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A Beginner's Guide to Understanding the NBA Rookie Salary Scale

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 28:  Anthony Davis of the Kentucky Wildcats walks off stage after he was selected number one overall by the New Orleans Hornets during the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft at Prudential Center on June 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2017

The negotiating period for NBA rookies is often little more than a formality, thanks to the fact that the league employs a mandatory rookie scale. Rather than leave general managers to their own devices as they assess how much a particular first-round prospect might be worth, the NBA offers a scaled base salary on a set contract structure.

There's plenty of wiggle room in terms of overall contract value, but the rules guiding rookie deals are far more strict than in previous collective bargaining agreements to the incredible benefit of teams and the tremendous relief of general managers everywhere. 

To put things in the proper context:

Anthony Davis may be the New Orleans Hornets' centerpiece going forward, but his slotted starting salary as the top overall pick can exceed no more than 120 percent of $4,286,900 ($5,144,280), and could theoretically be no less than 80 percent of that same figure ($3,429,520).

The first two years of any first-round pick's rookie deal are guaranteed, and from that point the player has two consecutive team options—making a total of four years of highly affordable salary, should said team choose to keep the drafted player around for the final two seasons.*

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was selected second overall by the Charlotte Bobcats, will have a deal operating under the same basic guidelines, but working from a base figure of $3,835,600. Festus Ezeli, by contrast, who was selected with the 30th pick by the Golden State Warriors, will negotiate from a base salary of $850,800.

Every pick in between is scaled accordingly, with the initial salary of the 15th pick (Maurice Harkless, of the Philadelphia 76ers) stemming from a base figure of $1,443,300.

Those selected in the second round operate under a completely different framework, in which they aren't guaranteed any salary whatsoever.

That reduces every second-round rookie negotiation to a player-by-player basis, akin to traditional free agency at a discount. Few players that make it to the second round warrant any kind of substantial contract, and while many are nonetheless able to get guaranteed deals for a season or two, they typically come at an annual cost of a cool million dollars or less.

*Over the life of a player's deal, each year's annual base salary grows increasingly larger. For Anthony Davis, for example, Year 2 would start at a base of $4,479,800, Year 3 (team option) would start at a base of $4,672,700, etc.

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