After going undrafted out of Creighton in 2007, Anthony Tolliver played in summer league for the Miami Heat, and was granted the honour of being the 16th overall pick in the 2007 Continental Basketball Association draft. These things eventually parlayed themselves into a training camp contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Tolliver’s contract with Cleveland was a typical ‘summer’ (read as ‘training camp’) contract. It was a fully unguaranteed rookie minimum salary contract, which, in the 2007/08 season, was worth $427,163. Tolliver was one of several camp signings for the Cavaliers that season – alongside Noel Felix, Chet Mason, Hassan Adams, Darius Rice, and a re-signed Dwayne Jones – and was an outside shot to make the roster based purely on the numbers game alone.
Concurrent with these moves, Cleveland was embroiled in the long-since-forgotten-about holdouts of Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic. Both restricted free agents out of contract that summer, both unhappy with Cleveland’s best offer, and yet both seemingly unable to get more on the market, the two held out of training camp, waiting for enormous deals that never came. From memory, Pavlovic wanted roughly six years and $40 million, while Varejao wanted $10 million per annum.
The two held out all through the free agency period, all through training camp, all through preseason, and into the regular season. It is precisely because of this that Tolliver, as well as Demetris Nichols, made the Cavaliers roster that season. Pavlovic was the first to crack – he agreed to re-sign to a partially guaranteed three-year, $13,696,250 contract that he was waived after only two years of. He signed this contract on October 31st 2007, the second day of the regular season. And when he did so, Tolliver was waived to open up a roster spot.
It seemed mostly innocuous that Tolliver earned a few dollars for his brief stint with the Cavs that season. There are 170 days in an NBA regular season, and players unguaranteed for a lack of skill are paid per diem for each day they are on the roster, including partial days and time on waivers (which, at the time, was 48 hours not including weekends). For his one day of work, then – a day on which he didn’t even make the active list – Tolliver received four days of pay, $10,051 (which is $427,163 / 170 * 4). Similarly, all three of Adams, Felix and Rice received $8,088 – they were waived suitably late that their two days on waivers earned them two days of pay.
However, the difference between Tolliver’s situation and that of the other trio is that day-and-a-bit he spent on the roster. The amount a player gets in a minimum salary contract differs based on his number of years of experience, but ‘years of experience’ is itself something of a misnomer. To gain a year of experience, a player need spend only one day of the regular season on a team’s roster, and it doesn’t even need to be on the active list. The one-and-a-bit days Tolliver spent, then, was enough to count as a full year of experience. And the by-product of that has been increased salaries ever since.
Tolliver didn’t sign in the NBA again in the 2007-08 season, splitting his remaining time between the D-League and the German league. But the following July, Tolliver signed a two-year minimum salary contract with the San Antonio Spurs, including a $200,000 guarantee in the first season. He made the regular season roster, and stuck with the team right up until January, whereupon he was waived in advance of the league-wide contract guarantee date of January 10th. In that time, Tolliver earned $309,719, 74/170ths of his one-year veteran minimum salary of $711,517. Later that season, Tolliver signed a ten-day contract with the New Orleans Hornets, earning him a further $41,853 (10/170ths), for a total NBA salary that season of $351,573. Had he not spent that time with the Cavaliers the previous season, he would have been earning only a similarly prorated of the rookie minimum of $442,114, which would have been $218,456.
This pattern continues into future seasons, too. In the 2009/10 season, Tolliver signed a prorated minimum salary contract with the Portland Trail Blazers that paid him $72,838, followed by two ten-day contracts with the Golden State Warriors at $48,559 a piece, and finally ending in a rest-of-the-season contract with them that paid an extra $330,199 for a total of $500,155. Had he been earning the one-year veteran minimum of $736,420 instead of the two-year veteran one of $825,497, that amount would only have been $446,184. And were it not for the Cavaliers stint five years ago, the minimum salary that Tolliver received from the Atlanta Hawks this season would have been worth only $915,852 instead of the $992,680 he wound up getting. Including the per diem he got directly from Cleveland, Tolliver wound up pulling in $1,854,459 in NBA salary across those four seasons, instead of the $1,580,492 over three he would have done.
And he owes it all to Sasha Pavlovic’s delusions of grandeur.