NBA championship contenders frequently have a starting-five calibre player come off the bench to lead their second unit.
Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs is the greatest example of this type of player.
He has become, perhaps, the best sixth man in NBA history, helping the Spurs to four titles. Others, such as Lamar Odom with the Lakers, Jamal Crawford with the Clippers, and James Harden with the Thunder, have excelled in the same role in recent years.
However, not every player is willing to take a demotion to the bench for the betterment of the team. Ginobili recently explained to USA Today’s Sam Amick:
“It’s not as common as you may think, given the success [the Spurs have] had. But I understand when 20- to 23-year-old guys don’t want to do it. They think they can take the NBA by storm. They want to (get) their numbers. They want to get paid. So I can imagine why they don’t want to do it early in their career.”
That last part (“they want to get paid”) is something that was echoed by Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors. He told Amick:
“If a guy is in front of you, then it’s like, ‘Well the guy is in front of me so I’ve got to go get his job.’ Really, in the NBA, it’s ‘I need to get paid like a starter.’ A team is not going to say, ‘I’m going to spend $US10 million for a guy to come off the bench.’ A team is not going to do that. Or it’s very, very rare.”
While star players make between $US15 million and $US20 million, the median NBA salary is $US2.2 million. That means the vast majority of bench players don’t make anywhere near the $US10 million benchmark Iguodala mentioned. There are 150 starters in the NBA, and there are — coincidentally — 150 players who make $US5 million or more. There’s only a certain amount of money to go around, and the guys who play the most minutes are going to get the bulk of it.
Young players, especially those who are fighting for their first free agent deals, need minutes and production to prove themselves.
“I thought it was going to hurt me in my next deal,” Ginobili admitted to Amick when he first became a sixth man. “And then I realised that it was what’s best for the team and I would do just fine.”
Ginobili has made over $US100 million over the course of his career. There are some other examples of sixth men making starter-level money (Jamal Crawford hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2008-09, and has still earned over $US35 million in the last five years) but they are few and far between.
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