Pay raises coming to G League makes early entry more appealing for borderline prospects

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Yesterday, I wrote a column about Nojel Eastern, a Purdue player that is nowhere near an NBA Draft Board as of today, declaring without an agent and why that is a good thing and a smart way to take advantage of a rule in his favor.

The criticism of that column was, overwhelmingly, something along these lines: If he’s so far away from being an NBA player, what’s the point?

The answer: You don’t have to be an NBA player to make a good salary playing the sport you love.

The amount of money that can be made by a player in the NBA’s farm league will increase substantially next season, according to a report from the New York Times, which is the culmination of something that has been in the works for a while. Beginning next season, players on G League contracts will earn $35,000 over the course of the league’s five-month season while also having housing and insurance provided to them. This year, G League players could earn either $19,500 or $26,000 on their contracts, depending on how they are classified by the team.

That does not include the money that can be made if you are designated as an affiliate player, which are bonuses that can be worth up to $50,000 and get paid out when a player goes to an NBA training camp and eventually ends up playing for that team’s G League affiliate; starting next season, there will be 27 NBA organizations with a G League affiliate and, with as many as four affiliate players allowed per organization, more than 100 professional basketball jobs in the United States with a starting salary of up to $85,000.

Then you have to factor in the two-way contracts. Each NBA team is now allowed to have a pair of two-way players on their payroll — essentially, guys that can freely move between the NBA roster and the G League roster — which brings me to the other change the Times reported: That two-way contracts are going to be more valuable next season. The starting salary will jump $2,250 to $77,250, and the maximum potential earnings for two-way payers will be $385,000, depending on how much time they end up spending on the NBA roster.

The goal of these rising salaries is to keep the best American talent stateside. The money that these kids can earn in Europe is typically better than what the G League can pay, and raising these salaries increases the incentive for the best American prospects on the wrong side of the NBA’s cut line to remain developing, learning and training under the organizations that are eventually going to give them their shot in The League.

But the other side of that coin is that it increases the incentive for players in college to head to the professional ranks even if their chances of reaching the NBA in the 2018-19 season are only marginally better than mine.

That $85,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $385,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a college player hears that an NBA team wants him as an affiliate player and he decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $85,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, roughly 30 percent of the roster spots on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.