Lots of people in basketball people say the same thing: The D-League is not a bad place to play, but the money stinks. If they'd pay just a little more, they could get tons more players.
D-League President Dan Reed gets the job of defending those wages, and does so in a recent post on his blog. His pitch has a lot to do with the fact that lots of D-League players get to spend time on NBA rosters. He has numbers, which I have paraphrased:
There are 111 former D-Leauge players on NBA training camp rosters right now. 65 of those were in the D-League just last season, which is more than a quarter than the entire league.
15% of NBA players are from the D-League as of the end of last season.
100% of mid-season call-ups to the NBA from a minor league over the last three years has come from the D-League.
Then he gets to talking about money:
We know that our players don't get paid as much as they might overseas. But the players and agents that are one or two steps ahead of the game see it for what it is -- it's an investment in their future.
Where else can you go to obtain a 25% chance of making an NBA roster, play in front of NBA scouts every night, and get world-class coaching and development opportunities??? No other basketball league in the world offers that opportunity.
I equate this to my decision to attend business school -- sure, I now have a good amount of debt and gave up even more than that in lost salary during my 2 years in school, but I came out of that experience better trained and better credentialed to succeed (and make more money!) in the long-term.
No way I'm President of the NBA D-League without my MBA. Ask Kelenna Azubuike, CJ Watson, Matt Carroll, Mikki Moore, Devin Brown, or any of our 75 NBA players from last season whether they'd be there without us, and I suspect they will tell you the same thing. Shoot, even ask our player alumni who are playing overseas right now -- they'll tell you they are playing in higher level leagues and making more money now because of the exposure and training they received in the NBA D-League.
That said, we think we offer a pretty fair compensation package, all things considered. Our top players can expect to make a little over $30K over 5 months, which equates to $72K on an annual basis -- certainly not minimum wage. They receive full benefits, free housing, per diem while on the road, and free gear from adidas.
And don't underestimate the value to many of our players of staying in the States near family and friends, and the stability that being in our league offers. We do our best to eliminate their expenses so they can focus on what's most important -- getting better on the basketball court, and showing their best stuff to NBA scouts. Plus what's a 25% chance to make the NBA minimum salary level (around $450K/year) worth to you?