A behind-the-scenes look at life on a 10-day contract in the NBA

A behind-the-scenes look at life on a 10-day contract in the NBA

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A behind-the-scenes look at life on a 10-day contract in the NBA

Around this time every year, NBA teams sign players to 10-day contracts. Rebuilding teams may cycle through several 10-day players in what’s essentially an extended tryout for next season, while contenders are searching for bargain-bin veterans who may fit in their system and contribute during their postseason run.

Many talented players have been signed to a 10-day contract including Anthony Mason, Manute Bol, Kurt Rambis, Mario Elie, Kevin WillisKenny Smith, Spud Webb, John Salley, Bruce BowenKenyon Martin, Juwan Howard, Raja BellShaun Livingston and Matt Barnes.

This season alone, notable players such as Lance Stephenson, Jarrett Jack, Gary Neal, Alonzo Gee, Quincy Acy, Jordan Crawford, Joel Anthony, Ronnie Price, Toney Douglas, Archie Goodwin and Ray McCallum have inked at least one 10-day deal with a team.

Teams can sign a player to consecutive 10-day contracts and then they must decide if they want to keep that individual for the remainder of the season. While the pay varies depending on a player’s experience, 10-day contracts can be worth anywhere from $30,000 to $55,000. That’s more than what top D-League players earn for an entire season ($25,000). If a player signs a second 10-day contract or inks a deal for the remainder of the season, they’ll earn significantly more. There’s a reason these are highly coveted deals, especially for D-League players.

However, a 10-day contract puts a ton of pressure on the player, giving him a little over a week to get acclimated and make a strong first impression. Every player wants to showcase their skill set, but doing too much and focusing on your individual success can get you sent home too. Oh, and because of the crazy NBA schedule, a player may only get one or two practices with his new team, making it even harder to get adjusted.

In order to learn what happens behind the scenes during those stressful (yet exciting) 10 days, HoopsHype talked to CJ Watson, Derrick Williams, Xavier Silas and Quinn Cook. As a reminder, here’s how each of those players ended up on a 10-day deal.

  • Watson started his professional career in Italy, Greece and the D-League before finally getting a 10-day contract with the Golden State Warriors in 2008. He has been in the league ever since and is now a 10-year NBA veteran.
  • Williams was waived by the Miami Heat earlier this season. Rather than signing a guaranteed deal with another team, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft chose to sign a 10-day contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers because he wanted to join a contender. He was then signed for the rest of the season.
  • Silas was in training camp with the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2011-12 season, but was ultimately cut and spent the campaign playing in the D-League. However, Philadelphia signed him to a 10-day deal near the end of the regular season and kept him during their playoff run.
  • Cook shined in the D-League and was signed to a 10-day deal by the the Dallas Mavericks last month. Dallas let him go after his first 10-day expired. [UPDATE: The New Orleans Pelicans signed Cook to a two-year contract on April 8.]

GETTING THE NEWS

Watson: “When I first found out I got the 10-day deal with the Warriors, it was pretty hectic and definitely surprising. My agent and I would talk every week, but I had been in the D-League for about a month and I actually told him to just stop calling unless I got a call-up. So we didn’t talk for a few weeks. Then, he called me when I was sitting around after practice and he told me I got called up. I was so happy, so excited, and I was with all my D-League teammates. They were really supportive and they told me, ‘Don’t come back here! Go do it for all of us.’ And that’s what I did.”

Williams: “I was still in Miami when I first got the news. It was pretty quick. I think I got released by the Heat on a Monday and I was playing for the Cavs by Thursday. I had to be in Oklahoma City by Wednesday night to join the team, but I was still in Miami when I got the call. My situation was a bit different because I chose to put myself in the 10-day position. It wasn’t the only option I had at the time, but I wanted to go to a team that had playoff experience, where they were going to allow me to play and where I felt I could help them win. I had never been in that position of playing on a 10-day and I kind of wanted to put my back against the wall a little bit to see how well I would play. It happened to be on a very good team. Now I’m just trying to be one of the pieces on this great team and hopefully help them win another championship.”

Silas: “The D-League season had just ended, so I was going to Scottsdale to work out with my trainer just in case I got a call. I got to Scottsdale and I climbed Camelback Mountain the first day I was there. Then, I went to sleep and the next morning, I wake up to all these text messages and missed calls. That’s how I found out. Then, I was just rushing around, packing some stuff and trying to catch my flight, which was in an hour and 45 minutes. This was before Uber, so I had to find someone to take me to the airport. It was pretty chaotic. I met the team in Milwaukee and it was on. We had a quick shootaround and then it was time to play. I ended up playing 19 minutes against the Bucks.”

Cook: “I found out the news when my agent called me. He said that the Dallas Mavericks wanted to bring me in, but he told me not to tell anyone. So I couldn’t say anything until I heard back from my agent later that day and it was finalized. Then, I called my mom, my sister, my close friends and my coaches to tell them. It was really cool to see my family and friends so excited. They were all really happy for me because they know how badly I want to be in the NBA and how hard I work. It was really, really cool to see their reaction. After making those calls, I started getting ready.”

THE FIRST DAY

Watson: “That first day is definitely stressful. You have to pack up, move into a hotel, sign your contract, meet your new teammates, figure out a new system that you likely know nothing about and learn all of the plays that they’ve been running all year. In most cases, you are joining a team that has been together for four or five months, so you just have to try to fit in and find ways to contribute. It’s like being the new kid in school. Everyone already has their friends, the buddy system is already in place (laughs). You’re meeting most of these guys for the first time, just hoping everyone likes you and you get along with everybody.”

Cook: “The timing was pretty crazy. I played in the D-League All-Star game that Saturday in New Orleans. And in the D-League, we treat it like a real game, so we had a real practice and then played a competitive game. Then, on Sunday, I tried to fly back home to Ohio, but I had an airplane issue so I was in the airport for 11 hours and didn’t get home until 3 a.m. on Monday. When I woke up Monday morning, my agent texted me, ‘Where are you?’ I told him I was in Ohio and he said, ‘Well, you need to fly back to New Orleans because the Pelicans want to work you out.’ So I flew back to New Orleans and worked out for them on Tuesday. Then, I flew to meet my D-League team in Delaware because we had a game on Wednesday. I was so exhausted, but I played. We got back from Delaware and were in Ohio on Thursday and that’s when I got the news about the 10-day with Dallas. I had been through the ringer and I was exhausted, but I didn’t even care. I was so happy. I got what I wanted, I got the opportunity, so I didn’t focus on the other stuff. All I wanted to do was be the best pro I could possibly be for those 10 days.”

Silas: “My situation was unique because I had a relationship with Philly before signing the 10-day contract since I went to training camp with them. What they wanted to do was bring me in on a 10-day for the last two games of the season to see if they wanted to keep me for the playoff run. Because I had been to training camp with them, I knew all of the players. So when I first got there, all of the guys were happy that I got the call-up and happy that I might be a part of the playoff run. A lot of them had felt like I had gotten snubbed initially. It was really cool; it felt like it was meant to be and I’m actually still friends with a lot of guys who were on that team. It was such a great experience.”

GETTING ACCLIMATED

Watson: “You don’t want to get one 10-day deal and then go back to the D-League, so you have to find the right balance where you’re contributing but not trying to do too much. You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes either. And you don’t have much practice time. I just tried to work with the assistant coaches as much as possible and go over plays. You just have to play your game and not really worry about whether you’re doing enough or doing too much. You just play and let the chips fall where they may. Fortunately, I actually adjusted pretty quickly because Coach [Don] Nelson threw me out there just to see what I could do and see what he had. And it didn’t take me too long to learn the plays because, back then, he played small-ball and there weren’t really a lot of plays to run. Sometimes, it felt like we were out there playing pick-up. We were out there freelancing. It was a lot of fun actually.”

Williams: “You want to be aggressive, but you also want to come in and play the right way. You know what I mean? You don’t want to do too much. But, at the same time, you don’t want to be passive either. You have to just take what you can get and have that aggressive mentality on both ends. You have to find that balance. A lot of vets have told me, ‘Get engaged on the defensive end and that’s going to give you rhythm on the offensive end.’ That’s what I try to do. It helps that the fit here in Cleveland has been great.”

Cook: “I knew a lot of the players, so that was a big plus for me. I was well acclimated with them. But you’re getting used to new coaches, a new system, a new city, a new facility and all of that. It’s definitely an adjustment. The biggest thing is that the team has been together all season, so they’re in sync and rolling already. The Mavs were pushing for a playoff spot and they’re one of the best-run organizations. It was definitely an adjustment for me, joining them midseason, but the veterans helped me a lot and I got acclimated quickly. There were two of us who were on 10-days – myself and Ben Bentil. They had also just traded for Nerlens Noel, so all three of us were adjusting and learning at the same time. We came in early most mornings to go over plays and run through them before the actual shootaround. We had one practice the whole time I was there, so I would just try to come in early and watch film and stuff like that. I’m a visual learner and I’m good at learning on the fly, so it wasn’t too hard for me to learn the plays and terminology. But it is weird when you’ve been running a different system and different plays all year and then suddenly you’re picking up new sets and new terminology.”

Silas: “When it comes to playing time or your performance, you can’t stress out about it. If you get stressed, it’ll be counterproductive and you’ll just do worse. It’s like squeezing a bar of soap in the shower. If you squeeze too hard, it’ll slip out; if you don’t squeeze hard enough, it’ll fall out. You have to find the right grip. You can’t stress yourself out, but you also have to take it seriously as well. It’s one of those things where you have to find that balance, and that’s tough. People don’t understand how much goes into it on the mental side. You have to stay confident no matter what. But that’s difficult when you don’t know when you’re going to play or when you’ll get touches. John Wall once called me a microwave because I’m able to heat up quick. That’s something you have to be able to do if you’re on a 10-day and battling for a roster spot. It’s a mental challenge as much as it is physical.”

LEARNING FROM VETERANS

Watson: “When I got called up, there were a lot of veterans on the team. We had Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, Al Harrington, Matt Barnes, Kelenna Azubuike and others. Kelenna was a D-League call-up too and we had the same agent, so I talked to him a lot when I first got there. It was cool to hear about his experiences and learn from him. Anthony Morrow and I tried to sort of pattern our careers after Azubuike’s because he was one of the first guys who got called up and then signed a longer deal after his 10-days were up.”

Williams: “It’s tough [joining a team midseason]. But pretty much everybody on this team is a veteran and there are a lot of guys in my corner who want me to do well, which feels good. Channing Frye, LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, Kevin Love and all of those guys have been in this league a long time and they have playoff experience, which is something that I haven’t had yet. I’m really looking forward to going deep in the playoffs with these guys.”

Cook: “I wanted to ask a lot of questions. I wanted to be the ultimate pro and just learn from the vets. I wanted to be the first one in the gym and the last to leave. The coaches saw how hard I was working and how badly I wanted to improve.”

GAME TIME

Watson: “Looking back, some of those Warriors teams were really ahead of their time. I think Coach Nelson invented small ball, and he definitely impacted the way that the game is played today. If you go back and look at the games, there were times when I was playing power forward [at 6’2]! Coach Nelson would tell us, ‘If you don’t shoot the ball, I’m taking you out of the game.’ He encouraged shooting, especially three-point shots, and always wanted us to be aggressive. That definitely helped my confidence. Instead of being really nervous and scared of making mistakes because I was on a 10-day, he let me make those mistakes and learn from them and that really helped me. It made me more comfortable too. It was a lot of fun to play with those guys and for Coach Nelson.”

Cook: “The first day I got there was an off day, so I wasn’t with the team. The next day, I started learning the plays and we had a game against Miami that night. You’re really thrown into the fire with no practices or anything. I thought that helped me, though, because I was ready and I got my first NBA minutes quickly. All things considered, with those being my first games in the NBA, I thought I did pretty well.” [Dallas was 4-1 in the games Cook played.]

Williams: “As soon as I got here, they inserted me into the offense and the defense, trying me in certain spots and [testing me] at three or four different positions. It’s been great. I’m embracing the position-less basketball and picking my spots to be aggressive. I’ve really simplified my game and I’m working on specific things since I know where I’m going to get my shots and what’s being asked of me on the defensive end.”

Silas: “I played about 20 minutes in both of the regular season games. Then, the playoff started and I didn’t dress for the first round against the Chicago Bulls. I was in a suit on the sideline. That wears on you and you start wondering, ‘Am I good enough? Why did they call me up?’ There’s a lot of stuff that goes through your head. But I used it as motivation. I would go super hard during shootaround and even during walk-throughs. That allowed me to earn my way into dressing for the second-round series against the Boston Celtics and put someone else in the suit. I ended up playing and scoring in that series. That was really cool, being able to say I played and scored in the second round of the playoffs against Boston.”

ADJUSTING OFF THE COURT

Silas: “A lot of people don’t realize what takes place behind the scenes. I didn’t get a place in Philly because I didn’t know how long I’d be there. I stayed in the Homewood Suites, which is a really nice place right next to the practice facility there. It’s within walking distance. But it’s basically a business trip. It actually helped me stay focused because you want to get to that point where you have your own place and have that comfort. It gave me something to strive for.”

Cook: “It only took me about five minutes to pack up. When I was in the D-League, I never unpacked. I kept my three suitcases packed and I lived out of those. I didn’t want to get comfortable. I’m used to living out of my three suitcases, and then I stayed in the hotel that the Mavericks put me in. It’s sort of similar to pre-draft workouts, because you’re working out every other day in different cities. I’m pretty used to all that stuff by now.”

Williams: “[Adjusting off the court] was interesting. After two 10-day deals and about a week, I finally moved into my own place. It had been almost a month of living in a hotel. Now, I can get my stuff shipped out, get a little bit more acclimated and get used to the city of Cleveland. Once I get even more comfortable, hopefully the best is yet to come.”

ANXIETY AS THE 10-DAY DEAL EXPIRES

Watson: “When my 10-day was almost up, it was really stressful. You don’t know if they’re going to keep you for a second 10-day contract until that final day, so you’re just counting down the days and hours. All you can do is hope that you played well enough and made a strong enough impression on everyone around the team. They ended up keeping me [for three seasons]. It was a great feeling. You put so much time in, doing whatever you can to make a team and then trying to get in the rotation, it’s rewarding when you sign a deal that you feel you’re worth. Even if it takes a while and you feel like it’s long overdue, it’s all a part of the process.”

Silas: “When my 10-day was up, I was trying to just keep my head down, get on the plane and make it to Chicago for our playoff series. I figured if nobody said anything, I was good. I was just trying to dodge people and blend in (laughs). I remember counting the minutes, counting the seconds until we were in Chicago. I was hoping it was too late for them to get rid of me! But they wanted me to stay on the team and once you’re in the playoffs, you’re on the team for as long as they advance. We were able to beat the Chicago Bulls in six games in the first round and we took the Boston Celtics to seven games, but lost in the second round. So it ended up being way longer than a 10-day, which was really cool.”

Cook: “A lot of people assume the 10 days fly by, but it honestly felt like I was there for a month. It went by slowly for me, not quickly. But that was good because I didn’t want it to fly by. I wanted to cherish every moment because I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“I know there are certain things that I can’t control. Getting a call-up is all about opportunities and situations. You can’t control whether a team calls you up or calls another guy up. Last year, I would get frustrated a lot. It’ll drive you crazy if you’re constantly looking at it like, ‘Why did this team call that guy up instead of me?’ I learned that my first year. This year, I just focused on the tasks at hand, controlled what I could control and made sure that I was ready when that call came.”

CONFIDENCE BOOSTER

Cook: “It was definitely validating. That was the biggest thing for me. I’ve played in the preseason two times, but that’s not the real thing. I’m not saying the preseason doesn’t matter, but it’s different because the results and stats don’t count and it’s not the real thing. To play well in regular-season games and to do it late in the year when teams are trying to fight for seeding and position themselves for playoff runs, it did a lot for my confidence. We beat playoff teams like the Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder. And I went up against Goran Dragic, Mike Conley, Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook. That helped my confidence and I think I proved – to myself and the rest of the world – that I belong in the NBA.”

Silas: “That experience helped my confidence a ton. Being able to score in the second round of the playoffs? There are people who play years in the NBA who don’t get to do that. It was definitely a confidence booster and it’s sort of a milestone for me. Looking back, it was a great experience. I’ve come a long way since then. I’m at least five times better now than I was when I was with Philly. Having more experience is huge. And I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been. I just had a son, which added even more motivation. Playing in the NBA has always been my dream and I want to accomplish it more than ever right now. I know I can help a team, providing defense and shooting and spreading the floor.”

Watson: “There’s no doubt that my experiences helped me. It definitely made me mentally tougher. When you’ve played overseas and then the D-League and grinded like that, you know you can make it through anything. That helped me, especially as I’ve gone through some injuries throughout my career. It made me more resilient and helped me when I was fighting through the injuries or doing things that others thought I couldn’t do.”

ADVICE FOR 10-DAY PLAYERS

Watson: “My advice for a young guy on a 10-day would be just understand that it’s a process and keep working hard to improve your game. Whatever the general managers or coaches say you need to work on, focus on improving that aspect of your game. Also, you should always be working on your leadership skills, especially if you’re a point guard. I think being a good leader is the biggest key to making it in the NBA. You have to be vocal and be able to communicate with your teammates.

“I always root for guys who didn’t get drafted or played in the D-League or had to fight on 10-day contracts. When you go through stuff like that, it’s a different grind from the guys who get drafted and who know what the future holds. It’s a different feeling for the fringe guys. Trying to get called up and make a team and crack the rotation and then stay in the rotation, it’s a different grind. I have a lot of respect for guys who have been through that.

“When you’re going through that, you’re really hungry and motivated. You’ve been in the D-League and you’re trying to get to the NBA and prove you belong. And you feel like you should already be there, but you weren’t picked or were overlooked for whatever reason. There’s a chip on your shoulder. But I’d also tell them that you have to keep that same hunger throughout your career because you need it to stay in the NBA. New guys are coming in every year and they’re younger than you, faster than you and all that, so you have to keep putting in work and keep getting better. Don’t lose that hunger.”

For more behind-the-scenes coverage, check out these articles: 

NBA players explain what it’s like to be traded midseason 

NBA executives share how trades are negotiated and completed

NBA players talk about what it’s like to hear their name in trade rumors

Second-generation NBA players discuss following in fathers’ footsteps

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