How an NBA hardship exception works

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Thursday, November 06, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Darnell Mayberry

What is a hardship exception?
It’s a temporary roster spot that must be granted by the league. It allows a team to exceed the 15-man maximum roster when it has at least four players who are sick or injured for longer than two weeks. Each of the four sick or injured players must miss at least three consecutive games during their two-week absence. An independent physician, not the team’s doctor, must decide whether each player is required to miss two weeks. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett all having missed at least three straight games while sidelined for at least the season’s first month with various injuries, the Thunder meets the criteria.
How long does the exception last?
Until the first of the four sick or injured players rejoin the lineup. Again, it’s a temporary roster spot. Its purpose is to keep a team that has been decimated by injuries afloat only until the sick or injured players return to the lineup. In the Thunder’s case, the additional roster spot could be good through mid-December.
Can a second hardship roster exception be added?
Yes. And it appears the Thunder might soon require an additional replacement. Perry Jones sustained an injury to his right knee Tuesday at Toronto and could miss s chunk of time. The team called the injury a contusion and is in the process of evaluating him to learn more. But if Jones has to miss at least two weeks, and misses the mandated three consecutive contests, the Thunder can and likely will apply for another exception.
Who is Ish Smith?
Smith is a 6-foot point guard who went undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2010. He’s played for six teams — Houston, Memphis, Golden State, Orlando, Milwaukee and Phoenix — and has appeared in 191 career games. He holds career averages of 2.9 points, 1.4 rebounds, and two assists in 11.5 minutes per game. Speed is Smith’s game. He’s regarded as one of the fastest players in the league with or without the ball. But his shooting is not among his strengths. Smith has attempted only 69 3-pointers, and made just 15, through his first four NBA seasons.
What’s Smith’s contract?
The exact contract terms are unclear. But the contract will be a non-guaranteed deal that is believed to be for the minimum salary. Because he has four years of NBA service, Smith’s minimum contract would be approximately $981,000 for a full season. He’ll earn a prorated portion with the Thunder that compensates him only for the time he’s in Oklahoma City.
How will Smith’s contract affect the Thunder’s salary cap picture?
Smith’s salary still counts against all cap and tax computations even as a hardship exception. But because the Thunder is about $2 million below the tax threshold, Oklahoma City will not exceed the tax by signing Smith.
What does this mean for the rest of the roster?
Relief. No one’s job is in jeopardy. Smith represents only an additional healthy body that can help the Thunder weather this unbelievable injury storm. He gives the Thunder three healthy point guards, which the team traditionally has preferred for insurance purposes, and he’ll keep Reggie Jackson and Sebastian Telfair from having to play 40-plus minutes a night while Westbrook heals from a broken right hand.
Can the Thunder call up 2014 draft picks Josh Huestis or Semaj Christon or another Oklahoma City Blue player?
Yes. Players can be added from the D-League with the hardship exception. In fact, Smith was set to play this season for the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks. But there’s more strategy involved with Huestis and Christon. Huestis is a first-round pick who agreed to spend the entire year in the D-League. If the Thunder signed him now, it would be sort of like a college football coach wasting a player’s redshirt season only to play him in a handful of games. By keeping Huestis in the D-League this year, the Thunder will get his rights for the following four seasons on a standard rookie scale contract. It allows the Thunder to have Huestis under its watch and develop him for five seasons while paying him for only four. The case of Christon is slightly less complex. If the Thunder signed Christon, a second-round pick, the team would lose his draft rights once he was waived and he’d be available to sign with anyone.