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PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

Inside the NBA’s Hardship Exemption Economy

With 70 NBA players sidelined due to COVID-19, dozens more have a chance to prove themselves, including Langston Galloway.

Last Tuesday, veteran guard Langston Galloway was in the Atlanta suburb of College Park playing a G League game for the Hawks’ affiliate. Two days later, he was in Brooklyn, coming off the bench for the Nets in their win over Philadelphia after seven players were placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

As the Omicron variant sweeps through the United States, more than 70 NBA players, including superstars like Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Trae Young, are currently sidelined due to COVID-19. Several games had to be postponed this week because teams didn’t have the required eight available players to suit up.

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A memo from the league late Sunday night allowed teams to sign one replacement player for every player on its roster that tests positive for COVID until at least Jan. 19. Those players would not count toward a team’s yearly salary against the cap or luxury tax bill, while two-way players are now eligible to be on a team’s active roster all season, rather than being capped out at 50 games.

Whether it’s veterans like Isaiah Thomas making a comeback for the Los Angeles Lakers, CJ Miles heading to the Boston Celtics, or young players on the move like Justin Robinson (Sacramento Kings) and Admiral Schofield (Orlando Magic), there are now dozens of opportunities for G Leaguers and veterans alike in this new hardship exemption economy. Players normally wouldn’t be able to sign 10-day contracts until Jan. 5, which paid a veteran like Galloway just under $150,000 for someone with seven years of NBA experience — but teams like the Nets wouldn’t have had the roster space to sign someone to that type of deal.

“It gives guys an opportunity for another look,” Galloway told Boardroom. “Playing in G League games is great, but it’s nothing like having eyeballs on you at the NBA level and being able to show that I could really still do this. It’s a huge opportunity. “

Galloway was staying in game shape, working out three times a day, before he decided to latch on to the Skyhawks leading up to this week’s G League Showcase in Las Vegas. That’s where he thought he’d be this week, after putting up 12 points and seven assists in Tuesday’s win over Raptors 905. But with teams struggling with roster numbers, he was happy to help out, have fun, make plays and prove that the 30-year-old former Knick, Pelican, King, Piston, and Sun could still compete at the highest level.

“NBA teams and agents communicate on a frequent basis so that teams know which players are available,” said Joey Rudin, the director of basketball operations at Siegel Sports & Entertainment, which represents Galloway, Lakers two-way center Jay Huff and many other pros. “Some veterans have taken the initiative to show they are in shape by playing in the G League. Then, when the need arises, teams rely on their scouting departments to evaluate which of these players are the best fit for the team.”

When first joining the team out of the blue, Galloway said the Nets just expected him to go out and play hard. He received encouragement from assistant coaches Brian Keefe, who was on the Knicks staff when he was on the team, and Royal Ivey, along with head coach Steve Nash and teammates like Durant, helping him learn plays and defensive assignments on the fly.

“I just try to bring effort, energy, play hard on defense and make plays,” Galloway said. “The offensive end, that’s gonna come, but the defensive side is where a lot of teams want to see what you can do.”

Galloway said that with COVID running rampant, especially on a team like the Nets, he’s just trying to stay out of the way. The St. Joe’s product played 32 minutes across the Sixers win and a loss to Orlando on Saturday before Brooklyn’s games on Sunday against Denver and Tuesday against Washington were postponed.

“We’re down guys now and everyone’s been pulling for each other,” he said.

Galloway added that his 10-day contract isn’t about the money. He could’ve gone overseas, but he wants to play in the greatest league in the world. And during a time where the new COVID variant is spreading across the NBA, it’s also providing an extra chance for players who may not have gotten it under normal circumstances.

“You go out there, don’t worry about the minutes you play, play hard and let the cards fall where they may,” he said.

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