Here at Liberty Ballers, there's few things we love more than NBA contract minutia, and J.P. Tokoto's decision to sign a one-year minimum tender contract falls right in our wheelhouse.
The concept of "stashing" late second-round picks has been a popular move for European prospects for almost two decades now, but in recent years, the idea of choosing American collegiate prospects and then requesting they play overseas or in the D-League for a year while the team retains their rights has become popular. It's obviously a very team-friendly move, as the team holds the player's exclusive NBA rights without having to pay the player or use a roster spot on them. There are downsides, like not having the player in your player development program, but for the most part, it's a savvy move for the team.
In recent years, second-round selections like Pierre Jackson, Colton Iverson, and DeAndre Daniels have agreed to sign elsewhere to allow their drafting team to preserve their rights. The Sixers did the same with 2013 2nd round pick Arsalan Kazemi, who has played the past season in China while the Sixers retain his rights.
Reports after the draft indicated that Tokoto had agreed to such an arrangement with the Sixers as a condition of being drafted. Whether the report was wrong or something changed since then, we'll likely never know.
Let's look at Tokoto's situation individually first. Tokoto was the 58th pick in the 2015 draft. If the Sixers did not select him, it's highly unlikely he would have been drafted at all (especially since they also had the 60th pick).
By signing the one-year tender, Tokoto is essentially gambling on one of two things.
1) He's going to play well enough this season that he will get a larger contract beginning in year 2, whether that's as a Sixer or elsewhere.
2) The Sixers are going to cut him out of camp.
For the purpose of this article, I'm going to focus on the 2nd option. The first is always possible, but even before the draft, Tokoto was seen as a raw, athletic prospect whose game needed some serious refinement. He reminded me a lot of Jakarr Sampson in the sense that as a long-term project, he would be intriguing.
My first instinct was to call this a foolish move on Tokoto's part, and the part of his agent, Steve McCaskill. You're the 58th pick in the draft. Why would you accept a one-year tender that guarantees you the same NBA salary that I currently collect (that's $0, of course, although my jumper is improving) if you are cut before the season starts, which is a very real possibility when you look at the Sixers roster right now.
But then I took a step back. Another thing we don't know for sure is whether the Sixers wanted to stash Tokoto elsewhere or sign him to a more favorable long-term contract. Again, for the purposes of this article, let's assume they wanted to stash him.
What's in it for Tokoto to be stashed? If he agrees to it, he can only sign with one NBA team for at least a year, and that team has made it somewhat clear that they don't really want him right now.
The argument can be made that maybe they'll want him next year, but he could also find himself in the same situation that Jordan McRae finds himself in after agreeing to be stashed as the 58th pick last year. McRae still doesn't have a contract with the Sixers after a strong showing in Australia last year, and with the Sixers current roster crunch, things aren't exactly looking promising.
Not only that, but McRae's options are now just as limited as they were last year, if not moreso. The Sixers hold McRae's exclusive rights until "one year after the player's obligation to the non-NBA team ends" according to Larry Coon's invaluable CBAFAQ. McRae's season in the NBL ended in February, which means that the Sixers hold his rights until February 2016. What are McRae's options if the Sixers tell him there's no room for him? He can go overseas again, but that just continues the cycle. He can go play in the D-League, but the paltry D-League salaries are a pittance compared to the NBA or many foreign leagues. The Sixers have to offer him the same required tender by Thursday in order to keep his exclusive rights.
By signing the tender, Tokoto eliminates all of that, and puts the ball in the Sixers court.
They can choose to keep him on the roster, which would likely give him the opportunity to showcase himself. The Sixers likely aren't going to strap him to the bench out of spite, and they would probably hope to trade him at some point, as they did with K.J. McDaniels.
They could keep him on the roster and send him to the D-League via the Lorenzo Brown Parkway, but he'd still collect the NBA minimum salary. Or, they can waive him outright and allow him to become a free agent.
It's also possible that another team could claim Tokoto off waivers, but in that case, he'd still have an NBA contract.
If he were to clear waivers and reach free agency, Tokoto can still do all of the things he could do with the Sixers holding his rights. He can sign with an overseas club. He can play in the D-League. The difference, however, is that when the time comes, he'd be able to sign with any NBA team that comes calling, rather than just one.
It doesn't benefit American players to allow NBA teams to stash them to preserve their draft rights. We don't know the specifics of Tokoto's situation, but if he didn't have a long-term offer from the Sixers, signing the tender essentially forces the Sixers hand: Play me, or let me sign somewhere that will.