The NBA Draft has become a very large event leading into each NBA season. Sixty young players are to be called up into the big leagues to get a shot at creating their own legacy at the top of the sport. However, some people rarely think about the type of money that these rookie players make in just their first year in the league. So, what is the NBA rookie minimum salary for these players?
What is the NBA Rookie Minimum Salary? The NBA Rookie minimum salary for 2021/22 season is $925,258. This is a guaranteed salary for any first year player with an NBA franchise. The higher a prospect is taken in the draft, the larger the salary they can attract. The highest salary for the 2021 NBA Draft went to Cade Cunningham who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the number 1 pick. Cunningham will earn $10,050,120 in his first year.
Georgios Kalaitzakis was selected with the final pick of the 2021 NBA draft.
Every single pick in the draft varies though, and some players see themselves get a few extra incentives along the way in their contracts. Still, we know the maximum salary that a rookie is able to make, the reason that rookies can make so much at such young ages.
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Can Rookies Negotiate Their First Contracts?
The answer to that question is yes. Each season there is a rookie contract scale which really determines the maximum and minimum amount of money each player in the draft can receive depending on when they are selected. These players are able to negotiate their contract to get up to 120 percent of that originally expected salary. However, they can overplay their hand and wind up getting only 80 percent of it. Each rookie isn’t able to get more than 120 percent or receive less than 80 percent either. Some players are able to get their totals raised a little bit depending on the situation that they are heading into and what type of position they play. Although, not many have the type of leverage needed to pull something like that off. For example, let’s look at Anthony Edwards. The Minnesota Timberwolves guard was taken with the number one overall selection in the 2020 NBA draft, the rookie scale for the top selection was set at $8,131,200. If he wanted to, he would be able to negotiate his contract all the way up to $9,757,440. If talks went horribly south, then his contract total could plummet all the way down to $6,504,960. Edwards, like many top prospects, was able to secure the maximum 120%.
How Often Does the Rookie Contract Scale Change?
The rookie contract scale changes every single season. The Rookie scale is based on the collective bargaining agreement between the Players Association and the owners. Throughout the past couple of years, we have watched the total cap space rise each offseason which has resulted in top draft picks receiving more money straight away. We previously talked about how Edwards is hauling in more than $9 million on his rookie contract. Another number one overall selection named Deandre Ayton was making more than $1million less for his own first year. The center was drafted by the Phoenix Suns 2 years before Edwards. Ayton received $8,165,160 for that first season. Other players from Ayton’s class like Marvin Bagley received approximately $6,036,200 for being the second overall draft pick. Luka Doncic had his scale set at $5,420,500. We can even go a little further back, all the way to the 2015 NBA Draft. Here, the number one overall selection was estimated at $5,703,600 for his first year in the league. That is just over the amount of money that the third overall pick got a few years afterwards. This just goes to show how drastically the rookie scale can flip from year to year.
Why Is There a Rookie Scale in the First Place?
Originally, there wasn’t a rookie salary cap. Matter of fact, it really wasn’t even discussed often until the year 1994, the season when an NBA team presented the rookie Glenn Robinson with a ridiculous 10-year, $68 million deal. It was and still is the most lucrative deal to ever get handed to a rookie in the league’s long history. That following season, all of the franchises got together and held a long discussion about the matter. They decided to introduce the rookie salary cap the next season and even made a collective bargaining agreement. Included in these rules were that rookies could only be signed to a maximum of four years straight away. Afterwards teams had to shell out some major cash to resign them or possibly let them walk away. Since these new rules came into play, the league has operated a whole lot smoother and far less salary cap controversy has come to light because of rookies.
Richest NBA Rookie in Recent History?
While these recent NBA rookies have really started to rack up big contracts due to increased salary caps, the richest rookie in the past decade has been Zion Williamson. Zion came into the league as probably the most hyped-up athlete since LeBron James. His first contract saw him net a base salary of $9,757,440. That would just go for him in his first year. Williamson was also guaranteed $20,002,920 when signing his rookie deal. That wasn’t even his entire contract either, as he was signed to a four-year, $44,271,137 million dollar contract by the New Orleans Pelicans. On top of all that, Zion got linked to a ridiculously large Nike contract that was estimated to be around $75 million in total. Some reports have already stated that his shoe deal with the company is the largest that any rookie in the NBA has ever signed. We haven’t even mentioned that the deal was signed to last for SEVEN years as well. We haven’t seen a rookie net this amount of cash ever, though if the cap keeps on rising up, we may see somebody surpass this total. The shoe deal is so significant that Zion may well be the first rookie to turn down a max extension ($181million), reject the qualifying offer and leave the franchise that drafted him after just 4 years to pursue his Basketball ambitions with the franchise he chooses.