less than everyone else in the NBA.
Across All Spectrums
The average NBA salary sits at $4,347,600. That’s an incredible amount of money, but it also shows how much (and how little) certain players get paid. With a lot of superstars being on supermax deals, there have to be a lot of minimum contracts to drag everything down.
If Curry earns nearly $50 million a season, many players need to be in the hundreds of thousands to balance it out. That’s just how the math works out, and why sports leagues are so top heavy. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s always important to remember.
Continuing that trend, the average MLB salary sits at $4.41 million, and the NFL’s is roughly $2.7 million. That makes a lot of sense, with the minimum salaries coming in at $700,000 and $705,000 respectively. Those will go up over time, but it’s a slow crawl.
There are always going to be players making extravagant living off of their craft, but not everyone falls into that category. Wainwright is still making a ton of money, but he can’t just blow it all right away. That’s especially true because most careers are so short.
The lowest paid players are always going to be those on minimum, 10-day, or two-way deals. They don’t tend to stick around for very long, either. It’s not just about how much a player can earn in a year, it’s about how consistently they can get that paycheck.
No matter how you cut it, even the lowest NBA players pull in a lot of money. The league minimum has only gone up over the last few decades, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Unique deals, including 10-day and two-way contracts, pay out more than ever.
Still, big NBA contracts are not easy to come by. Someone might get a deal one year and then be back in the G-League the next. It’s all about staying in shape, improving skill, and staying on a roster. Minimums can be a lot, but they only last so long.