In 1995, the NBA (to prevent holdouts) and National Basketball Players Association (to channel money toward voting veterans) createda scale for the salary of first-round picks.
The scale has been remarkably effective on both fronts. Most first-round picks are underpaid, and holdouts are extremely rare.
However, the scale – which prescribes a salary based on pick number and year signed – doesn’t completely eliminate negotiations. Players, in each season of a four-year rookie deal, can sign for between 80% and 120% of scale.
In effect, the wiggle room is meaningless. Nearly everyone gets 120%, to the point it’s noteworthy when someone doesn’t.
Andre Roberson (Thunder) and George Hill (Spurs) come to mind as players who received less than 120%. Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez had to fight tooth and nail for the full 120% from the Grizzlies in 2010.
Add Jusuf Nurkic, the No. 16 pick in the 2014 draft, to the rare group who settled for less than 120% percent of scale.
The Nuggets gave Nurkic $1,562,680 next season (about 106% of scale) and $1,642,000 (about 107% of scale) the following season, according to Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com. Nurkic will get the full 120% in the third and fourth seasons of the contract, both option years.
Here’s Nurkic’s actual salary and the 120% of scale he could have earned:
It is believed that Nurkic, a #16 pick, is the highest drafted player to ever not receive the full amount.
By rule, the Nuggets could contribute up to $600,000 for the buyout without it counting toward the cap. I’m guessing they contributed at least $400,000, the total amount Nurkic gave up on his rookie-scale contract. If that’s the case, Denver is effectively forcing Nurkic to pay that amount out of his own income. The Nuggets just structured the deal so the $400,000 doesn’t count against the cap.
If so, that’s a clever way to keep the buyout burden on Nurkic while getting a little cap savings in the process.
In all likelihood, the $200,000 savings won’t matter either year. The Nuggets are above the salary cap and below the luxury-tax now regardless, and they might be in the same situation next summer. But this is a potential edge, .
Nurkic gives up a little money on his contract, but depending how buyout negotiations went, he might have broken even – or even come out ahead. Besides, he could have sacrificed much more.